Degradation of a bishop

I received this CC: of correspondence from a friend and canonist via e-mail (slightly edited with my added comments):

Anent the rite of degradation from the "Roman Pontifical of Pope Benedict XIV" who allegedly "promulgated this ritual in 1862," Benedict – one of my favourite popes – actually saw his eighteen-year pontificate end in 1758 with his death that year. Pius IX would have been gloriously reigning when Benedict allegedly promulgated the rite in that year. Obviously, your correspondent meant "printed" not "promulgated."



If memory serves, there have not been all that many bishops deemed qualified for the rite of degradation. There was an eighteenth-century Irish bishop, a Burke, I think, who abandoned the episcopacy in order to inherit a peerage and the attendant family property. There was as well Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, who abandoned the episcopacy during the French Revolution and married the voluptuous Madame Grand and was created a prince. More recently there were bishops Anthony Kelly of Rhode Island and James Shannon of Minnesota, who abandoned the episcopacy. [I think we could add a few names and, thanks be to God, they would be very few.]

It seems to me there was also a similar rite for the degradation of a priest, and during it the oil was scraped from his hands as well. [If memory serves, using a shard of broken glass.]

By analogy the pontifical of 1862 would have included rite for the making of a knight, which before Peter Lombard was regarded as a sacrament and there was also a rite of degradation in which the instrument used to make the knight and delivered to him during the knighting ceremony was taken from his and broken over his head. I am told this was done in 1918 to (Sir) Roger Casement who was degraded for treason during WWI.

p.s. I saw something Sunday I had not noticed before, but maybe it is common. At a Mass celebrated Sunday by the Bishop of Colorado Springs the acolytes bearing the crosier and mitre wore vimpas emblazoned with his coat of arms. I was most attractive and seemed a good use of symbols!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. catholiclady says:

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmm – I wonder if this friend in Colorado Springs knows our common friend in COS – maybe not because that friend attends the TLM there and they now have their own parish.

    Off topic but by the way, we had our first confirmation here Sunday in accordance with the 1962 Missal and the Bishop confirmed 32 new soldiers for Christ. I was quite impressed that he took the time to learn that and his Latin rite for this sacrament. His Latin was excellent. I guess it might have to be since he is also a canon lawyer and studied in Rome. I was also impressed that he helped serve communion – appreciated by all since we had a larger than usual crowd due to the confirmations and already were an hour behind.

  2. Phil says:

    The altar servers attending the bishop are similarly outfitted here in Arlington.

    But Father, here’s a question: If a bishop is degraded according to the Rite, can he still validly (but illicitly) ordain priests, consecrate bishops, and administer the Sacrament of Confirmation? I know that even if a man is dispensed from the priestly state or suspended, he is still able to validly (but illicitly) confect the Eucharist, absolve sins, &c. because priesthood indelibly marks the soul (like Confirmation). As I understand it, even the Rite of Degradation could not take that away. But concecrating a bishop is not a sacrament, so it would not be similarly permanent, correct? Or have a made a mistake somewhere?

  3. Nothing can make a person stop being baptized or confirmed, beause those sacraments leave an ïndelible mark on the soul”, a “sacramental character” that remains for eternity. Similarly, the Sacrament of Holy Orders, conferred in three different ways upon men as deacons, priests and bishops, also leaves an indelible mark on the soul. Once ordained, a man can never not be a priest or bishop again, sacramentally. However, a priest or bishop can be stripped of any right to function as a priest or bishop. This is what that “rite of degradation” would aim to do, that is, make apparent to the world by more than just some public declaration, that a man no longer had any right to function as a bishop in the name of the Church. Such a rite could never change the sacramental character conferred on him by having been consecrated a bishop.

  4. I think the Irish bishop you’re referring to was John Butler, bishop of Cork. As a bishop he inherited the title Lord Dunboyne and felt obliged to continue the Dunboyne lineage by marrying. He unsucessfully appealed to Rome to be discharged of his episcopal duties and obligation to celibacy. He therefore left the Catholic Church and his see.
    Ironically, in his will he left a large endowment to Ireland’s largest seminary, Maynooth College, and there is still a Dunboyne House and a Dunboyne fund in existence there.

  5. Ray from MN says:

    Coincidentally, Father, a Permanent Deacon in a St Paul parish recently took a “leave of absence.”

    That was reported in one of their bulletins. There may be more details as he sent a letter to all the parishioners but I am not a member of the parish.

    He had only been ordained for a few years.

    Is this provided for in the Permanent Diaconate? Has it been a problem since the Permanent Diaconate was restored after V2?

  6. bedwere says:

    I’m Italian and I think I heard that the rite was performed on Ugo Bassi before shooting

  7. Phil says:

    Ah, I didn’t realize that elevation to the episcopacy was yet another administration of Holy Orders. It makes complete sense, though. Thank you, Father!

  8. Ray from MN: Sorry, but I simply don’t know anything about how Permanent Deacons are handled for assignments, etc. One thing is sure, however, as clerics they have certain obligations to stick to unless they are specifically dispensed.

  9. Jordan Potter says:

    Wow, that Ugo Bassi article is vintage Wikipedia: slanted and of questionable accuracy. It’s nothing short of hagiography, and although it wasn’t intended as humor, but it made me laugh, it was so biased.

  10. Of course to peform this rite, you would have to actually have the “recipient” present and actually go through with the rite. I would think at that point, the bishop in quesiton would just not care about anything to actually want to go through a public ceremony which would probably be humiliating no matter how prideful they would be in their leaving the Church or their episcopacy.
    So, I guess this begs the question: is this rite intended for those bishops who would want to leave their see but still remain a practicing Catholic? Because I would think it would be rather moot for those who just end up leaving the Church outright.

  11. Roman Sacristan: I suspect that this is from a happier era when fellows who needed this degradation could be hauled in in chains.

  12. bedwere says:

    Jordan, it’s actually vintage Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911)
    Pretty bitter against the Papists :-)

  13. Ah, that makes more sense.
    Thanks for the morning laugh, Fr. Z.

  14. PMcGrath says:

    “I think we could add a few names and, thanks be to God, they would be very few.”

    No, Father Z., there would, in this country, be very many eligible. Half the episcopate, I would reckon. Let us count the names …. Brown … Gumbelton … feel free to add your own….

  15. Vincent says:

    The case of former bishop lugo appeared to me very interesting. As a catholic i have seen
    many priest and bishops who are really sensible to the needs of poor. They are simple
    and ready to do anything for their people. At the same time there are bishops and priests
    who never bother about their flock and have their own agenda of life like a layment.
    Lugo appears to be a sensible person who loves poors within his hearts and taken a decision
    to fight against corruption and social justice. In such cases the church authorites needs
    to review the existing provisions in canon law. It is personal feeling that bishop lugo
    could have been allowed to complete his term as president and intead of laicization,
    his case for return to clerical state after examination of his conduct during the year
    he spends as president. Why I am saying is because church spends a lot on formation of
    priests. If some ex-priest or ex-bishops sincerely want to come back, church can think
    of taking them back after thorough examination of a particular case.

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