What is the difference between a secular priest and a regular priest?

I would like to know how men who are not consecrated can be priests. What does this mean spiritually when it is said that FSSP (and other traditional sects-for lack of a better word) are ‘priests’? I thought all priests had to be consecrated. What does it mean to be “consecrated” then?

What is the difference between “secular priests” and “religious priests”? I don’t mean to ask what are the differences in vows and what they do- I understand that part and have read about that, but I don’t understand the meaning of labeling one ‘secular’ and the other ‘religious’. “Secular”*** sounds like*** they aren’t really men of God at all, except that they want to be and so perform functions that really aren’t spiritual but just for play or ‘as needed basis’ to get the right gist.

Sorry, I hope that doesn’t sound harsh. Its just what it sounds like to me and so why I need to be corrected! Could someone help me out? None of this makes any sense to me.

“Religious” and “secular” in this context do not have the meanings you commonly associate with those words – i.e., “religious” = “relating to religion”; “secular” = “not relating to religion, lacking religion.” Rather, “religious priests” are priests who belong to religious orders (like the Dominicans or the Benedictines) and “secular priests” are priests who don’t (like ordinary diocesan parish priests).

Related question…
religious priests take a vow of poverty.
secular (diocesan) do not.

Is this correct?


This is really confusion between secular/religious and lay/clergy.

Most people are secular laity (i.e. not part of a religious order and not ordained)
Next are secular clergy (diocesan priest, deacons, and most bishops)
We also have religious laity (Franciscan brothers, nuns and religious sisters, etc)
Finally the smallest group are religious clergy (Jesuit priest, etc.)

The reason say an FSSP priest is called a secular priest is that the FSSP is not a religious order under canon law. Their are technically a society of apostolic life. This is different than a religious order.


No, I agree with you. You don’t sound harsh to me. I do understand the distinctions, and the difference in nomenclature, but I am offended by the term “secular priest” and thus never use it. I have known some deeply holy diocesan priests (the term I prefer to refer to a legitimately ordained priest who is not a member of a religious order). And yes, some such priests are not assigned to a diocese, but they could be, and do answer directly to a bishop if they are not members of religious orders.

Again, I understand the distinctions in categories, but nevertheless I find those labels misleading, and also not respectful of the deeply non-secular priests I have known, many of whom have led me to God, or back to God, who are in the secular world but not of the secular world. They are clearly men of God, not men of the world.

I hope you have your question answered by others. In the meantime, I will continue with my long-standing habit of simply calling them priests. :thumbsup:

God bless you.

Well, the way I heard it, the religious take a vow of poverty the secular just live it.

Secular priests are consecrated. It just means that they are not in a religious order.

It’s not as black and white as it sounds. The terms secular and consecrated have very different meaning in Church law from that of the rest of the world. We have to remember that Church language is very old and very static. We translate from Latin into modern languages, but we’re still using the same terms.

Secular – has always meant “of the world”.

Here is where we have to understand the theology. The term “of the world” is not the same as worldly. To be of the world means to live within society as other people do. You earn a living. You own property. You have relationships: family, friends, subjects, parishioners, students, etc. You are free to decide how you will live the the Christian life. You are not bound to any particular school of Christian spirituality. You obedience to Church authority is limited to your work. Church authority does not govern your coming and going.

If you’re a deacon, priest or bishop, you can earn money, own property. You can live with your mother and father, where that’s possible. For example, St. John Bosco’s mother was a major player in his ministry. She lived with him for many many years. He was a secular priest. He also had to work to get paid in order to keep up his oratories. There was no organization behind him to finance the oratories. He depended on his income and on charity.

A secular deacon, priest or bishop, like any other Catholic, is bound to Church authority in matters that directly relate to his ministry. However, the bishop does not monitor who prays and does not pray. He does not monitor what you wear when you’re not doing ministry. He certainly does not monitor your friends or your relationship with your family. A secular clergyman does not owe a bishop that kind of obedience, nor does any bishop demand it.

A secular clergyman lives indepently. He may live alone, with his family or in a house with other clergymen. Even when they live in rectory or another type of residence, each one is independent. They’re not bound by a common schedule of prayers, meals, housekeeping duties. They don’t own anything in common. Usually, the parish owns the rectory and each priest owns his own furniture, has his own telephone, his own TV, entertainment center, books, clothes, car and so forth. Life is more like housemates, not family. This does not mean that they can’t do things in common. In some houses the men are very close to each other. In other houses, they don’t like each other at all. Their conversation is limited to parish talk. Other than that, they don’t ever have to speak to each other. Brotherhood is not part of the equation, hence the term secular.

A deacon, priest or bishop is ordained. He is not consecrated. Even the term “to consecrate a bishop” is not quite correct. The episcopacy is one of the three orders. Hence you must be ordained a bishop. The terms ordain and order go together.

Then there is consecrated or religious.

Religious was a term that was applied to consecrated men and women as far back as the Middle Ages, maybe earlier. It meant to be tied to. When a man or woman tied himself to the Gospel by the vow of obedience, he was said to be part of a religion. His way of life was dictated by a rule. His or her way of life was called an “ordered way of life”. If you put the two concepts together, to be tied and to live an ordered way of life, the term religious order is born.

A religious can be either male or female. Women cannot be priests. However, males can be priests. Many male religious are also priests. They’re not really religious priests. That term is bad translation from Latin. a priest who lives a live regulated by the rule of an order is a “regular priest”. Regular is any man or woman whose life is regulated by a rule of life.

A rule is not a single statement. That’s a statute. A rule is a document with many statutes. It dictates the spirituality of the community. When a man or woman joins the community he goes through many years of formation and probation, about 10 to 15. At the end of that time, he consecrates his life to God by vowing to obey the rule until death.

This consecration means that he is no longer part of the world around him. Here is the difference between a consecrated religious (priest or not) and a secular man (priest or not).

The consecrated religious does not own anything. He cannot earn money for himself. He cannot even inherit from his parents. He must obey his superior in all things. Unlike the secular priest who is bound to obey the bishop in all matters pertaining to ministry, the consecrated religious obeys in other things as well.

For example, I’m the superior in our community. I monitor the mail, telephone calls, prayer life, schedules, dress, friendships, relationships with family and others. I must make sure that every brother prays, does spiritual reading, does his share of the work around the house. I must make sure that he tries to be more like Christ by following St. Francis. I correct and encourage, depending on the need.

We do not eat alone. We eat together. You may never eat alone unless you have permission to do so. You may never step outside the house without permission from the superior or drive a car without permission. You don’t speak to outsiders without permission. Obedience is absolute. Obviously, permission is built into whatever your assignment is. If you’re assigned to work at a center, you have permission to speak to the people who work there and to those whom you serve. You don’t call home to ask for permission. That’s silly. But if you’re invited to eat dinner at a layman’s home, you ask for permission to go.

My daughter was married three weeks ago. I had to ask the community for permission to attend her wedding. Even superiors ask for permission. They ask the community chapter. This is a gathering of the brothers where they vote on a request from the superior. The superior does not govern without parameters. He governs according to Church law, the rule, and the authority given to him by his brothers.

None of this is present in the life of a secular, be he a priest or a husband. Each of them is governed by the rules that apply to his state in life. Those may be Church rules or unspoken rules. For example, a Catholic husband does not need a rule book to tell him that he has to help his wife take care of the kids or take Johnny to baseball practice. His state in life as a husband and father dictates this. Because Johnny will not always be age 10, dad will not be bound to follow this rule until death. Whereas a religious will be bound to follow the rules of his community until death.

If God calls a man to be both a priest and a consecrated religious, he is called a regular priest. If he calls him to be a priest, but to remain in the world, he is called a secular priest, just as his older married brother is secular. It does not mean worldly. His married brother cannot be worldly either. He must live by God’s law, not man’s.

If God calls a man to be a consecrated religious, but not a deacon, priest or bishop, he is still a regular, but he is not a cleric. The term in canon law is “lay religious”. This is not the same lay as in layman. A layman lives in the world. He or she is part of the laity, which makes up the largest segment of the People of God. The lay religious is best understood as the non-ordained religious. He belongs to a religious community and has consecrated his life to live the Gospel in that community, but his ministry is not clerical (clergy).

Remember for males only:

Religious - consecrated to live the Gospel according to a rule of life within a community or as a hermit

Cleric – an ordained deacon, priest or bishop whose ministry is to serve the People of God through the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Secular – one who belongs in the world; can be ordained, married or single

Consecrated – one who has left the world to live in a vowed life of obedience. (Chastity and poverty are included under obedience). You can make vows of chastity, poverty or obedience or you can simply vow obedience as do Benedictines and the rule will call for chastity and poverty. NOTE: Benedictines also vow stability and hospitality. But those are not required of religious.

God can call a male to any of these or to a combo. He can call someone to be a Benedictine (consecrated religious) and to be a priest. Hence, a regular priest.

He can call someone to be a priest, but to remain in the secular world. Hence the term secular priest.

God can call someone to be a Benedictine, but not to be a priest. Hence, a regular, religious or consecrated man. Any of these terms are appropriate.

This only applies to males, because God does not call women to Holy Orders.

Although I think I understand where you’re coming from–a desire for clarity and understanding–I think it’s confusing when we make up our own words and use them in place of the words that the Church approves and uses.

“Diocesan priest” doesn’t mean the same thing as “secular priest” or “religious priest.” If you use this term, you are making the definitions even more confusing and muddying the Church message. I think you and I should use the terms that the Church has given to us to use.

Latin is the Official Language of the Church, and the words that we use in English are the translations from the Latin. To me, when we use other terms in place of the Latin translations, we are contributing to the “dumbing down” of the Church and we are in danger of “corrupting” the message of the Church by rejecting the correct translation and making up our own translation to suit us. We can’t just pick and choose what we like about the Catholic Church.

Rather than each of us making up our own terms to make things easier for us to understand, I think we should adjust our thinking and use the words the Church intends for us to use.

Most secular priests are diocesan priests, but there is a minority who are not.

Just curious where they are not. As I understood it a priest is either religious and is tied to a house (or similar orginizational structure) and is obediant to their religious superior or is secular and incardinated into a diocese with obedience to their bishop.

If a secular priest is not tied to a diocese, what is their “reporting structure” for lack of a better term? In other words who do they give their promise of obedience too?

I only know of one secular priest that was really quite well off for decades. He sunk some of his money into a foundation. One that helps all to get to know Jesus better.
How nice is that?!
As he has become older, his income became a little less, and he sunk more of it into the foundation. Instead of the huge house he once lived in, he now lives in a small apartment above the garage; he gave the house to the foundation.
He is not young and I will openly grieve when He takes him home. I know he won’t :wink: , but I will. I will miss him greatly. He is a phenomenal man with a more phenomenal message. :thumbsup:

A FSSP priest is not technically diocesan, I believe, even though he may do pastoral work in a diocese.


Hmm… learn something new everyday. I was under the impression that FSSP and other apostolic society priest were still required to be incarnated into that particular diocease and owed obedience to the local ordinary.

It is important to remember that the concept of the ‘secular’ is itself a Catholic concept. Unlike in some pagan religions, the Church recognizes, and always has recognized, that there are some functions that are properly the role of the Church hierarchy, its’ rules and regulations (‘religious’), and others that properly belong to the domain of Christians living out their lives in the (‘secular’) world.

Secular does not have the same meaning as profane. There are things which are properly secular, such as diocesan priests, Catholic charities, universities, nation states and their military and judicial functions. Catholic teaching requires that these things are separate from the obedience to a rule which constitutes the ‘religious’ Church in order for the Church to fulfill her proper role in the world, but that does not mean that they are separate from the moral law. This does not mean that faith is not a proper part of them, nor that good Catholics cannot, or should not, take part in them. The (secular) world desperately needs good Catholic politicians, teachers, soldiers, etc. and holiness of life is both possible and necessary in all these ‘secular’ vocations, as St Francis de Sales highlighted.

Please do not be scandalized, as Catholics, we need to reclaim the meaning of secular.

I think it is important for someone to understand the true meaning of a word before they start taking offense and boycott using the term.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with calling a secular priest secular, and a religious priest religious. People should take the time and effort required to educate themselves a bit. :slight_smile:

Another example would be a priest who is a military chaplain and attached to a military ordinariate. I think the priests that came in through the Anglican ordinariate are also not attached to a diocese but rather the ordinariate.