Yesterday, we published an article on the sacrament of Holy Orders. In this sacrament, men are ordained to the sacred order of the priesthood. The Roman Pontifical, the book that contains the rites for ordinations to all of the minor and major orders, also includes the chilling rite of Degradatio ab ordine Presbyteratus—Degradation from the Order of Priest. This rite is the opposite of ordination. It is for priests who have betrayed their vocation by committing serious crimes. Through this ceremony, such a man is cast off from the order of priest. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf wrote about the rite of degradation on his blog.
The ceremony is performed by a bishop in a public square, so that all may see. The priest being degraded is stripped of each order one by one—first the order of bishop if applicable, then priest, deacon, subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, porter, and finally the first tonsure. The symbols of each order are taken away. His hands are scraped with a knife or piece of glass to remove the anointing. When the bishop performing the ceremony strips the degraded priest of his chasuble, he says (English translation by Fr. Zulhsdorf):
|Veste Sacerdotali caritatem signante te merito expoliamus, quia ipsam, et omnem innocentiam exuisti.||We rightly despoil you of the priestly garment signifying charity, because you already cast it off along with all innocence.|
The degraded priest is then deprived of each of the lower orders in turn. Finally, his head is shaved to remove the first tonsure. At the end, the degraded priest, in layman's clothes, is handed over to the magistrate. Ordination makes an indelible mark on the soul, so the man will always be a priest, but he is henceforth prohibited from any exercise of his priestly ministry. He may not wear priestly vestments, offer the Mass, hear confessions, give blessings, or do anything else that priests do.
Sadly, this ceremony may be needed once again. It has recently come to light that many priests have used their anointed and consecrated hands, not to bless, sanctify or lead the faithful, but to hurt people. Hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania alone, and probably hundreds more around the world, have been credibly accused of sexually molesting children. The former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano (whom I had the privilege of meeting when he visited Spokane, Washington, in 2015), has even stated that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, was complicit in covering up the sexual abuse of children.
I would love for the ceremony of degradation to be revived and carried out for every single priest and bishop who has betrayed his ministry by abusing children or being complicit in the abuse of children. It should be televised around the world. At the very least, it would demonstrate the true horror of what they have done. Hopefully it would deter other priests from betraying their priesthood.
There are no words to describe how sorrowful and angry I am. These priests' actions are inexcusable. They were ordained to lead the people of God to heaven, but instead they hurt the people entrusted to them. They have not acted in the person of Christ, but in the person of Satan. Most importantly, we look up to priests, submit to their care, and even call them our father. These priests have destroyed this sacred relationship. People looked up to them, and they responded by harming them. People called them, “Father,” but they have been anything but fatherly. The sexual abuse of children is a horrific crime for anyone to commit, but it is especially horrific when committed by priests. It is an unmitigated betrayal of their vocations as priests. I have no respect for the priests who have committed these crimes.
I hope and pray that each of the priests and bishops who have committed or assisted these crimes repents of his sins and seeks God's mercy and forgiveness. God willing, he can repent before it is too late and avoid the eternal consequences of his actions. As our Lord prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Furthermore, I hope that each of them is brought to civil justice and receives a just criminal sentence. The fact that they are priests and bishops in no way excuses them from criminal penalties.
Despite all of these terrible things, we must not lose hope. Jesus promised that the gates of hell could never overcome his Church. The Catholic Church is still the true Church of God, and the Catholic faith is still the divine and infallible truth. Some people have been so scandalized by this news that they have chosen to leave the Church. Although they are right to be disgusted, these events cannot change the divine nature of the Catholic Church. No matter what terrible sins humans may commit, they cannot destroy God's Church. The light of Christ will always prevail. “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5). We must continue serving God in his Church, through the Mass and the Divine Office. The Church needs it now more than ever.