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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > I > Incardination and Excardination

Incardination and Excardination

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(Latin cardo, a pivot, socket, or hinge--hence, incardinare, to hang on a hinge, or fix; excardinare, to unhinge, or set free).

In the ecclesiastical sense the words are used to denote that a given person is freed from the jurisdiction of one bishop and is transferred to that of another. The term cardinare is used by St. Gregory I (596-604), and incardinare, in the sense of inscribing a name on the list or matricula of a church, is found in the ancient "Liber Diurnus" of the Roman chancery. Excardination is the full and perpetual transference of a given person from the jurisdiction of one bishop to that of another. Incardination is canonical and perpetual enlistment in the new diocese to which a given person has been transferred by letters of excardination. It must be remembered that in canon law a person belongs to a bishop in any one or more of the four following ways: by birth, by benefice, by domicile, or by service. In accordance with this the Church has always maintained the principle that excardination cannot be forced upon a person unwilling to accept it, nor at the same time can it be withheld unless there exist a just reason. The Council of Trent is most clear in its legislation on these matters, as will be seen from the following: "Whereas no one ought to be ordained, who, in the judgment of his own bishop, is not useful or necessary for his churches, the Holy Synod, in the spirit of what was enjoined by the sixth canon of the Council of Chalcedon, ordains that no one shall for the future be ordained without being attached to that church, or pious place, for the need or utility of which he is promoted, where he shall discharge his duties, and may not wander about without any certain abode. And if he shall quit that place without having consulted the bishop, he shall be interdicted from the exercise of his Sacred orders. Furthermore, no cleric, who is a stranger, shall, without letters commendatory from his own ordinary, be admitted by any bishop to celebrate the Divine mysteries and to administer the sacraments" (Sess. XXIII, "De Ref.", cap. xvi). "The Holy Synod ordains that henceforth no secular cleric . . . shall be promoted to Sacred orders unless it be first legitimately certain that he is in the peaceful possession of an ecclesiastical benefice sufficient for his honest livelihood; and he shall not be able to resign that benefice, without mentioning that he was promoted under the title thereof; nor shall that resignation be received, unless it be certain that he can live suitably from other resources at his disposal; and any resignation made otherwise shall be null" (Sess. XXI, "De Ref.", cap. ii).

From these decrees of the Council of Trent canonists deduce that for excardination to be lawful there must exist a just cause. Moreover, letters of excardination are absolutely valueless unless at the same time there is a corresponding incardination into another diocese, lest the cleric wander about "ovis quasi perdita et errans" (Decret. Grat., can. i, dist. 72). Many decrees of the Congregation of the Council assert this (S.C.C., 5 Sept., 1818; 14 Dec., 1822; 26 Jan., 1833; 20 July, 1898; Bouix, "De Episcopo", pt. V, c. xxiv, 4). Accordingly, clerics without the consent of the bishop, may not leave the diocese to which they belong. Moreover, if they have not been appointed to any specific work in the diocese, the bishop may order them to remain in the diocese even though they be unwilling to do so (S.C.C., as above). He must, however, have a just cause for his action, and make provision for the decent support of clerics thus retained (Bargilliat, 1907, no. 607). If a cleric wishes to enter a religious order, the bishop has no power to refuse letters of excardination; they are not granted, however, until the novitiate has been completed. If before that date such a cleric is to receive orders, the bishop will grant him the necessary dismissorial letters. A bishop cannot incardinate a cleric verbally. The canonical effect is obtained only when the incardination is granted in writing, absolutely and perpetually. There must not be any limitations either expressed or tacit; so that a cleric is absolutely enlisted in his new diocese and takes the oath similar to that prescribed by Innocent XII in the Constitution "Speculatores" (1694) for acquiring a new domicile (S.C.C., 20 July, 1898). Further, the incardination is not accomplished unless the cleric presents a legally executed document which sets forth that the cleric has been released perpetually from his former diocese, the bishop of which gives testimony (secretly if necessary) as to the subject's birth, life, morals, and studies. When the above conditions have been complied with, clerics after they have been transferred may be ordained, although it is recommended that the bishop should give a further trial before imposing hands upon his new subject. In general the Council of Trent declares, he should ordain no one, except for the need or convenience of his diocese (Sess. XXIII, "De Ref.", c. xvi). A greater amount of supervision is required when it is question of incardinating a cleric or a layman from a foreign country or speaking a foreign tongue. There is a grave obligation on bishops to inquire most strictly as to their life from their former ordinaries (S.C.C., 20 July, 1898). Clerics and laymen who do not wish to use the benefits of excardination are bound by the aforesaid Constitution "Speculatores". In connection with excardination and incardination, it is generally accepted now that the vicar capitular has no power to grant perpetual letters of excardination, nor can he receive a cleric into the diocese in perpetuity, but for a time he may do either in any cases which present themselves during his period of office ("Clement.", I: "De hæret.", Reiffenstuel ad tit. "Ne sede vacante", n. 77).

In course of time special legislation on this subject has become necessary in various countries. The following is a brief resumé of the same. Where clerics are ordained ad titulum missionis they are bound thereby not only to the diocese, but to the province also, "so that priests thus ordained may, with the consent of both ordinaries, be transferred from one diocese into another merely by conferring a fresh title without the necessity of taking a fresh oath". In Scotland a three years' trial is recommended before such transfer be made. The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore made obligatory on the bishops of the United States a three years' trial (or even five, but no more) for a strange priest, unless the bishops of both dioceses should agree to the immediate reception of the applicant. This is called by the council formal incardination. If, after the lapse of this period, the bishop does not formally reject the applicant, he is legally presumed to have accepted him (nos. 63, 66). This council also reminds all ordinaries of the special rules to be observed in the case of clerics who have taken the "mission oath", and of members of religious orders desirous of joining a diocese (nos. 64, 65; cf. Cong. Prop., 30 Nov., 1885, and 17 April, 1871). To obtain uniformity of action, the council recommends that bishops use an identical printed formula for excardination and incardination. A decree of the Congregation of the Council (14 Nov., 1903) concerns secular clerics who wish to go to North America or the Philippine Islands. It again calls attention to a circular sent to the American and Italian bishops in 1890, which instructed the latter not to allow their clergy to emigrate to America unless they have an excellent record, concerning their previous ministry, are of mature age, are likely to edify by their zeal, piety, and prudence, and also are able to assign a valid and serious reason for leaving home. This circular now applies to all priests who propose to emigrate to America or the Philippines, or even to make prolonged visits to those countries without the consent of the congregation. In case of real and urgent necessity the bishops can only grant permission for absence during six months, and in each case they are bound to inform the congregation of the permission given. The bishops of Brazil have lately adopted the same precautions. In the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (no. 69) the Fathers approve of the custom of bishops having an abundant supply of priests, lending to more needy bishops some of such priests, but such transfers to be of a temporary nature. The Holy See approved the custom of the American bishops. The councils of Westminster contain a command received from Propaganda and imposed upon all bishops in missionary countries and also prefects and vicars Apostolic, that without any hesitation they require strange clerics and priests to present commendatory letters from their bishops. Those who have them not are in no way to be received. A priest who wishes to leave the diocese to which he is attached must be furnished with a letter of excorporation, i.e. excardination (commonly called an exeat) from his ordinary, and no bishop can aggregate to his diocese any strange priest who is not possessed of such letter (First Synod of Westminster, no. 19, c. vii). Further, no bishop shall ordain a cleric born in the diocese of another bishop without a testimonial or dimissorial letter from that bishop. This rule should be observed also in the case of converts who wish to enter the sacred ministry. For the special rules which govern the sojourn at Rome of ecclesiastics belonging to other dioceses, see the decree of the S. Cong. of the Council, 22 Dec., 1894, and the instruction of Pius X, 6 Aug, 1905.


Besides the aforesaid decrees of the Councils of Westminster and Baltimore, and of the Congregations of the Council and Propaganda, see BOUIX, De Episcopo; FERRARIS, De regimine dioeceseos sede vacante (reprint, Paris, 1676); GASPARRI, De sacrâ ordinatione (Rome, 1893); BARGILLIAT, Proelect. juris canonici (Paris, 1907); TAUNTON, Law of the Church (St. Louis, 1906), s.v. Excardination.

About this page

APA citation. Dunford, D. (1910). Incardination and Excardination. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Dunford, David. "Incardination and Excardination." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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