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To defrock, unfrock, or laicize a minister or priest is to remove their right to exercise the functions of the priestly office. This maybe because a priest has a criminal conviction, disciplinary matters, disagrees over doctrine or dogma or voluntarily for personal reasons (taking over a family business, health reasons, age or whatever). Various Christian denominations have different procedures for doing this.

Roman Catholicism

In the Catholic Church, a priest, deacon, or bishop may be dismissed from the clerical state as a penalty for certain grave offenses, or by a papal decree granted for grave reasons. This may be because of a serious criminal conviction, heresy, or similar matter. A Catholic cleric may also voluntarily request to be laicized for personal reasons (e.g., to enter into marriage, disagreement regarding dogma or to hold a public elective office[1]).

A dismissed priest is forbidden to exercise ministerial functions, but an indelible priestly character is held to remain on his soul (as is sung at a priest's ordination, "You are a priest forever, like Melchizedek of old").[2] Consequently, any exercise of his sacramental power to consecrate the Eucharist is considered valid but illicit.

If a penitent is in danger of death, a dismissed priest may and indeed must hear his confession and confer absolution.[3]. A cleric dismissed from the clerical state cannot be reinstated in the sacred ministry without the consent of the Pope. [4]

The laicization of bishops is very rare, although it has happened a few times, notably in the cases of Fernando Lugo in Paraguay and Emmanuel Milingo in Zambia.[5][6]

Eastern Orthodoxy

Gibel Pavla Kolomenskogo

Burning of the recently defrocked Paul of Kolomna (1656). A 19th century artist's impression.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, doctrine does not state that the priesthood confers an indelible character on the person's soul. Laicization removes the ordained status completely. All sacred actions of a former clergyman are normally considered invalid (beginning from the time of laicization).

Laicization of a clergyman or priest may come as a result of a request for removal from sacred orders, or as an ecclesiastical punishment. In the first case, very often, the cleric may ask to be laicized in order to enter a second marriage after the divorce or the death of the spouse. In this case, the man remains in good standing with the Church but is no longer a cleric or priest.

Forced laicization or removal from sacred orders is a form of ecclesiastical punishment, imposed by the ruling bishop of this cleric for certain transgressions. According to the canonical procedure, if the cleric is found guilty of an infringement of a sacred vow, unrepentant heresy, breaking of canons or ecclesiastical discipline, he can be suspended from exercising all clerical functions. If, disregarding his suspension, he continues to liturgize or does not repent of his actions, he may be permanently deposed from the sacred orders (in common parlance - "laicized"). Strictly speaking, the deposition can be appealed at the ecclesiastical court, but, in modern practice, the bishop's decision is usually final.

Laicization as an ecclesiastical punishment may carry with it the excommunication of the former cleric from the church for a certain period, or indefinitely. The anathema, the permanent act of excommunication, against a member of the church or a former cleric is usually imposed by the decision of the synod of bishops or the ecclesiastical council. In such cases, this not only defrocks the former cleric but also banishes him from entering an Orthodox church, receiving the Eucharist and other sacraments or being blessed by a priest.


In Anglicanism, defrocking is extremely rare. More common is the simple removal of licence. Anglican clergy are licensed to preach and perform sacraments by the bishop of the diocese in which they reside. In the event that the bishop suspends this licence, the priest would no longer be allowed to exercise these priestly functions.

In the Anglican Church of Canada "deposition from the exercise of ministry if the person is ordained" is equivalent to defrocking. These powers are given to the Diocesan Bishop (in most cases) subject to appeal to a Diocesan Court, or the Diocesan Court may exercise primary jurisdiction when the Bishop asks it to (for Diocesan Bishops the Provincial Metropolitan is given primary jurisdiction, for Metropolitans the Provincial House of Bishops is given jurisdiction, for the Primate it is the national House of Bishops). All these powers are subject to appeal to courts of appeal and on matters of doctrine to the Supreme Court of the Anglican Church of Canada (Canon XVIII)[not in citation given]. General Synod 2007 made the practice of suspending the license illegal in cases where discipline proceedings could be commenced (Resolution A082).

According to the Constitutions and Canons of the Episcopal Church in the USA, Title IV "Ecclesiastical Discipline", there are three modes of depriving a member of clergy from exercising his or her ministerial rights: inhibition, suspension, or deposition. Inhibitions and suspensions are temporary. A clergyperson who is deposed is "deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God's word and sacraments conferred at ordination." (Title IV, Canon 15, Of Terminology Used in This Section, Deposition).


In the United Methodist Church, when an elder, bishop, or deacon is defrocked, his ministerial credentials are removed.[7] Defrocking is usually the result of blatantly disobeying the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church and violating Biblical standards.[7] A defrocked clergyman is prohibited from celebrating the sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion).[8] A United Methodist Elder or Deacon may only have their credentials revoked through voluntary surrender, location (either honorable or dishonorable) or church trial. The United Methodist Book of Discipline outlines the specific rules for each option. Elders and Deacons may not simply be defrocked by a Bishop, but only through ecclesiastical due process.[9]

See also


  1. See Fernando Lugo, President of Paraguay and laicized bishop
  2. "Code of Canon Law (1983), Canons 290-293". The Holy See. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  3. "Code of Canon Law (1983), Canons 976, 986". The Holy See. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  4. "Code of Canon Law, Canon 293". 
  5. Vatican laicizes bishop who was elected president
  6. Vatican defrocks exorcist archbishop who married
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Creech found guilty; loses ministerial credentials". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  8. "United Methodists Move to Defrock Lesbian". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  9. The United Methodist Book of Discipline

ru:Извержение из сана

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