The expression “dimissorial letters” means “documentary authorization.” Dimissorial letters are used for candidates who are seeking ordination to the priesthood; they are used for members of Religious Institutes or candidates who do not belong to the Diocese of the Bishop who is to ordain them. For example, the Major Superior of a Clerical Religious Institute of Pontifical Right is competent to grant such authorization for a candidate who is perpetually or definitively a member of the Religious Institute. Absolutely speaking, however, the ordination of a religious without these dimissorial letters would still be valid, although gravely illicit.

Canon Law has two provisions referring to the ordination of the man who is not directly subject to the ordaining Bishop (canon 1052, §§2, 3). In order for a Bishop to proceed with the ordination of one who is not his own subject, it is sufficient that the dimissorial letters refer to the fact that:

  • the documents listed in canon 1050 have been furnished;
  • the inquiry has been conducted in accord with the norm of law;
  • the suitability of the candidate has been proved.
  • If the candidate is a member of a Religious Institute or a Society of Apostolic Life, the dimissorial letters must also certify that he has definitively become a member and that he is a subject of the superior who grants the letters (canon 1052, §2).

Despite all the above considerations, if the Bishop has certain reasons for doubting the suitability of the candidate for ordination, he is not to ordain him (canon 1052, §3).

There is a very practical reason for these canonical directives. Where the candidate for ordination does not belong to the Diocese of the Bishop who is to ordain him, the Bishop depends almost entirely on the judgment of those who recommend him. Yet, he must be convinced that the man should be ordained. (For Advanced Course, lesson 23.)