Validity of confessions &
marriages in the SSPX's chapels
A canonical study by Fr. Ramon
6. SACRAMENTS AND SACRAMENTALS ADMINISTERED BY
AN EXCOMMUNICATED PRIEST
6.1. The Canons on Sacraments and Sacramentals Administered by an Excommunicated Priest:
#2. Fideles, salvo praescripto #3, possunt ex qualibet iusta causa ab
excommunicato Sacramenta et Sacramentalia petere, maxime si alii ministri desint,
et tunc excommunicatus requisitus potest eadem ministrare neque ulla tenetur
obligatione causam a requirente percontandi.
#2. Without prejudice to the rule of #3 of this Canon, the faithful may
for any just reason ask the Sacraments and Sacramentals from an excommunicated
person especially if there is no other minister available, and the
excommunicated person at their request may minister to them without any
obligation to inquire into the reason for the request.
#3. Sed ab excommunicatis vitandis necnon ab aliis excommunicatis, postquam
intercessit sententia condemnatoria aut declaratoria, fideles in solo mortis
periculo possunt petere tum absolutionem sacramentalem ad normam can. 882, 2252,
tum etiam, si alii desint ministri, cetera Sacramenta et Sacramentalia. (Canon
#3. From a minister who is an excommunicatus vitandus, or who has
been excommunicated by a declaratory or condemnatory sentence, the faithful may
ask for sacramental absolution in accordance with Canons 882 and 2252 only in
danger of death, but, in the absence of other ministers, they can also ask for
the other Sacraments and Sacramentals. (Canon 2261)
Si censura vetet celebrare sacramenta vel sacramentalia vel ponere actum
regiminis, vetitum suspenditur, quoties id necessarium sit ad consulendum
fidelibus in mortis periculo constitutis; quod si censura latae sententiae non
sit declarata, vetitum praeterea suspenditur, quoties fidelis petit sacramentum
vel sacramentale vel actum regiminis; id autem petere ex qualibet iusta causa
licet. (New Code Canon 1335)
If a censure prohibits the celebration of the Sacraments or Sacramentals or
the placing of an act of jurisdiction, the prohibition is suspended whenever it
is necessary to take care of the faithful who are in danger of death; and if an
automatic censure is not a declared one, the prohibition is also suspended
whenever a member of the faithful requests a Sacrament, a Sacramental or an act
of jurisdiction; this request can be made for any just cause whatsoever. (New
Code Canon 1335)
This Canon constitutes the most
formidable argument against our adversaries. It manifests in a splendid manner
the motherly concern of the Holy Church, always providing for the spiritual
welfare of her children.
The sense is obvious and it does not require long explanations: for any just
cause whatsoever, the faithful may ask from a censured priest all the Sacraments
and Sacramentals, and even an act of jurisdiction. The priest will act validly
and almost always licitly.
This concession to the faithful is a consequence of the general canonical
principle established in Canon 682: Laici ius habent recipiendi a clero, ad
normam ecclesiasticae disciplinae, spiritualia bona et potissimum adiumenta ad
salutem necessaria (similar declaration in New Code Canon 213).
The spiritual goods spoken of here are the ordinary suffrages, Sacramentals,
indulgences, ecclesiastical burial, etc., while the necessary means of salvation
referred to are the Sacraments, especially those necessary for salvation
necessitate medii vel praecepti.
This right is conferred partly by the divine law in reference to the
necessary means of salvation, especially the Sacraments; and partly by
ecclesiastical law, as regards the Sacramentals, Sacraments not necessary by
divine precept, etc.
Again and again throughout this study we find the practical application of
the axiom Salus animarum est suprema lex. Translated to a concrete
juridical reality by Canon 2261, this means that by their Baptism the faithful
have the right to receive all services required for the good of their souls; and
that the priests have the duty to administer them.
Some texts to complete, explain
García Barberena, Comentarios al Código de Derecho Canónico,
1964, IV, #406: The interdiction for a priest to administer the Sacraments is
mitigated when the faithful, using their right, ask for the Sacraments. The
excommunicated administers licitly the Sacraments and the Sacramentals
ratione censurae, since the law suspends the censure for these exceptional
The minister has the obligation
to put himself into the state of grace if he is not already in it, according to
the rules of the moralists.
The exceptions are established
not in favor of the excommunicated but in favor of the faithful, and therefore
the act will be licit only when it answers a legitimate request; the
excommunicated cannot take the initiative.
If the minister is an
excommunicated tolerated, he can administer every time he is asked reasonably.
The mere fact that the faithful ask for the Sacrament in good faith is
sufficient cause to justify the request. To eliminate doubts and anxieties, the
legislator expresses that the minister excommunicated does not have to
investigate whether or not the faithful ask with a sufficient cause. Many
authors believe that the request can be implicit.
Roberti, De Delictis et Poenis,
1944, #330: Confectio et ministratio sacramentorum et sacramentalium per
excommunicatos generatim est valida. Sacramenta enim cum sint a Christo
instituta, nequeunt poenis ecclesiasticis mutari. Sacramentalia dependent ab
Ecclesia, sed Codex eadem non declarat invalida (c. 2261,1). Nihilominus
confectio et ministratio sive sacramentirum sive sacramentalium prohibentur
generatim excommunicatis, sed fideles possunt intra certos limites ea ab iisdem
petere, quo in casu excommunicati generatim licite ministrant... Requisitio
fidelium potest esse etiam implicita, e.g., si sacerdotem expectent ad audiendas
confessiones, ad celebrandam Missam, ad impertiendam benedictionem, etc.
Prummer, Manuale Iuris
Canonici, 1933, #571: Fideles enim possunt ex qualibet iusta causa ab
excommunicato sacramenta et sacramentalia petere, maxime si alii ministri desunt,
et tunc excommunicatus requisitus potest eadem administrare neque tenetur
percontari causam a requirente. Excipiuntur tamen excommunicati vitandi et alii
excommunicati post sententiam condemnatoriam aut declaratoriam. Ab his enim
fideles in solo mortis periculo possunt petere tam absolutionem sacramentalem,
quam etiam, si alius deest minister, cetera sacramenta.
6.3. Application to Our Case
We present this Canon simply as an argument
ad hominem, being well aware of
the state of mind of our opponents, and forcing them to take the logical
conclusions of their positions concerning the legal status of the Society of
St. Pius X.
For us there is no doubt that the Priestly Society of
St. Pius X, erected
canonically as a Pia Unio by the Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg,
November 1, 1970, and
praised by an official letter of the Cardinal Prefect of
the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, February 18, 1971 was illegally
suppressed by the same bishop [i.e., of the same diocese, but not the
same person - Ed.]. It is a fact that the action of Paul VI in order
to validate such suppression did not constitute a confirmation in forma specifica,
and that therefore the suppression remains invalid in law. The refusal of the
Supreme Apostolic Signature to judge our case constitutes still now a scandal
and an injustice of immense proportions.
We believe that the permissions
to incardinate different religious in the Society given directly from Rome in
the first years of the Society, well before it developed at an international
level, authorizes our institute to continue to incardinate its members, and that
our ordinations are perfectly legal.
However, for the sake of argumentation, let us accept for a moment the
opinion of our opponents, and let us apply to our case the doctrine of Canon
2261 (New Code Canon 1335).
If the priests of the Society of
St. Pius X are under any canonical censure, be it an excommunication or a
suspension, since the censure has not been declared, the faithful have the right
to ask from them any Sacrament, Sacramental or act of jurisdiction, for any just
cause whatsoever including the simple good of their soul. The priests will act
both validly and licitly, without having any need to scrutinize the reasons of
Please note the extremely important addition of the
New Code: ACTUM
REGIMINIS, AN ACT OF THE POWER OF GOVERNANCE (same as power of jurisdiction,
see the terminology in New Code Canon 129). This includes any legislative,
executive and judiciary act which may be necessary for the good of the
Founded on the PRINCIPLES upon which this extraordinary concession is granted
for the good of the faithful, the Society of St. Pius X has created, for the
present situation of emergency in the Church, a Canonical Commission which
thoroughly investigates and answers the legitimate requests of traditional
Catholic faithful in matters concerning vows, marriage cases, etc.
Against all law and right, the faithful are denied the essential right of
having access to the pure sources of salvation by a Modernist clergy, which
tyrannically imposes on them a New Mass, New Sacraments and Sacramentals, a New
Catechism and a New Bible, a new conception of the Church and the world. They
come to us asking for a service which we cannot refuse. We answer their just
call, making ours the last words of the New Code, Canon 1752: "having before
our eyes the salvation of the souls, which is always the supreme law of the
7. NEW LEGISLATION CONCERNING
THE RECEPTION OF CERTAIN SACRAMENTS FROM NON-CATHOLIC MINISTERS
7.1. Canons on the New Legislation
Concerning the Reception of Certain Sacraments from Non-Catholic
#2. Quoties necessitas id postulet aut vera spiritualis utilitas id
suadeat, et dummodo periculum vitetur erroris vel indifferentismi, licet
christifidelibus quibus physice aut moraliter impossibile sit accedere ad
ministrum catholicum, sacramenta poenitentiae, Eucharistiae et unctionis
infirmorum recipere a ministris non catholicis, in quorum Ecclesia valida
existunt praedicta sacramenta. (New Code Canon 844)
Whenever necessity requires or genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and
provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for
the faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a
Catholic minister, to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and
anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose churches these
sacraments are valid. (New Code Canon 844, #2)
7.2. A Little History
The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on Ecumenism
(De Oecumenismo, Unitatis Redintegratio), November, 21 1964, presented the
guidelines for the so-called ecumenical movement within the Catholic Church.
Its immediate practical application was substantiated in the Directory,
Ad Totam Ecclesiam, issued by the Secretariat for Christian
Unity on May 14, 1967, signed by Cardinal Bea, President, and Bishop Willebrands,
Secretary. In it we find section 2, "Sharing in Liturgical Worship with
Other Separated Brethren," with the ancestor of New Code Canon 844.
Since the sacraments are both
signs of unity and sources of grace, the Church can for adequate reasons allow
access to these sacraments to a separated brother. This may be permitted in
danger of death or in urgent need (during persecution, in prisons) if the
separated brother has no access to a minister of his own communion, and
spontaneously asks a Catholic priest for the sacraments so long as he declares a
faith in these sacraments in harmony with that of the Church, and is rightly
disposed... A Catholic in similar circumstances may not ask for these sacraments
except from a minister who has validly received the sacrament of Order.
There was no surprise when, in 1983, we saw this ecumenical policy included
in the New Code, codifying under specious pretexts the communicatio in sacris
which the Church had always abhorred. How far we were already from the sane
doctrine of the Old Code!:
Haud licitum est fidelibus quovis modo
active assistere seu partem habere in sacris acatholicorum. (Canon
It is clear: a Catholic may receive from a
non-Catholic minister the Sacraments of Penance, Holy Communion and Extreme
Unction, under the following conditions:
There is a NEED, or a TRUE SPIRITUAL ADVANTAGE to be obtained,
The danger of error and indifferentism is avoided,
There is a physical or moral impossibility to approach a Catholic
The Sacraments to receive are valid in the church to which the minister
We already studied what Canon Law
means by physical or moral impossibility to approach a priest when we considered
the exemption from the ordinary canonical form for marriage. This does not
present any problem: a persecution, a very long distance, onerous expenses, a
scandal to avoid, a grave inconvenience, a spiritual harm to follow, all these
are justifiable circumstances and valid arguments.
I confess that for a long time I wondered about the meaning of the fourth
condition. What does it exactly mean "in quorum Ecclesia valida existunt
praedicta Sacramenta?" There is no doubt that, for example, an Old
Catholic who has been validly ordained and fulfils the required conditions of
matter, form and intention, can celebrate a valid although illicit Mass. Any
validly ordained priest can administer a valid Extreme Unction, and any validly
ordained bishop can validly confirm and ordain.
Nonetheless, the reference to the Sacrament of Penance as being valid in a
non-Catholic church did puzzle me. It was only by rereading the directory Ad
Totam Ecclesiam that I finally understood the precise meaning. For the
Vatican innovators, this means that the non-Catholic priest who is validly
ordained administers validly the Sacrament of Penance in his church.
There is no other way to explain
the restriction of #55 in the aforementioned directory:
Catholicus autem, similibus in rerum adiunctis, haec
sacramenta petere nequit, nisi A MINISTRO QUI ORDINIS SACRAMENTUM VALIDE
This ecumenical measure has become an acceptable practice in the post-Conciliar
Church. So, in practice, one of the faithful who judges impossible to be able to
approach morally a Catholic priest, and who sees in it a true spiritual
advantage, can ask from a non-Catholic priest who is validly ordained to hear
his confession. The absolution will be valid according to New Code Canon 844.
He may also attend Mass, receive Holy Communion and also
fulfill the Sunday
obligation. The directory is explicit in #47, alluding to a Catholic who
attends Sunday Mass "apud Fratres orientales seiunctos," in the
Divine Liturgy of our separated brethren of the Oriental churches!
7.4. Application to Our Case
We will proceed once more accepting
ad hominem an absurd opinion, namely the
one of those who consider the members of the Society of St. Pius X outside the
Church, schismatic and even "founders of a new church," as a
certain American bishop brusquely certifies in grotesque personal letters
written to concerned faithful and clergy.
IF the Society of St. Pius X is a non-Catholic church, and its priests are
validly ordained (a point that nobody in his right mind discusses), New Code Canon
844, #4 authorizes any of the faithful to ask from them the Sacraments of
Penance and Extreme Unction, and also to attend their Masses, fulfilling as well
the Sunday obligation.
The condition to take advantage of such permission is that there must be a
true spiritual benefit for the person and that he avoids all danger for his
faith. Any reasonable fear of spiritual harm arising from an approach to a
Modernist priest in good standing will suffice to legitimate the recourse to the
We are decidedly approaching the
kingdom of lunacy. Unfortunately, such a miserable argument is the one which may
convince and pacify our antagonists.
8. NEW LEGISLATION EXEMPTING
FROM THE CANONICAL FORM FOR THOSE CATHOLICS WHO HAVE LEFT THE CHURCH BY A FORMAL
8.1. Canons on the New
Legislation Exempting From the Canonical Form for Marriage Those Catholics Who
Have Left the Church by a Formal Act:
Statuta superius forma servanda
est, si saltem alterutra pars matrimonium contrahentium in Ecclesia catholica
baptizata vel in eandem recepta sit neque actu formali ab ea defecerit, salvis
praescriptis can. 1127 #2. (New Code Canon 1117)
With due regard for the
prescriptions of Canon 1127, #2, the form stated above is to be observed
whenever at least one of the contractants was baptized in the Catholic Church or
was received into it and has not left it by a formal act. (New Code
In the Old Code, and after the modification of its Canon 1099 by the
motu proprio, Ne Temere, August 1, 1948, the obligation to observe the canonical
form of marriage was determined both by the baptism received into the Catholic
Church and by the fact of a conversion to Catholicism. Some other modifications
took place concerning mixed marriages, essentially exempting from the obligation
to keep the canonical form in cases of marriages celebrated between Catholics
and baptized Oriental non-Catholic, as long as the wedding was blessed by a sacred minister.
An innovation is included by New Code Canon 1117: exemption from the
canonical form for those who, having been baptized within the Catholic Church or
converted to Catholicism, subsequently abandon the Church
BY A FORMAL ACT.
Since 1983 there has been an extensive exegesis of the term actu formali.
It will be enough for our purpose to quote the professors of Navarra, op. cit.
De los Trabajos Preparatorios del
Nuevo Código (cfr. Communicationes,
8, 1976, pp. 54-56; y 10, 1978, pp. 96-98) se deduce que la separación
formal no es siempre equivalente a acto público o notorio de apartamiento de la
fe católica. Así, el término PÚBLICO tanto puede incluir una defección
normal como una defección virtual de la fe católica; es decir, tanto una
separación seguida de adscripción a otra confesión, como una vida
notoriamente contrastante con la doctrina católica, pero sin formal acto de
abandono de la Iglesia católica... Será necesario un hecho público que
implique, al tiempo, un formal apartamiento de la Iglesia católica:
adscripción a una confesión acatólica, declaración ante el párroco hecha
por escrito, etc.; es decir, un acto jurídico externo del que inequívocamente
se deduzca el formal apartamiento de la Iglesia católica.
The authors indicate that to
abandon the Church
actu formali it is required
to have an EXTERNAL ACT of a juridical value, denoting clearly and unequivocally
the formal renunciation of the Catholic faith. An example would be the
ascription into a non-Catholic sect.
Accordingly, when the two contractants have abandoned the Church by a formal
act, the New Code exempts them from the ordinary canonical form for marriage.
This means practically that a simple exchange of vows in the presence of two
witnesses is sufficient for a valid marriage to be contracted.
8.3. Application to Our Case
Obviously we will never justify the validity and liceity of the marriages in
our chapels upon such an argument, because it would suppose that we are outside
the Catholic Church, whom we serve in this her post-conciliar Calvary.
Still, ad hominem once more, and reducing
ad absurdum the reasoning of the
official authorities of the Church, it will help us to make a conjectural
application of this Canon.
If the Society of St. Pius X is a schismatic group, the only possible
grounds for the adhesion to schism is the acceptance and defense of the
Episcopal Consecrations of June 30, 1988 performed by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer in order to continue the "operation
rescue" of the Catholic priesthood in the present situation of
emergency caused by the post-Vatican II spiritual devastation.
We could easily enter into a clear demonstration that the
"excommunications" were invalid, and also that the "schism"
did never take place. We could even quote the decision of the Sacred
Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith declaring invalid the excommunications
fulminated by the Bishop of Hawaii on a group of traditional Catholics who
attend a Society chapel. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the said
Roman Congregation, there were no grounds for a declaration of the Society group
as being schismatic.
But what we actually want to use
as a hypothetical argument is exactly the opposite: let us accept for a moment
the argument of those who call us schismatic. If the faithful of the Society of
St. Pius X, by their adhesion to the Episcopal Consecrations of 1988, are to
be considered as being schismatic, Canon 1117 exempts them from the canonical
form of marriage. Hence their weddings in our chapels are perfectly valid, and
since both parties are baptized, the contract is a sacramental one.
This is the singular way in which
the arguments of our antagonists turn against them.
The term epikeia
does not appear in the Code. Nevertheless, it is a
capital concept which deserves to be mentioned here, even though my study is not
directly concerned with it.
We have proven beyond doubt (and, in case of doubt, back to Canon 209!) that
the extraordinary situation in which we traditional priests exercise our
ministry finds a friend in the Code of Canon Law. The Church has provided us
with a legislation for exceptional cases, which justifies juridically our
However, it may happen and it has already happened that in some situations we
must act directly against the letter of the law. The Episcopal Consecrations of
1988, without Apostolic Mandate and against the explicit interdiction of Pope
John Paul II, are the best example of such extraordinary instances. It is by the
exercise of epikeia that we act according to the spirit of the law, in
those special cases in which to follow strictly the law would have results
contrary to the spirit of the law and the original intention of the legislator.
is simply defined as the prudential and subjective judgment which
estimates that the law does not apply in a particular case because of
The intention of the legislator is reasonable and human, and certain
situations may appear in which it would be unreasonable and inhuman to apply
strictly the law, against the general intention of the legislator who has not
precisely foreseen such particular case.
We have encountered in these pages some striking cases in which the rigid
application of the general law would result in grave spiritual damage, or it
would impede the exercise of a better action, even a surerogatory one.
St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, Ia IIae,
q. XCVI, art. 6),
following Aristotle, considers epikeia as a correction of the law, when
the law is defective because of its universal character. The use of epikeia
requires the existence of a superior right. A positive law loses its coercive
power when its fulfilment is in conflict with the common good, or with natural
or divine law. Epikeia's use is limited to those cases in which there is
a danger for the common good, or the natural or divine law are violated.
One can easily see the importance
of studying and developing this issue.
9.2. The Pope's Ordinary Vicarious Power
This is another momentous and
extremely delicate question, and I just want to outline it.
The power of jurisdiction is either ordinary or delegated. Ordinary power is
either personal or vicarious. Ordinary vicarious power is the one exercised ON
BEHALF of another person who has ordinary personal jurisdiction. Ordinary
vicarious jurisdiction is exercised by a Vicar General on behalf of his
Ordinary, by the Roman Tribunals and Congregations on behalf of the Pope.
If the Pope dies, the Sacred
Apostolic Penitentiary continues to exercise vicarious papal ordinary
jurisdiction for all questions concerning the internal forum. Meanwhile, the
other offices of the Roman Curia are paralyzed until a new Pope is elected. But,
as it happened in the past, if the conclave takes a long time to decide and it
appears that the vacancy will continue for some time, all the essential
mechanisms of the Roman Curia will slowly start moving, although restricting to
emergencies the use of their ordinary vicarious jurisdiction.
The reason for this extraordinary exercise of power is THE COMMON GOOD OF THE
Another scenario in which the
exercise of the Supreme Pontiff's ordinary vicarious jurisdiction is to be
contemplated would be the one in which the Pope is unable to fulfill his office.
There are many hypothetical cases: a long illness incapacitating the Pope, a
coma, imprisonment, persecution, etc.
Still another situation: if the
Pope cannot be attained at all, the highest ecclesiastical authority available
would legitimately exercise ordinary vicarious papal jurisdiction for the good
of the faithful, as long as the situation lasts. In this hypothesis, which in
Communist Russia was a tragic reality for decades, a bishop (and even a priest,
if he is the only cleric available) would use these extraordinary powers,
without having received a mandate but with the interpretative consent of the
In the present crisis of the Church, when we see the Pope himself, with his
decisive support of the "spirit of the Council," contributing
to confuse and mislead the faithful, couldn't we consider that we find ourselves
in a situation deserving at least the study of this question? I simply place a
premise and leave the rest to better and more daring minds.
cantera con miglior plettro...
10. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Our intention has been to prove juridically the validity of confessions and
marriages in the chapels of the Society of Saint Pius X, in order to give peace
of mind to our faithful, and also to answer logically the illogical pretenses of
We have presented superabundant
canonical evidence to back our claim, and we wish to summarize it as follows:
Our confessions and marriages are valid on the grounds of COMMON ERROR.
Our confessions and marriages are valid in DANGER OF DEATH.
Our marriages are valid on the grounds of the EXTRAORDINARY CANONICAL FORM
Our marriages and confessions are valid on the grounds of the RIGHT OF THE
FAITHFUL ASKING FOR THEM, a right which they legitimately exercise even when
they have recourse to a priest who is excommunicated or suspended.
Our marriages and confessions are valid on the grounds of SUPPLIANCE IN CASE
OF POSITIVE PROBABLE DOUBT, embracing all the aforementioned cases.
In the absurdity that the Society of
St. Pius X would be a schismatic
group, our confessions would be valid on the grounds of the new canonical
doctrine of SACRAMENTAL HOSPITALITY, and our marriages would be valid as well
since the New Code EXEMPTS FROM CANONICAL FORM THOSE WHO HAVE LEFT THE
In conclusion, a dilemma for our
IF THE SOCIETY OF ST. PIUS X IS OUTSIDE THE
CHURCH, both marriages and
confessions are valid according to New Code Canons 844, 2 and 1117.
IF THE SOCIETY OF ST. PIUS X IS NOT OUTSIDE THE
CHURCH, jurisdiction is
supplied by the Church for marriages and confessions, because of common error,
positive probable doubt, the right of the faithful asking for the Sacraments,
and also in danger of death.
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