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Catholic Dictionary


APOSTASY (clerical)


Desertion by a man in major orders from his clerical state. The earliest discipline of the Church forbade clerics to leave the clerical state even in time of war. The Council of Chalcedon (451) threatened all deserting clerics with excommunication. Innocent III (1160-1216) modified the centuries old custom and gave permission for clerics in minor orders (below subdiaconate) to leave the clergy of their own will. Before the Second Vatican Council, those in minor orders who, after being admonished by the bishop, failed for a month thereafter to resume the clerical garb were reduced to the lay state. In current practice those in major orders--priests and deacons who apostatize--are subject to supervision and, if they remain contumacious, may be deposed from office.