ASK FATHER: Validity of sacraments from a schismatic priest

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

My wife and I recently discovered that Fr. Paul Wickens was schismatic priest. All we ever knew about him, we learned from our family. We attend Holy Mass at the chapel he built (now run by ICKSP with approval of the the archdiocese). Now that we know Fr. Wickens was in schism, what does that mean in regards the sacraments my wife and her sibling received from him? She received First Communion and Confirmation, and some her of siblings were baptized by him. Were these sacraments valid? Licit? Does anything have to be done on our part?

This reminds me of the early Church’s Donatist controversy.

Wickens did not have faculties from proper authority to function as a priest.

Everything that Wickens did was illicit, except in the case of danger of death (when the law itself provides faculties for valid absolution, etc).

However, being validly ordained, Wickens did truly confect the Eucharist when he validly, but illicitly, celebrated Holy Mass.  Therefore, people really did receive Holy Communion from him.

Any person can baptize validly, provided they do what the Church intends.  There is little doubt that Wickens baptized validly.

The ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop.  However, can. 822 says that a priest who has the “faculty in virtue of universal law or the special grant of the competent authority also confers this sacrament validly.” The local bishop could give a priest the faculty and the law itself gives a priest the faculty in danger of death. Wickens would not have had the faculty to confirm. Hence, the validity of the confirmation is highly doubtful.

Sometimes when the unrepeatable sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are doubtfully conferred, the rite is repeated conditionally. To the form (spoken words) of the sacrament there would be added “If you are not baptized/confirmed, …”.

What to do?

You should get in touch with your parish priest or the priest at the legitimate traditional chapel which you may now be frequenting and explain the situation. That priest should then consult with the chancery quickly and determine a way for you validly to be confirmed. I suspect that they would determine that you would need to be confirmed absolutely and not conditionally.  I also suspect that the chancery has had to deal with this before, since Wicken’s chapel was there for a long time.  This won’t be their first rodeo with his illicit and invalid acts.

Don’t fret over this.

If you didn’t know about any of this before, you are not guilty of the sin of simulating the administration of sacraments.  However, I am sure that you want to know for sure and be at ease about having the sacramental character that Confirmation confers and you want the grace of this wonderful sacrament.

Hence, don’t dawdle, but you don’t have to dash from your computer or drop the phone, leaving supper on the burner and junior in the bathtub to fend for himself.

UPDATE:

Right on schedule, I received another email directly after posting the above.

I received confirmation from Archbishop Lefebvre in the early 80s (pre-excommunication if that makes a difference). Was my confirmation valid?
Thanks Father. I really appreciate all that you do. God Bless.

If Archbp. Lefebvre did it, you were validly confirmed.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says…

Can. 882 The ordinary minister of confirmation is a bishop; a presbyter provided with this faculty in virtue of universal law or the special grant of the competent authority also confers this sacrament validly.

Can. 886 §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.

This is essentially the same in the older, 1917 Code.

So, a bishop without faculties or permission to function in a place validly but illicitly confers Confirmation.  A priest needs the faculty to confer Confirmation validly and licitly.

Ergo, an SSPX bishop confirms validly but illicitly.

An SSPX priest, however, cannot confirm validly without the faculty, which he would have to obtain from proper authority or, in danger of death, from the law itself.

Please share!

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9 Responses to ASK FATHER: Validity of sacraments from a schismatic priest

  1. Fr. Kelly says:

    Since Fr. Wickens died in 2004, (before Pope Francis’ granting of faculties for confession and marriage to priests of the SSPX) would certainly not have had the faculties to absolve from sin or to witness marriages. If they have gone to a priest with valid faculties since his death, and confessed sincerely all their sins including those of their past life, then they should be ok in regard to the forgiveness of sins.

    If this couple was married in his chapel, before him as witness, then the marriage was probably invalid since he lacked faculties. They should bring this up when they contact their pastor/diocese as well.

  2. JesusFreak84 says:

    My understanding was that all SSPX Sacraments pre-excommunications were 100% valid AND licit. That’s…correct…right? (The excommunications happened when I was 4 and I didn’t know what a Latin Mass was until my 20s, so please forgive my ignorance of such matters.)

  3. Fr. Kelly says:

    It is my understanding that Fr. Wickens was not a member of the SSPX but was what is euphemistically called “independent.” The technical term is “Vagus”.
    Any special permissions given to the SSPX would not have applied to him.

    The situation of priests of the SSPX before the 1988 excommunications was problematic. The SSPX was founded properly in the Diocese of Fribourg as a pious union ad experimentum for 6 years. In 1971 they moved the seminary to Econe. Priests ordained during those years would have been validly and licitly ordained and would have had jurisdiction from the bishop of Fribourg.

    The Bishop of Fribourg suppressed the SSPX in the 1975. (an act which Archbishop LeFebvre appealed as unlawful) Pope Paul VI upheld the Bishop’s suppression of the SSPX and warned the Archbishop not to ordain priests in 1976. He did ordain priests on June 29, 1976 and was subsequently suspended a divinis for this act.

    The status of those priests ordained after the suppression of the SSPX and before the Archbishop’s suspension may be in question, but clearly, those ordained by Archbishop LeFebvre after his suspension a divinis in 1976 were validly ordained but with no jurisdiction since their local bishop refused to incardinate them.

    That being the case, their priestly acts which require jurisdiction for validity (absolution for sins in the Sacrament of Penance, Confirmation, Witnessing Marriages) would have been invalid as well as illicit. Their other priestly acts would have been valid but illicit unless they were given permission in some other way.

    so,
    No, it is not the case that all SSPX Sacraments pre-excommunications were 100% valid AND licit.

    [Pretty much what I said. And the priests of the SSPX were not excommunicated.]

  4. Imrahil says:

    Rev’d Fr Kelly, forgive me, but

    >>their priestly acts which require jurisdiction for validity (absolution for sins in the Sacrament of Penance, Confirmation, Witnessing Marriages) would have been invalid as well as illicit.

    Apart from the fact that the SSPX say (which is at least not entirely bogus) that they got their validity through this and that canonical backdoor –

    I think what you say is certainly wrong as far as Confirmation is concerned. The reason is that Confirmation is not an act which requires jurisdiction, but it requires being a bishop – or else, the jurisdiction to replace a bishop. Now all SSPX Confirmations were given by bishops* and haven’t ever been doubted in their validity – an entirely different case from the marriages and Confessions.

    This, I grant, is rather irrelevant to the case here, where, other than with SSPX Confirmations, the validity is indeed highly doubtful. (He really tried to Confirm himself? He did not call some, say, Thuc-line bishop? why??)

    [* except if perhaps some SSPX priest here and there Confirmed a child in articulo mortis. About which I have to say “I am not a canon lawyer”, so I don’t know whether the hour-of-death-jurisdiction which certainly applies to Confessions also applies to Confirmations.]

  5. robtbrown says:

    Fr Kelly,

    The too easy assessment of invalidity of Confession and Marriage with SSPX priests (pre Francis) ignores the principle that Ecclesia supplet iurisdictionem.

    1. Confession and absolution from a priest is a prime manifestation of the Divine Generosity. In fact, according to St Thomas the two examples of Divine Omnipotence are Creation ex nihilo and Forgiveness of Sin

    2. To say that the Church recognizes the validity of Protestant marriage but not SSPX marriage (pre Francis) makes no sense. Zip. Nada Niente.

  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    Good point, Fr. Z.
    And very important to understanding the current status of the SSPX

    [And yet now they validly absolve, they validly witness marriages (with cooperation with the diocese), people can fulfill their Mass obligations at their Masses… one of the things that their status isn’t, right now, is easily understandable.]

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    Father, given that in the update about Monseigneur Lefebvre, the questioner explicitly clarified :

    pre-excommunication if that makes a difference

    … then the Sacraments provided by that priest and Bishop in that timeframe are not only valid, but licit.

    —-

    hmmmm, it’s always so difficult in this nitty-gritty of the Holy Sacraments and the SSPX …

    Thankfully, the usually brilliant, but this time astoundingly so, Eccles of English Catholic satire help and fame, has surpassed even his own best (on a completely different topic) :

    Ten little cardinals

    Ten little cardinals going out to dine;
    One ate far too much and then there were nine.

    Nine little cardinals sat up very late;
    One said “Nighty-night!” and then there were eight.

    Eight little cardinals defending Alfie Evans;
    One wasn’t keen on this, and then there were seven.

    Seven little cardinals playing dirty tricks;
    One rigged a synod and then there were six.

    Six little cardinals keeping faith alive;
    One preferred to change it all, and then there were five.

    Five little cardinals studied canon law;
    One asked some Dubia and then there were four.

    Four little cardinals on a spending spree;
    One made all the money go, and then there were three.

    Three little cardinals building bridges new;
    One asked James Martin’s help, and then there were two.

    Two little cardinals at Communion;
    One joined the Protestants, and then there was one.

    One little cardinal left silent and alone;
    He became the next pope and then there were none.

  8. robtbrown says:

    Fr Z says,

    [And yet now they validly absolve, they validly witness marriages (with cooperation with the diocese), people can fulfill their Mass obligations at their Masses… one of the things that their status isn’t, right now, is easily understandable.]

    The following might help. Nb: the last phrase, esp. quilibet sacerdos.

    § 2. Urgente necessitate, quilibet confessarius obligatione tenetur confessiones christifidelium excipiendi, et in periculo mortis quilibet sacerdos.

    So the question is: In periculo mortis are sins forgiven by quilibet sacerdos (or quolibet sacerdote) because the pope says so? Or does the pope say so because it is intrinsic to the Divine Generosity in the offer of Mercy?

  9. robtbrown says:

    CIC 986

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