Does the real presence exist if the preist is in a state of sin?

Recently, I encountered an issue with someone I know regarding the Real Presence.

He asked me a question. "If a priest is an unrepentant sinner (for example a child molester), do you really think the Real Presence occurs?

How can a man who is on a direct route to hell and actively doing the work of Satan consecrate anything in the name of Christ?

If he is a validly ordained priest the state of his soul doesn’t matter when it comes to the sacraments. The reason for this is that it is not the priest effecting the sacrament but Christ who acts through him. For some historical information about this you might Google the “Donatist Controversy.”

Deacon Ed

Yes. He only has to intend it to be so.

This is an old heresy known as Donatism. The short answer is that the state of the soul doesn’t matter for the execution of the sacraments, because since ALL men are sinners, no one is really worthy enough to perform them anyway, and yet God permits it. Otherwise, we could never really be sure whether our sacraments were vaild or not. If a murdering priest oversees a baptism, does it really occur? The answer is yes, because despite the sin, God is the one acting through the person. Under canon law, in an emergency, even an atheist could perform a baptism.


I just finished reading George Weigel’s book “The Courage To Be Catholic” which deals mainly with the sexual abuse crisis in the American Church. He recounts a story about St. Francis of Assisi.

"In Saint Francis’s time, the thirteenth century, clerical sexual morality was abysmal and lay sexual morality even worse. Once, one of his brother Franciscans, a man very concerned about scandal, came up to him and asked, “Brother Francis, what would you do if you knew that the priest celebrating Mass had three concubines?” Francis replied, “when it came time for Holy Communion, I would go to receive the the sacred body of my Lord from the priest’s annointed hands.”

However, such a priest celebrates the sacraments–and receives Holy Communion–unto his own damnation until he repents.

It is precisely BECUASE they are still grace-filled.

ex opere operato

1128 This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.


Where it gets interesting is when the priest no longer believes or believes in error. The personal state of grace of the priest is irrelevant. If the priest intends to do what the Church believes, his personal belief does not matter. Ex opere operato.

BUT, if the priest no longer believes what the Church believes it calls into question whether what he does is “what the Church intends” It is, at least, possibly invalid.

Several folks on this board have confused the Donatist heresy under such circumstances. The Donatists were simply weak. They offered incense to the Emperor yet really continued to believe. Further, personal sin - such as sexual sin - does not mean the priest no longer believes.

However, the actual disbelief by some priests in the Real Presence does raise issues of potential invalidity. Disbelief in the Divinity of Christ similarly impacts validity. Schisms over issues such as Papal Authority do NOT call into question validity per se since that issue is not directly related to the intent of the priest as to the sacrament. But when you get one of those priests who public assert their disbelief - you’ve got to wonder.

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