Validity of SSPX confessions in an area where there are no other priests.

Maybe you can help me.
My cousin is working in an area of Africa where the only priest[s] in a 500 mile radius are SSPX priests.
He is Catholic and needs to go to confession soon.
He is assigned to this area for over a year.
I know the Society does not have ordinary jurisdiction to absolve sins, but in this case may he confess to them?

Here’s the relevent section of the Code of Canon Law:

Beyond that, I’ll leave it to the better informed.

Even in extremely remote areas, everyone is under the authority of some bishop, somewhere. The best thing to do would be for him to contact the bishop’s office. They likely have a policy in place for this.

He has contacted the Ordinarys chancery of this diocese several times and has recieved no reply.
According to him he needs to confess soon.

Rich C left out a more important Canon, Canon 844:

*Can. 844 §1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and ⇒ can. 861, §2.

§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-

Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.

§4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community.*

If the priest was ordained validly in the Catholic Church, even if he later leaves, he is still a priest due to the ontological change that happens during the sacrament of Holy Orders. Confession to such a priest would be valid, but not necessarily licit.

Thank you for this canon.
But it does not apply to the SSPX as they are Catholic and therefore “communio in sacris” does not apply to them.
My question is since this is as close to I see as an emergency situation, can he approach an SSPX priest?

My understanding is that an emergency is only in place for this sort of thing with possible death.

SSPX priests are suspended at the moment of their ordination. They have no faculties so confession and marriage are invalid and illicit. Their celebration of any other sacraments where the priest is the ordinary minister are valid but illicit.

He should continue trying to contact the local bishop’s office. He should also look to see where the closest parish is and try to contact the pastor there.

Never mind. I had an answer, but I see Br David beat me to it :slight_smile: His answer is more straightforward and clearer than my own.

“Can. 976 Even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present.”

If he’s living in a dangerous place, it seems legit. I’d rather go to confession than not go in such a position. If, God willing, he returns safely, he can always go to confession with a licit confessor, discuss it, and follow the confessor’s guidance.

Thank you again.
As I stated he has tried repeatedly to contact the Chancery [this is very difficult as he has to travel many miles through dangerous terrain just to get to a phone, and this at the SSPX priory]
The nearest diocesan priest is about 500 miles distant and he contacted him once , but the pastor will not meet with him.

So basiically he has to make a perfect act of contrition, and hope it is perfect.

No. Faculties – permission from the priest’s hierarchical authority to hear confessions – are also necessary to validly hear confessions.

The only way a priest without faculties (e.g. SSPX) could validly absolve is where canon law expressly gives faculties ipso iure in those circumstances.

Read can. 966:

Can. 966 §1. The valid absolution of sins requires that the minister have, in addition to the power of orders, the faculty of exercising it for the faithful to whom he imparts absolution.

§2. A priest can be given this faculty either by the law itself or by a grant made by the competent authority according to the norm of can. 969.

One example of the law giving the faculty for a particular case is can. 986 §2:

In urgent necessity, any confessor is obliged to hear the confessions of the Christian faithful, and in danger of death, any priest is so obliged.

Here, any priest – even if not in communion with the Church, or dismissed from the clerical state – is given faculties to absolve if the penitent is in danger of death.

The most relevant canon here is 844 §2:

Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

While this canon is generally thinking about priests of Churches not in full communion, I would suggest that, mutatis mutandis, it would also apply to SSPX priests in the same circumstance. That’s just an opinion, of course.

(It sounds like your cousin meets the criteria for physical impossibility.)

Well, please tell him that if he does find himself “in danger of death” he can go to the SSPX priest. He doesn’t need to take chances with his soul in that case.

Thank you, but it seems canon 844 applies only to non-Catholic ministers whose sacraments are valid.
The SSPX is defintely Catholic, so it would seem that canon 844 does not apply to them.

I agree. Canon 976 seems to be the most applicable here.

At what point is someone “no longer a Catholic minister?” At what point did the Orthodox Churches or the parishes involved in the protestant reformation cease to be excommunicated Catholics or Catholics in schism and simply “no longer Catholic?”

The bishop in SSPX was told by the Pope not to do something on pain of excommunication. The bishop ignored the order and rejected the Papal authority. The priests who continued to follow the bishop are either (1)suspended Catholic priests, but still Catholic priests or (2)they are not Catholic ministers.

If (1) then in danger of death or other dire circumstance they can validly and licitly hear the confession. (Canon 986 section 2)

If (2) then I maintain Canon 844 would apply.

In any event, posting it seems to have sparked a conversation that has pointed us in the proper direction.

A Catholic minister [priest] is always Catholic as long as he is validly ordained in a Catholic Rite [form and matter are Catholic] and he uses Catholic Rites during his ministry, both of which things the SSPX does.
As long as this is in place they always remain Catholic.

I remember during WWII, the “danger of death” would cover even troops shipping out on a dangerous mission, permitting group absolution. While I do not think one should be loose with the Sacraments, I would have to think that even being in mortal sin and being in a deadly situation would be sufficient. If it was me, I would not take the risk of not going to confession. It sounds like this person is not doing this for any schismatic reason, so I do not see the down side.

What’s the down side? How about no sacramental absolution? To have a valid absolution the priest must have faculties or the penitent must be in danger of death. Playing fast and loose with the rules does not make it valid. Knowing that a suspended priest has no faculties to hear a confession means that you can not be validly absolved.

Living in a place that there is no priest does not make it an emergency where death is possible.

In practice, “danger of death” can be interpreted pretty broadly. Living in a remote and dangerous place probably would qualify. If the person thinks he is in danger of death, this qualifies, whether or not he is objectively in danger.

“In practice”? Can you provide any documents that support this?

It is my understanding that “danger of death” is not to be interpreted broadly.

Just because a person lives in a place where there is no priest can not be interpreted in any way as “danger of death”. Africa is a pretty big place and not knowing the exact area and circumstances we can not know if such is true.

As we are not to give medical advice on this forum I would also put forward that we should not be giving such spiritual advice as if those who are telling this person to go for it are wrong then they are endangering the immortal soul of the person they are giving advice to.

As I said, keep trying the chancery and also contact the priest of the closest parish for true advice. Please do not take any advice from this anonymous internet forum except for the advice contact the actual people with authority.

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