The Vatican has appealed to diocesan bishops to encourage priests who have left ministry in order to get married, to play a more active role in parish life.
According to the Uk-based Catholic Herald, Cardinal Ivan Dias, who serves as Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization, wrote in a letter dated February 2, 2011, that he hopes new rules will allow laicized priests to become active in the life of local churches.
The new rules would reportedly allow bishops to approve the pastoral activity of a laicized priest, whereas previously the Vatican was required to give permission for any such activity.
The Catholic Herald story does not make it clear whether the policies cited by Cardinal Dias apply only to mission territories under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Evangelization or to the entire Church.
Under current Church law, a priest who has been laicized cannot preach, administer the Eucharist, or teach in a seminary.
In a copy of a letter seen by The Catholic Herald, Cardinal Ivan Dias placed more discretionary power in the hands of bishops for discerning a dispensed cleric’s involvement with parish life.
According to the Catholic Herald, the letter by Cardinal Dias was sent to a priest, who had written to the congregation on behalf of an Australian missionary society that is seeking a relaxation of the prohibitions on dispensed clergy.
Cardinal Dias wrote of his confidence that the Vatican’s reforms would enable dispensed priests to lead a more active life in the Church as committed Catholics under their bishop’s guidance.
The usual mode of laicisation and dispensation from the priestly vow of celibacy is through a “rescript of the Apostolic See”, meaning a response from the Pope or a sacred congregation granting a favour and the conditions upon which it is granted.
The cardinal’s letter means that the enforcement of half the prohibitions stipulated in the rescript will now come under the discretion of the local bishop.
Prohibitions that are no longer absolute include: teaching theology in schools or universities, both Catholic and non-Catholic, contact with the parish where the priest used to serve and administering the Eucharist.
This does not involved former priest who have been excommunicated from the Catholic Church.