A priest reader sent me a link to an article on the site of The Remnant, which is I believe a bi-monthly newspaper staunchly on the traditional side of our Catholic spectrum. The article in question concerns the validity of absolution of sins given by priests of the SSPX. HERE
In a nutshell, the article argues that SSPX priests absolve validly. I do not believe that to be true. SSPX priests do not have faculties to receive sacramental confessions. Period. Faculties are necessary for validity.
I will not here replicate the piece from The Remnant. Visit their site and read it on your own. On the other hand, after consulting a canonist whom I trust can I offer this response.
The article in The Remnant is mostly another “Ecclesia supplet” argument which Jimmy Akin, among others, has handily proven faulty in these circumstances. HERE
The author of the Remnant piece decries that Rome has made no public official pronouncement on the matter. Therefore their confessions MUST be valid.
On the other hand, Rome has made an official pronouncement on the matter – it’s called the Code of Canon Law and it was issued in 1983.
Just to review, here are the key canons in the 1983 Code for the Latin Church (my emphasis):
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.
Can. 969 §1 Only the local Ordinary is competent to give to any priests whomsoever the faculty to hear the confessions of any whomsoever of the faithful. Priests who are members of religious institutes may not, however, use this faculty without the permission, at least presumed, of their Superior.
§2 The Superior of a religious institute or of a society of apostolic life, mentioned in can. 968 §2, is competent to give to any priests whomsoever the faculty to hear the confessions of his own subjects and of those others who live day and night in the house.
So, a man must be validly ordained and must have the Church’s permission to use the power to absolve sins validly. That line about “the law itself” refers to a case of danger of death. If someone is in danger of death, even a former priest validly absolves sins, even if he was a convicted pedophile or supporter of women’s ordination whose clerical status was removed.
The Remnant writer claims that canon 144 allows an SSPX priest to deem his own absolutions to be valid “due to legal common error”. However, canon 144 is not for the individual priest to interpret. The legal error must be on the part of the one confessing. For example, if I go to St. Ipsidipsy in Tall Tree Circle and confess my horrible black sins to a validly ordained priest in the confessional, but I am unaware that that priest’s faculties were suspended that very day, my sins would probably be forgiven. I would be in error about the facts through no fault of my own.
So, the law is clear. No reasonable person, and I include SSPX priests in this category, can say that an SSPX priest has faculties to receive sacramental confessions and absolve. There is no reasonable error of law about this.
The author of the Remnant piece makes a false distinction about the accommodation the Catholic Church grants to the Orthodox. He effectively argues “if THEIR absolutions are valid, then why aren’t OURS?!” That does not hold water. If the SSPX are truly not schismatic, and if they are “merely” disobedient sons of Holy Church, then they should be held to a higher standard than the accommodation extended to the schismatic Orthodox.
If an SSPX priest is truly concerned about the validity of his absolutions, then he needs to find a bishop in communion with Rome and humbly beg that his situation be regularized. I would go so far to say that if an SSPX priest even doubts that his absolutions may be invalid, then he ought to run, walk, limp or crawl to a friendly diocesan Catholic bishop and beg to be regularized.
I’ll bet that in most cases a diocesan bishop would find some work for the man which would include celebration of the sacraments in the older form.