In a new move aimed at reforming the clergy and eliminating careerism in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has abolished the conferral of the Pontifical Honor of ‘Monsignor’ on secular priests under the age of 65.
Henceforth, the only Pontifical Honor that will be conferred on ‘secular priests’ will
be that of ‘Chaplain to His Holiness’ and this will be conferred only
on ‘worthy priests’ who are over 65 years of age.
(‘Secular priests’ are
priests in a diocese, who are not monks or members of religious
institutes or orders).
The Vatican’s Secretariat of State has
communicated this news to Apostolic Nuncios around the world, and has
asked them to inform all bishops in their respective countries of the
decision in this regard taken by Pope Francis.
Thus, for example, on January 2, the Apostolic
Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, wrote to all the
bishops in Great Britain to inform them of the Pope’s decision. He
confirmed that “the privileges in this regard” that have already been
granted by the Roman Pontiff to “physical or juridical persons” remain
This would suggest that the papal decree is not retroactive,
those who are already monsignors will not lose their title.
The decision does not come as a surprise to those who know Pope Francis. A
humble man, he has always been averse to ecclesiastical titles, and
when he was bishop and later cardinal in Argentina he always asked
people to call him ‘Father’, instead of ‘My Lord’, ‘Your Grace’ or
‘Your Eminence’; he is convinced that the name ‘Father’ best reflects
the mission that has been entrusted to a priest, bishop or cardinal.
Indeed, during his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires (1998-2013), he
never asked the Holy See to confer the title of ‘monsignor’ on any
priest in the archdiocese.
In taking this decision, Pope Francis is building
on the reform in this area of ecclesiastical titles that was introduced
by Paul VI in 1968, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.
Paul VI’s reform there were 14 grades of ‘monsignor’, he reduced them to
the three ranks that exist today: Apostolic Protonotary, Honorary
Prelate of His Holiness, Chaplain of His Holiness. The original titles dated back to the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644).
These three honors are granted by the Pope,
usually on the proposal of the local bishop, to Catholic priests who
have rendered particularly valuable service to the Church. The
priests are given these Pontifical Honors may be addressed as
‘Monsignor’ and has certain privileges, such as those regarding
ecclesiastical dress and vestments.
Many bishops have tended to use the honor as a way
of rewarding priests who are particularly loyal to them, or to promote
priests who have showed particular initiative, but not infrequently
priests in their dioceses have read it in a different light.
Christmas, a senior Vatican prelate told me that Pope Francis had
recently refused the request of one bishop who had asked him to confer
the title of ‘Monsignor’ on no less than 12 priests in his diocese.
source told me that in some countries the Pontifical Honor is conferred
in a ceremony that, sometimes, is far from the style of Church that
The Pope’s decision does not make any changes regarding the conferral
of Pontifical Honors for Religious and Lay people, the Vatican
Secretariat of State stated in its communication to the nuncios.
said the same conditions apply as previously for such honors, as does
the mode for requesting them.