Can a priest or bishop lose the sacrament of Holy Orders?

Hi folks1

Was speaking to a friend this AM regarding the ‘validity’ of orders in two specific circumstances. This issue centers around my understanding–or lack thereof–of the doctrine of ‘ex opere operato’. Hopefully I spelled it properly. As I understand the term, it means something along the lines of ‘it works because it works’. (You can tell which language I did NOT study in college;) ).

ORDINATION OF WOMEN: My friend, ‘Steve’ indicates that he believes that once a Bishop ‘ordains’ a woman, not only is this particular ‘ordination’ invalid, but the bishop himself loses the faculty to ordain or to act in any capacity as a priest. He could only regain such a faculty by a full repentance and confession followed by a re-ordination to the priesthood and a re-consecration as a bishop.

I indicated my understanding that while the ‘ordination’ of the woman would be invalid, and the bishop would be guilty of grave sin, he would NOT lose the faculty of ordaining men in the future. This is different in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which does not have a doctrine of ‘ex opere operato’ Who is mistaken…‘Steve’ or myself?

ORDINATION OF HOMOSEXUAL MEN: On the same line–my friend ‘Steve’ indicates that the ordination of a homosexual by a bishop with full knowledge that the candidate is an active and unrepentant homosexual would not only be an invalid ordination but, again, would cause the bishop to permanently forfeit his faculty to operate in any capacity as a priest or bishop. He would lose ALL priestly faculties. Moreover, the homosexual ordinand would NOT be ordained himself.

In this case I argued that the ordination of homosexual men has NEVER been barred because they are incapable of receiving the faculties of a priest. It was forbidden as a matter of practice and of canon law, but a practicing homosexual male who was ordained would be a fully-functioning priest with full faculties. It would be personally sinful for him to excercise his faculties so long as he were an unrepentant sinner but he would be fully capable of dispensing the sacraments.

Moreover–while it would be gravely sinful for a bishop to knowingly ordain a practicing and unrepentant homosexual, his faculties would NOT be forfeited by this or any other willful sinful act. Again this is different as I understand it in the Eastern Orthodox tradition because they have no teaching of ‘ex opere operato’.

Thanks for the responses. Please do cite any reference works you are aware of. And if you happen to know if the TEACHING (not the policies but the official teaching) of the Catholic Church has altered over time? ‘Steve’ and I are traditionalist Anglicans and nearly as skeptical of the revisions of Catholic practices and teachings since Vatican II as your own conservatives and traditionalists.

Dear Flame,

“Ex opera operato” has to do with the state of soul of the priest or bishop and his ability to confect sacraments. Should he be in grave sin or should he have great doubts regarding the faith, the sacraments he confects are still valid—so long as he intends what the Church intends by such confection. The sacraments perdure ex opera operato.

Should a bishop ordain a woman, the ordination would indeed be invalid. But he would not therefore, have to be re-ordained. One cannot become un-ordained. The term “faculty” has to do with permission to confect a sacrament and not the POWER to confect a sacrament. When a priest is given faculties to hear confessions, it is permission (a kind of license) to hear confessions that he receives. But the power to absolve sins comes from his ordination to Holy Orders and not from the faculties for hearing confessions.

If a man (heterosexual or homosexual) living a sinful way of life that is completely contrary to the teachings of the Church should present himself for ordination, the ordination would be invalid as the result of his intention to deceive the ordaining prelate.

It is unlikely that a bishop with full knowledge of such a situation could have the appropriate intention needed to validly ordain such person.

Ludwig Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” might be of interest to you regarding the sacraments and their ministers. It’s available at and by phone: 888 291 8000.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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