The Battered Priesthood

First Things

November 5, 2020

By Thomas G. Guarino

I was astonished to read recently that the archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymond, is seeking to laicize all clergy who have been removed from ministry because of credible accusations of sex abuse. If the report is accurate, this move represents another grave blow to the Catholic priesthood, which is now tottering because of the draconian actions of American bishops wishing to atone for their past misprision of abuse.

Surely Archbishop Aymond recognizes the serious theological problems inherent in his proposal to laicize all credibly accused priests. Occasionally, a priest admits to having abused a minor. This kind of clear, unambiguous guilt represents a unique case in which laicization may, indeed, be justified. In most instances, however, “credibly accused” priests deny that they committed any wrongdoing. And usually these priests are accused of having abused someone years ago, so it is impossible to prove—or even to establish reasonably—that the alleged abuse actually occurred. This is precisely why civil prosecutors normally dismiss these cases; reliable and vital evidence becomes clouded and confused over time. Bishops formerly removed accused priests from ministry out of an abundance of caution. But now, a Catholic archbishop has seemingly proposed laicizing priests whose guilt has not been decisively established.

The archbishop may be motivated by economic interests. Priests who have been removed from ministry remain, canonically, the responsibility of their dioceses. Minimal but continuing sustenance must be provided for them. Priests who have been laicized, however, are regarded by the Church as laymen (though they remain priests due to the character indelebilis conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders). After laicization, dioceses are no longer responsible for these men financially or otherwise.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.