Priest impersonators

I recently heard someone mention the (hopefully hypothetical) idea of people confessing their sins to someone who is dressed as a priest, but not actually an ordained priest of the Church.

I know this is a pretty contrived situation (although I guess ministers of other faiths do sometimes dress the same way as our priests… so maybe not quite so contrived), but if a penitent believes the confessor to be a legitimate priest, is absolution received?

One way or the other, I wouldn’t want to be the pseudo-priest come judgment…

I think this did actually happen in the Vatican a few years ago. The “impostor” was quickly discovered and turned over to the police. I think impersonating a priest in Italy is a big deal offense there.

NaturalEnquirer, this question was asked a few months ago, and here is what Fr. David had to say:

The penitent would still be forgiven by God.

Absolution would not happen though, because absolution is a juridic act of the Church, and a non-priest, or a priest without proper faculties cannot impart absolution. Remember absolution and forgiveness are not synonymous.

As an aside, all priests who have the faculties to hear confessions from their own ordinary have those faculties all over the world unless they are denied on an individual basis.

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forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=296231&highlight=fake&page=2

I think a person is automatically excommunicated if they impersonate a priest like that.

See canon 1378.2.2. This one has been reduced to an automatic penalty of “interdict.”

NaturalEnquirer,

It’s not so hypothetical. In 13 years of healthcare work, I’ve run into it several times:

-A laicized priest who wore clerics, gave the sacraments to hospice
patients and blessed a marriage a priest wouldn’t have;
-A man who believed in the priesthood of all believers, started
his own church, wore clerics, called himself Father and weekly
took the sacraments to a local nursing home until he was
found out;
-A hospice chaplain who claimed to be a bishop of the Orthodox
Church in America; the OCA had never heard of him and his
ordination papers showed a fictitious seminary address. He had
been hired, in part, because he’d stated he was able to take the
sacraments to Catholic patients;
-An Assembly of God hospital chaplain I know regularly wears
a roman collar to make Catholic patients more comfortable. He
never actually claims to be a priest, but he doesn’t say he’s
not, either.

Anybody can buy vestments from a Catholic supply store or over the internet. What’s amazing to me is that the Catholic Church is so reviled in some quarters but so many seem to want the legitimacy of the roman collar.

One thing more to worry about!

kujayhawk,
I don’t think it needs to be a worry, but it doesn’t hurt to ask direct questions if possible when you’re dealing with a priest you don’t know in a situation outside a parish or Church-sponsored environment.
Catholicism isn’t the only denomination where legitimate clergy wears, or might wear, a collar. Even if there were no imposters running around, you still couldn’t be absolutely sure that someone with a roman collar is a Catholic priest.

kujayhawk,
I don’t think it needs to be a worry, but it doesn’t hurt to ask direct questions if possible when you’re dealing with a priest you don’t know in a situation outside a parish or Church-sponsored environment.
Catholicism isn’t the only denomination where legitimate clergy wears, or might wear, a collar. Even if there were no imposters running around, you still couldn’t be absolutely sure that someone with a roman collar is a Catholic priest.

My statement “One thing more to worry about” was “tongue in cheek” kind of statement. I live in Kansas in a community with 2, and only 2 priests and another 1 in the closest town. I know all of them very well, and am familiar with most of the priests in Wichita, if not be sight, at least by name. I worked for the diocese for many years. I know where this diocese sends young men to have their seminary educations etc. which might be a possible interview question in case of doubt. I also know that other denominations have men in ministry who wear the Roman collar, but they often have a wedding ring on the 3rd finger, left hand - as might a permanent deacon who is a Roman Catholic. Does that complicate things? Not really.

I thought, after I posted my almost cryptic statement, that someone would think I was serious. Sorry. But thanks for your concern. I just found it interesting that others had encountered situations of a priest impersonator especially in a (secular ?) hospital setting. I suppose the solution for that would be to ask who the “Catholic chaplains” are for that secular hospital and have a family member or one’s self, check with the diocese as to if or not the “chaplain” is sanctioned for this position. I can’t imagine that situation in a hospital that bears the name of Catholic. Wichita has a very large Catholic hospital system, Via Christi, and names of priests assigned there are in the forefront of information supplied to patients.

All the if’s, and’s or but’s can go on and on. I guess the solution is just “Be aware”.

No absolution is not received. However if you leave and never know, your sins most likely would be forgiven, if not at your next Confession. This is why the Church specifies that Confessions are to take place in a Catholic Church. Special circumstances of course with large gatherings, might require different locations.

Which is another good reason not to approach someone who looks like a Catholic priest sitting on a park bench, and ask him to hear your confession.

Not if you do things according to the Church. only when you go outside the church can you get into trouble.

kujayhawk,
You’re fortunate to live in an area with a Catholic healthcare system. This major Texas metropolitan area does not have one. There used to be Catholic hospitals and hospices here, but there aren’t anymore. You’re also fortunate to be so knowledgeable and well-acquainted with the priests in your area. Most people can’t say that, either.

I would think it would be much easier to impersonate in a secular or non-Catholic healthcare environment, either as a visitor or as an employee. Very few here have Catholic staff chaplains; instead usually nearby parish clergy visit regularly and respond to emergencies. The problem is that the person doing the hiring wants to meet the needs of Catholic patients but is probably not Catholic and not aware of distinctions that are necessary to us. And in the case of visitors wearing roman collars, no one is going to turn them away or ask a lot of questions. Priests are a welcome sight.

I know this is totally off subject, but kujayhawk, do you go to st. lawrence? I am a student at KU and go to st. lawrence, I may know you lol

[QUOTEI know this is totally off subject, but kujayhawk, do you go to st. lawrence? I am a student at KU and go to st. lawrence, I may know you lol]

*[size=][size=]Only when I visit, and I never worry about if the clergy are really what they appear to be. :thumbsup: [/size][/size].
*

Only legitimate Catholic priests have the ability to “bind and loose” a person’s sins. A penitent who believes the confessor to be a legitimate priest might, because of a desire for absolution, be fogiven by God, but may never be sure. It is only through a priest that sins are forgiven.

This is why I enjoy the Extraordinary Form. Few impostors would go through the effort to learn the proper Latin pronunciations :wink:

I also know of a case where this situation could have happened, because a person was allowing people to think he was a priest, in order to get private information from them. I guess truth is stranger than fiction.

But God can, of course, choose to forgive people’s sins whenever he wants. I’m sure he is always perfectly fair about it too.

I think I ran into this situation last year at Mother Angelica’s shrine in Hanceville. I was there for confession; one of the confessionals was occupied by one of the regular Franciscans, and another confessional was occupied by…someone else. When my turn came, the vacancy was at “someone else’s” confessional. He did not use the regular formulae, acted like he was just improvising.

I had serious doubts that he was a real priest, and ASAP thereafter I re-confessed with our parish priest. I also called the convent and left a voicemail detailing what had happened. I never heard anything back, but since then I’ve never seen anyone but someone I knew to be one of the regulars. (It helps that now I get there early, so I see who enters the confessional).

DaveBj

Wasn’t there actually a case of a priest impersonator at a Michigan diocese within the past year or two?

I know some Episcopalian and Methodists who wear clerics. If you don’t closely look at the collar, you could confuse them for Catholic priests (Episcopalians have Reconciliation also, so if you ask for confession, they might think you’re just an Episcopalian in need of a Sacrament).

I’ve also known of Episcopaleans who outright impersonate Catholic priests by saying things like “yes I am a Catholic priest.” I remember once, that not long after arriving at a new assignment, the local Episcopalean minister offered to “help” hear confessions–my response was polite, but I always kept a close eye on things (like parishioners in the hospital and nursing homes), and made it a point to often remind my parishioners that under no circumstances could they go to confession to him because he couldn’t possibly absolve anyone, regardless of what he might tell them.

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