Fallen Priests and Sacraments

I have been wondering what it means for transubstantiation to be performed by fallen priests. Is the Eucharist legitimate? Confession? That hardly seems possible. If a priest sexually abuses a child and performs mass…is any of it legitimate? If they continue their predatory or homosexual ways for decades, is anything they do over that time period legitimate?

Taking an extreme example: Theodore McCarrick and the Eucharist.

From Father Van Sloun, pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata The final question is, “When, and under what conditions, does transubstantiation take place?” It happens within a valid Catholic Mass with a properly ordained priest who is acting “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ. The priest must be in union with the Church and in line with apostolic succession. Transubstantiation takes place at the moment of the consecration when the priest pronounces the words of institution: “This is my Body” and “This is the chalice of my Blood.” “The priest pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s,” said St. John Chrysostom, as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1375)

My concern goes deeper. From the Pennsylvania revelations, the percentage of priests partaking in such activities is incredibly high. Verified, reported, factual cases condemned 15-20% publically. What does this mean for the priestly duties they were performing?

I think this topic is, unfortunately, not a question of legtimacy in extremely rare cases, but a grave concern for a church that is infested. I’ve searched, but no one seems to take on this topic. I would love to hear thoughtful responses on what can and can’t be performed.

Why should the sinfulness of a priest affect the validity of a Sacrament when it is God Himself who actually provides the grace/means for the Sacrament? Can sin stop God?


One of the heresies st Augustine fought during his lifetime was Donatism. In a time of persecutions, Donatists were wishing for a “pure” church, where those who, one way of the other, had renounced their Christian faith before coming back, could play no role, and particularly not administer the sacraments. St Augustine virulently opposed this, saying sacraments were ultimately given by God, ex opere operato (from the work carried out), and that the personal sainthood degree of an ordained minister did in no way affect the validity of a sacrament.


Yes and yes.

The sacraments are not dependent upon the state of grace of the priest.


The priest is just a vessel. A sinful vessel. It is Christ who works through the ministry of the priest to bring us the sacraments.

While the example of a child abuser is particularly striking and grave, there are many forms of grave sin… and many priests, who are not child abusers, have committed other grave sins. Where would you draw the line? What if a priest had a consensual affair with a woman in the parish? What if he shuns and spits upon the poor of his parish in defiance of the Lord’s commands? What if he struggles with anger? We would constantly be doubting the sacraments!

Thankfully we depend on the holiness Christ, the one true high priest, not the holiness of His ministers.


Remember that the priest is acting in person Christi, in the person of Christ, when he hears confession and consecrates Eucharist. Christ is working through the person of the priest.

A saint, I think it was St Teresa of Avila, once had a vision during Mass; she saw an ugly demon with the priest in his grip, as the priest consecrated the Eucharist. She understood that the priest was celebrating Mass in a state of mortal sin. She heard Jesus speak to her and say something like, see how much I love you, that I let this terribly sinful priest hold me in his hand, out of love for you so that you can receive me.


The validity of the sacraments does not depend on the state of the soul of the minister who administers it. We are all sinners, priests included. God’s graces are not limited by human morality. A priest who is a serial paedophile is far from the example of a good priest. However, all other things being equal, he still administers the sacraments validly.


Valid as long as proper matter and form are present. Always, regardless of the state of the priest’s soul.

But not licit, except in extreme cases specified in Canon 916:

“A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible (see also Canon 1335).”

Similarly is the rite of Confession. Proper matter and form. As well as with extreme case exceptions allowed. A priest always validly and licitly hears confession in danger of death, even if he is laicized.

The Church also represents the unity between people and Angels. We all serve and worship together. So a fallen priest, until he is laicized, can perform full Sacraments by the Grace of God alone and that of the help of the Holy Angels.

I think the only time a priest couldn’t perform his ministry is exorcism which require a state of grace.

Even a “defrocked” or laicized priest who under normal circumstances cannot licitly administer the sacraments can baptize (as anyone can) and hear a confession/anoint in emergencies (immediate danger of death) and do so validly. The grace of God is far greater than human error.

Yes to both.



the validity of the Mass does not depend on the state of grace or not of the celebrating priest (thankfully). A validly ordained priest + priests intention that transubstantiation takes place + proper matter ie unleavened wheat bread and grape wine mixed with a little water + proper form ie the correct words of institution.

Out of your bolded passage you’ve quoted, the important part which answers your concerns is -

Personal sins of the individual priests.

The Mass - see my points above and When a priest is in mortal sin
Confession - it is God who forgives your sins, the priest is His agent through whom He works. CCC #1424 " since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”"

Wait – are you claiming that the AG’s report showed that 15-20% of priests in the past 100 years in PA were abusers? You’ve clearly misread the report, then.

(p.s., I think I’d assert that the “one-side-only” nature of a grand jury report doesn’t rise to the level of “verified, reported, factual”, but rather, to the level of “asserted” or “reported”.)


If 15 to 20 percent of priests were abusers, then given all the priests I’ve interacted with in the last 50 years, let’s say maybe 50 to 75 priests, then I would have known at least 10 to 15 abusive priests. I’ve researched every priest I remember on bishop-accountability and I keep up with four dioceses in which I’ve regularly attended. I found a grand total of one priest who I knew. If we add in one priest my mom knew but I didn’t (because I was living in another diocese when he was around) and two priests who were at parishes I attended sometimes but never met them, it’s a grand total of 4 priests in 50 years. To be honest I probably met more abusive non-clergy, especially school teachers and coaches.

1 Like

Right. The statistics claim that the rate is more in the 4-6% range, which is less than the rate in the general population. (Your personal experience seems to be right in line with these numbers – around 6%.)


I will grant that for certain parishes, the number may look higher because it’s abundantly clear from what I’ve seen in two states that certain parishes attracted far more than their share of abusive priests. I’m guessing that these parishes either had one abusive priest who was bringing in others, or that the pastors of these institutions were asleep at the wheel or maybe even had some misguided idea they could help these guys.

I was not at all surprised that two of my longtime parishes had no abusers at all listed in my lifetime. The pastors of both places were no-nonsense types and wouldn’t have put up with it. Yet there was one parish a couple miles away (I never attended it) that seems to have gotten four child abusers in a row. I don’t think that was an accident.

Even if a Priest is a criminal he can still confess you and give absolution e.t.c and would think it’s the same with the other Sacraments.

The vows a priest takes at his Ordination to minsister for God cannot actually be broken once taken. The ones he has in terms of responsibility to the church and the flock he is in charge of are different,but they don’t affect the sacramental authenticity in terms of having administered the sacraments to his congregation, while also having been living a non priestly lifestyle.

I don’t know how you came to think that might be otherwise.

Does that also apply to minor exorcism (on medals, artefacts or people)?

So then why can a priest deny someone the Eucharist?

What does this have to do with the topic of the thread?

People who receive Eucharist unworthily eat and drink judgment upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29). They commit sacrilege. If a priest knows for sure that someone is not worthy to receive Jesus, or his bishop has given him an order to deny a person the bishop has deemed unworthy, then the priest has the authority to deny someone the Eucharist.

An individual person’s worthiness to receive Eucharist has nothing to do with the priest being in a state of grace or not in a state of grace.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.