clerical privilege


The privilege consists in this, that the clerics are not under the jurisdiction of the lay courts even in merely temporal matters, which would otherwise belong to the competence of such courts. Clerics should be tried only by an ecclesiastical court, unless otherwise legitimately provided for in particular places. This benefit forbids any cleric to be summoned before a lay judge as a defendant. There is no infringement of the privilege if the cleric is cited as a witness, or if he is to be a representative of a lay person. Except with the permission of his own Ordinary, however, a cleric may not give testimony without necessity in criminal cases tried in a lay court, prosecuting for a grave personal penalty. Legitimate permission whereby a cleric may be called as a defendant into such courts may be the result of a Concordat, a custom, or the like. The Third Council of Baltimore forbids clerics to have other clerics cited before lay tribunais. Those who enjoy this privilege are all those who have received at least the first tonsure and have not lost their clerical privileges; likewise religious and their novices. By permission of the proper authority clerics and religious may be brought before the aforesaid judges. In order to summon a cardinal, a legate of the Holy See, a bishop, even a titular, the highest superior of the Pontifical Institute, a major superior of the Roman Curia for matters pertaining to his office, the permission of the Holy See is required; for all others, the permission of the Ordinary of the place where the trial is to be held is required. If the requisite permission is not obtained and the above mentioned nevertheless are brought to trial, the following penalties are contracted: for citing a cardinal, a legate of the Holy See, one of the major officials of the Roman Curia for business pertaining to their office, or one’s own Ordinary, one incurs by that very fact, an excommunication specially reserved to the Holy See; if another bishop, even only a titular, an abbot or a prelate nullius, or one of the supreme moderators of the Pontifical Institute, is cited without the necessary permission, an excommunication simply reserved to the Holy See is thereby incurred; if the permission of the Ordinary is neglected, a cleric so acting is thereby suspended from office reserved to the Ordinary, and the laity are to receive suitable punishment from their Ordinary.

MLA Citation

  • “clerical privilege”. New Catholic Dictionary. 24 August 2013. Web. 19 April 2014. <>