After I became Catholic, some friends introduced me to tradition and I began to attend a SSPX parish with them. I went to confession at this SSPX parish for several years. I have heard that the validity of SSPX confessions is dubious at best. Do I need to go and reconfess those sins?
First, the SSPX might have a chapel, but they don’t have a parish. Parishes are officially established by proper authority. The SSPX doesn’t have authority to establish parishes.
Next, 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 of a priest who is (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 that circumstance automatically have the faculty to absolve validly, even if there were another, active priest in good standing there present also.
Under normal circumstances, however, if a priest does not have the faculty to receive sacramental confessions, for whatever reason, the absolution is invalid.
So, say you are a penitent who has been going to a priest who does not have faculties (such as all priests of the SSPX).
If you later realize that the priest who heard your confession and gave you absolution did not have the faculty to absolve from sin, yes, I think that – for the sake of ease of mind if nothing else – you should reconfess those sins. If it has been a long time and you don’t have a clear memory of those confessions, explain the situation to the priest confessor and confess those sins in general terms.
You did this in good faith, and in clear ignorance of the fact that the SSPX priest to whom you confessed did not have the authority to absolve. Doing something out of ignorance is not subjectively sinful.
Priests who know they do not have faculty to hear confessions, and yet continue to illicitly and invalidly absolve… that’s a different, serious matter.
Frankly, I long for reconciliation of these good men. I think they will be good confessors.
By the way… a “confessor” is a priest who has faculties to receive sacramental confessions. It may be that, for some reason, a priest might be given faculties to say Mass but not to preach or hear confessions. Rare… but… it can be done.
What about the “common error” angle? That is, because of error on the part of the penitent about the priest’s situation, his lack of faculties, then the absolution was valid.
I think that the individual’s sins are probably forgiven, not because of common error or some mysterious faculty that results from the ignorance of the penitent, but rather because of the intent of the penitent. The penitent, hopefully, makes the equivalent of a perfect act of contrition (sorrow for sins because of the love of God), and so his sins are hopefully forgiven.
Lest SSPX apologists say “See! See! Even Fr. Z agrees that a confession to an SSPX priest results in the forgiveness of sins, so therefore it’s alright to go to them!”
Ummm… no. It is not alright. You don’t know what happens or happened, common error or not.
Your soul is too precious to risk.
One of the reasons why Christ and Holy Church have worked things out the way they are is so that penitents don’t have to doubt that their sins are forgiven.
Let’s treat the Sacrament with reverence.
Anyway, for that reason, namely, the intention of the confessee, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for him to re-confess the sins specifically, but prudence requires mentioning the matter to a real confessor.
So… GO TO CONFESSION!
Go to true confessors – priests with faculties.
UPDATE 21 August.
Here is an example of the sort of feedback I get in my email on this topic.
I would like to point out the INCORRECT statement regarding Confessions by SSPX priests. These confessions ARE valid as these priests ARE also validly ordained and ARE given the faculty to forgive sins. I certainly would NOT go to a vatican 2 priest because I believe they have NOT got the proper faculty to forgive sins.
I respond, …
For I say unto thee, thou are Seonag, and on this Seonag I will build my Church, and whatsoever beliefs thou hast, evenso they go against objective reality, I shalt confirm and whomsoever thou shalt dislike for whatever reason, from him I shall withhold faculties, for in fain, I came to announce: I am the way, the subjective feeling, and the light.
We have a real challenge, friends, and so do the priests of the SSPX!
Let’s all work together to get at the truth. I long for the reconciliation of the SSPX. Only drilling for and embracing the truth will help us on that path.