Q. 1. What does the expression "You are a priest forever" mean? Since some priests are laicized and get married, they cannot be a priest forever.
A. 1. The Code of Canon Law # 290 states:
"Sacred ordination once validly received never becomes invalid. A cleric, however, loses the clerical state:
1° by a judgement of a court or an administrative decree, declaring the ordination invalid;
2° by the penalty of dismissal lawfully imposed;
3° by a rescript of the Apostolic See; this rescript, however, is granted to deacons only for grave reasons and to priests only for the gravest of reasons."
In simple words, the Holy Orders of a priest never become invalid. But he may no longer be able to practice as a priest for a number of reasons.
The Code of Canon Law # 1582 states, "As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. the sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily."
The Sacrament of the Holy Orders is similar to the Sacrament of Baptism. While a baptized person can stop practicing his faith, he can never undo his baptism. Equally, while a priest can stop being a minister of God, he can never undo his ordination.
As Canon Law # 1583 states, "It is true that someone validly ordained can, for a just reason, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. the vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently."
A priest who is discharged from the obligations and functions linked to his ordination can no longer:
- act as a priest;
- minister within his diocese or religious institute;
- celebrate Holy Mass;
- administer the Sacraments;
- be called "Father" or "Reverend";
- wear clerical clothing;
- be supported financially by the Church.
To the public, he would appear to be a regular layperson who holds a job and lives a non-clerical normal life. Regarding a priest who loses his clerical state:
Canon Law # 291, "Apart from the case mentioned above in can. 290, n. 1, loss of the clerical state does not entail a dispensation from the obligation of celibacy, which only the Roman Pontiff grants.
Canon Law # 292 A cleric who loses the clerical state according to the norm of law loses with it the rights proper to the clerical state and is no longer bound by any obligations of the clerical state, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 291. He is prohibited from exercising the power of orders, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 976. By the loss of the clerical state, he is deprived of all offices, functions, and any delegated power.
Canon Law # 293 A cleric who loses the clerical state cannot be enrolled among clerics again except through a rescript of the Apostolic See."
Although a priest can be discharged from all obligations and functions linked to his ordination, the fact remains that if someone is dying, he can still administer the Last Rites (includes Confession) to that person because he is a priest forever.
Canon Law # 976 "Even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present."
A final note, a priest who leaves the priesthood, he is not automatically entitled to get married. Canon Law # 291, "Apart from the case mentioned in can. 290, n. 1, loss of the clerical state does not entail a dispensation from the obligation of celibacy, which only the Roman Pontiff grants."
To be dispensed from the vow of celibacy, the priest must obtain that permission from the Pope. Such applications are rare since Pope John Paul II established his practice of refusing such requests.