QUAERITUR: Loss of papal honors for priests who are “removed from the active ministry”

20111110-140501.jpgFrom a reader:

Since you have worked within the hallowed halls of the Vatican, would you comment on the revocation of papal honors (e.g. Chaplain of His Holiness, Honorary, P.A.) of priest who have been “removed from the active ministry” for “impropriety”. Are papal honors ever revoked once they have been bestowed? It seems scandalous that a priest who has been suspended should retain the title of “Monsignor“.

In my opinion, these honors should, without question or hesitation, be removed, if necessary by a formal act.  However, in the press or in common parlance it might be useful to speak of “Msgr. A” who did B and is now removed permanently from active ministry, dismissed from the clerical state, etc.

It would be interesting to search through a new copy of the 2012 Annuario Pontificio when it comes out to see what some instances may have produced.  Every Monsignor in the world, who really is a Monsignor, is listed in this book.

I hesitate, however, to say that any man who is “suspended” should be stripped of papal honors.  Being suspended isn’t the same as being dismissed from the clerical state.  Unlike dismissal from the clerical state, suspension is often a temporary matter, sometimes resulting from misunderstandings, etc.  I have heard of bishops who have launched suspensions like Jovian thunderbolts during arguments, only to rescind them soon after.

That said, I suppose there would have to be something formally published in the official publication of a diocese, such as the regular “Ad clerum” letter or diocesan newspaper.

Perhaps there could be photos of the purple or red buttons being snipped from the man’s cassock.  I am reminded of an old rite, way way back in the day, for the dismissal of a priest which involved scraping the man’s palms with a piece of broken glass.

Fitting, if you ask me… and you did.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Athanasius says:

    Here is a question in a similar vein: Should we refer to the great 20th century theologian Louis Billot as Cardinal? He resigned from the cardinalte under Pius XI because he was opposed to the condemnation of actione francaise, but it was more or less the Pope telling him to resign. Given that should we not refer to Billo as Cardinal? [Since being a Cardinal is a papal honor, see my answer above.]

  2. Paul says:

    The image of broken glass raking across the hands consecrated to the elements of the Sacrifice sent a literal chill down my body. What a horrifying rite, yet fitting to the great failure.

  3. catholicmidwest says:

    There are always a lot of classifications in everything Catholic, so this is probably not that simple. There are priests who have been laicized and that’s one thing; but there are also some who’ve been suspended for disobedience and the like; there are also inactive ones for various reasons, some of them probably not even of their own choice, like severe illness. There are unassigned priests and undecided priests. There are a lot of things that can happen to a priest that laypeople usually don’t think about. So I wouldn’t want to lump them all together.

    For a laicized priest, yes, papal honors should be taken away. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to see his palms physically messed up, though. That seems a bit extreme. I do think that laicized priests should be barred from working for the Church, in EVERY SINGLE CASE. They should also no longer be allowed to volunteer in anything associated with the liturgical function of the Church. And I do mean everything.

    For a suspended priest, it really depends on the reason and duration suspended, I guess, and if I had to give one answer, I’d probably say no, not necessary if they’re only suspended. For disobedient ones, we need to deal with their cases far more decisively than we have been, but I don’t know that this is a piece of that. I rather doubt it. For priests between appointments, in some kind of flux not related to obedience or sick ones, no, of course not.

  4. Joshua08 says:

    It used to be the case pre-1069 that supernumerary privy chamberlains (Now called Chaplains of His Holiness) lost this upon the death of the pope who granted it. I am sure that cause no small confusion among laity about forms of address.

    As far anyone who has lost a title, whether it be a laicised priest or Billot handing over his red hat, wouldn’t you just refer to them by their current correct address, at least for contemporary things? So, you don’t call a laicised priest “Fr. Jones” but Mr. Jones, right? Someone who lost the honor of being a lesser prelate would return to just being Fr. So and So, and when he lost his red hat it would merely be Fr. Billot (he was not a bishop). The title is part of the very privilege they have lost, they cannot continue claiming it.

    I would think it different when referring back to the past, when they had such title. “Fr. Billot, who was then a Cardinal” could be rather cumbersome writing. If you are writing history you could say “Cardinal Billot voted in the conclave of 19xx” just fine I think, or “This book was written by Cardinal Billot” just as we often say “This book was written by Cardinal Ratzinger”. But when referring to him simply, I would think you drop the old title

  5. Joshua08 says:

    That should obviously be pre-1969 not pre-1069

  6. Andy Lucy says:

    Why is the theme song to “Branded” running through my mind right now? Removing the biretta and stomping on it. Ripping buttons from the cassock. The glass scraping sounds harsh, but I guess it would be better than having a sabre broken over your head. Then have all assembled turn their backs on him as he makes the “Walk of Shame” to the cadence of a Swiss Guard drummer.

    I admit it… I am a throwback.

  7. Tim Ferguson says:

    In the English language we have two wonderful, if seldom-used words to describe the situation Joshua08 is speaking of: “quondam” and “whilom.”

    Quondam is used to refer to a former state of affairs: George W. Bush, quondam President of the United States…

    Whilom is used to refer to a state of affairs at a specific time: In 2002, George W. Bush, whilom President of the United States…

    We could use these words with great aplomb to describe “laicized” priests or those who have lost papal honors, or even our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, quondam Cardinal Ratzinger.

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    call me a liberal but I think that actually drawing blood from a disgraced Priest is going over the top and in some cases could send the offending Priest in question round the twist.

    Call me ole-fashioned but banishing them to live the rest of their lives in a strict Monastary (closely supervised by Father Superior/Abbot) seems to me to be the best solution (in the long term) for everyone concerned.

  9. TNCath says:

    I certainly believe that those who have received papal honors as honorary members of the pontifical household should have them rescinded in the event that they are removed from active ministry. At the same time, being “removed from public ministry” already prohibits them from saying Mass publicly, wearing clerical dress, or presenting themselves as priests. It seems that would be enough to remove them from the Annuario Pontificio and the papal honors presumed to be revoked.

    What I do find more puzzling, however, is the fact that a certain auxiliary bishop of New York, after having admitted to improper behavior with women in years past, not only resigned his position but also was stripped of his faculties and lives as a layman–and rightly so. However, a certain archbishop, after having admitted to improper behavior with a man in years past, was allowed to retire and enjoys faculties and the title of “Archbishop Emeritus.” Interesting.

  10. thefeds says:

    Andy, Branded starred Chuck Conners (formerly with the LA Dodgers). Great minds think alike…

  11. APX says:

    I am reminded of an old rite,[…] which involved scraping the man’s palms with a piece of broken glass.

    Not with the sharp end to the point it cuts the flesh, I hope.

  12. amenamen says:

    @ andy
    An impressive ritual. But Chuck Connors was innocent … “not a charge was true”

    All but one man died, There at Bitter Creek, And they say he ran away? … Branded! Marked with a coward’s shame. What do you do when you’re branded, Will you fight for your name? He was innocent, Not a charge was true, But the world will never know … Branded! Scorned as the one who ran. What do you do when you’re branded, And you know you’re a man? And wherever you go for the rest of your life You must prove … You’re a man!

  13. There was at one time something called “degradation” of bishops…. derived from military practices, so the analogy to Branded is right. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04677c.htm

    A description of the ritual appears here: http://www.catholicculture.org/news/features/index.cfm?recnum=21242 — this ritual also involved the scraping of hands.

    The sheer shame of the ritual — if it were used when appropriate — would be enough to keep bishops in line. But how to you get the guy to Rome in full vestments? Maybe the symbols of office can simply be confiscated by the local nuncio, at least….

  14. Michael J. says:

    Unless you are the head of a seminary, hold a high position in the Diocesan offices, or are around 95 years old and were at one time the pastor of a Catholic Parish for around 20-30 years, who is made a Monsignor any longer? At one time it seemed as though every American parish who had a pastor of at least 30 years, that pastor would be a Monsignor. However, Pope Paul VI, in a Motu Proprio, eliminated I think about eleven types of Monsignors. I would think that anyone who loses his ability to be a priest any longer would obviously lose his title of Monsignor, and especially for a Cardinal. Far too few priests are now made Monsignors.

Comments are closed.