Impersonating a Priest

Hey everyone,

Watching this show about infamous con-man Fred Brito. Without getting into all the details of his many crimes as a forger, impersonator and whatnot, one of them was to pretend to be a Catholic Priest. Apparently he actually celebrated Mass, did baptisms, marriages, heard confessions, and presided at funerals among other duties of a Priest as well. Obviously he was not ordained and did not have the ability to do any of those things. I know this is a very unique situation but I was wondering, does that mean everything was invalid and the marriage/baptisms would have to be done over, and what about at Mass, were all those Masses invalid despite the intention of the faithful gathered who truly wanted to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? How about Reconciliation? Were those who went to him for confession absolved of their sins due to their intention and contrition?

I was just completely taken aback by the ramifications of such a sacrilegious con perpetrated by this man…

God bless,

If he wasn’t ordained, then the “sacraments” he performed were, de facto, invalid. He didn’t have Holy Orders, so he didn’t have the charism that ordination brings. So yeah, all those marriages he’d blessed were invalid, all those confessions he heard did not free the person from the effects of their sins, no one really received Communion.

While con artists tend to fascinate me (as long as they aren’t pulling fast ones on senior citizens or people with low incomes), I’m finding this wiseguy’s actions especially repulsive. It’s treating religion as a get-rich-quick scheme and it’s preying on people’s faith, and may even cause them to lose their grip on that faith. I have a sad feeling this guy might have a special hotseat in Hell waiting for him, unless he makes it up to God somehow.

The baptisms would be questionable. A layman, even a non-christian lay man can baptize validly. However, he must have the intent to do whatever it is that the Church asks. That is he has to have the intent to do it even if he doesn’t know what it is that the Church wants. However, in this case I wonder if he had the intent.

That being said, if, for example, this con artist preformed Last Rites on someone who was in mortal sin, I’m sure God would understand that the dying man/woman would want to confess by desire. It’s not the deceased’s fault, if they knew nothing about this guy’s real profession.

Just my two cents.

As another poster said, the baptisms are iffy. The fact that he was not ordained does not automatically render them invalid, but if he had lack of intent, that would.

Yes, the other things would be invalid, however, there would be no sin on the part of the faithful, who in good faith received these sacraments and believed them to be valid.

Regarding someone who impersonates a priest

From the Code of Canon Law

This would have absolutely no effect on someone who was not Catholic to begin with.

No, not impersonating a Priest.

i saw this same program and was shocked because i live in the area where he was impersonating as a priest and know some of the people involved.
i believe the man who was pretending to be a priest said that he was raised in the Catholic church and i think that is what helped him be able to be as believable as he was.
i don’t believe he had practiced his faith in several years.
someone who is not a Catholic, might not realize the gravity of what he did by pretending to be a priest, but when i think of the weddings that he officiated, the Masses, the funerals, the confessions he heard i had such a feeling of sadness. the people in both parishes he served at must have felt so betrayed.
the priest who had hired him at the last parish he was at was correct in saying that he had done great harm.
this impersonator mentioned that he plans to write a book. i wonder if he feels remorse for his actions of his other crimes as well as impersonating a priest. it is not something to be made light of that is for sure.

This is so sad. All those people must feel betrayed. I can’t believe people have the nerve to do these things.

I would think most Archbishops and Bishops in dioceses could relate stories of men who have impersonated priests. In my archdiocese I knew of one mental health individual who went into a Catholic Religious store and purchased a priest shirt and collar as well as an expensive Alb, Stole and Chausable. It took only a few misrepresentations of him standing in for a priest to hear confessions before someone amongst the faithful community pointed his falsified impersonation out to a real priest. He was arrested by the police and placed in the hospital psychiatric ward. Oh well; not totally surprising to me. Thankfully; this happens infrequently.

As for him hearing the Confessions of Catholics and giving sacramental absolution?
It wasn’t valid.

In respect of marriage, I believe that the Church is necessary to witness the validity of the marriage and record it, but that the sacrament is actually conferred one spouse to the other in the form of the vows that they take. While the rules of the Church nowadays require it to be done under the authority of the priest, if I remember correctly, the sacrament itself being confected between the two spouses would be valid, albeit ‘illicit’ if they took place by means of a ceremony presided over by a ‘counterfeit’ priest.

I would make a guess and suggest that the correct course of action for such couples would be a ‘radical sanation’?

Anyone with more knowledge care to confirm or reject that suggestion?

If it were me and my husband in that situation, we would just go for a marriage blessing, and not bother with radical sanation.

First of all, anyone can Baptize. But no they are not invalid in my judgment because although this man was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the sheep came to him with trust and faithful intent. It is a peculiar situation but you cannot take away that trust and faithful intent from the sheep. In other words men had already confessed to this fake priest and confided their trust in him that their sins would be absolved. They have no idea that he is a fake priest so in the future they would never confess the same sins to a real priest. You can’t take away the forgiveness of sins that they will never confess to another priest because they believe that their sins are already absolved through the fake priest, whom they did not know was fake. That’s just an example.

The Sacraments performed by this fake priest are valid because of the trust and faithful intent that people place within them.

It would be very nice if that were so, but sadly that wouldn’t be the case, and certainly not in the case of the Eucharist.

Now in the case of Marriage, I am 95% sure that the marriages conducted would be valid sacramentally, since the priest doesn’t actually confer the sacrament itself, even if lacking administratively…

There is a question mark about baptisms though: it is difficult to determine the counterfeit priest’s intentions. If he was acting to fraudulently obtain Mass stipends, etc, then no, they wouldn’t be valid. If he was trying to be a priest for a different reason and was believing himself capable of baptising within the definition we would understand, then possibly the baptisms were valid. In either case, those baptised, should they ever find out, would be wise to be conditionally (re-)baptised.

As for confessions, then any absolution would most certainly have been invalid, but were a person to die believing themselves absolved, then I think God would most certainly be merciful and not hold them to account on the basis that they had been conned. Those who subsequently confessed to a validly ordained priest would then have received full absolution for everything not previously absolved and they would have had no sin in ‘withholding’ acts previously invalidly absolved.

As for other sacraments, it is highly unlikely that a fraudulent priest would admit candidates to the Church via RCIA rites, which include confirmation, as this would normally involve diocesan record keeping which would root out the con man.

With all due respect, you have unjust judgment. You simply don’t deprive the innocent of their faith for the sake of the actions of a false shepherd. If he mislead the sheep into sinning then that would be a separate matter; however, if it was the sheep’s intent to exercise their faith through the sacraments that this false priest mocked then they are absolutely valid in regards to the sheep. That is right judgment.

There are two people present in the sacraments. The shepherd and the sheep. Just because one is absent (the shepherd) does not invalidate the sacrament received by the sheep, when the sheep believes that the shepherd is present. And that is exactly what happened in this case.

You don’t punish the believer because the wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Just found out this guy used to be in my diocese. Good thing he never went to my church.

Unjust judgement? That’s a very unpleasant thing to say to me. I’m not being unjust to anyone.

I not implying that anyone who has partaken of the fraudulent ‘sacraments’ has sinned by doing so if they had no knowledge of the fraud (since sin requires knowledge and consent. However should they come into knowledge of the invalidity of the sacraments, they should take steps to rectify the situation for the avoidance of any doubt about the sacraments. Surely it’s just for people to be safe rather than sorry?

I think you misunderstand what is meant by the term “valid.” The sacraments the other poster was speaking of would indeed be invalid, because they require a validly ordained priest, with apostolic succession, to confer them. This guy was a con man, and had no ability to confer them. That does not mean that the faithful are being “punished,” it just means that they, unknowingly, have partaken in invalid sacraments. NOT their fault, but doesn’t magically make them valid.

This surprised me, so I did some research and found out that you are correct. Per the Catholic Encyclopedia, the following regards the proper minister(s) of the sacrament of Marraige:

  • From the earliest times this fundamental proposition has been upheld: Matrimonium facit consensus, i.e. Marriage is contracted through the mutual, expressed consent. Therein is contained implicitly the doctrine that the persons contracting marriage are themselves the agents or ministers of the sacrament. However, it has been likewise emphasized that marriage must be contracted with the blessing of the priest and the approbation of the Church, for otherwise it would be a source not of Divine grace, but of malediction. Hence it might easily be inferred that the sacerdotal blessing is the grace-giving element, or form of the sacrament, and that the priest is the minister. But this is a false conclusion. The first theologian to designate clearly and distinctly the priest as the minister of the Sacrament and his blessing as the sacramental form was apparently Melchior Canus (d. 1560). *

Meaning that a marraige contracted before an imposter “priest” would still be both valid and sacramental.

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