Because of some recent news about a Catholic priest who joined the Episcopalian church it has been said that the sacraments he may confer may be “valid” but “illicit.” I think this requires further clarification. Will you be so kind as to explain what is the difference between those terms, what exactly do they mean?
“Valid” means that something is “real.” A valid sacrament is a true sacrament. “Licit” means something is “lawful.” For most of the sacraments, a priest needs to have permission from his bishop to administer them. When he has that permission, the sacraments he administers are both valid and licit. When he doesn’t have that permission, the sacraments he administers may be valid (i.e., true sacraments) but illicit (i.e., unlawful). Catholics should never deliberately seek out the sacraments from a priest they know does not have the appropriate permission from his bishop to administer them. They should especially avoid a priest who has left the Catholic Church and is now a member of a non-Catholic religion. The one exception would be that such a priest could validly and lawfully administer the sacraments of baptism or confession to someone who is at the point death and there is no other priest available.