Q. After laicization, what powers does a priest still have? In an emergency, for example, can he validly hear confession? And is it possible for him to be restored? — Candace, via email A. Once a priest, always a priest: the Sacrament of Holy Orders imprints an indelible character on the soul of the priest that empowers him to confect the sacraments. However, if a priest has been laicized, which is to say, returned to the lay state, he may no longer dress as a priest or function as a priest. He is not allowed to celebrate the sacraments, but he would be allowed to receive the sacraments. If he were to come across a person in danger of death, he would still have the power to forgive sins through sacramental absolution, and in such a case he would be allowed to do so. Laicization can be either voluntary as a favor, or involuntary as a punishment. In either case, the man is no longer allowed to carry out the sacramental duties of an ordained cleric with that one exception: in danger of death he can hear a person’s confession (see Canons 976, 986.2, 1335). Finally, it is possible for a laicized priest to be restored to holy orders, but only by express re-script from the pope (see Canon 293). Q. I wanted to know what to do with broken crucifixes or statues. I don’t want to disrespect holy items. — Mary Brown, via email A. I know of no graveyards for broken holy items, but I am happy that you have asked the question, because it suggests that you understand that a blessed crucifix or a blessed statue is not just an ordinary item: it is blessed. And blessed objects should be treated with reverence. If you cannot fix the item, or you have no use for it, you may discard the item by incineration, burial or pious disposal. There are no hard-and-fast rules for “pious disposal,” but common sense should help you figure it out. What you want to avoid is someone combing through the garbage only to discover a statue of the Blessed Mother in the dumpster. That’s no way to treat a lady, and certainly no way to treat Our Lady. Q. You recently wrote on the subject of excommunications, and Pope Francis in particular, you explained that Pope Francis has only excommunicated twice: 1) a priest who publicly taught on the ordination of women, and 2) Mafiosi. You further stated that the penalty of excommunication is “reserved for the most serious offenses such as heresy, apostasy, physical assault of the pope,” etc. My question is this: Does the church (in the person of the pope) not consider the sexual violations of children serious enough to warrant excommunication of those guilty of such acts? To my knowledge, some offenders have been defrocked, but not many. Most are simply not allowed to practice their priestly duties. I am not aware of any having been excommunicated. Where does our church stand on the subject of clerical molestation and excommunication? — Patrice Heeren, via email A. Being “defrocked” and “not being allowed to practice their priestly duties” is equivalent. Both are termed “laicization,” and in the case of priests guilty of sexual crimes such laicization is a punishment. You raise an interesting point about excommunication as a punishment for clerical sexual abuse of children. At this point in canon law, no such punishment exists for that crime, but that does not mean it could not exist in the future. It would be within the scope of the jurisdiction of the pope — but not within the jurisdiction of the local ordinary (see Canon 1317)— to specify automatic excommunication (latae sententiae) for clerical crimes against the Sixth Commandment with a minor. For that to obtain, the penalty would have to be published and known before-hand, otherwise the criminal would not be subject to the penalty. Even so, the point of the penalty of excommunication is twofold: first, a serious warning that the punishment will fit the crime, in order to dissuade the potential criminal from committing the crime; and, second, excommunication is meant to be a therapeutic measure to wake someone up and move them to conversion. In the church we never want someone to remain in the state of excommunication. The point of it is to wake them up and move them to repentance, confession and conversion.