I want to clear up something related to the upcoming grant from Pope Francis (I repeat… upcoming, and not yet) to SSPX priests to absolve the sins of penitents who come to them.
Some people are claiming that the SSPX already validly absolve sins because of their mystical “supplied jurisdiction”. No. Sorry. They don’t. They don’t because they do not have the faculty – under normal circumstances (that’s important) – to absolve validly. The Church’s Lawgiver (the Pope) included a canon in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (for the Latin Church) that a priest must have (in addition to valid ordination) the faculty – the Church’s permission – to absolve. No ticky, no laundry.
So, how does one get the “ticky”?
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 (i.e., diocesan bishops, religious superiors).
The priest can be given the faculty either by competent authority (i.e., his diocesan bishop, religious superior) or by the law itself. How does the law give the faculty?
This is where can. 976 comes in.
Can. 976 Even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present.
Imagine this scene:
A person is dying. In the crowd gathered there are five priests. One is a diocesan priest in good standing with full faculties of his diocese who is pretty conservative but doesn’t know how to say the traditional Mass. One is a traddy diocesan priest from another diocese who has faculties in his own diocese, but here in Tall Tree Circle in the Diocese of Black Duck he does not because the local bishop wrote explicitly to tell him he may not hear confessions because he’s a trad. One is a religious priest, the dying man’s brother-in-law, who is still on the active roles, but he is presently suspended because he is trying to figure out if he is a man or really a woman trapped in a man’s body. One is an married ex-priest who has just gotten out of jail. One is a priest of the SSPX.
QUAERITUR: Which priest has the faculty validly and licitly to absolve the dying fellow?
ANSWER: All of them.
Even if there is a priest in good standing with the faculty present, all of the priests there have the faculty because of the circumstance. The law itself gives even the questioning priest and the SSPX priest the faculty in that circumstance. It doesn’t make any difference that there is a priest in good standing there. The dying person may, perhaps, wish to confess to the SSPXer instead of the “Novus Ordo” priest from the diocese. The dying man may wish to confess to his brother-in-law, because he knows him. The dying man may wish to confess to the SSPXer because he know that he knows the traditional form of absolution. He might want the married ex-priest because he, too, is a Cubs fan. Whatever. All three priests present have the faculty, but for different reasons.
Imagine another scene:
A ship is sinking in the ocean. Two priests are watching as people are drowning and being eaten by sharks. One is a priest in good standing in his diocese with faculties to hear confessions. The other is an ex-SSPX priest, validly but illicitly ordained but now out of the SSPX because of drug trafficking and prostitution charges. Which one can validly absolve?
You know the answer before I ask.
In the case of a person who is dying, the law itself gives the faculty even to a “laicized” ex-priest (or an SSPX priest) even though there is a shiny clean priest in good standing present.
On one side of the street is St. Progressiva – aka “Jesus Our Fluffy Friend Catholic Community” where Father “Just call me ‘Bruce'” in his tie-dyed tee has finished hanging up the felt butterflies in the gym cum worship space before the illicit and probably invalid Form 3 “general absolution” service he has scheduled in advance for his faith community. He is musing about the homily Sr. Randi gave during liturgy that morning, cherishing her insights about global warming and wishing that he weren’t part of the oppressive patriarchal which caused it. A person comes up to him and asks him to hear her confession. He scratches his scruffy graying beard as she hands him a card with the actual form of absolution written on it. She asks him to use that because, the last time she was there during the 15 minutes of confession schedule last Lent, he had composed his own form of absolution. He hesitates. “What would Francis do?”, she asks. He scratches his beard some more, shrugs and, since the butterflies have made him happy, hears the woman’s confession, gives her a penance and absolution… “just like the old days!” He has a twinge as that tiny little Catholic voice in him suggests that he did it right this time, but it is soon drowned out as the pop-combo (of his contemporaries lead by Sr. Randi) starts warming up. After all, no one believes in that anymore.
On the other side of the street, in the converted ex-Lutheran SSPX church now called St. Marcel the Courageous, newly-ordained Fr. Rocco Firm has motivated a group of happy girls and their mothers to scrape gum off the undersides of pews from 20 years ago. He straightens his biretta and gets into the newly constructed traditional-style confessional, complete with curtains and sliding doors and fixed grates. There is a line. They are well-catechized and up-to-date about the issues and news of the Church and the SSPX. None of them are in danger of death. All of them could have walked across the street or have driven over to Msgr. Zuhlsdorf’s parish St. Ipsidipsy or over to Fr. Guido at St. Fidelia. No one is being denied the opportunity to go to confession to a regular priest. Fr. Firm hears one person after another and says the traditional formula of absolution.
QUAERITUR: Which priest has validly absolved? “Bruce” or Fr. Firm?
ANSWER: You know the answer.
Were the people at St. Marcel validly absolved? No.
Were the people at St. Marcel forgiven their sins by God? Perhaps. We don’t know. I’ll bet most of them made pret’near perfect Acts of Contrition after a good examination of conscience.
Was the woman who went to the aging hippy across the street validly absolved? Yes. She might have had to hold her nose because of the smell of the bong, but, yes.
Will the people who go to the Form Three service across the street be validly absolved? Probably not. General Absolution cannot be scheduled, since it can be given only in cases of grave necessity. Can. 961 establishes that a grave necessity exists (outside of the clear case of danger of death) when…
“given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to hear the individual’s confessions within an appropriate time, so that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of sacramental grace or of Holy Communion for a lengthy period of time.”
All those conditions would need to be present for general absolution to be given licitly. Telling people to “come back next week” would NOT deprive them of sacramental grace for a “lengthy period of time,” which most manualists – and we like manuals – would say is a month or more. Furthermore, the Motu proprio of 7 April 2002 Misericordia Dei, 5 clarifies that “judgment as to whether there exists the conditions required by canon 961 is [Note bene] not a matter for the confessor, but for the diocesan bishop who can determine cases of such necessity in light of the criteria agreed upon with other members of the Episcopal Conference.” Moreover, you must make a regular confession as soon as possible after a Form 3, or the second time is invalid (except in danger of death, of course).
During the Year of Mercy the priests of the SSPX will NOT have the faculty from the law itself (as in the danger of death) to absolve validly, but the faithful will have the privilege of going to them anyway.
So… GO TO CONFESSION.
And go to a priest with faculties who is NOT giving general absolution.
Yes… the moderation queue is ON.
Dura lex, sed lex.
Anyway… the real point, amidst the digressions, is that in the case of the danger of death any validly ordained priest – active or inactive, in good standing or not – can validly absolve even if a priest who is canonically squared away is present.