Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Notification on the Dispensation from the Defect of Age for the Candidates for Holy Orders È noto che, 24 July 1997.
1. Concerning the age for the admission to the first two grades of holy orders, it is well known that c. 1031, §1 of the Code of Canon Law
prescribes twenty-five years completed for the presbyterate and twenty-three for the diaconate received who are destined for the priesthood.
On the other hand concerning admission to the permanent diaconate in the [second] paragraph of the same canon, at least twenty-five years completed are required for a celibate candidate and thirty-five years for a married candidate.
At times, either because of important reasons connected with special local needs, or for pastoral emergencies — especially those of particular Churches still suffering from a notable dearth of clergy — there is the necessity of increasing or of decreasing the age.
The Code provides for this with the fourth and last paragraph of c. 1031, where it is established that “a dispensation of more than one year from the age required . . . is reserved to the Apostolic See,” and indirectly bishops are allowed to shorten by one year (twelve months) the age prescribed for admission to the various categories of candidates to each of the aforementioned grades of holy orders.
2. Rather frequently it happens that some bishops have not only availed themselves of the faculty granted to them by the law (c. 1031, §4), to reduce by one year the prescribed age for candidates, but have requested from the Apostolic See the dispensation for a period greater than twelve months.
3. Kept informed by this dicastery, which is competent in this matter (apostolic constitution, Pastor bonus, art. 63), and always after an attentive weighing of each specific case and of every individual situation, the Holy Father — although with extreme restraint and caution — at times has consented to such requests especially in consideration of the welfare of such Christian communities, which without this measure of making an exception, would remain for a long time without a pastor and deprived of the possibility to approach, according to law (c. 843, §§1–2), the means of salvation and of sanctification. The Holy Father has established that this dicastery could grant a further dispensation of six months in addition to that of one year, for which the bishop is competent, (for a total of eighteen months) for the presbyterate, for the transitional diaconate, and the celibate permanent diaconate, and of thirty months
for the married permanent diaconate (Secretariat of the State, letter, March 23, 1994, no. 346.606, and May 20, 1996, no. 390.341).
4. For some time, it had to be acknowledged that unfortunately the serious pastoral reasons extended by the benevolent pontifical concession have given way to other considerations, as, for example, the justification that everything is ready (omnia parata).
5. At the same time, however, this dicastery, which is also competent for the handling causes of nullity of ordination and of dispensation from the obligations and vows with the dismissal from the clerical state, has noted that unfortunately among the reasons habitually used to explain departures, for both deacons and for priests, is repeatedly preeminent their immaturity — especially psychological-affective — or to disappointment following the impact of certain euphoric, utopian, and idealistic expectations, which are typical of youth, with the objective difficulties of the reality of ministry.
6. When one considers that such reasons are given both by the departing petitioners and also by their own educators and superiors , whether the reasons be the young age or the haste with which they were promoted to holy orders, often even not observing the required intervals [interstitia] (cc. 1032, §2, and 1035, §§1–2), and at times, also before [completing] the prescribed program of studies, time for formation, etc. (c. 1051, §1), one understands the cautious restraint with which the Holy Father grants some exceptions. Now there is joined a real and founded fear on the part of this dicastery concerning the abuses already mentioned, and because of the frivolous attempts to expand dispensations for the defect of age.
7. After having referred the question to the Supreme Authority (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, letter, June 20, 1977, no. 1216/97) and with his approval (Secretariat of State, letter, July 9, 1997, no. 416.478), this dicastery has decided:
a) from now on, not to grant dispensations of the defect of age beyond the twelve months for which the bishops are competent (c. 1031, §1), except in most rare exceptional cases, which are exclusively based on serious pastoral needs for the salvation of souls. These
needs cannot consist in a pure and simple esteem for the candidate or in the fact that the date for the ordination has been established prior to requesting the dispensation, and provided that the request be made at least six months prior to the date foreseen for the eventual ordination.
b) and to grant the dispensation for most brief periods of time, and at bishop’s discretion with the burden on his conscience (in forma commissoria «onerata conscientia Episcopi»).
Rome, July 24, 1997
Jorge Medina E.
Geraldo Majella Agnelo
Comm 29 (1997): 233-235; Notitiae 35 (1997): 281-283; W.H. Woestman, The Sacrament of Orders and the Clerical State: A Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 3rd rev. ed., (Ottawa: Faculty of Canon Law, Saint Paul University, 2006):369-371.