QUAERITUR: Going to SSPX priest for absolution of excommunication

Despite the fact that I wrote pretty clearly in my post about forgiveness, confession, censures, excommunication, and abortion that email isn’t a good medium for solving serious problems, I am getting email from people asking about their own situations.

How I wish I could solve everyone’s problems.

I am acutely aware that people in some places have a hard time finding a priest whom they trust.  But email is not a good medium for these sorts of things.

You really do need to seek out a solid priest in your area, even if you have to drive a while, and do things in person.  Even if I could answer everyone’s email – and it is physically impossible for me  – I cannot through email or phone or skype or any other method absolve either censures or sins.  This is the sort of thing that must be done personally, in the presence of the penitent.

Also, perhaps it is time to overcome some trust issues about priests in your area.  Some people write and say that there is not a single good priest around where they live.  REALLY?  I find that hard to believe.  And there is always the local bishop, even if it requires nagging for an appointment and a long drive.  If you say you think you have a problem of having incurred an excommunication, that tends to get a priest’s or a bishop’s attention.

When faced with penitents with serious problems, even goofy liberals seem to sober up and get focused.

Furthermore, if you are going for confession and absolution of a censure, that doesn’t mean you have to invite the guy to supper or start liking the way he preaches.  His job is to give you the benefit of the sacraments and the Church’s jurisdiction over censures.  Also, you don’t have to like him or enjoy the experience of making the confession and getting the censure lifted.  After all… who cares?  You want the censure lifted.  Go get it done.  Ask him to do his job and do it right for the sake of your peace and immortal soul.

That said I will add a response to a question I received, because I know there are a lot of followers of the SSPX who read this blog.

I do not mean this in any polemical intention.  I am simply going to answer the question factually.

From a reader:

I confessed abortion many years ago to a priest of the SSPX. Later I
was worried that this confession was not valid, and that I was
excommunicated. I raised it with a diocesan priest in confession who
replied “a priest is a priest”. I still worry from time to time that
I’m not absolved and may even be under excommunication. Can you

Here is the deal, friend.

That priest who said “a priest is a priest” is right, in that the priests of the SSPX are validly ordained.  But priests need to have permission of the Church to absolve sins validly.  They have to have what is called a “faculty” from proper authority to exercise this ministry for the Church.

This is a little different from what SSPX priests do when they say Mass.   When they say Mass, they validly confect the Eucharist.  No question.  They do so illicitly but validly.  But when it comes to absolution of sins, the Church’s law says that the priest must have permission to absolve validly.

In the Code of Canon Law, can. 966 §1 says that the validly ordained priest must have faculties, i.e. permission, in order to absolve validly:

“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.”

Can. 976 says that when someone is in danger of death then any validly ordained priest has the faculty to absolve validly, even if the priest has been out of ministry voluntarily or has been expelled, even if there is an active, regular priest there.  But the situation itself is what constitutes the basis, in that moment, for the priest to have the faculty to absolve.

Again, priests don’t have faculties because they want them.  They have them because they have been granted them by proper authority, usually the priest’s diocesan bishop and/or religious superior.

The priests of the SSPX, or – not to single them out – Sedevacantist or other independent priest, do not have faculties to receive confessions, which -as is clear from the law – is required by the Church’s law for validity.  Also, they do not have any authority to lift any censure.  Who would give it to them?  The bishops of the Society have no authority to grant any kind of faculty to any priest.  They, too, are suspended from the exercise of Holy Orders.

Some will argue that of late there are situations in which SSPX priests have been assumed to absolve validly.  It may be that some of them in some circumstances have sought faculties from a local diocesan bishop the faculty to do X, Y or Z.  In that case, the priest might have obtained the necessary faculty from proper authority.  Great!  That is a great step in the right direction.  Some will argue that lack of knowledge on the part of the penitent is enough to make whatever happened valid.  Oh yah?  Really?  Are we sure about that?

Without going into those claim in any detail, the Church’s Canon Law remains pretty clear.  Any claims to the contrary are doubtful claims or they involve particular instances that do not establish any general overriding of the Church’s law.

Bottom line: Is it worth it, really worth it, to fool around with something this serious?

Go to any local parish, even one where the clappy happy rubbish is going on, and the priest there will more than likely have the faculty from the local bishop to lift the censure that is incurred by participating directly in an abortion.  In the USA, at least, I think it is now standard operating procedure for bishops to grant the faculty to his diocesan priests to absolve the excommunication.  It may be that the bishops of some places have given permission only to certain confessors, say at the cathedral or some shrine, to absolve the excommunication.  This is easily determined where you live by means of a couple simple questions which are entirely within the right of the faithful to ask.

Think about it this way: the local parish priest might be a dope, he might be a liberal heretic, he might be a sloppy or a bad confessor, but … he has faculties to hear confessions and lift the censure. Sadly, the smart cassock-wearing, prayerful priest at the SSPX chapel does not.

That’s just the way it is and it is one reason why I sincerely look forward to the reconciliation of the SSPX priests as soon as possible.

If there is even the slightest doubt that an SSPX priest, or – not to single them out – Sedevacantist or other independent priest has faculties to absolve and no authority at all to lift censures, it is really a good idea to seek that route when you know or suspect that you have a censure?  Really?

Please find a solid priest in your area who is in union with the Church and lay out the story to him.  He should be able to help.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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