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Bishop invites priests who left voluntarily to return to ministry or seek laicization

RICHMOND, Va (The Catholic Virginian) - Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo is extending an invitation to priests who have voluntarily left the active ministry to return to priestly ministry or take the first step in the process of laicization by which they would be made part of the laity.

The Bishop is making an initial attempt through The Catholic Virginian to contact priests who are no longer in active ministry but may want to return and serve as priests again.

“This is a first step to regularize their situation with the Church,” said Father Mark Richard Lane, the diocese’s Vicar for Clergy.

Some might respond and return to priestly ministry, he suggested.

Others who have left the ministry and may have married outside the Church may want to take action to have their civil marriage recognized by the Church, he added.

Father Lane, who was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Richmond in 1974, says he has gone over more than 300 files of inactive priests, men who have left the active ministry.

“Some of these files were dealt with very pastorally by Bishop (Walter F.) Sullivan and Bishop (John J.) Russell,” Father Lane said. The files date back to the late 1950s.

Bishop Sullivan, who preceded Bishop DiLorenzo, served as bishop from 1974 to 2003 when he retired. The late Bishop Russell, who died in 1993 at age 95, served as Bishop of Richmond from 1958 to 1973.

“These two bishops would receive petitions for laicization from priests of other dioceses and religious communities who happened to be living in Virginia,” Father Lane said.

“Bishop Sullivan would assist the priest in carrying out the requirements of the Holy See,” he continued.

“The bishop would write a votum (Latin term) after he met with the priest, basically saying ‘I think this would be a good idea,’ (that the priest seek laicization).”

‘Favor of laicization’

In continuing the process of seeking laicization, the priest must write a spiritual autobiography in which he might express doubts that he had made the wrong choice in seeking ordination.

“There is also a request for the priest’s academic records of the seminary he attended and often the opinion of the Vicar for Clergy,” said Msgr. Francis Muench, Judicial Vicar of the Diocesan Tribunal.

The priest would also be asked to name witnesses who might speak on his behalf as he seeks the “favor of laicization,” Msgr. Muench said.

Such witnesses would be those who knew the priest well while he was on his journey toward the priesthood and while he was in active ministry.

Priests who were part of religious communities such as the Benedictines, Jesuits or Dominicans, all of whom currently serve in the Diocese of Richmond, would petition for laicization through their religious superiors.

“Our concern is for our diocesan priests,” Father Lane said.

“Some of these men were very talented priests and their decision to leave was not made lightly,” Father Lane said, “nor is the decision to return made lightly.

“That’s why we’re here to help.”

Those priests in good standing who are interested in seeking to return to priestly ministry or who wish to start the process of laicization are asked to contact Father Mark Richard Lane, Office of the Vicar for Clergy, 7800 Carousel Lane, Richmond, VA 23294 or mlane@richmonddiocese.org.

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Catholic Virginian (www.catholicvirginian.org), official newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond, Va.

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