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Dimissorial Letters

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(Latin litteræ dimissoriales, from dimittere), letters given by an ecclesiastical superior to his subjects to have effect in territory outside his jurisdiction. The term is sometimes extended so as to include testimonial letters, which certify to a priest's freedom from canonical impediments or to the fact that a candidate for a religious order has the requisite qualities, and commendatory letters, which testify that a traveling ecclesiastic is unexceptionable as to morals and doctrine, and letters of excorporation (see EXEAT), by which clerics are freed from the jurisdiction of one diocesan bishop (see EXCARDINATION) that they may be affiliated to another diocese. Properly the name "dimissorial letters" refers to those given by a bishop or regular prelate to his subjects in order that they may be ordained by another bishop. The pope alone may concede such dimissorial letters for the whole world, but any bishop can give them to those under his authority, whether they be so by origin, domicile, or benefice. A bishop, as well as cardinals, can likewise grant them to those who for three years have been actually or equivalently members of his household (familiares). In the absence of the bishop, his vice-general is empowered to grant dimissorial letters, but not while the bishop is at home, unless he has received special permission to do so. During the vacancy of the episcopal see, the vicar capitular cannot give these letters, unless a year has elapsed since the diocese became vacant, except to one who is obliged to receive orders owing to his having acquired a benefice. After the lapse of a year, the vicar capitular, independent of the chapter, has the right to grant dimissorial letters for the reception of Holy orders. If the vicar capitular give the letters illegitimately, the person ordained is not entitled to clerical privileges, if he be in minor orders; and if in major orders, he is suspended from the exercise of them until the future bishop free him from the penalty. Abbots, even though exempt, cannot grant dimissorial letters to seculars who are subject to them. When a bishop grants letters directed to other ordinaries, this phrase does not include exempt abbots. Regular prelates can give letters to those religious who live under their obedience, but such letters must be directed to the diocesan bishop, unless there be a special privilege. In case of the absence of the ordinary bishop, or if he does not desire to hold ordinations, religious superiors may send their subjects to any other bishop. When regulars live in a monastery nullius dioecesis, these letters are to be directed to the neighbouring bishop (vicinior). Religious orders, which have received such special privilege since the Council of Trent, may send their subjects for ordination to any Catholic bishop whatsoever. As regards the city of Rome, those who dwell in the city for four months cannot be ordained outside the city in virtue of dimissorial letters from their ordinary bishops, but they must present themselves to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome for ordination. The Roman pontiff can ordain anyone without letters from his bishop, and the person so ordained cannot later be promoted to higher orders without papal licence Although dimissorial letters be required for ordaining the subject of one bishop in another diocese, yet it does seem necessary to obtain them for the purpose of receiving a benefice in the other diocese, though it is considered proper and expedient.

About this page

APA citation. Fanning, W. (1908). Dimissorial Letters. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Fanning, William. "Dimissorial Letters." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Christine J. Murray.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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