From a reader:
While doing research I came across something that said that one of the faithful who knowingly receives a Sacrament from a priest without faculties commits a sin. I have always attended SSPX chapels and gone to confession there. But after what I read, I haven’t known what to do. I haven’t gone to Confession in months. I’m also afraid of having a disagreement with my parents. My Dad has very strong opinions about anything not connected with the SSPX.
The Church’s law says clearly that if a priest lacks the faculties from proper authority to receive sacramental confessions, and therefore absolve sins, then the absolution is invalid. The priest must have faculties from the Church to absolve validly.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law says that:
Can. 966 §1 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.
§2 A priest can be given this faculty either by the law itself, or by a concession issued by the competent authority in accordance with can. 969.
From this we see that priests must have permission of the Church to absolve sins. The Church, by the way, gets to determine how the sacraments are administered. The SSPX does not get to decide how sacraments are administered.
Usually it is a diocesan bishop or major superior of a religious order that give these faculties to a priest in a stable way. In danger of death of a person the Church’s law says that, in that circumstance, even a “laicized” priest has faculties. This is because the salvation of the soul of the dying person is paramount.
We don’t know what God does for the soul of a person who, in good will and in ignorance, goes to confess to a priest who lacks faculties. We can’t judge that. God will do as it pleases Him to do.
Also, we have to consider culpable and inculpable ignorance. Catholics ought to inform themselves about their Faith. To what extent is a matter for debate. But once you walk through the door of exploring your Faith even to the point of learning about the law and faculties that priests have, I think you are on the hook. You don’t have to wonder ever about priests at the local parish or official chapel established by the local diocese. Even Father “Just call me ‘Bob’” has faculties, even though he is a heretic.
That said, if a person has been informed that SSPX priests do not have faculties to receive sacramental confessions, and goes to them anyway, a huge problem is introduced. Those priests don’t – in normal circumstances – have faculties. Period. Some people say they have “emergency powers”. The Church does not agree. They don’t have faculties.
It seems to me that if a person knows that the priest does NOT have faculties, and he goes to him anyway, then he knows that he is simulating a sacrament. That would be a sin.
Simulating a sacrament can bring ecclesiastical penalties, by the way (can. 1379).
If there are doubts, true doubts, that is another matter. But the prudent person would find an actual confessor, a priest who without doubt has faculties. Go to the local parish, a real parish of the diocese, and you don’t have to doubt, even if the priest is a complete jerk.
And please understand that in writing this I am not saying that the SSPX priests are bad men. Those whom I have met have seemed to be prayerful men who want to be good priests. But they don’t have faculties. I long for them to be reconciled with the Church so that we can all benefit from their service and example and zeal.
This is serious business, friends. You never want to doubt that your sins are absolved. Don’t fool around with this.
The value of a valid absolution that you don’t have to doubt by far outweighs the irritation that some dopey priest inflicts by saying that X isn’t a sin, etc.
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