Validity of SSPX's confessions & marriages (3)

Part 3 (of 3)

6. Sacraments and sacramentals administered by an excommunicated priest

6.1. The canons on sacraments and sacramentals administered by an excommunicated priest:

Original Latin text English translation
#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 2261)  #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)

6.2. Notions

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 and confirm:

Garcia Barberena, Comentarios al Codigo de Derecho Canonico, 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 acts."

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 the faithful.

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 faithful's soul.

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 Church."

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 ministers:


#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 1258)

7.3. Notions

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 minister,
  • The Sacraments to receive are valid in the church to which the minister belongs.

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 SUSCEPIT."

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 "Lefebvrites."

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 act

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 Canon 1117)

8.2. Notions

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 ACTU FORMALI, 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. pp. 680ss.:

De los Trabajos Preparatorios del Nuevo Codigo (cfr. Communicationes, 8, 1976, pp. 54-56; y 10, 1978, pp. 96-98) se deduce que la separacion formal no es siempre equivalente a acto publico o notorio de apartamiento de la fe catolica. Asi, el termino PUBLICO tanto puede incluir una defeccion normal como una defeccion virtual de la fe catolica; es decir, tanto una separacion seguida de adscripcion a otra confesion, como una vida notoriamente contrastante con la doctrina catolica, pero sin formal acto de abandono de la Iglesia catolica... Sera necesario un hecho publico que implique, al tiempo, un formal apartamiento de la Iglesia catolica: adscripcion a una confesion acatolica, declaracion ante el parroco hecha por escrito, etc.; es decir, un acto jurídico externo del que inequivocamente se deduzca el formal apartamiento de la Iglesia catolica."

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 [Honolulu] 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.

9. Corollaries

9.1. Epikeia

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 actions.

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.

Epikeia is simply defined as the prudential and subjective judgment which estimates that the law does not apply in a particular case because of exceptional circumstances.

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 CATHOLIC FAITHFUL.

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 pope.

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. Forse altro 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 St. Pius X, in order to give peace of mind to our faithful, and also to answer logically the illogical pretenses of our antagonists.

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 FOR MARRIAGE.
  • 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 CHURCH.

In conclusion, a dilemma for our opponents:

  • 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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