Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. Does the church no longer celebrate the feast of St. Valentine? None of my Catholic daily devotional books even make mention of St. Valentine on Feb. 14. Instead they note the day as the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. (Evansville, Ind.)

A. Your books are correct. The current “ordo,” the church’s official annual calendar of feasts, lists Feb. 14 as the feast of St. Cyril, monk, and St. Methodius, bishop. They were blood brothers in the ninth century who are known as the “Apostles to the Slavs.”

They began by preaching the Gospel in Moravia (in the eastern part of what is now the Czech Republic) and translated the liturgy into the Slavonic language. (Feb. 14 was the date of St. Cyril’s death.)

In the 1962 missal of Pope John XXIII, Feb. 14 was marked as the feast of St. Valentine. As closely as can be determined, Valentine was a priest of Rome who was martyred in the persecution under the Emperor Claudius, probably around the year 270.

Legend says that Claudius had issued a decree forbidding his military troops to marry and that Valentine defied this decree by urging young lovers to come to him for the sacrament of matrimony.

Further legend has it that during Valentine’s imprisonment, he befriended the blind daughter of his jailer, converted her and her father to Christianity, restored her sight and, the night before his execution, wrote her a farewell message signed, “From Your Valentine.”

In the 1969 reform of the liturgical calendar, the church reduced the number of feast days of saints for whom hard historical facts were scarce, including St. Valentine.

His popularity persists, however, along with age-old customs of cards and candy — and if you surveyed Catholics as to whose feast we celebrate Feb. 14, probably 99 percent would answer “St. Valentine’s.”

Q. Here is an actual situation. He was a priest in our parish. She was the divorced mother of four and our parish director of religious education. He leaves the priesthood and decides to marry her. They attend Mass together as a couple, and she keeps her job.

Recently, they were married in the church. How is this possible? I thought, once a priest, you were a priest forever. And about her annulment, who knows? (Place of origin withheld)

A. I would first caution against making harsh judgments. Contrary to your implication, I would presume that an annulment was granted by the church to the woman in question and granted for appropriate reasons. (If she hadn’t had an annulment, she would not have been allowed to marry the former priest in a Catholic ceremony.)

Then, to your belief about “once a priest, always a priest,” that adage needs to be explained. A priest can, in fact, be dispensed from his clerical vows — even years after ordination. That is done by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a decree called “laicization” when, after careful study, that congregation determines that the petitioner is not suited for the clerical state. (Even then, though, he would still be allowed to hear a “deathbed confession.”)

Now, let’s discuss the particular situation that raises your concern. In the indult (“a permission, or privilege, granted by the competent church authority”) of laicization, there are normally particular types of work from which a former priest is excluded — principal of a parochial school, for example, or administrator of a parish.

In the case you mention, the man is doing neither of these, nor is the woman precluded by her annulment from serving as a religious education director. However, you raise a valid point.

A laicized priest is commonly advised by the Vatican that he should avoid situations and places where his previous status as a priest is known — unless his bishop has determined that his continued presence will not generate scandal.

There is a certain subjectivity to that determination, and sometimes it is hard to distinguish what is truly scandalous (from the Greek, meaning “causing another to stumble”) from what is merely “interesting.”

***

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.