The Rite of Degradation From The Order of Priesthood. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

A while back I posted about the old Rite of Degradation of a Bishop, found even in rather modern editions of the traditional Pontificale Romanum.  I posted the text, some notes and my translation.

The rites are provided for degrading an archbishop, bishop, priest, deacon, subdeacon, all the minor orders backwards.  If you were a bishop… you’d be there for awhile.

They start to work on you by stripping you of all the symbols of your office, and even scrape your hands with a glass shard or knife to get the chrism off.  They do the same for a priest, like a reverse ordination, taking away the chalice, vestment, scraping the fingers again.  From deacons they take the dalmatic and book.  You get the drift… all the way through the orders you would have received back to tonsure, which of course is when the clerical state began (today, it is with diaconate).

The tonsure part is truly harrowing.

When it is over, the Degrading Bishop is even instructed not even to touch the degraded man.   He stands there, head shaved and in secular clothes, now called in the rite “miserrimus ille derelictus… the most wretched outcast” to be turned over to civil authority for his crimes and sentencing.  However, the bishop addresses the Judge, who is standing by, and begs the Judge not to kill or mutilate him, for the love of God.

Hence, the Church recognized even in this rite, the right of the State to apply capital punishment, but the Church also begged for mercy.  Remember that our liturgical rites – and this is a liturgical rite – are also loci theologici.

NB: These rites were reserved for the worst sort of guy who had committed serious crimes.  In Latin: “If the cleric, once deposed by sentence according to the first form [a special formula given previously], seems to be incorrigible, he ought to be excommunicated.  And if, after getting into the depth of wicked acts he will still show contempt, then, since the Church has no other option for what do to, the Bishop should degrade him and leave him to the secular authorities: which degradation is done in this way:…”.

In the book, the layout is quite dramatic:  There is an inset subtitle:

Nunc degradationem subjicimus.

Here is the rite for degrading a priest.  I’ll continue to use “Degradandus” as a parallel to “Ordinandus”.

Degradatio ab ordine Presbyteratus

Ministri tradunt in manus degradandi Calicem cum vino, et aqua, ac Patena, et Hostia, quem Pontifex degradator aufert de manibus degradandi, dicens:

Amovemus a te, quin potius amotam esse ostendimus, potestatem offerendi Deo sacrificium, Missamque celebrandi tam pro vivis, quam pro defunctis.

The ministers put a Chalice with wine, water, and a Paten and Host into the hands of the Degradandus [the priest to be degraded], which the Bishop Degrader wihdraws from the hands of the Degradandus, saying:

We take away from you, nay rather we show that it was already removed, the power of offering sacrifice to God, and of celebrating Mass either for the living or for the dead.

Deinde Pontifex degradator abradit leviter cum cultello vel vitro, pollices, et indices utriusque manus degradandi, dicens:

Potestatem sacrificandi, consecrandi, et benedicendi, quam in unctione manuum et pollicum recepisti, tibi tollimus hac rasura.

Then the Bishop Degrader lightly scrapes with a knife or shard of glass, the thumbs and index fingers of both the hands of the Degrandandus, saying:

By this scraping we remove from you the power of sacrificing, consecrating and blessing which you received in the anointing of your hands and thumbs.

Quo dicto, Pontifex degradator accipit casulam sive planetam per posteriorem partem caputii, et degradandum exuit, dicens:

Veste Sacerdotali charitatem signante te merito expoliamus, quia ipsam, et omnem innocentiam exuisti.

Once said, the Bishop Degrader takes a chasuble or pianeta by the head-opening and strips it off the Degradandus, saying:

We rightly despoil you of the priestly garment signifying charity, because you already cast it off along with all innocence.

Tum Pontifex degradator aufert a degrandando stolam, dicens:

Signum Domini per hanc stolam turpiter abjecisti, ideoque ipsam a te amovemus, quem inhabilem reddimus ad omne Sacerdotale officium exercendum.

Then the Bishop Degrader removes the stole from the Degradandus, saying:

You basely threw aside the sign of the Lord in this stole, and therefore we remove it from you, whom we render unfit to exercise every priestly office.

If you were looking for the maniple, the Degradandus loses that when he is unsubdiaconated.

As mentioned, above, the degrading rites continue for diaconate and all through the minor orders to tonsure itself and turning the wretch over to civil authority.

Keep in mind that this rite, in all its medieval and solemn horror is in the Pontifical Romanum of Leo XIII, which is pretty modern.  I haven’t checked a newer 1962 Pontificale.

Before I was ordained, I used the Rite of Ordination as a point of meditation every day for quite some time before the date.  I did that for diaconate and priesthood.

It seems to me that this Rite of Degradation should be taught in seminaries.

It could be also a serious day of reflection for priests, to show the old rite of ordination side by side with the rite of degradation for all the stages.

I can say this: The careful reading I made to translate it, made my blood drop several degrees, which is really something given that it already runs cold through my chilly heart and icy veins.

There is a bright note, however.

There is a Rite of Degradation.  The notes talk about reconciliation after penance of those who committed crimina minora… lesser crimes.  There are also Rites of Restitution to Orders after suspension.

Degradation is for the worst of the worst.

I would say it would have been applied to clerics who promoted homosexuality and/or indulged in it themselves, especially with minors whom they groomed.  It would apply to bishops who covered up the abuse of minors and, probably who promoted the homosexual grip on the reins of power in seminaries and chanceries.

The Church applies censures medicinally and also vindictively.  The later is never preferred.

BTW… Benedict XIV was one of the Popes who revised the Pontificale Romanum.

Benedict deserves his very own FR. Z SWAG!



And… wear him with pride!


Some of you have opined that the Rites of Degradation should be brought back and publicly televised.

As I read the “praenotanda” of the rites, everything to be prepared ahead of time, I find some indications that televised would be exactly what the Roman Pontiffs would have wanted, had they had television.

How do I claim that?

In the preparatory notes I read about the treatment of errant clerics.   If they are just being dealt with for lesser matters (like adultery) that’s one thing.  But for the really serious ones, there is degradation.  Why?  To terrify others.  Sort of like what Voltaire said about the execution of the British admiral: Pour encourager les autres.

The Latin:

Poterit tamen (quod convenientius videtur) ad aliorum terrorem actualis degradatio sic fieri.  In primis in publico extra Ecclesiam paratur aliquis eminens congruentis spatii locus, pro degradatione facienda…

The English:

However, there could be (as it is considered to me more appropriate) an active degradation, performed thusly.  Firstly, some prominent place with enough space is to be prepared in public, outside of the church, for carrying out the degradation…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Do we have any idea when this rite (at any level or for a bishop specifically) was last exercised?

  2. JustaSinner says:

    Bring. It. Back.
    Would a televised version be proper?

    [If it is going to be done at all, it should probably be public.]

  3. Kerry says:

    “Sarumann, your staff is broken! I cast you from the order and from the council.”

  4. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I think if the ordination and investiture is a public solemn act, then the degredation/laicization process should be equally public, solemn and visible.

    We have to stop only allowing good feelings and hiding all the others like petulant children. Giving bad feelings their chance to be experienced and integrated is how we become healthy adults.

  5. Lurker 59 says:

    In the masthead is the painting of the laywoman insisting that the cardinal take his medicine.

    Pope Francis talks of the Church being a field hospital. In field hospitals, there are surgeons who do amputations, because they have to be done in order for there to be hope of patient survival in the field. Fr. Z is showing us the bone saws. Where are the surgeons? The rot must be cut away. We tried the less aggressive tonics back in the early 2000’s, that didn’t work.

    It is absolutely harrowing to be in a field hospital, but if the Church is a field hospital, let us have at it and get it over with.

  6. Spade says:

    We should have a few of these, or more than a few, done at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception upper church, broadcast live on EWTN pour encourager les autres.

  7. Spade says:

    lol, I either posted that as, or didn’t notice, that Father Z had used the same French reference to a Brit admiral.

  8. andia says:

    I am almost crying at this. It hurts to read it, how much more so would it be to have to preform this rite. This type of fortitude is need now.

  9. Thomas says:

    This just in from Rome, the penalty of degradation is now “inadmissible as an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”.

  10. Semper Gumby says:

    To encourage the others and televised indeed.

    Kerry: Yep. About two weeks ago I read a comment by the Masked Chicken which he closed by mentioning a “Pope Patton.” I support that idea.

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