QUAERITUR: Priests, valid absolution of sins, and the faculty to receive sacrament confessions

From a reader about something I raised HERE.

In a recent post you wrote, “bishops and priests have Christ’s own power to forgive sins and they do so validly with the Church’s permission, indicated by a ‘faculty.'” Does this mean that a priest who lacked the faculty to hear confessions could not validly absolve, or would such an absolution be valid but illicit?

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says that:

Can. 966 §1 For the valid absolution of sins, it is required that, in addition to the power of order, the minister has the faculty to exercise that power in respect of the faithful to whom he gives absolution.
§2 A priest can be given this faculty either by the law itself, or by a concession issued by the competent authority in accordance with can. 969.

From this we see that priests must have permission of the Church to absolve sins.  The Church, by the way, gets to determine how the sacraments are administered.

The business about “the law itself” giving the faculty to absolve validly pertains, for example, to situations of danger of death.  Consider the situation in which a priest who has, for any reason at all, no longer in active ministry and, therefore, no longer has any faculties to function as a priest.  If a person is in danger of dying, that ex-priest would in those circumstances have the faculty to absolve validly, even if there were another, active priest in good standing there present also.

But in normal circumstances, if a priest does not have the faculty to receive sacramental confessions, for whatever reason, the absolution is invalid.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Sigh, and all my very good friends in the SSPX deny this fact-that their priests do not have faculties.

    [Perhaps they should just sit down and read the canon and spend some time reflecting on what it says.]

  2. Just from memory, perhaps I’m wrong, but just to say it:

    The fact that Ecclesia supplet faculties for the priest who doesn’t have faculties (but the penitent thinks he does), doesn’t mean that Ecclesia supplet quod Ecclesia non habet, so that if the penitent knew that the priest didn’t have faculties, the sacrament would be invalid, feigned, for which there are grave penalties for the priest, no? [We cannot limit God, so we don’t know what happens in the souls of the penitents. However, we can read the law. The law and the rite of the sacrament both aim at removing doubt about what is taking place. And, again, the Legislator sees this set up as the best for Holy Church right now and Holy Church gets to determine how sacraments are administered, not individual priests or groups of priests, however well-meaning, however traditional.]

    Do any SSPXers have any doubt, whether priests or laity, that their bishops have a canonical mandate by which to grant faculties to priests? Right now, today, as I write this, I would say that they are almost all in doubt, down to a man. One cannot act on such a doubt — providing confessions when there is no danger of death — when souls of both priests and penitents hang in the balance.

    Unity with Rome! Unity with Rome! Unity with Rome! …

  3. Allan S. says:

    So the SSPX absolution I received last week was invalid?

  4. RuralVirologist says:

    “the law itself” giving the faculty to absolve validly pertains, for example, to situations of danger of death

    That is the only example I am aware of – what other examples are there? [For example, the law gives to cardinals the faculty to hear confessions everywhere.]

    And I was not aware that it applied if a priest in good standing were there at the same time … why? [Because the highest law of the Church that we must aid the salvation of souls. It may be that a dying person would for whatever reason prefer to confess to the ex-priest rather than the other. In that moment, the absolution of the one is no more or less valid than that of the other.]

  5. ContraMundum says:

    Wow. I knew they would be illicit, but I assumed their absolutions would still be valid.

  6. Legisperitus says:

    But can past absolutions be “convalidated” or something if the SSPX is given jurisdiction later?

  7. Precentrix says:


    I would assume [!] that you are absolved since you didn’t know that at the time – by the principle of oeconomia. Thus, assuming that you haven’t committed mortal sin since then, I would say that you are in a state of grace. However, it would be a good idea a) to go to a priest with a regular canonical status next time – even if he might not be as traditional, provided he uses the words of absolution! – and b) to mention anything dead important from that confession again (not strictly necessary but it might make you feel more certain).

    As far as I’m aware, it’s fine to attend SSPX Masses etc., but be careful when it comes to the sacraments requiring juridical power.

    However, I’m not a priest or a canonist.

  8. What do more mainstream canon lawyers think of the SSPX interpretation of common error in Canon… 144, was it?

  9. haribo says:

    So if an SSPX priest lacks the faculties to hear confessions in a diocese, what about schismatic Eastern priests who never obtained faculties from one of the legitimate local ordinaries in communion with Rome? Are their confessions and marriages invalid too? And if not, how do faculties from Bishop Fellay differ from faculties given by a schismatic Eastern bishop?

  10. Father K says:


    No, invalid absolutions cannot be ‘convalidated’ however, next time the penitent confesses to a priest with faculties, the sins previously confessed would be forgiven by that priest’s absolution – best to mention the situation to him at the time. ‘Ecclesia supplet’ is a very difficult canonical concept and is not something to be relied upon lightly – there are very strict perameters. And it does not mean that an invalid sacrament can suddenly become valid. It is interesting to note btw that every SSPX priest known to this priest, without exception, goes to a priest with faculties to hear confesisons and never to a Society priest… [I recall one SSPX priest who regularly visited my own diocese to celebrate Mass, which of course was valid but illicit, actually wrote to my Bishop asking that his ‘faculties’ to hear confessions in the diocese be renewed. The Bishop replied in a letter to say that as he had never been given faculties in the first place, how did he propose the Bishop could renew them! It makes one wonder what universe these men inhabit.

    Regarding marriages – the SSPX do not have faculties and so marriages celebrated by them lack canonical form and are invalid – that is standard procedure when these ‘marriages’ come before the marriage tribunal. We do not begin a full canonical procedure but treat them as lacking form – a much simpler procedure in any case. If there is a reconciliation, then I would expect that the marriages celebrated previously by SSPX priests would be convalidated.

    Whether SSPX priests are simulating sacraments would be an interesting canonical question. Any takers?

    Haribo – by ‘schismatic Eastern priests’ I presume you are referring to Orthodox priests. They are not, actually, schismatic – go read the documents of Vatican II, which were written almost half a century ago – do try to keep up to date!

  11. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    What I find extraordinary about some of the commentators above is the tone which implies that the Church is being awkward – this is not some sort of game, this is the salvation of souls we are dealing with. What do you want, “rights” for recalcitrant sinners?

    Don’t try to be clever, we don’t get into Heaven by winning some complex canonical argument with a priest who quite rightly has better things to do than argue with us.

    Just go to confession to a valid confessor, then you KNOW. For SURE.

  12. Nathan says:

    Here’s a head-scratcher for you. Are SSPX absolutions given prior to the 1988 excommunications invalid due to a lack of faculties? Would those of us who went to Confession in those chapels prior to 1988 need to confess those sins again, or would “Ecclesia supplet” apply since we’ve received the sacrament since then by priests with faculties?

    In Christ,

  13. Father K says:


    Yes because all clerics of the SSPX have incurred the penalty of suspension since 1975.

  14. robtbrown says:

    I have to disagree with some of what was said above.

    We know that priests of the SSPX don’t have faculties for Confession from a competant authority. From that point of view the absolutions are not valid.

    On the other hand, acc to the principle of Ecclesia supplet, it is possible that those absolutions are in fact valid.

    Thus I disagree with those who with certitude posit invalidity. I also disagree with those (SSPX) who with certitude posit validity.

  15. RuralVirologist says:

    Thanks, Fr Z, for the bits you added in red – something new every day :-)

    I don’t understand Fr K’s comment on Haribo’s question about the Orthodox. SSPX isn’t in schism (https://wdtprs.com/2011/09/quaeritur-is-the-sspx-in-schism-or-not/), but their bishops don’t have canonical status like bishops in good standing with Rome do, and this somehow leaves them unable to grant the SSPX priests faculties to validly absolve sin wherever they are in the world. How is that scenario different from an Eastern rite bishop who is not in good standing with Rome (e.g. the average Greek Orthodox bishop)? Do they have abilities to grant their priests faculties to validly absolve sin in a way that SSPX bishops do not have and cannot obtain without the forthcoming agreement with Rome? I’m sure the answer is somehow “Yes” but I don’t know how/why. After all, we recognise Orthodox marriages (and those between Protestants) but not SSPX ones. Or does that have something to do with the ministers of the sacrament being the couple, and not the priest, in the East?

    On to the next dilemma – if marriages by SSPX priests are invalid, will the reunion require SSPX priests to inform their parishioners of the need to come back and do it again?

    After reunion, will SSPX bishops be able to grant SSPX priests faculties to marry and absolve wherever they are in the world, irrespective of local diocesan bishops’ faculty granting?

    I will read the V2 documents in time – I read some long ago – but I’m hoping to get a quicker answer by asking those who have read them and the other relevant texts. Thanks!

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