ASK FATHER: Confession on a train when going through another diocese

steam trainFrom a reader…

A priest from Diocese X and a lay person travel by train to some place.  During the trip the latter feels the need to confess sacramentally. The train at that moment is in Diocese Y, where the priest has no faculties to hear confessions. What is the way round? Call to the ordinary bishop?

No, the priest can hear the confession and validly absolve unless there are rare circumstances in play.

If Father has faculties to hear confessions in his own diocese or order, he can hear them everywhere except when specifically told that he can’t.  If it is a matter of hearing confessions regularly in another diocese, then he needs to work that out with the local diocesan curia. But, the occasional confession here and there, on a legitimate (read: reasonable) request, when traveling – such as in an airport – good to go!

Ordination gives a priest the power to absolve, but not the permission to use the power.

To use the power validly – validly, mind you, not just licitly – he must have juridiction/permission/authority from the Church. This is his “faculty”. Faculties are granted by proper authority (such as the diocesan bishop or religious superior) or by the law in particular situations itself (such as danger of death).

16_03_14_red_01Now, if this priest is a bishop (only a sacerdos can absolve, and sacerdos here includes priests and bishops), his faculties are a little different, but to the same end in the train situation.

Can. 967 §1 says that the law itself grants that cardinals can hear confessions everywhere. So can a bishop unless he has been forbidden to do so by the local bishop. So, if the priest on the train is Bishop Jude Noble of Black Duck, and the Bishop of Libville, Most Rev. Fatty McButterpants, hates the Bishop of Black Duck because he believes in God and the Church’s Holy Dogmas, and Fatty has told the noble Bishop of Black Duck in writing that he mayn’t hear confessions, you are out of luck. BUT, if the new Pope Pius XIII, before disappearing into the Apostolic Palace, made the Bishop of Black Duck a cardinal, then ol’ Fatty can go pound sand and the layman on the train can be validly absolved.

Can. 967 §2 says that those who possess the faculty of hearing confessions habitually (whether by virtue of office – he’s a parish pastor – 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 (except in danger of death, of course). So, if Father Joe Włotrzewiszczykowycki of the Diocese of Libville, having fled the persecution of Bp. McButterpants for his belief in God and the Church’s Holy Dogmas, now has domicile and the faculties of Black Duck from Bp. Noble, he can absolve inside Black Duck, outside Black Duck, and still also in Libville.

During the Year of Mercy, even SSPX priests can validly absolve in such a situation. Please note that, if this is an Agatha Christie situation on a train, and the layperson is dying because of murder, in danger of death all priests have the faculty to absolve validly, even if the priest had been “laicized” for whatever reason (can. 966 §2). In such a case, the day after the Year of Mercy ends even an SSPX priest, call him Fr. Fidel Jose Maria del la Cruz, can validly absolve in danger of death. But if there is no danger of death, then Fr. Fidel – outside the Year of Mercy – won’t have the faculty validly to absolve.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to ASK FATHER: Confession on a train when going through another diocese

  1. iPadre says:

    The most unusual place I heard confessions was a 50,000′, somewhere between Europe and the USA, right outside the restroom.

  2. pelerin says:

    Interesting comment from iPadre. I remember reading about a Priest who is well known in the French media and immediately recognisable by his long hair, black leather jacket, badges and rings! He said that when he flew anywhere he was usually allotted two seats so that anyone who wished to make their confession at high altitude was able to do so.

  3. pelerin says:

    Still on the subject of Confession [It is not on this subject about confession.] I have just read elsewhere that ‘if the Priest doesn’t know you, you are required to tell him your state in life.’ Perhaps this is just in the US? I have never done this and I don’t remember ever being told to do so even when going to a strange Priest.

    [It isn’t strictly obligatory to say your state in life. It is laudable for you and useful to the priest to know your state in life. If you say that you had sexual relations with someone of the opposite sex, that might mean fornication or adultery, depending on your (and the other person’s) state in life. For sure it is adultery if you are married. It might be adultery if you are not. If you confess that you haven’t said your Office during the week, the priest might say “You aren’t obliged, it is not a sin.”. If you are a professed religious bound to say the Office, that’s another matter. If you say you didn’t do a good day’s work for your wage, that would be worse if you are the father of 9 children and your budget is tight than it would be if you were single and relatively well off. Circumstances matter. This rabbit hole is closed.]

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    So, to be clear, if Fr. X is in danger of dying, he can absolve legitimate (but not illegitimate) persons?

    [“Shut up!”, he explained.]

  5. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    LOL. You laugh, but seriously, I once came across a cleric who, believing HE was dying, used ‘danger of death’ as a pretext to rush someone into a sacrament. No joke. It’s scary out there. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And, Acton Institute.

    [Interesting… Looking at Can. 961 — § 1: “Absolutio pluribus insimul paenitentibus sine praevia individuali confessione, generali modo impertiri non potest, nisi: 1° immineat periculum mortis et tempus non suppetat sacerdoti vel sacerdotibus ad audiendas singulorum paenitentium confessiones;…“. Here “periculum mortis” isn’t specified. In the case of the danger of death of… the penitents? The confessor? If there are penitents, and the confessor is dying, he can give General Absolution, right? After all, it would seem that he doesn’t have a lot of time. On the other hand Can. 976: “Quilibet sacerdos, licet ad confessiones excipiendas facultate careat, quoslibet paenitentes in periculo mortis versantes valide et licite absolvit a quibusvis censuris et peccatis, etiamsi praesens sit sacerdos approbatus.” It is spelled out.]

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Agreed. Yes.
    My example was not Confession. Unfortunately.

    [Oh dear.]

  7. frjim4321 says:

    “Ordination gives a priest the power to absolve, but not the permission to use the power.”

    I must say, that is the first time I have ever heard the distinction explained so clearly and distinctly. Thank you very much for that!

    This brings up an important question for me. For years I was at a huge Catholic parish where there was an odd tradition at the Easter Vigil. The associate pastor, who was responsible for the RCIA, always baptized the catechumens. But then the pastor, who was well up in years and revered by many, was offered the “honor” of doing all the confirmations, of both the catechumens and candidates.

    Then, years after the fact, we learned, NO, only the priest who receives catechumens into the church has the faculties to confirm them. So, the pastor (who did not baptize the catechumens) did NOT have the faculties for the confirmations that he imposed.

    So, did he impose confirmation INVALIDLY, or were the confirmations VALID, but illicit?

    ALSO … the church where the bishop was given Oil of Catechumens for Confirmation … were those confirmations VALID but ILLICIT, or INVALID? [REVISED: It might have been valid if the bishop has given faculties in general to the priests of his diocese. Otherwise, a special faculty is required for a priest to administer validly the sacrament of confirmation. I think it is the usual practice of bishops to give the faculty to pastors or priests who are bringing in converts who need the sacrament. Also, the law itself gives a priest the faculty in danger of death. So, if Father has faculties to function as a priest and baptize, etc., he can at the time of the reception of converts, also confirm. Here are the relevant canons:

    Can.  883 The following possess the faculty of administering confirmation by the law itself:
    1/ within the boundaries of their jurisdiction, those who are equivalent in law to a diocesan bishop;
    2/ as regards the person in question, the presbyter who by virtue of office or mandate of the diocesan bishop baptizes one who is no longer an infant or admits one already baptized into the full communion of the Catholic Church;
    3/ as regards those who are in danger of death, the pastor or indeed any presbyter.
    Can.  884 §1. The diocesan bishop is to administer confirmation personally or is to take care that another bishop administers it. If necessity requires it, he can grant the faculty to one or more specific presbyters, who are to administer this sacrament.
    §2. For a grave cause the bishop and even the presbyter endowed with the faculty of confirming in virtue of the law or the special grant of the competent authority can in single cases also associate presbyters with themselves to administer the sacrament.
    Can.  885 §1. The diocesan bishop is ob-liged to take care that the sacrament of confir-mation is conferred on subjects who properly and reasonably seek it.
    §2. A presbyter who possesses this faculty must use it for the sake of those in whose favor the faculty was granted. [He can’t just confirm everyone in sight.]
    Can.  886 §1. A bishop in his diocese legitimately administers the sacrament of confirmation even to faithful who are not his subjects, unless their own ordinary expressly prohibits it.
    §2. To administer confirmation licitly in another diocese, a bishop needs at least the reasonably presumed permission of the diocesan bishop unless it concerns his own subjects.
    Can.  887 A presbyter who possesses the faculty of administering confirmation also confers this sacrament licitly on externs in the territory assigned to him unless their proper ordinary prohibits it; he cannot confer it validly on anyone in another territory, without prejudice to the prescript of ? can. 883, n. 3.
    Can.  888 Within the territory in which they are able to confer confirmation, ministers can administer it even in exempt places.]

  8. frjim4321 says:

    Further: At the church in question, where the discovered after the fact that OfC was used instead of Chrism, they marched all the kids back through the sacristy for a second anointing with Chrism.

    [Wow. FATHERS! Think before you do stuff! And follow the BOOK.]

  9. ChesterFrank says:

    Interesting, but I think I would have preferred to read an easy to understand, basic A,B,C description on the mechanics of a confession. That way when a Priest types “go to confession” the reader will know precisely what to do, what to expect, and precisely what to say. The ‘state of life’ question hints at the same topic; reconciliation rooms and modernist trends add to a state of confusion.

  10. acardnal says:

    I’ve heard of “moveable feasts” but not moveable sacraments.

  11. Healingrose1202 says:

    Don’t forget to redeem your SSPX Confession coupon prior to its expiration date. *No exceptions. Void where prohibited. Please use caution when confessing while operating motorized vehicles.

  12. Maltese says:

    I went to confession to a priest in an airport, before a boarded a flight. He could tell my sincerity, and it was a good confession–in the corner of an airport.

  13. JonPatrick says:

    ChesterFrank, if you have a Sunday Missal either new or traditional (1962 or earlier) you will find am outline of the procedure for confession including an examination of conscience. Personally I prefer the one in the traditional missal (In my case I have the Angelus Press 1962 missal). In the modern St. Joseph’s missal it is toward the back. Hope this helps.

  14. dans0622 says:

    Regarding frjim4321’s scenario: Clearly, chrism is to be used, not the oil of catechumens (cf. c. 880.1). Canon 880.2 states that chrism consecrated by the bishop “must” be used in Confirmation. If the Bishop uses oil of catechumens for Confirmation, it is doubtfully valid at best so at least conditional Confirmation would be required. I’d say it is invalid as I think this is the most common opinion. So, unconditional Confirmation would be defensible, too.

  15. vandalia says:

    The idea of “airport confessions” always gives me pause. First, while it is clear that pastors have “habitual faculties”, I have not been able to get a straight answer whether priests in my diocese who are not pastors have this type of faculty. When I ask the Bishop or Judicial Vicar, it always turns to a few general statements about the canon law of confessions and a quick change of subject. The scintilla of doubt regarding validity would prevent me from hearing a confession while travelling unless there was “danger of death” (of the penitent.) (The situation of a priest “filling in” outside of his diocese is a bit different. I was told that in such a case the priest could “do so using the faculties of the pastor.” Whether true of not, that seems to be the de-facto way things work.) [I described the situation accurately. ]

    I would also advise the faithful to be incredibly wary of assuming someone in public is a priest just because he looks like one (or says he is). Anyone can buy clerical attire online from Almy. “Ministers” of many different denominations wear Catholic clerical attire. There is one tele-evangelist who wears a “house cassock.” Not to mention those who were ordained but are under suspension, or those who are just criminals.

    Outside of “danger of death”, asking the man sitting next to you to hear your confession just because he is wearing a collar and says he is a priest is very dangerous. Go to your regular confessor before your flight… or arrange for confession at a parish if you are travelling. Otherwise, there is just too much uncertainty, and when it comes to valid Absolution, I am not willing to tolerate uncertainty.
    [Of course if you don’t believe that men in black with the Roman/military collar are really priests in good standing when you ask them, then stick to your parish church where Father’s name plate is on the confessional door. Be sure to be there before he gets into the confessional and compare what he looks like to a pictorial directory officially stamped by the local diocese and signed by the bishop…. if he really is the bishop. After getting into the box, you might also ask the confessor to show you his ID and “celebret” before you start. An double check that photo, just in case there was a secret escape hatch in the confessional on the priest’s side and, maybe, an imposter and he changed places.]

  16. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:

    Further: At the church in question, where the discovered after the fact that OfC was used instead of Chrism, they marched all the kids back through the sacristy for a second anointing with Chrism.

    I knew an Aussie priest who told me that in the sacristy after his ordination to the diaconate a priest told the bishop that hadn’t laid hands on the ordinand. The bishop then had him kneel and laid hands.

    The next day there was a call from the chancery. He was told that they had thought it over and decided it was best to do it over.

  17. vandalia says:

    @FatherZ Perhaps people would be better off if they spent more effort validating credentials:

    http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-fake-priest-bogus-trips-pope-francis-lapd–20160202-story.html

    We also receive a long list every month of priests who either do not have valid faculties or were never actually ordained. If they are on the list, it is because they have presented themselves as priests in good standing. And yes, in Dallas-Fort Worth airport, I met one individual in clerical attire who claimed he was a priest; it was not until 10 minutes into the conversation that he admitted he was Lutheran, after he volunteered to hear my confession. In Denver, I met an individual in “street clothes” who told me that he was a priest, a claim which I doubted due to the fact that he could not name his diocese. Shortly thereafter, he started offering spiritual advice to a woman on the other side of the gate.

    So, no, I do not trust random individuals in public who claim they are priests. If they “know the language” and can correctly describe mutual acquaintances, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt for that conversation. But not when it comes to celebrating the Sacraments without proof – outside danger of death. There is a reason that celebrets are issued.

  18. Hidden One says:

    Reflecting on canon 866.2, could the Bishop of Black Duck give that permission to Bishop Marcel-Bernard Marie-Louis Smith-Lefebvre of the SSPX, were the latter to visit an SSPX chapel in Black Duck for the purpose of administering the sacrament?

  19. Fr. Reader says:

    [Of course if you don’t believe that men in black with the Roman/military collar are really priests in good standing when you ask them,…. An double check that photo, just in case there was a secret escape hatch in the confessional on the priest’s side and, maybe, an imposter and he changed places.]

    In many places there are cases of fake priests who want to deceive the faithful, but what they want is money, they want stipends for masses, to celebrate weddings and they ask for donations for poor countries, etc. They are not interested in hearing confessions, it is a waste of time for them, and a risk since they can be easily discovered.

  20. Father K says:

    ‘But if there is no danger of death, then Fr. Fidel – outside the Year of Mercy – won’t have the faculty validly to absolve.’ Well we don’t know that, now do we? This Pope is the Pope of Surprises. [As things stand now, we do know that.]

  21. Father K says:

    ‘If the Bishop uses oil of catechumens for Confirmation, it is doubtfully valid at best so at least conditional Confirmation would be required. I’d say it is invalid as I think this is the most common opinion.’ No, you are right, it is undoubtedly invalid, likewise if a priest were to use the same oil for anointing of the sick. Unfortunate, but true.

    [You are right about Chrism for validity of confirmation. However, there is some wiggle room for Anointing of the Sick. Paul VI established that in the case of an emergency, a priest can bless simple olive oil on the spot to confer the sacrament of Anointing. See CIC 1983 999 and the 1972 Apostolic Constitution Sacram unctione infirmorum. But wait! There’s more! According to Paul: “Further, since olive oil, which hitherto had been prescribed [= required] for the valid administration of the sacrament, is unobtainable or difficult to obtain in some parts of the world, we decreed, at the request of numerous bishops, that in the future, according to the circumstances, oil of another sort could also be used, provided it were obtained from plants, inasmuch as this more closely resembles the matter indicated in Holy Scripture.” So, for Anointing, it is possible that a different vegetable oil can be used validly, and that it can be blessed on the spot by a priest in an emergency.]

  22. Father K says:

    What you are saying changes nothing about my assertion ‘So, for Anointing, it is possible that a different vegetable oil can be used validly, and that it can be blessed on the spot by a priest in an emergency.’ That has nothing to do with the question. The oil of catechumens has already been blessed for a different purpose. And as things stand now, we simply do not know that outside the year of mercy things will be or maybe different.

  23. Nicolas Bellord says:

    If we get devolution of doctrine to the local level we are in for some intriguing situations. Would confession in an aeroplane be governed by the doctrine of where the plane is registered or the diocese one happens to be flying over? The mind boggles at the possibilities opened to serial sinners.