What Does It Mean to Be Defrocked in the Catholic Church? Holy Cross Professor Explains

Mathew Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies. Photo by John Buckingham

The Conversation

In a historic move, Pope Francis "defrocked" Theodore E. McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, after the church found him guilty of sexual abuse. McCarrick, who was once one of the most powerful Catholic officials in the U.S., became the highest-ranking church official to be punished in this way in modern times.

In an article for The Conversation, Mathew Schmalz, associate professor of religious studies at Holy Cross, explains the meaning and history behind the concept of defrocking, otherwise known as "laicization."

Schmalz writes that, contrary to popular belief, "McCarrick will still be a 'priest,' although without his clerical office and its associated privileges," because in the eyes of the church, the priestly ordination cannot be removed.

"What this means for McCarrick is that he can never be a layperson in the way that rank-and-file Catholics are. Ironically, he will always retain the spiritual mark given to him when he first became a priest," says Schmalz.

To read the full article, go to The Conversation.

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