Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Circular letter on special faculties granted by Pope Benedict XVI, 19 December 2008.


Prot. N. 0579/09

31 March 2009

Dear and Very Reverend Father Superior General:

I write to inform you that during the audience granted me on December 19, 2008, the Holy Father Benedict XVI, taking into account the particular circumstances of Mission territories, granted to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples some Special Faculties, without prejudice, however, to the ordinary competencies of other Dicasteries of the Holy See. These Faculties enable this Congregation to deal promptly with serious cases of scandal – certainly with due respect to the natural right of the accused persons to defend themselves – caused by indiscipline on the part of clerics, that require an urgent decision for avoiding the continuation of the scandal and greater spiritual damage to the Church and the persons concerned.

The Holy Father further decided that the Societies of Apostolic Life for missio ad gentes [e.g., Maryknoll] that depend on this Congregation should come under the purview of the present Special Faculties, which authorized this Dicastery:

1. To proceed administratively and bring to the approval in forma specifica and decision of the Holy Father cases regarding the dismissal in poenam from the clerical status those clerics who are found guilty of the offenses defined in canons 1395 §§1 & 2 (concubinage and other serious sexual scandals), without prejudice to the exclusive competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding cases of paedophilia.

The same penalty is also applied to a cleric who is guilty of attempted marriage and though duly admonished by the competent ordinary refuses to mend his ways and continues in his irregular and scandalous life (cf. c. 1394 §1).

The same penalty could also be applied to a deacon who has caused scandal in the moral field and is therefore judged by the competent superior not fit to be promoted to the order of the priesthood, but does not intend to ask for the pontifical dispensation from the obligations arising from the diaconate.

2. To study, following the existing procedure, and bring directly to the decision of the Holy Father requests for dispensation from clerical obligations presented by members of the Societies of Apostolic Life for missio ad gentes that depend on this Dicastery.

3. To act in accordance with the provision of canon 1399, either directly or confirming the decisions of competent superiors, when they ask for it, in particularly serious cases of violation of the law, when there is an urgent need to avoid an objective scandal.

4. The Holy Father has, moreover, graciously granted the derogation from the provisions of canons 1317, 1342 §2, and 1349, that deal with the application of perpetual sanctions to be inflicted on deacons for serious reasons and on priests for very serious reasons, always bringing individual cases directly to the Holy Father for his approval in forma specifica and decision. Eventual requests for applying the above mentioned Special Faculties should be instructed according to the enclosed indications. The observance of this procedure and the completeness of the documentation are necessary for avoiding undue delays in studying and deciding the case submitted.

While communicating the above information, I take the opportunity to extend to you kind regards and prayerful best wishes, and I remain,

Yours devotedly in Corde Mariae,

Ivan Cardinal Dias

Prefect

+Roberto Sarah

Secretary

Very Reverend Superiors General

Missionary Societies of Apostolic Life

(dependent on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples)

(with enclosures)




Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Request for Dispensation from Clerical Obligations Presented by Priests and Deacons

(31 March 2009)

Prot. N. 0579/09

During the audience granted to the Cardinal Prefect on 19 December 2008, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI graciously granted to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples the Special Faculty to study the requests for dispensation from clerical obligations presented by priests and deacons of mission dioceses and members of Societies of Apostolic Life for the mission ad gentes, that depend on the same Mission Dicastery, as well as members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life of diocesan right, who have their principal houses in mission territories, and to bring these cases directly to the supreme decision of the Holy Father.

It is necessary, first of all, to remember that when a cleric shows signs of weakness and vocational crisis or difficulties in his ministry, the ordinary of the place or the superior of the institute should show him every paternal understanding and offer him the help and necessary spiritual and professional assistance, in order to support and encourage him to overcome the crisis and difficulties.

If the cleric, after a serious process of mature reflection, prayer, and discernment decides to definitely leave the clerical state and ask for a pontifical dispensation from all clerical obligations, the ordinary of the place or the competent superior should instruct the case and prepare a dossier that should contain the following documents:

1. A letter of the priest or deacon in question, written in all sincerity and addressed to the Holy Father, in which he explains the reasons of his vocational crisis and eventual defection from the priesthood and also describing the reasons for considering his decision to seek the pontifical dispensation irreversible.

The above petition that the interested cleric should personally sign, should ask for both the dispensation from his clerical obligations as well as the reduction to the lay state.

2. A detailed curriculum vitae of the petitioner, indicating the various stages and the important dates in his life, as well as in his formation and clerical ministry.

3. A document in which the ordinary summarizes all the attempts he has made to dissuade the petitioner from presenting the request for dispensation and all the assistance given him to help overcome his crisis and to motivate him to return to the priestly life and ministry. For this purpose, the petitioner’s ordinary, either personally or through a priest delegate, may collect any useful information regarding the cleric in question, possibly interrogating the same cleric and some other witnesses who know him well, as for example, a formator, a seminary companion or brother-priest, or also a co-worker.

The dossier should also contain the votum of the ordinary of the place (or of the superior general in the case of a member of an institute) regarding the merit of the case, as well as the absence of scandal in the place where the petitioner is actually living. Moreover, it is advisable for that votum to be corroborated by the college of consultors of the diocese of incardination of the petitioner or by the general council of the institute to which he belongs.

4. A document which proves that the petitioner has been suspended from exercising the sacred ministry from the moment his petition for dispensation has been presented to and accepted by the competent ordinary/superior.

5. An authenticated copy of the document regarding the eventual attempted marriage of the petitioner and the application or declaration of canonical sanctions against him.

6. Documents written in the vernacular should be translated into a European language, preferably Italian, English, or French, and manuscripts and other illegible documents should be typewritten.

7. The complete dossier prepared in an orderly manner and put together with progressive numbering and a table of contents should be sent to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, through the apostolic nuncio in the country, who is required to give his own opinion of the case.

Ivan Cardinal Dias

Prefect

+Roberto Sarah

Secretary




I – Application for the Dispensation from the Clerical Obligations Introduced by Priests and Deacons

This is the case of a clergyman, who caused serious scandal and indiscipline, and decides to leave the clerical state, asking for the pontifical dispensation from the clerical obligations. To proceed in such a case, the local ordinary or the competent religious superior must instruct a cause preparing a dossier with the following indications and documents:

* A letter by the clergyman addressed to the Holy Father, undersigned by his own hand, in which he introduces a motivated explanation of the reasons of his crisis and of his defection, if any. Together with the request for the dispensation from the clerical obligations, he will ask for a reduction to the lay state.

* A detailed curriculum vitae of the clergyman.

* A document in which the local ordinary summarizes all the pastoral attempts furnished to the clergyman to overcome his crisis and to dissuade him to abandon the clerical state. This document must include the votum of the local ordinary/general superior about the case as well as about the absence of scandal. It is convenient that such a vote be supported by the college of consultors of the diocese of incardination or by the general council of the institute of affiliation.

* A document showing that the clergyman has been suspended from the exercise of the sacred order.

* Authentic copy of the document about the attempted civil marriage, if any, and the consequent application of the canonical sanctions.

* Fore the elaboration of the dossier it is necessary to wait for the translation into a European idiom of all the documents written in local languages; besides, the manuscripts and other illegible documents must be typed.

* The whole dossier, tidily bound, must be sent to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples through the apostolic nunciature.

II – Resignation In poenam of the Clergyman from the Clerical State

This is the case of a clergyman who does not manifest repentance of his serious actions and continues the scandalous behavior.

Although the application of the canonical sanctions is a painful fact, to which one should appeal only when there is an explicit violation of the divine or ecclesiastical law, when the local ordinary comes to know about the scandalous behavior of one of his clergymen, that brings about serious spiritual damage to the Church and provokes scandal to the faithful, if every pastoral means has not been sufficient to the repentance of the offender and the removal and reparation of the scandal, the ordinary can proceed in a progressive way to the application of canonical sanctions, following meticulously and in a peremptory way the established procedure, preparing a dossier with the following documents:

* A detailed curriculum vitae of the clergyman, completed with copies of the scrutiny done about him during the different stages of his formation, copies of the certificates of ordination, copy of the decree of suspension a divinis and copies of other canonical sanctions, if any.

* The application addressed to the Holy Father by the diocesan bishop or the general superior, asking for the resignation in poenam of the clergyman from the clerical state. This request must contain a detailed exposure of the facts with the documents proving them (wrong behavior of the clergyman, pastoral steps and admonitions of the bishop/superior, degree of scandal, urgency of the decision), and the answers or reactions of the clergyman, if any. The opinion of the bishop of the place where the clergyman is presently domiciled must also be inserted. (For the cases of the diocesan clergymen, the college of consultors must provide an opinion on the case, which is added to the documentation. In the cases of religious belonging to an institute or society of pontifical right, the superior must begin the procedure with the consent of his council; for the religious belonging to an institute or society of diocesan right, the superior must proceed only with the previous written consent of the bishop of the place, whose competence is to introduce to the Holy Father the application for resignation of the clergyman.)

* A certain number of testimonies of people of faith who know the clergyman well and the story of his defection and present situation.

* In the dossier it should be highlighted that all the accusations and relative proofs were brought to the knowledge of the accused, in order to offer him the opportunity to plan his own defense, which remains an inviolable right. Also the possible absence of the accused has to be documented.

* For the elaboration of the dossier it is necessary to wait for the translation into a European idiom of all the documents written in local languages; besides, the manuscripts and other illegible documents must be typed.

* The whole dossier, tidily bound, must be sent to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples through the apostolic nunciature.




Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Circular letter on special faculties granted by Pope Benedict XVI, 19 December 2008, reported in Studies in Church Law, 5 (2009), pp. 69-78; Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions (2009), pp. 48-52.