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Canon Law and Priests



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Step 4: Ordination
Call to Holy Orders
Registry of Ordinations
►Canon Law and the Priest
The Personality of Priests
A Day in the Life of a Priest
Web Resources



Values, Implications and Consequences of Failure for Diocesan Priests

Value for Diocesan Priests
Consequences of Failure
273 Reverence and obedience to the Holy Father and their Diocesan Bishop. A priest should be known for his deference and docility to authority and able to lead others in these virtues. One undercuts the credibility of the Church and risks harming the faithful by insubordination.
274►1 Only clerics can hold certain offices. Clerics are entrusted with power. Therefore they must make themselves ready to exercise the power of office. They should dedicate themselves to the things requiring orders or governance before taking on other responsibilities. One damages the spiritual or temporal well being of the Church by negligence or abuse of one's power.
274►2 Obligation to accept assignments given by the bishop. A priest must be flexible and detached in considering where to use one's gifts and talents. One damages the good of the whole apostolate by failure to do one's share of suffering for the Gospel.
275►1 Presbyteral unity and cooperation A priest must understand themselves as part of a body of priests working for a singular purpose with whom they must work towards unity and mutual cooperation. Priestly fraternity and common prayer must be a priority. One deprives the Church of the ministry that only communion can accomplish. Individual priestly ministry is limited and weakened. The fundamental work of the Chuch is made more difficult for all. Many defect from the ministry and the people are forced to accept a void of excellent leadership.
275►2 Fostering the proper apostolate of the laity. A priest must look upon lay people as his equals in the work of the gospel and do all he can to foster their particular charisms. The priest hinders the mission of the gospel by trying to hold on to power either directly or sublety or he abdicates his own responsibilities to lay people and fails to lead them appropriately.
276►1 The Life of Holiness as fostered through ones consecration, function and service. A priest must remember his vocation and identity. He must clearly understand the vital role he plays in shepherding God's people in a posture of service. Priesthood becomes an act. One loses contact with the divine calling which is the spiritual origin of ministry. One begins to build his priesthood around non-priestly identity sources. The peole are poorly served because they are hungry for spiritual food.
1.  All priesthood is pastoral in nature
2.  Priestly ministry flows from Word and Sacrament
3.  The cosmology of the Divine Office is real food to ministry
4.  Retreats and recollection days provide the proper perspective for ministry
5.  The spiritual life of the Church and the ongoing conversion called for int he Sacrament of penance must take shape inthe person of the priest and be the source of meeting his spiritual needs
Priestly ministry fundamentally depends on the formation of a way of perfection that allows one to serve others as a spiritual physician.
Without spiritual life priestly ministry is void of its core. In shepherding the priest either places heavy burdens upon people or trivialized their journey of faith. Preaching and counseling become trite and irrelevant to faith. The people become spiritually undernourished and begin to prefer worldly wisdom, spiritualism in its many forms, or some brand of fundamentalism.
 277►1 Clerical continence and celibacy as a unique resource for ministry.
Priests must understand why the Church calls for celibacy and embrace the Church's vision of celibacy as a gift and font of ministerial love.
Sexual abstinence becomes the source of profound human unhappiness or duplicitous sexual activity. Both erode a person's conscience. In either case priestly ministry is distorted and can become the source of scandal.
Prudence and caution to protect one's obligations and avoid scandal. Priests must understand that in the area of celibacy and continence they must be above reproach and their behavior should not be open to doubt among reasonable people.
 The impression is given that there can be a middle way concerning celibate lifestyle and people see the Church's teaching as hypocritical and perceive high levels of scandalous behavior whether or not it si really occurring.Ultimately the character of individual priests is called into question and the people lose faith in their priests as moral examples.
There is need for culturally adapted norms concerning what is appropriate in clerical lifestyle.   Where bishops have acted in establishing norms priests need to see these as appropriate extensions of canonical discipline. Where bishops have not acted to establish culturally adapted norms, priest must use other helps to establish such norms for themselves.
All behavior becomes subject to scruples. Priests refrain from appropriate expressions of their spiritual paternity and the relationship with God's People becomes cold and aloof rather than appropriately familial. 

The appropriate use of the right of association by clerics.
 Priests must understand that they are public persons inthe Church and that their choices to join groups (ecclesial and non-ecclesial) or associate with groups should be fitting to their clerical state. Conflicts of interest must be settled in favor of clerical obligations.
 The mission of the Church is confused with individual causes, or distracted by activities foreign to it. The influence of individual priests or the hwole church becomes corrupt or diluted. The preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of the doctrine of the faith suffers.

Appropriate pastoral ministry depends on ongoing formation in the sacred sciences and other disciplines helpful to the sacred sciences.  Priests must realize that they are called to be truly expert on the matters of faith and Church teaching and that they must continuously refresh themselves so that they can make the faith comprehensible to people as an answer to their human questions.
The preaching and teaching functions within the Church becomes insipid and priests become unable to offer to offer a credible way for people to live out their Catholic faith int heir daily lives. The Church's communion suffers from a lack of doctrinal core around which people can form true ecclesial life. Educated Catholics begin to prefer non-faith responses to their lives.
Priesthood as a fraternity or brotherhood.  Diocesan priests must realize that while not called to live in community they must have elements of common life to sustain both prayer and ministry.
The cleric who does not respect his limits and meet his needs in appropriate ways finds his ministry limited by inappropriate behavior and unhealthy lifestyle. God's people are led to believe that they must take care of the priest in inappropriate ways and be inappropriately involved in his well being.
The worker is worth is wage and ensuring one's personal needs are met and that one has resources with which to do his job is part of appropriate ministry.  Diocesan priests must have a commitment to respecting their human limits and appropriately meeting their human needs as a function of offering appropriate ministry. They must also balance the desire for an appropriately poor and simple lifestyle with the needs of their obligations to serve effectively in ministry.  Clerics who neglect proper attention to simplicity of life undercut their celibate commitment by fostering self-indulgence. They also give scandal if people come to believe that what is destined for the spiritual good of all is being used for the luxury of others.  
Simplicity of life and aversion to vanity.   A diocesan priest should avoid the collection of worldly goods especially those that tend to foster his own vanity. They are to sue the goods they acquire for decent support of themselves and their state in life. What remains should be used for the works fo the Church and charity to the poor.
Clerics who neglect proper attention to simplicity of life undercut their celibate commitment by fostering self-indulgence. They also give scandal if people come to believe that what is destined for the spiritual good of all is being used for the luxury of clerics. 
Residence and vacation  The diocesan priesthood and its ministry require active presence and involvement.
Clerics who abuse this canon neglect the needs of the flock and begin to blur the proper boundaries of professional responsibility.
Clerical dress  The diocesan priesthood is a sacred ministry of leadership and authority
Clerics who fail to use clerical dress appropriately either blur the proper boundaries between sacred ministers and the lay faithful or create artificial barriers between the sacred ministry and the faithful. Also, at danger is the proper balance between priestly identity and personal identity.
Unbecoming activities for clerics
--particular law determine what is foreign to the clerical state
--clerics should avoid what is alien to the clerical state
--no exercise of civil power
--Bishop's permission to act as a fiduciary or commit oneself for unsecured debts
Diocesan priesthood is a public role and activities that conflict with that role should be avoided. In gray areas consult one's proper ordinary.
Clerics that ignore this canon cause the Church's interests to suffer by the appearance of exercising undue influence in on-spiritual realms or neglect of spiritual duties for personal or financial gain.  
Not giving the appearance of simony  It is improper for priests to cultivate business through their ministry. In gray areas competent authority should be consulted.
Clerics who ignore this canon cause their sacred ministry to be dismissed by the appearance that it is being done for financial gain or mixed with other business interests. 
Fostering peace and justice and the equidistant position of the Church from different parities in societal conflicts.  Diocesan priests should not be associated with violence or injustice in any way. Clerics not be associated with partisan politics or labor unions. When there are gray areas competent authority should be consulted.
Clerics who ignore this canon cause the teaching authority of the church to be damaged by confusion with other secular concerns. The rights of the laity to freedom in secular affairs is violated and members of opposing viewpoints are alienated from the Church and the Gospel. 
Military service and other civil service  Military service (per se --i.e. not chaplaincy) is inconsistent with priesthood, so are certain civic responsibilities. All  exemptions from these should be used. hen doubt arises competent authority should be consulted.
This canon has limited application int he United States but clerics hwo ignore it may harm the Church by their neglect. 

Fr. Thomas E. Thompson  
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vocation pages have been viewed since August 1, 2007