Tom Hoopes is Vice President of College Relations and writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He has written for the Register for more than 20 years and was its executive editor for 10. His writing has appeared in First Things’ First Thoughts, National Review Online, Crisis, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside Catholic and Columbia. He has served as press secretary for the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. He and his wife, April, were editorial co-directors of Faith & Family magazine for 5 years. They have nine children.
As we report below, Father Alberto Cutié has decided to join the Episopal Church.
Some questions arise ...
1. What will his status be as a Catholic?
2. Is he excommunicated?
3. Will he still be a priest?
4. Will his sacraments be valid?
I put them to canonist Msgr. Jason Gray, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., by e-mail.
1. What will his status be as a Catholic? HE IS IN SCHISM.
2. Is he excommunicated? YES
Said Msgr. Gray:
“Fr. Cutie is a Catholic priest joining a non-Catholic Christian denomination. This is a public act of schism (c. 751). The punishment for schism is excommunication (c. 1364), and he can also lose any rights he had to his last assignment (or office) as a Catholic priest (c. 1336.1.2). If he freely commits schism with an awareness of the consequences, Fr. Cutie incurs the penalty of excommunication himself simply by committing the act of schism.”
3. Will he still be a priest? HE CANNOT ACT AS ONE.
Said Msgr. Gray:
“Excommunication prevents Fr. Cutie from celebrating the sacraments for others or receiving the sacraments himself. He is also prevented from exercising his office (i.e. performing any duties connected with his last priestly assignment) (c. 1331.1).
“Furthermore, a priest who attempts to marry is suspended (c. 1394.1). If Fr. Cutie freely marries with a knowledge of the consequences, then he incurs the penantly of suspension himself simply by going through the marriage ceremony. If he does not repent, the local archbishop can add further penalties, which can include dismissal from the clerical state.
“Suspension prevents Fr. Cutie from exercising any of his priestly powers, including the celebration of sacraments (c. 1333).
“Dismissal from the clerical state is similar to the expression ‘being laicized.’ If this happens, then Fr. Cutie is no longer considered a priest. It is important to note that ‘laicization’ commonly refers to something voluntarily requested by a priest who wishes to depart. Dismissal from the clerical state is involuntary and imposed on the priest.
“It is theoretically possible for Fr. Cutie to return to the Catholic priesthood even after an excommunication or suspension (but not dismissal fromt the clerical state). He would have to repent and renounce his past actions. The seriousness of this case would require receiving a dispensation from Rome (see cc. 1041.2 and 3, 1044.1.2 and 3, and 1047.2.1).”
4. Will his sacraments be valid? SOME WON’T; SOME WILL.
“If he goes through with his expressed plans, he will not be able to validly hear confessions or marry Catholics in the Church. His baptisms would be valid, since anyone can baptize, though the persons baptized would probably be considered Episcopalian and not Catholic. As an ordained priest, he still has the power to validly confect the Eucharist when saying Mass, though he is forbidden to do this, and it is altogether illicit.”
Click here for our 2006 article on “Rent A Priest” for further clarity from Msgr. Gray about laicized priests.