1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

Once a Bishop, Always a Bishop

By May 15, 2012

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In a recent issue of the twice-weekly About Catholicism newsletter (you do subscribe, don't you?), I wrote:

Many people--even some Catholics--do not realize that there are multiple levels of ordination. We're familiar with ordination to the priesthood, and those who have either permanent or transitional deacons in their parish know that deacons receive ordination, too. But since we talk most often about the elevation or installation of a bishop, the fact that he receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders once again tends to get ignored.

I was writing those words in the context of the (then upcoming) episcopal ordination of Msgr. David J. Malloy as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. (For more on Bishop Malloy, see Pope Benedict Makes Three Interesting Appointments.) But taken from that context and presented as they are here, those words can be misleading, as reader Thai Tran pointed out in an e-mail.

When a man who is currently a priest is installed as a bishop, he receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as he did when he was ordained to the priesthood. That was the situation with Monsignor Malloy, when he was ordained to the episcopacy on May 14, 2012 (the Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle).

However, when a man who has already received episcopal ordination is installed as a bishop in a diocese, he does not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders again. He cannot: Like baptism and confirmation, ordination places an indelible mark upon the soul of the man who receives it. That is what paragraph 1582 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church means when it says that "The sacrament of Holy Orders . . . cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily."

A man can receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders more than once, but he can only receive it once at each level: diaconate, priesthood, episcopate. Once a priest, always a priest; once a bishop, always a bishop. "Reordination," at any level, is like "rebaptism"—a logical impossibility.

My thanks to Thai Tran for giving me the opportunity to clear up any potential confusion that my discussion of Bishop Malloy's ordination may have created.

More on the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Office of the Bishop:

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