What is “Laicizing” a Priest?

The worst punishment the Church administers to a priest who repeatedly rapes children is laicization. Most people think this means “firing” the priest and making him the equivalent of a layman. But they are wrong.

The Catholic News Agency (CNA) interviewed a canon lawyer, Father Damián Astigueta, about this (here). First, he points out that canon lawyers - the cool guys - no longer use the term laicization – now they say the priest is “dismissed from the clerical state.” Neither he nor the reporter attempt to explain what difference this makes, but it is important to them nonetheless.

Once a priest, always a priest. He cannot be made a layman. Furthermore, he is not fired. It is quite a technical punishment. The “laicized” priest can no longer exercise “the rights proper to the clerical state … , such as saying Mass, hearing confessions, and administering the sacraments.” He is also freed of priestly obligations, such as “reciting the Liturgy of the Hours and obedience to their bishop.” Most importantly, he is not fired – he remains on the payroll.

Fr. Astigueta said that canon law (c. 1350 §2) says “that there exists a duty of charity toward [laicized priests].... helping them and taking care of them.” The canon lawyer notes that many priests are unable to find work or integrate into society. To simply fire one, “is practically to kill him.” The Church would never do such a cruel thing.

In other words, if a priest repeatedly rapes children – and thousands are guilty of this horrendous crime – the worst the Church will do is relieve them of their duties and obligations while still supporting them. Father Astigueta thinks that even this is too punitive. He complains that the Church, “in order to avoid pressure from the media … ‘is obliged at times to punish, in my view, more seriously than it should.’”

As a point of comparison, let’s look at how the Church treated various lay groups. Church “justice” burned thousands of women at the stake as “witches” – nearly all of whom behaved far more righteously than any pederast priest. Similarly, the Church went to war against any number of “heresies,” and slaughtered people for seemingly minor differences in defining the Trinity or other doctrines. The Church burned thousands at the stake for the “heresy” of not eating pork, or attempting to observe the Sabbath. While the Church had power, it abused it in countless other ways, persecuting a wide variety of opponents. CNA failed to raise these subjects with the canon lawyer, but since these were official actions of the Church, conducted on behalf of the Pope, I think it would be hard for him to disown them. And I think it would be difficult to explain why it is too cruel to drop a serial pederast from the payroll, while it is proper to burn a woman for acting oddly, or for observing the Sabbath, or other such "crimes." 

It is hard to believe that an all-perfect deity is guiding such perverse and seemingly evil behavior. Yet that is a fundamental claim of the Catholic Church.