Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bishop released from clerical obligations

It may be the canonist in me but I thought this story was worthy of note. It has always been my understanding that bishops are not granted such a dispensation. They can be excommunicated (as with archbishop Lefebvre and the bishops he consecrated or archbishop Milingo and as it seemed bishop Lugo may have been) but not released from the obligations of the clerical state. On the other hand the old Pontifical has the dramatic rite of degradatio whereby a bishop has to remove the signs of his episcopal rank which seems to indicate it has happened before. A discussion of possible cases can be found here.

So it is interesting to see that the Holy See has granted this to bishop Lugo so that he can take up his new job of president of Paraguay. Here is the full story from the Associated Press:

Vatican lets Paraguayan leader quit as bishop


ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguay's president-elect has received unprecedented permission from the pope to resign as bishop, the papal nuncio said Wednesday, ending a dispute over Fernando Lugo's priestly status.

Church officials earlier insisted that Lugo, 57, would always be a bishop under church law.
"This is the first case within the church in which a bishop receives a dispensation," Nuncio Orlando Antonini said at a news conference. "Yes, there have been many other priests the pope has left in the status of layman, but never a member of the hierarchy until today."

Lugo also made history with April's presidential election victory, which ended the 61-year rule of the Colorado Party in Paraguay. The former "bishop of the poor" takes office on Aug. 15.

"It's a great pain for the church to lose a bishop, a priest whom we tried to dissuade from the political option up to the last day of his election campaign," Antonini said. "But the Holy Father recognized that he was elected by the majority of the people to lead Paraguay for the next five years."

Lugo resigned as bishop of San Pedro in 2004 and said he had resigned from the status of bishop itself in 2006, when he decided to run for president. That alarmed church leaders who said it violated papal rules against priestly involvement in politics.

The president of the Paraguayan Bishops Conference, Ignacio Gogorza, told the newspaper Ultima Hora in 2006 that Lugo might even be excommunicated for his plunge into politics.
"A bishop does not stop being a bishop just because he resigns," Gogorza said at the time.
Antonini said Wednesday's announcement follows "long analysis" by Vatican experts in canon law.

Lugo remains a member of the church and was not excommunicated, unlike former Zambian Archbhishop Emmanuel Milingo, who was excommunicated in 2006 after ordaining married men as priests and taking a wife himself.

The nuncio said the decision is final: Lugo "cannot return to his earlier condition as a cleric." Lugo earlier had suggested he would like to be bishop again after serving as president.
Antonini said Lugo even "was freed from the vow of chastity. That is to say, like any other layman, if he wants, he could contract matrimony under civil law." Lugo has not indicated any wish to marry, and his sister Mercedes is to serve as first lady.

He has also maintained an austere lifestyle, even wearing the sort of sandals he used as a priest, and apparently remains devout.

Lugo's niece, Mirta Maidana, who serves as an aide to the incoming first lady, announced this week that the president's office would reopen a Catholic chapel at the presidential residence that had been closed under outgoing President Nicanor Duarte, a Mennonite. She said the chapel would be open to the public.

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Anonymous said...

What a shame the degradatio ceremonies were not employed. I have always wanted to see the stripping away of the pontificalia: the mitre, the book of Gospels, the ring, the crozier, gloves and sandals.

But is the chasuble, dalmatic and tunic stripped to? One wonders if the misfortunate cleric is left in his underpants.

Fr Michael Brown said...

According to my pontifical the last part is the removal of the tonsure when the cleric also has to divest himself of clerical garb and put on secular clothes. Given that ordination to the priesthood confers a character and can never be removed, some of these ceremonies seem to imply otherwise as in the rubbing of a knife over the hands of priest with the text reading that the power of sanctifying, consecrating and blessing is being removed. Old Believer, do you have any information about when these ceremonies were used and their theological significance?

Anonymous said...

Does this mean he has chosen power over serving God. He may have been chosen by the people to lead Paraguay for five years but was he not chosen by God to lead people via the church for his lifetime. I am totally shocked a Bishop has been given permission to resign. Sounds like he wants the best of both worlds, to be President then return to being a Bishop.

Fr Michael Brown said...

He did want to return to being a bishop but has been told he can`t. You ae entitled to be shocked as it appears to be the first time it has happened.

PeterHWright said...

I am confused as to Mr. Lugo's present and future status.

Sacramentally, he cannot be "unordained". The Sacrament of Ordination leaves an indelible mark on the soul.

Canonically, he (presumably) has forfeited the the right to celebrate the Mass or dispense the sacraments, together with the loss of all eccesiastical titles : Bishop, Father, Rev.

But there has been no formal sentence issued by Rome, has there ? That he has received a "dispensation" from Rome sounds a bit vague.

And, anyway, does not the Holy See have the power to re-instate him at a later date, or am I wrong about that ?

Frankly, I find it rather scandalous.

Anonymous said...

Alas, Dr. Brown, I don't have any immediate references to when the degradation ceremonies were last used.

I find it an interesting concept to remove the tonsure. Presumably the head is shaved as I cannot imagine sticking some hair back on?

The ceremonies clearly reflect a view different to the prevalant one today. At one point in history Rome declared that the tradition of instruments was the essential part of ordination rites (Decree to the Armenians) and I would suspect the degradation ceremonies reflect this.

There was also some casuistry about burning hertical clerics. Heretical clerics were reduced to the lay state before burning - presumably burning a layman was considered to be without any theological concerns.

I have just had an interesting discussion with an Orthodox cleric and some Orthodox (generally the more 'hard line') consider orders are lost for shaving off a beard. More generally there is a concept that clergy can return to the lay state.

I suppose in the case of President-Elect Lugo he was never one for wearing pontificals so a degradation would not be in order. But he could be given a shave?

Pastor in Monte said...

I'm sure I remember reading that a bishop in Ireland in the 19th Century, on the death of his siblings, was permitted by the Pope to return to the lay state so that he could marry and continue his family's line.

Anonymous said...

Am I write in thinking that Cranmer was degraded, presumably prompted by the casuistry mentioned by old believer?

Fr Michael Brown said...

The WDTPRS link has a discussion of the Irish case. Cramner sounds likely a likely candidate for degradation. I`m getting more interested in the whole thing. Maybe that is what I should have written my canon law tesina on!