Pope Francis has confirmed that the impediments preventing one from being ordained – such as homicide, abortion, or attempted suicide – apply whether or not the man was Catholic at the time the act occurred.
As the law is written, a doubt existed that the “irregularities,” as
they are called, applied only to those who were Catholic – and thus
those who were under the law – at the time they were committed.
Pope Francis affirmed the definitive interpretation, that the law
does apply to non-Catholics who have performed the acts, in a meeting
with members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts on May 31.
The letter was made public by the Vatican Sept. 15.
The purpose of the law is to provide extra protection to the sanctity
of the Sacrament of Holy Orders – in the episcopate, priesthood, and
diaconate – Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, secretary
of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said in the Vatican
newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. He clarified that it is not a
punishment for the irregularizing act, but merely an upholding of the
dignity of Holy Orders.
Canon 1041 of the Code of Canon Law
states that, among others, “any person who has committed voluntary
homicide or procured a completed abortion and all those who positively
cooperated in either” and “a person who has mutilated himself or another
gravely and maliciously or who has attempted suicide” is “irregular for
receiving (holy) orders.”
Bishop Arrieta told reporters Thursday that it is possible for a
dispensation to be granted by special intervention of the bishop if the
person is truly contrite, “but a warning sign remains.”
Precaution is required in order to “protect the dignity of the sacrament,” he said.
The definitive interpretation is substantiated by a reasoned, rather
than overly formalistic reading of the law, Bishop Arrieta said in
“A different interpretation” of the canon, he continued, “would lead
to propose a discriminatory treatment by applying different rules
depending on the condition of whether or not Catholic at the time of the
This would be “particularly paradoxical and unjust, because both
Catholics and non-Catholics are equally bound to respect for his own
life and that of others, as belonging to the natural order,” he said.
Pope Francis also issued changes this week to the Latin code of canon
law, with an eye toward clarifying ministry to Eastern Catholics.
The Pope cited concern for harmony between the different codes. The name of the Pope’s apostolic letter, De concordia inter Codices,
in fact means “Concerning harmony between laws.” It is dated May 31 and
was released Sept. 15 and concerns topics such as baptism, marriage,
and change of ecclesiastical rite.
The Pope said the changes were motivated by the presence of many Eastern Catholics in predominantly Latin Catholic regions.