The City of Miami, Florida as it appeared in 1960.



adjective \ni-ˈfer-ē-əs\

: evil or immoral

Full Definition of NEFARIOUS

:  flagrantly wicked or impious :  evil

Examples of NEFARIOUS

  1. a nefarious scheme to cheat people out of their money
  2. the chaste heroines and nefarious villains of old-time melodramas


Latin nefarius, from nefas crime, from ne- not + fas right, divine law; perhaps akin to Greek themis law, tithenai to place — more at do

First Known Use: circa 1609

Related to NEFARIOUS

black, dark, evil, immoral, iniquitous, bad, rotten, sinful, unethical, unlawful, unrighteous, unsavory, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wrong

CANON 971 (1917 Code of Canon Law) (c.1026, 1983 Code of Canon Law):

“It is NEFARIOUS, by any method, for any reason, to coerce anyone into the clerical state or to block one canonically suitable for it.”



                                                           GOD WRITES STRAIGHT WITH CROOKED LINES

                                                                                   A Portuguese Proverb


I have no doubt that Archabbot Denis’ telling me that it was his will that I leave the Order of Saint Benedict was a nefarious act!  I had legitimately exercised my right under the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict as a monk in solemn vows to express my opinion in General Chapter.  To be punished for what I said about his college dormitories plans was unfair, unjust, nefarious!

After consultations with my confessor/spiritual director I came to the conclusion that since it was the will of my superior, my Archabbot, that I should leave the Order of Saint Benedict I had an obligation under my vow of obedience to obey him and to seek a dispensation from my solemn vows and a transfer to the secular (diocesan) clergy in some diocese in the United States.  The procedure was complex and yet at the same time simple.  In order to have the Congregation for Religious in Rome grant me the dispensation I would have to name a specific diocese to which I would go and in which I would become a priest in its presbyterate.  Once I had decided on the diocese I would inform the Archabbot and he would have the Archabbey’s canon lawyer draw up a petition for dispensation of solemn vows, the Archabbot would sign it, I would sign it and it would be sent to Rome.

The only bishop I knew was Bishop Coleman Francis Carroll, Bishop of Miami.  I came to know him when he made his ordination retreat at Saint Vincent just prior to his ordination as Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh.  Having studied philosophy and theology at Saint Vincent Seminary before his ordination to the priesthood he chose to ‘come home’ for his retreat.  The Archabbey Guest Master appointed me, fresh out of the Novitiate and now in Simple Vows, to take care of Bishop-elect Carroll during his retreat.  We hit it off immediately when he discovered that we had mutual friends in Houston.  I lost contact with him after his ordination as Auxiliary Bishop but I decided that I would write to him and ask him if he would accept me into his presbyterate in Miami if Rome granted me the dispensation from my solemn vows.  He wrote back immediately and in his warm letter he expressed his eagerness to receive me.

I gave a copy of the letter to Archabbot Denis and he attached it to the petition and sent it off to Rome.

I had no way of knowing it at the time, but all that had transpired between me and Archabbot Denis was a classic case of God writing with crooked lines.  Ten years later when I was made Auxiliary Bishop of Miami I realized that this had been God’s plan for me all along.  I was too emotionally involved in my departure from the monastery to even imagine that that might be the case.  There is a good lesson in this for anyone undergoing a serious trial in their life;  trust in God, do the right thing and perhaps in time  you will come to see that eventually God will write with straight lines in your life and undo any remaining effects of the trauma you suffered earlier when he wrote with crooked lines in your life.

In early August, 1961, the indult document arrived from Rome granting me my dispensation. The Archabbot immediately executed the decree putting it is force and I made plans to leave the monastery on August 13 and to go to Miami.

A word about the indult.  In the middle ages, when most of the priests in the Church were monks, there was a problem with monks searching for and obtaining appointment as the bishop of one of the many new dioceses being created as the Church grew in Europe.  To curb this abuse Rome added a canon to the Code of Canon Law which sought to penalize any monks in solemn vows who left their monastery and so Canon 642 came into being and it was under that canon of the 1917 Code that I was dispensed from my solemn vows.  Here is canon 642:


Can 642 §1. Quilibet professus, ad saeculum regressus, licet valeat, ad normam can. 641, sacros ordines exercere, prohibetur tamen sine
 novo et speciali Sanctae Sedis indulto:
 1º Quolibet beneficio in basilicis maioribus vel minoribus, et in ecclesiis cathedralibus;
 2º Quolibet magisterio et officio in Seminariis maioribus et minoribus seu collegiis, in quibus clerici educantur,
 itemque in Universitatibus et Institutis quae privilegio apostolico gaudent conferendi gradus academicos;
 3º Quocunque officio vel munere in Curiis episcopalibus et in religiosis domibus sive virorum sive mulierum,
 etiamsi agatur de Congregationibus dioecesanis.

Briefly, here is what Canon 642 says.  Anyone dispensed from solemn vows who is a priest can exercise his priestly powers but he cannot, without a special new indult from the Holy See have a benefice in a major or minor basilica or a cathedral, or be a professor or official in a major or minor seminary or college in which clergy are educated and also in universities or institutes which grant Pontifical degrees or occupy an office or job in a diocesan curia or religious house, whether of men or women, even a diocesan congregation.

So you can see that under to code of canon law in force from the middle ages up until the promulgation of the New Code in 1983 by Saint Pope John Paul II, I was pretty much unable to be anything but a parish priest if I received an indult of dispensation from my solemn vows.  That was alright with me.  I was not motivated by clerical ambition.   I now simply wanted to be a good priest in a parish, free from the temptations that clerical ambitions that can ruin a good priest; I could not even be a monsignor;  from now on I would be simply, Father Rene Henry Gracida.

With money from my family I bought a Ford Fairlane automobile, packed my personnal belongings, took off the Benedictine habit, said goodbye to my confreres in the monastery and drove away from Latrobe, Pennsylvania headed for Miami, Florida with tears in my eyes and a heart filled with sadness.  I loved Saint Vincent Archabbey.  I loved being a Benedictine monk, and I would still be one today if I had not been forced out of the Order.  I loved the life of prayer and contemplation.  Above all I loved the Liturgy; I had become Assistant Master of Ceremonies and was involved in planning and executing all of the rich variety of worship that the Church’s calendar year afforded.  Benedictines are rightly famous for the quality of their liturgical celebrations and I thank God that I had ten years to grow in understanding of the importance of celebrating the Liturgy of the Church with fidelity to the rubrics and tradition.  After the death of Archabbot Denis I returned several times to visit with the men who had formerly been my confreres, most notably in 1984 when I returned to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving with my classmates on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of priestly ordination.  Saint Benedict is still my patron saint.  Even though I am no longer bound by my vows I have tried to live in a way that kept the spirit of those vows.

I arrived in Miami on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, and checked in with the Chancellor, Monsignor Robert Schieffen, Pastor of Holy Family Church in North Miami at his rectory.   He received me warmly and told me to move into the rectory since my first assignment in the Diocese of Miami would be as Assistant Pastor at Holy Family Church.  He told me that I could go to the chancery the next day to meet with Bishop Carroll.

So began my new life as a diocesan priest (a secular priest).  The irony is that when I was struggling to identify my vocation back in 1950 I had specifically rejected the idea of being a diocesan priest.  Now, after ten years as a Benedictine monk I was a diocesan priest.  God works in strange ways.  While I had desired the priesthood as a choir monk in a Benedictine abbey and enjoyed the occasional weekend duty as a “supply priest” in the small parishes southeast of Pittsburgh, I had no idea of how spiritually powerful it is for the priest when he is engaged in the full priestly ministry of a parish priest.  I had never baptized children before, I had never prepared couples for marriage and officiated at their wedding, I had never visited the sick and dying in hospitals and in their homes, I had never taught in CCD classrooms, I had never administered extreme unction (the Sacrament of the Sick), I had never done marriage counseling to couples whose marriage was on rocky groujd, I had never visited and blessed homes, etc. etc. etc.  Now that the full ministry of a parish priest was opening up to me I began to realize the infinite spiritual dimensions of what it means to be a priest of Jesus Christ.



About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas