20% of clergy who left the priesthood between 1964 and 1995 have been readmitted, according to Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, who has presented John Paul II's Holy Thursday Letter to Priests.
   Briefing reporters on Friday, Msgr. Martin Vivies of the Congregation for the Clergy pointed out that returned priests are those who left without attempting to regularise their situation, not those who were laicised.
   In many cases, the priests were welcomed back to their ministry by their diocesan bishops. In other cases, however, when the wayward priests had committed a canonical offence (such as a civil marriage), and the approval of the Holy See was required before they could return to clerical duties.
   The Vatican official revealed that in nearly every case, the priest's return follows the same pattern: first he begins to pray the Breviary each day once again, and then after a period of time he seeks out a bishop and applies for reinstatement. That process requires the approval of the Vatican; since January the dicasteries of the Roman Curia have set up an organised system to handle such requests-- which were previously handled by each dicastery separately, in a somewhat convoluted process.
   For priests who have contracted a civil marriage, the Church requires that they 'fulfill their obligations under natural law.' That entails providing for the education of any children, and arranging an amicable parting from their wives. (If the children are still young, permission will not be granted.)
   Returning priests are also required to spend at least one year in a priestly community, under the spiritual direction of an older priest. And they are also required to study for the priesthood once again. Msgr. Vivies that during the 1970s, the most frequent cause of an abandoned priestly vocation was 'a lack of intellectual formation.' The Vatican official observed that many priests 'did not understand their identity and their place in the Church.'
   When the Holy See grants the appropriate dispensation, the priests are allowed to resume their ministry 'to the extent that it will not cause scandal to the faithful.' Msgr. Vivies stressed that the priest's return to duties must be understood not as a 'victory over Rome,' but that the individual priest must accept the Vatican's authority 'with great humility.'
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