The Musings of Jeff Doucette

My dispensation from Rome as a priest. (March 2009)

I'm movin' on. At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me. And I know there's no guarantees, but I'm not alone.
....Rascal Flatts from the song "Moving On".

 As mentioned I received my dispensation from Rome finally on Friday through the mail. I read the letter and once more the raw emotions swept through me as I read the document knowing this was what I had been waiting for. As I read the document I went quiet for a couple of hours trying to process the words, their meaning and allowing my emotions to play out. During this time Sandy and I worked on painting our bedroom as we continue to remodel and rework our house into a home.

I signed the dispensation with its conditions and then sat down and wrote a letter to acompany it. It helped me work through the emotions and hopefully breathe out with both lungs. I decided to share this personal document with you who follow my blog because I believe it is important for Catholics to see that this process can be long, emotional, puzzling, head shaking and unbelievable. After signing it I mailed it back to Archbishop Andre who must now sign it and send back to Rome through the church diplomatic channels.

The first part is the actual dispensation as translated (no not from me) from Latin. I am adding my comments here and there and they will be in bold. The second part of the blog is the letter I wrote to Cardinal Humes, head of the Congregation for Clergy. It will be attached to my dispensation (I hope if Archbishop Andre and the Papal Nuncio respect my wishes) and returned to Rome. Here goes...

(my dispensation)

Congregation for Clergy

Rev, Jeffery Alan Doucette, a priest of the Archdiocese of Moncton, humbly requests a dispensation from sacred celibacy and from all the obligationas attached to sacred ordination.

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
On the 17th day of Decvember 2008 (I received it on March 12th, 2009)

Having received the report on the case from this Congregation, has granted the request with the following conditions:

#1 The Rescript of dispensation is to be made known by the competent ordinary to the petitioner as soon as possible according to n.2:
a) it has effect from the moment of its being notified.
b) It inseparably includes the dispensation from sacred celibacy and at the same time loss of the clerical state. The petitioner cannot separate the two elements, accept the first and turn down the latter;
c) If the petitioner is a religious, the rescript contains also a dispensation from vows;
d) Furthermore, the rescript carries with it an absolution from censures, insofar as this is necessary.

#2 Notification of the dispensation shall be made to the petitioner either personally or by the same ordinary to his delegate, or by an ecclesiastical notary or by registered mail. The ordinary is to return one copy duly signed by the petioner indicating reception of the rescript of dispensation and, at the same time, acceptance of the conditions contained therein.

#3. Notification of the concession of dispensation is to be made in the baptismal register of the parish of the petitioner.

#4. With regard to the celebration of a canonical marriage, the norms of Canon law are to be applied. The Ordinary will see to it that the marriage is carried out discreetly without pomp and external display. (We were married by a United Church minister so no further action will happen)

#5 The ecclesiastical authority to whom it belongs to notify the petitioner of the rescript should exhort himself to take part in the life of the people of God in a manner consonant with his new mode of life, to give edification (meaning intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement; enlightenment....hmmm!), and thus show himself to be a loving son of the Church (I wasn't before? So does this mean tobe quiet and obedient?). At the same time he will inform him of the following:

(a) The dispensed priest automatically loses all rights proper to the clerical state, ecclesiastical dignities and offices, and is no longer bound by the obligations connected with the clerical state;

(b) He is excluded from the exercise of the sacred ministry, with the exception of those functions mentioned in canons 976 and 986.2, and for this reason, he cannot give a homily, nor can he assume direction of pastoral offices, nor carry out the duties of parish administrator;

(c) Likewise he cannot carry out any function in seminaries and equivalent institutions. In other institutions of higher studies which in any way depend on ecclesiastical authority, he may not exercise any position of authority or teaching;

(d)In institutes of higher learning which depend on ecclesiastical authority, he cannot teach any theological discipline or any others intimately related to this science.

(e) However in institutes of lower studies which are dependent on ecclesiastical authority he may not exercise the function of director or the office of teaching. A dispensed priest is bound by the same law in teaching religion in institutes of this level which do not depend on ecclesiastical authority.

(f) The priest who has been dispensed from priestly celibacy and even more so, one who is married, should not reside in those places in which his previous status is known (there was no scandal on my part so is a happy priest to be hidden? Apparently Rome didn't hear about the great blessing over me by the community in May of 2007 with the bishop's approval. I was even asked by some parishioners if I would consider still worshipping at Immaculate Heart in Riverview if I moved back). He cannot in any place carry out the ministries of lector and acolyte, or of extraordinary minister of Eucharistic communion (meaning I can't read, serve or be a communion minister even ...sad isn't it?).

#6 The ordinary of the diocease or domicile of residence of the petitioner, according to his prudent judgement and binding his conscience, having heard the interested parties and weighed the circumstances, may dispense from some or all of the clause as of this rescript contained under letters e and f. (so a priest may let me do these things but can't get in trouble with the bishop if he finds out and you might think...then do it. But in reality Father P. might say yes and then Father B. might say no, not to mention a bishop who is not so open).

#7 As a general rule, these dispensations are not to be granted unless a certain period of time has elapsed from the notification of the loss of the clerical state. They are to be given in writing.

8. Furthermore, some work of piety or charity will be imposed upon the petitioner (I laughed at this one...really. I could only think of some of the kids who have to do community hours as part of their court).

9. At an opportune time, the competent ordinary will send to the congregation a brief account of the fulment of the notification, and if there is any bewilderment on the part of the faithful, a prudent explanation will be given.

Anything else to the contrary notwithstanding.

From the offices of the Congregation, the 23rd day of December, 2008 (I signed mine on March 14th, 2009)

Claudio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect
+ Mauro Piacenza, Secretary
(Now here is the letter I wrote and sent back with the dispensation signed by me.)

March 13, 2009

Claudio Card. Hummes
Congregation for the Clergy
Vatican City,

Your Grace,

In accepting this dispensation which comes from Pope Benedict XVI, I also am forwarding this letter to your attention.

When I made the decision to leave the parish for my sabbatical thanks to the great compassion of Archbishop Andre Richard of Moncton, it was because I was at a crossroad in my presbyteral ministry.

I was filled with the great emotion of frustration with parish ministry, a profound loneliness in my life and knew I was most likely at the end of my time as a priest. My Archbishop allowed me to go to spend time with L’Arche Daybreak, a community founded by Jean Vanier. It was there that I came to the decision that I was done with ministry as a priest and wanted to seek a dispensation to leave priesthood and the obligations of celibacy.

While I was a priest with the diocese of Edmundston and with the Archdiocese of Moncton, I tried my best to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and a close collaborator with my diocesan bishops. I served the church with great love, great joy as much as I could. I never once broke my vows of celibacy, was not involved in any relationship. I just knew in my heart I could not continue as a priest.

I wrote often for the Catholic New Times calling on my church to dialogue with the people of God on various issues. I did so with a great love for the growth of my people and our church. I celebrated the sacraments with great love and brought life to the rituals to help my people live the moment filled with God’s grace. I preached with emotion and when people heard me preach they knew my heart.

There were often times that ministry was so difficult due to unrealistic expectations of people and also of the church. I often felt the Church was unwilling to allow the local church to bring life where life was needed. Collegiality seemed a distant memory from Vatican II. Priestly Celibacy was deemed a necessity when in essence it was destroying small communities by denying Catholics their basic rights to weekly Eucharistic celebrations. Orthodoxy and strict interpretations of rubrics were more important than allowing the Spirit to breathe through sacramental moments.

When I first applied for my dispensation, I knew I wanted to leave. I was not in a relationship, not about to marry, but I searched my heart and knew I could no longer be a priest. I went through the process faithfully. My friends were put through a gut wrenching process of having to witness on my behalf and they were not allowed to write what was in their heart as “Rome will not accept this as their fault” as they were told. I never asked them what they wrote and prayed for them as they fulfilled this great favor of our friendship. When your congregation responded with a “No” I was bewildered. How could you say No? How could you pretend to know my heart? I was so hurt as this was not a gospel response on your part.

While at Daybreak, out of no where I met Sandy. She and I fell in love and she agreed to be my wife. I had long decided that I could not put my life on hold waiting for your congregation to do the right thing. I asked Sandy to marry me and she said yes. We were married surrounded by family, friends and 46 members of the L’Arche community. Many with disabilities came and danced and sang and filled the outdoors with joy. It was a day to remember. I sent you our wedding certificate as part of the appeal process and finally you had no choice but to respond yes to my case.

I was forewarned by the canon lawyer who helped me with my case what your letter would entail. I told myself I had moved on and that it would not bother me. But when I read the letter I could only use the word “vile” in describing it.

What you have effectively done is say the only thing I can do is go to church on Sunday and receive communion. You have taken away any chance of me “fully and actively participating” as encouraged by the great council of Vatican II. Your “conditions” seem to be a punishment because I fell in love and felt I could not live priesthood as the church required. I am a man of many gifts who loved his church and the rituals. I could be such a gift to a community in so many ways, yet for some reason you deem that it would be a scandal to the people. Your canonical penalties seem petty and vindictive.

Do you know that the parish grouping of four parishes where I served at the end invited me back one more time and did a special blessing at the end of mass for me? I sat with my family, with no priestly vestments. The parish grouping and my friend who is the pastor thanked me for the years I gave to the church, they blessed me and hugged me and then we shared a huge parish meal afterwards. My bishop thanked me for my ministry in the church of Moncton and Edmundston. Your congregation never once thanked me, instead you made me feel like a criminal having done something wrong. I left with NO scandal, only the scandal that the church in Rome believed the laws of celibacy were more important than me and the local church. My prayer is that some how your congregation would have the courage to re-visit the canonical penalties you impose on priests who leave and treat them like human beings remembering they served the people of God to the best of their abilities. Your stipulations for granting me my dispensation greatly restrict being able to fully breathe with both lungs in the Catholic church.

I am still a man of great faith. I have been welcomed by a local United Church community where I have been worshipping since May of 2008. Where my path leads only the spirit knows.

Spirit lead us!!!!!

Jeffery Doucette

Cc Archbishop Andre Richard
Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio
And so folks...there you have a look deep inside the workings of the Catholic Church. This will be a part of my book...and now to find a publishing company.
I am off this morning to Westminister United and will speak to the Sunday school kids about Noah and the ark. God is present still and even more deeper in the covenant of the rainbow.

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