In June 2009, the Pope gave bishops power to dismiss ‘errant’ priests.
The rules aimed at clergy living with women or who have left ministry, but sexual abuse was to be dealt with by separate body.
Pope Benedict XVI it was who authorised the new powers for bishops to dismiss “errant” priests from their ministry.
The guidelines, issued by the Congregation for Clergy – the Vatican body which oversees the priesthood – will make it easier and faster for bishops to dismiss priests who are living with women, have left their ministry or who have engaged in scandalous behaviour.
The new powers did not apply to cases involving clerical sex abuse, which will continue to be dealt with by a separate body.
Cardinal Claudio Hummes told the Catholic News Service then that the new, quicker administrative procedure was prompted by “many situations where canon law did not seem adequate for meeting new problems” saying, as an example, that the 1983 code of canon law made no provision for priests who had abandoned their ministry.
The initiative also addresses priests who have attempted or entered into a civil marriage, are having a sexual relationship with a woman or have violated another church or moral law that causes scandal.
Hummes said that where a priest had fathered children, they had “the right to have a father who is in a correct situation in the eyes of God and with his own conscience. So helping these people is one of the reasons there are new procedures.”
In a letter informing bishops of the development, he wrote: “Situations of grave lack of discipline on the part of some clergy have occurred in which the attempts to resolve the problems by the pastoral and canonical means foreseen in the code of canon law are shown to be insufficient or unsuitable to repair scandal, to restore justice or to reform the offender.”
Previously, bishops wanting to dismiss a priest had to begin a formal juridical trial against him.