Leaving priesthood

Question: We hear of priests leaving the priesthood and then subsequently getting married. Is sacramental marriage possible for a man who has received Holy Orders? I thought “once a priest always a priest.”  

Kathy Cain, Yampa, Colo.

Answer: Your insight “once a priest, always a priest” is a correct one. Thus, a man who “leaves the priesthood” is not leaving the priesthood, per se, but is setting aside the practice and discipline of the priestly ministry. 

For a priest to validly and licitly marry in the Church, he must first be “laicized.” That is, while his priestly character remains, he is permitted and then required to live as a layman in the Church. And so, except in very rare “danger of death” situations, he cannot hear confessions or give anointing of the sick, and in no way celebrate the Sacred Liturgy or exercise other offices related to the priestly ministry. 

Further, when laicized, he is usually dismissed from the discipline of celibacy and free to marry. Note that celibacy is a discipline and it is not utterly intrinsic to the priesthood. There are married priests, most of them in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church. But even in the Western (Roman) rite, there are some married priests. Most of these have come over from Anglican or Lutheran ministry and were then ordained Catholic priests. 

Thus, when a man leaves the active priesthood and is laicized, he can also have the discipline of celibacy relaxed for him by the Church, such that he can marry. 

It is certainly lamentable that some men do leave the priesthood, a ministry they agreed to accept for life. And yet the Church does make some pastoral provision for men who regrettably have need of leaving the active priestly ministry for grave reasons. These provisions are in place so as not to utterly lose them to the practice of the Faith, and to hold them as close to Christ and the Church as possible.

Mailing relics

Question: An organization has been sending me what they term “relics” of Padre Pio, which includes a small square of cloth encapsulated on a small plaque of the saint. I do not wish to receive these items, sent to solicit money, but I am reluctant to just throw them in the trash. How am I to treat these items, which are now accumulating in my effects?  

Chris Wroblewski, Rutherford, N.J.

Answer: It sounds as though you are describing a third-class relic. A first-class relic is some part of the body of a saint, usually a fragment of a bone or perhaps a lock of hair. A second-class relic is some article owned by a canonized saint, usually an article of clothing or some other personal object associated with the saint. A third-class relic is something, usually a cloth of some sort, that is merely touched to a first- or second-class relic. 

One may serenely dispose of third-class relics. Most piously and properly, this is done by burning or burying them. Pitching such things in the trash is probably to be avoided, though there is no absolute Church norm related to the disposal of third-class relics. 

The practice of mailing relics may seem annoying. There are no norms forbidding such a practice. This is quite different from first-class relics, wherein significant laws are involved. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.