ASK FATHER: “Maximized” priest returns to duties after marriage and divorce

From a reader…


Maximized priest returning to priestly duties

Our new parochial vicar (NO parish) is a priest who was married, divorced, and is now “returning to priestly duty.” What exactly does this mean? Can he licitly confect the Eucharist? Can he hear confessions? I do not know anything else about his situation. I want to give him a fair shake, as it were, but this whole situation is a little confusing to me.

I can’t say that know the term “maximized priest”. I am unsure of its meaning. Did Father eat too many jelly donoughts after Sunday Mass?

There are a couple possible scenarios to explain what’s happened here.

If Father did not get a dispensation, and simply walked away and attempted marriage, the marriage would have been invalid, and that attempt would have rendered him irregular for the exercise of Holy Orders. If he then woke up, obtained a civil divorce, and came back on his knees to his diocesan bishop, the bishop could have then sent the case to the Holy See.  The Holy See then might have given the priest an appropriate penance and then lifted the irregularity, permitting him once again to resume his priestly duties.

Otherwise, if Father did obtain a dispensation from the clerical state and from the obligation to celibacy and got married legitimately, but then later divorced, he would have had to submit his marriage to the judgment of the Church. If the tribunal found that his marriage was invalid, and he wanted to return to the active exercise of his priestly orders, the bishop could have submitted the case to the Holy See. If the Holy See saw fit, they could have allowed him to return to the active exercise of his orders.

In whatever case, we be happy that a priest has returned to the exercise of the Holy Orders he received. If he’s gotten the nod from the Holy See (and it’s safe to presume that he did, otherwise the bishop would not have appointed him as parochial vicar), then, without questions, he can both validly and licitly consecrate the Blessed Sacrament and validly absolve penitents from their sins.

Bottom line: If he is in the parish because the bishop put him there, there is virtually no chance that this priest does not have faculties to exercise Orders.

Another thing: This episode underscores once again that priests are human beings too.  They have flaws.  They make mistakes.  They suffer from loneliness and doubts. They repent and convert and to penance.  It is wonderful when priests are far closer to being saints than habitual sinners.  However, it is not the priest’s personal holiness which is the guarantee of the validity of sacraments.  His being a sinner affects his own soul but not the graces and effects of sacraments you receive.  When he says, “This is my Body…”, “I absolve you…”, he truly confects the Eucharist and he absolves your sins.  Our mysterious God, whose ways are not our ways, gives us His mercy and gra

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    My brother goes to a parish where the priest married, got a divorce and an annulment and only then began to study for the priesthood. According to my brother, he is a very orthodox priest and does a wonderful job in their parish.

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Perhaps “maximized” was an autocorrect for “laicized”, the latter being a rather uncommon word for most folks to use.

    If not, the “maximized priest” would seem to be at least a Sacerdos Magnos or Pontifex Maximus.

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, it’s certainly unusual, but it’s always good when somebody comes back to the path of duty. It sounds like we should pray for him.

    And given the motley crew of saints in heaven, I’m sure there’s some saint on the list who did this kind of stuff but became holy. If you can become a saint as a repentant assassin of a saint, anything is possible.

  4. VexillaRegis says:

    I think “maximised” refers to a man who has received all the sacraments, which, of course, is very rare. Maybe he has even had the anointing of the sick.

  5. TWF says:

    It may be less rare than you think if you account for our Eastern brethren. Many men receive both matrimony and holy orders, and I believe the anointing of the sick is used much more liberally in the byzantine tradition than it is in the West.

  6. ReginaMarie says:

    TWF: Keep in mind that, in the Eastern tradition of Catholicism, married men may be called to Holy Orders (ordained), but priests may not marry. And, yes, Holy Anointing is more frequently used for both spiritual & physical healing, such as on the eve of Great & Holy Wednesday.

  7. Filumene says:

    I think the point being missed here is that this is a scandalous situation. I have no problems with a priest having recovered from a hard past. Dea Gratias! Like you said, they are people too. BUT, with the ridiculous amount of confusion floating around about marriage and twisted sympathy for priests being pressured to live a celibate life, I think this was a bad idea. It is not always good to know about someones past. Actually, it can be harmful . It can lower the moral bar, not necessarily inspire others to aim Higher.

  8. Hidden One says:

    Filumene, I will remember your comment when I next read St. Augustine’s Confessions.

  9. chantgirl says:

    Filumene- Rather, I pray that the humiliation this priest experiences in coming back and having everyone know of his past will merit the grace needed for many of his parishioners to likewise repent and find the path again.

  10. hwriggles4 says:

    Father Z:

    Thank you for posting this question. I know this is a very confusing question about a priest who was previously married and one that is neither a widower nor one who was ordained under the Pastoral Provision.

    There is a good priest in my diocese who was married at a young age, and his situation is similar to the poster Ellen. His marriage was short, about two years, he had no children, and he entered seminary in his early 30’s.

    For the readers of this blog, here are a few guidelines for prospective seminarians:

    1. Have been celibate for at least two years. This also includes those who may have “played house” with a girlfriend at one time, and from experience found that was not God’s way.

    2. If a prospective seminarian has been married, more often than not children must be independent. Some “late vocation” widowers have older children who are over 21 and dad is not supporting them financially.

    3. If a prospective seminarian has been married and divorced, a declaration of nullity must be granted prior to entering seminary. I’ve heard that most of the time, these cases for prospective seminarians are examined “case by case” (i.e. it’s not a rubber stamp). I’ve heard that some dioceses will not accept a seminarian who is in this situation (Catholic World Report had a story last year about a “late vocation” priest who entered seminary after his annulment was granted), and I know of one particular diocese that wanted to know where the ex-wife resided, preferably outside the diocese (probably to avoid gossip and questions.)

    Hope this helps a little.

  11. Filumene says:

    Wow. I said it’s not ALWAYS good. And just because someone says ” I’m better now! ” It does not mean they are fit to be in authority….or in charge of a parish full of souls. Comparing this to St. Augustine is reeeeeeally, well, rash.

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