Granted, the science fiction show “V” isn’t big on realism, but they committed a giant honking clunker last night when they showed their priest character getting laicized the day after he made a speech against the alien Visitors. The plotline is that Anna, the head of the Visitors, got to the Catholic Church in Rome by offering to let them send missionaries to their ships. The idea of so many new converts was appealing, no doubt. But her deal was that they had to stop priests from speaking out against them. The whole purpose was to stop one activist priest who is onto their lizardly nature and dastardly plans.
So our hero priest refuses to be cowed, makes another speech, and the next day he gets a letter that he’s been laicized. The elder priest who hands him the letter demands his collar. Bam! He’s no longer a priest.
I’m sitting there smacking my head. What the heck? As someone who was raised Catholic (lapsed), I know that they have rules and procedures for everything. They move at a glacier’s pace on any major decision. Remember all those pedophile priests they couldn’t get rid of? There’s a reason why.
So I looked it up. It took me about 15 minutes on the great wide interwebs to find out how a priest is legally defrocked. The writers could have bothered to at least look at Wikipedia, but there are better sources out there.
Laicization takes years. The church actually “streamlined” the process relating to pedophiles in 2001, but it’s still a long procedure. For those cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith handles the defrocking. Even with abusers, the bishops can’t just zap the offending priests.
The laicization process involves sending a letter to the priest telling them the process is beginning. They then go through a tribunal. They’re given the right to canonical counsel (priest lawyers) who will defend them. The Church has to provide lots of documentation on the grounds. Assessors determine if the case is valid or not. If they think it is, then the Cardinal has to approve it. Only then will it go to the Pope with the Cardinal’s recommendation. The Pope is the only one who has the ability to laicize a priest or deacon.
The law governing laicization is the Code of Canon Law. A cardinal interviewed in a news story about the glacial pace of removing pedophiles said, "The right of a priest to defend himself is sacred, including in these cases. The right to defend oneself is internationally recognized and always preserved."
Due process is sacred, even in a religious institution.
Lazy writing is weak writing. Instead of staying involved in the story I was sucked right back into reality with that humongous clunker. It was such an easy fix that there’s no excuse.
What the bishops can do is remove an offending priest from ministering to a parish. And that’s what “V” should have done. Like any employer, the church can give you a totally crappy job to try to make you quit. They could have transferred him to Siberia, given him office work, or made him in charge of polishing collection plates and I’ve have believed it.
Get it right, people!