One issue that others usually throw at us Catholics that I find really disheartening is clerical sexual misconduct. Although it did not affect me to leave the Faith, it made me curious about the actions of those in Church authority. How do they manage this? What are their resolutions? In this blog post, we will discuss what happens if a priest breaks celibacy.
CCC 1579 All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to the affairs of the Lord, they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.
Although not a doctrine but a discipline, celibacy is not temporary. It is a gift that is going to be a way of life for them.
Priests make mistakes too. They are also subject to temptation. Just like us, they can fall into it anytime. Although there are various misconducts they can commit, one that usually causes scandal is related to sex. Some engage in sexual activities with another person, consensual or not. They break celibacy. Seeing the people we look up to involved in this kind of experience is just heartbreaking. It brings pain and sometimes, makes us question our faith.
That said, with these priests, what happens next? What happens if they break celibacy? What punishment awaits them?
Regarding the punishment, here’s what Canon says.
Canon 1395 §1 A cleric who lives in concubinage, other than the case mentioned in can. 1394, and a cleric who persists with scandal in another external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished by a suspension. If he persists in the delict after a warning, other penalties can gradually be added, including dismissal from the clerical state.
Clearly, if a priest continues to live a double life, having a relationship despite being warned, he can be suspended or worst case, be dismissed from being a cleric.
§2. A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.
And in case, he engages in sexual assault or sexual relations with a minor, there could also be penalties aside from dismissal.
But what if it is a one-time thing? For example, he had sex just once? What could happen?
If this sin does not result in scandal, a priest can go to confession and reveal his sin. Just like others, the confessor will offer him counsel and eventually absolve him.
To add, according to Fr. JM, CSsR, if this specific sexual act, although happens just once, causes scandal, a confessor should tell the penitent to inform the Bishop to decide on the final verdict. He also said that the punishment could be removal from the ministry or worst case, an exclaustration.
To summarize, let us answer the question again.
What happens if a priest breaks celibacy?
It depends on gravity. If it causes a scandal, a Bishop will decide what sanctions to apply. It could be a suspension of a priest or if he continues to commit it even with a warning, an exclaustration. If it does not result in a scandal, a priest can confess it for absolution and sin no more.
Priests are human too. Just like others, they also fall into temptation. With today’s modernity, they are much more prone to it.
As we go about our day-to-day life, may we remind ourselves that they bring Christ to us, without them, we cannot receive Him in the Sacrament. And with that, we laity should always include them in our prayers for they also have their own battles.
That the Holy Spirit may guide and strengthen Pope, the Bishops, and the Clergy, loving Mother, pray for us.