Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, General Canonical Discipline Concerning the Sacrament of Orders, 1996.


According to the Code and the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus, within the competence of the Third Office everything that pertains to the canonical discipline concerning the sacrament of orders, and specifically those matters treated in canons 1008–1054, “Orders”: the verification of the requirements, indults, faculties, and dispensations from impediments and irregularities—and the canonical procedures concerning sacred orders and the obligations connected with all the orders. In particular the Office addresses:

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1. Faculties, dispensations and indults for admission to holy orders:

Ordinaries more often turn to our Dicastery concerning the necessary requirements (cc. 1026–1036) and the prerequisites for ordination (cc. 1033–1039).

The most frequent ones are with respect to:

a) either the age of the candidates (c. 1031); concerning age, the Congregation can grant a dispensation of not more than eighteen months, except for the permanent diaconate of a married person, for which it can grant a dispensation up to a total of thirty months; in both cases the period of dispensation is included in the twelve months that are within the competence of the ordinaries;

b) or physical and psychological integrity (cc. 1029; 1041, §1; 1051, §1; 241, §1; 689, §2; 795), and the dispensation from irregularities and impediments; concerning physical and psychological integrity of a candidate, there are some, but not many, requests for admission to orders;

c) or concerning the intervals (interstices) between the ministries and the grades of orders (c. 1035, §1);

d) or the leaving the celibate permanent diaconate and transferral to the married permanent diaconate.

2. Doubts concerning the perfect and complete formation, and the fitness of candidates (cc. 1029; 1030; 1052, §3), relative to the valid and licit conferral of orders:

a) regarding the opportuneness of admitting to orders candidates when doubts and uncertainty remain: in practice, the Dicastery restricts itself to pointing out that the two extremes of rigidity and laxity should be avoided;

b) regarding the dispensation of irregularities and impediments for either the admission of candidates to orders or the exercise of orders, the Dicastery is accustomed to treat:

– directly the dispensation from the valid marriage bond for married laymen (c. 1042, 1°);

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collatis conciliis (having conferred) with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the dispensation of the offense of public apostasy, heresy, and schism (c. 1041, §2);

collatis conciliis (having conferred) with the Congregation for the Clergy for the dispensation from the public offenses of attempted civil marriage with woman bound by vows or by a valid canonical marriage with a living spouse (c. 1041, §3);

collatis conciliis (having conferred) with the Apostolic Penitentiary the dispensation from the offense, whether public or occult, of an actually procured abortion (c. 1041, 4°).

3. Canonical procedures relative to holy orders:

Here there is another part of the competence of our Dicastery, that is the consideration and resolution through ordinary and special commissions of such procedures that concern:

a) the declaration of nullity of sacred ordination and of the connected obligations (cc. 1708–1712; cf. cc. 1440–1655).

b) the dispensation of the obligation of celibacy and of the other obligations connected with ordination or the perpetual profession of religious vows (cc. 290, 3° and 291, and Normæ substanitales et procedurales, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of October 14, 1980, which are still in force);

c) the dismissal from the clerical state that is inseparably joined to the favorable dispensation of all the obligations and vows according to the norms of cc. 290–292;

d) readmission to the clerical state according to the norms of c. 293 and the subsequent exercise of orders.

The just-mentioned procedures regard both diocesan and religious deacons and priests of both the Latin Church and the Oriental Churches.

a) Causes concerning the declaration of nullity of ordination and of the obligations and vows relative to the three grades of holy orders:

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These are causes that can be treated either judicially or administratively. They are governed and instructed according to the norms of cc. 1708–1712 of the present Code.

b) Procedures concerning the dispensation of the obligations of ordination with dismissal from the clerical state:

1. for celibate transitional and permanent deacons and for married permanent deacons

These procedures are fairly frequent and numerous and our Congregation treats them with a procedure proportionate to the kind of case.

The first category concerns celibate transitional and permanent deacons and married permanent deacons who are found not fit for ministry after their ordination (because of their own incapacity or because of the scandal of their own family); these are divided in two categories:

– those who are unfit (non idonei) and who admit their incapacity, and because of this seek a dispensation from all the obligations;

– those who are unfit (non idonei) and do not see themselves to be such, and who consequently refuse to seek a dispensation and transfer from the clerical state.

Procedure for the first category:

For the first category, the procedure is relatively simple. In fact, the Dicastery, taking into account c. 290, 3°, requires only an informative process.

For the second category, since the Code forbids in c. 1342, §2, the imposing ex officio and consequently by decree, a perpetual penalty such as dismissal from the clerical state, for this reason the Congregation:

– advises ordinaries as the first step to proceed with penal sanctions (interdict, suspension, etc., as in cc. 1311–1353);

– as a second step to proceed with a regular, judicial, penal trial according to the norms of cc. 1717–1719, to inflict by judgment the dismissal from the clerical state as a penalty (in pœnam);

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– as a third step to proceed to the dispensation by sending to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments the acts of the judicial, penal trial along with a request for the dispensation signed by the one already dismissed; this request should be addressed to the Holy Father in a spirit of humility and penance.

2. Causes relating to the dispensation from the obligations of ordination, including celibacy, and from vows with the dismissal from the clerical state for presbyters:

– These are causes that can be treated only administratively upon the request of the petitioner (ex petitione Oratoris).

– They must by instructed by the ordinary local tribunal [delegate of the ordinary].

– They can be instructed either in the curia of the diocese of origin or of the religious institute to which the person belonged, or by the curia of the diocese of the place where the person resides after his defection.

– These causes are governed by c. 291 and by the Substantial and Procedural Norms approved by the Supreme Pontiff and issued by the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith on October 14, 1980 (AAS, 72 [1980], pp. 1132–1137).

3. Causes for the dispensation from the obligations and dismissal from the clerical state of cleric in a position of dignity (bishops, abbots, superiors general) by a special mandate:

Such causes are handled with a special procedure.

c) Procedures for the dismissal of clerics from the clerical state:

According to the norms of cc. 290–292.

a) If they are connected with the dispensation from the obligations and follow inseparably with the former, i.e., the dispensation, they are, nevertheless, handled administratively and are settled with the same rescript of dispensation.

b) If they are distinct from the dispensation, and triggered by a crime-offense, one proceeds judicially before the local tribunal and concludes

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with the judgment in pœnam according to the norms of cc. 1364, §2; 1367; 1387; 1394, §1; 1295, §1; 1305, §2, and only after such a judgment and with the same acts, the dispensation of the obligations from ordination and vows is sought from this Congregation as a favor (in gratiam).

1. Readmission of ex-clerics to the clerical state: Our Congregation treats according to the norm of c. 293 [the readmission to the clerical state] both presbyters and deacons who have lose the clerical state through a dispensation.

2. Readmission of clerics to the exercise of orders: Our Congregation restricts itself to resolve such a case only if the readmission to the exercise of orders must be preceded by readmission to the clerical state, which was previously lost through the dispensation from the obligations.




L’Attività dell Santa Sede nel 1996, pp. 705–709; W.H. Woestman, The Sacrament of Orders and the Clerical State: A Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 3rd rev. ed., (Ottawa: Faculty of Canon Law, Saint Paul University, 2006):361-364.