Warning: An SSPX Priest Is Incapable of Absolving You from Sin

Warning: An SSPX Priest Is Incapable of Absolving You from Sin
553 53 1Google +7Delicious1By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio – articles – send a comment) | May 27, 2013 3:50 PM

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In certain sources which I refuse to publicize, it is being strenuously argued that sacramental absolution given by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X is perfectly valid. On this basis, one might suppose that the faithful may confess their sins to an SSPX priest and be assured of God’s forgiveness. Unfortunately, this simply is not true.

Some may assume that absolution by an SSPX priest would be illicit but still valid. If this were true, then the Sacrament of Penance celebrated by an SSPX priest would be unlawful, yet it would still “work”. But again, this is not the case, because the Sacrament of Penance requires ecclesiastical jurisdiction to be valid, and there is not a shred of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the entire Society. Several popes—the source of all jurisdiction in the Church—have made this perfectly clear. For example, when Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of the SSPX bishops in a gesture of good will, he emphasized that it was still the case that “the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church” (Ecclesiae Unitatem, 4).

This renders illicit all the ministries of SSPX bishops and priests, but it also renders some things, including absolution, invalid. When a sacrament is celebrated invalidly, it simply does not take effect. What this means is that SSPX bishops and priests lack the sheer ability to absolve from sin—except in danger of death, as we will see below.

Canon 966 in the Code of Canon Law states the matter succinctly: “For the valid absolution of sins, it is required that, in addition to the power of order, the minister has the faculty to exercise that power in respect of the faithful to whom he gives absolution.” The “faculty” is a grant of jurisdiction to hear confessions from someone who has jurisdiction. This could be the pope (who has universal jurisdiction), the local bishop (who has jurisdiction from the pope in a particular region), or a religious superior (who has jurisdiction from the pope within his order and/or for express circumstances). Thus faculties can be Apostolic (papal), episcopal, or regular (from a religious superior).

The second paragraph of Canon 966 explains that this jurisdiction can be conferred either by law or by “a concession issued by the competent authority”. By law, all priests can offer absolution to a penitent in danger of death. All other jurisdiction or faculties must be expressly conferred. And, as should be obvious, a bishop or religious superior can grant faculties (jurisdiction) only within the scope of his own jurisdiction. Thus, for example, a religious priest may be able to absolve members of his own order but not lay persons in the region where he exercises his ministry, unless he has faculties from the local bishop (which are often granted in more-or-less blanket form).

However, there is a bit of a twist with respect to bishops, because not only does the pope have the universal faculty for confession by virtue of his office, but Canon 967 accords universal faculties by law to cardinals and bishops, who accordingly can hear confessions and grant absolution throughout the world. Therefore, a bishop can (and commonly does, I believe) grant faculties to his priests to hear confessions anywhere in the world. But as the second paragraph of Canon 967 makes clear, such faculties are operative only if not denied by the local ordinary. The local ordinary has the authority by virtue of his supreme local jurisdiction to deny the use of the universal faculties to any visiting priest and even to a visiting bishop. In this sense, then, the universal faculties of bishops and priests, when granted either by law or by specific concession, are dependent on the acquiescence of the local ordinary, which is presumed unless otherwise stated. There is no such dependence for the pope or for cardinals, who represent the universal Church. [Note that this paragraph is a change made at 10:25 pm on May 27th to correct technical inaccuracies in my original explanation of episcopal and priestly faculties under the current Code of Canon Law.]

As the example of the religious priest above indicates, jurisdiction is not purely territorial. It can also be limited in scope in other ways, and it almost always is. Thus a pope or bishop may grant faculties in some matters and not others, and in fact it is usually the case that both the pope and the bishops reserve certain kinds of cases to themselves. In these cases, the priest not only may not give absolution, he can not. That is, he is incapable of doing so.

The point in this context is that the validity of confession depends in part on jurisdiction (faculties). Unfortunately, all SSPX bishops are illicitly ordained; they incurred excommunication immediately upon ordination, and though the excommunication has been lifted, they are still operating illicitly. This is because they lack canonical jurisdiction, as all recent popes have plainly said (see again the quotation from Pope Benedict cited above). Therefore, though they may claim to grant faculties for confession to their priests, they do not possess the requisite jurisdiction to do so. Nor, indeed, do they have the requisite jurisdiction to grant valid absolution themselves. They do not have it by law, as their episcopates are illicit, and they do not have it by concession from the pope. For this reason, the following conclusion is inescapable:

Unless you are in danger of death, do not confess your sins to an SSPX priest. If you do, it will sound like you are being absolved, and you may think you are being absolved, but in fact the Sacrament of Penance will not “happen”. This invalidity is exactly like a layman donning vestments to say Mass. Things may look and sound the same, but the ritual will be empty of effect.

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State of Necessity?

You, the reader, must answer the question for yourself! Here is a person who has a website saying that SSPX do not have faculties for the absolution of sins and are not in “full communion” with the pope and the hierarchy. This person, by the way, is a layman and has no canonical jurisdiction himself but he cautions others not to receive sacraments from the SSPX. He bases his arguments on those portions of canon law that support his hypothesis de jure but he conveniently ignores the state of necessity argument which, simply stated, means the Church supplies faculties when a state of necessity or emergency exists (ecclesia supplet).

Moreover, he refuses to acknowledge that the supreme law of the Church may apply in such instances – that being the salvation of souls! The withholding of faculties to the SSPX and other traditional Catholic groups is a scandal that local bishops will have to answer for when the time comes. Think of it, folks, these local bishops provide faculties to some of the most notorious of Catholic dissenters and public heretics while withholding them from the SSPX. Do you think this is Just? In simple terms here is what is happening. The institutional Church which is of the Vatican II persuasion is judge and jury over traditional Catholics who want only to practice their Faith as their fathers and forefathers practiced it. The institutional Church says: OK, you can do that but only if you follow our rules and agree that the new Mass with all its problesm and distractions is the ordinary rite of the Church. This means, of course, that you must disavow the statement by St. Pius V in the papal bull, Quo Prumum, which says the opposite is true and for all time. My advice to readers is to ignore this person and his website.

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3 comments on “Warning: An SSPX Priest Is Incapable of Absolving You from Sin

  1. THE
    BULL-DOGS

    No hysterics
    For the clerics
    Laying
    Lives for you

    And lead the way
    At Mass each day
    Like bull-dogs
    Proud the few

    Of course there’s
    Other soldiers
    With orders
    Valid too

    But at the gate
    To separate
    St. Pie
    Stands first in view

    And yes today
    Nice people say,
    “The battle’s lost
    Just try.”

    But I and mine
    Informed aligned…
    St. Pie is
    Semper-Fi!

  2. Still not convinced there is a continuing state of necessity? I invite you to visit my website at phaley.faithweb.com with the understanding that I do not claim to have canonical jurisdiction myself yet I was trained in the Faith prior to the onset of the culture of man which seems to dominate these days.

  3. Thanks, Tim. That article is very helpful.

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