Why is absolution from an Orthodox priest valid but absolution from an SSPX priest invalid? I was told by someone that this is one argument from the SSPX as to why their Confessions are valid.
This won’t satisfy some SSPXers – what will? – but the answer lies in the concept of jurisdiction. I’ve explained this before on this blog, but let’s try again in yet another way.
Absolution of sins is both a sacramental and a juridical act.
The sacramental and juridical aspects cannot be separated. They are intertwined.
A priest’s sacramental authority, or power, to forgive sins comes from his ordination, the ontological change to his soul from Holy Orders. A priest’s juridical authority to forgive sins comes from the bishop, the chief judge of the diocese (… or his religious superior).
The Church says that a priest must have both to be able to absolve validly.
The priests of the Society of St. Pius X have separated themselves from the legitimate authority of the diocesan bishop, in union with the Roman Pontiff. Since they have no connection to the local bishop’s authority, they are not given faculty – permission – to hear to absolve. They lack the jurisdiction to do so. The SSPX bishops are not diocesan bishops who are authorized to share their jurisdiction to absolve, to exercise the power of the keys, as it were. The SSPX bishops are an anomaly unheard of in Christian tradition: bishops without no diocese, either actual/real or titular. They are like husbands without wives. They have orders but no jurisdiction. They are like husbands without wives.
Therefore, they have no basis to claim any jurisdiction for themselves, let along provide jurisdiction to a priest. As my old pastor Msgr. Schuler used to say, Nemo dat quod non got.
By contrast, an Orthodox priest is in communion with a bishop who has a diocese. That bishop, while in schism, has jurisdiction over his flock. Since he has jurisdiction, he can share that jurisdiction with priests that are subject to him. They have both orders and jurisdiction. Therefore, their absolution is valid.
A Catholic -unless he had no reasonable recourse to a Catholic priest (reasonable time to find one, distance to travel, other moral reasons) – would illicitly confess to an Orthodox priest, but the absolution would be valid. Both the sacramental and jurisdictional required for validity would be met.
That is a bit about what lies behind some of the Canons in the Latin Church’s 1983 Code of Canon Law, such as:
Can. 966 §1. The valid absolution of sins requires that the minister have, in addition to the power of orders, the faculty of exercising it for the faithful to whom he imparts absolution.
§2. A priest can be given this faculty either by the law itself or by a grant made by the competent authority according to the norm of ? can. 969. [Even a priest who has been laicized automatically has the faculty when a person is in danger of death.]
Can. 967 §1. In addition to the Roman Pontiff, cardinals have the faculty of hearing the confessions of the Christian faithful everywhere in the world by the law itself. Bishops likewise have this faculty and use it licitly everywhere unless the diocesan bishop has denied it in a particular case. [Every Cardinal is at least a priest (sacerdos) as are bishops.]
§2. Those who possess the faculty of hearing confessions habitually whether by virtue of office or by virtue of the grant of an ordinary of the place of incardination or of the place in which they have a domicile can exercise that faculty everywhere unless the local ordinary has denied it in a particular case, without prejudice to the prescripts of ? can. 974, §§2 and 3. [SSPX aren’t incardinated anywhere and no one has given them faculties.]
§3. Those who are provided with the faculty of hearing confessions by reason of office or grant of a competent superior according to the norm of cann. ? 968, §2 and ? 969, §2 possess the same faculty everywhere by the law itself as regards members and others living day and night in the house of the institute or society; they also use the faculty licitly unless some major superior has denied it in a particular case as regards his own subjects. [The Holy See itself has clarified that they don’t have faculties.]
Can. 969 §1. The local ordinary alone is competent to confer upon any presbyters whatsoever the faculty to hear the confessions of any of the faithful. Presbyters who are members of religious institutes, however, are not to use the faculty without at least the presumed permission of their superior. [The SSPX superior does not have the authority to grant faculties.]
Can. 970 The faculty to hear confessions is not to be granted except to presbyters who are found to be suitable through an examination or whose suitability is otherwise evident. [It is not that the SSPX priests are “unsuitable” in regard to knowledge or good will or holiness. They are good men for the most part. They are separated from proper authority, which makes them unsuitable.]
I could go on, but that is sufficient for now.
I long for the day that the SSPX priests will be fully re-integrated with proper authorities and will be able to set all these things aside.
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