May the Sacrament of the Sick be given to non-practicing Catholics?

My ministry is in the hospitals. Can Catholics who are not in communion with the Church receive the Sacrament of the Sick? These are Catholics who no longer attend Church, have not received the Sacrament of Penance for a very long time, often are in marriages not in line with Catholic teaching, or have just fallen away. I am confused because the Priest Chaplain does give the Sacrament of Sick to them telling me that the Sacrament forgives their sins. Yes of course it does. But I don’t think it replaces the need for the Sacrament of Penance. I am hoping I am wrong because I like this Priest. But if I am right in thinking that the Sacrament of the Sick shouldn’t be given to those not in communion with the Church, then I don’t want to participate in presenting the possibility of their receiving the Sacrament bring harm to myself and to them.

I hope I have explained well.


There is no reason to be confused. Yes, any Catholic in the state of mortal sin, may receive the Sacrament of the Sick, which together with Baptism and Penance (Confession), do not require that the person be in the state of grace. The priest may very well know more about the person’s spiritual and physical health than is apparent. If there is a danger of death (and often there is), the priest, in giving the Sacrament of the Sick, is preparing the person to meet God. There isn’t time to annul a past marriage or to re-educate the person before surgery. If the person lives, he or she will still have to make some big changes in order to remain in the state of grace.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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