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Defrocking is an ancient Catholic Christian ceremony where the miscreant is forced to strip off all his (or her ) sacramental clothing in front of a senior bishop or council of elders and stand naked before a burning brazier. This is considered a lesser punishment than being burnt at the stake for 'bringing the Word of God into disrepute.' For nuns, a similar ceremony called the Renouncing of Vows involves locking away 'Fallen Sisters' in secret dungeons.
Other Christian denominations, such as the Anglicans, Lutherans, and Evangelicals have their own forms of removing someone from their communion, but they tend to keep quiet about it. Mormons send sanctioned individuals to Africa with Bibles and neckties. Only the Catholic Church goes for the whole ceremony and its symbolic counterpoint to the service when men and women are elevated to sainthood.
Frocks (or, to give them their correct religious term, surplices) were first worn by Christian big-hats to indicate they were separate from the mobile vulgaris during the last days of the Roman Empire. This — together with a haircut and the ability to write your name — marked one out as a cleric. Since, by then, most people had given up reading to flick through mosiacs or listen to long-winded sagas over an open fire, people wearing a frock indicated to the surrounding illiterates that you were something special.
This difference was marked when the Catholic Church would mark each new year with an mass ordination of candidates for holy orders. Depending on what rung of the clerical ladder you were on, an elevation up the ranks got you a new frock and overtime. Many men had wardrobes of frocks. So when men (and it was nearly always men) were caught with their hands down an altar boy's trousers or locked into a Confession Box with a pretty young widow — and especially after a half-dozen recurrences — the act of 'Defrocking' was established to create a lasting embarrassment for all those involved. Indeed, Defrocking went all the way to the top, with a number of Popes suffering the same ceremonial disrobing. Pope Elasticus III, Pope Gropingus, and Pope Ignoble were all removed from office and lost all their frocks as a result.
edit What happens
The Vatican has for long hidden the exact details of the ceremony, but according to one report made at the time of Martin Luther, the Defrocking had some elements of a Satanic mass. In other words, there was a lot of 'inversion' to the method of how someone is ordained to the priesthood.
....Former Bishop XXX  was led, with his mitre rammed down onto his head, into a dark room. The only illumination was a bright fire. Into that was cast all the clothing once worn by this man when he was doing God's work. A lewd servant roughly slapped him about the groin so that XXX stood like Adam before his maker. XXX's crozier was broken in two and the ring that had carried his mark of office was hacked off his hand. A senior clergyman then read out Bishop XXX's crimes. All memories of his past deeds were to be destroyed and pastoral letters were to be destroyed. He was made to recant his Vow of Poverty and his shares in mutual funds were returned to him. He was then handed over to a beggar who gave XXX an extra hair shirt to wear for all future years...
Today the ceremony has been modified but it does involve a lot of symbolic stripping and swapping of clothes. Those who agree to the 'defrock' sign a confidentiality agreement that is known only to a very few. Pope Francis has hinted he may have it published to deter future scandals.
edit Recent examples
The Vatican had kept a secret list of everyone who had been 'removed from active Holy Service.' However, Pope Benedict XVI recently admitted that 400 men had been defrocked since 1998. Theologians have argued that no man or woman can have their Holy Orders removed, since that decision is the responsibility of Jesus. Thus, the Pope is exempt — though his Deputy or holiday relief are subject to the sanction — until the expected Second Coming.
Other churches like the Anglicans have had a few priests defrocked. One of them Harold Davidson, Vicar of Stiffkey lost his dog collar and went into a short career of lion taming. However, the lions treated this later day Daniel to the natural instincts and mauled him to death. Rasputin from the Orthodox Church kept his religious status until it - and he - and his penis - were separated by the Russian version of the Bullingdon Club in 1916.
edit How to know if you are living next door to one
Living next door to a defrocked priest can be risky if he isn't on the St. Nicholas List (Patron Saint for Children) to check. Some think it can enhance the value of your property, at least making a home sound more interesting in the bargain. Living next door to a cashiered soldier or a struck-off doctor are not in the same league. Also, an air of sanctity may add calm and give out positive energy.
For the more active defrocked holy men, there is an interest about those who fell out of favour doing God's work. Some suggest that the Catholic Church would benefit from candidates who have been to Hell and back. Too many church leaders neglect lessons in managing an offshore bank account religiously whilst undergoing religious training. Perhaps more 'roughing it' with society's low-lifes would be a gain.
- ↑ See Pope Joan
- ↑ Pope Liberacius and Pope Danielius became famous for the extensive collections. Even today, a job power-drilling beans at Taco Bell earns one a uniform shirt that will eventually be suitable for wearing while painting a ceiling.
- ↑ The name is no longer legible today.
- ↑ The lead conspirator was Felix Yusupov. This is regarded as the more extreme end of a defrocking.