The priesthood is forever theologically, so, formally laicized or not, a man who leaves to marry is a married priest--although a priest who is not permitted to function as such. Under Pope Paul VI, Rome granted laicization almost for the asking. Paul was said to think that after the dissastisfied priests had left, things would settle down. But, as with divorce, the easy availability of laicization increased the instances of it. Pope John Paul II slammed the door on the procedure when he took office in 1978, and it is perhaps as difficult to get laicized now as it was in E. Boyd Barrett's day. That is to say, all but impossible.

I have made notes for a novel in which a laicized priest is called to his father's deathbed. The dying man refuses to receive the last rites from anyone but his son. The son has lost his faith and even if he did not, he wonders: Is this a sufficient emergency? (If you are seated beside a laicized priest when your plane is going down, he can give you absolution.) The elements of drama are there. A father trying to blackmail his son into resuming his priestly function. The son, no longer believing that what his father wants is meaningful, nonetheless pulled back into the ambience of grace and sin and life everlasting.

Perhaps it is best to ponder such matters in fiction. In the half-imaginary world of the novel, a man who applied for laicization with the shallow motivation of partaking of the Sexual Revolution might find marriage no more adhesive than the priesthood. He might flit from flower to flower. The call back to his father's deathbed might be his salvation. You can take the man out of the priesthood, but you can't take the priesthood out of the man. That is what the church has always taught, and it always leaves open a door of repentance for priests who, like the rest of us, are human and sin.

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