Thank you for letting
us know about the problem at your parish. We commend you for your concern and
willingness to seek remedies for this problem. It is always good to know that
Catholics are concerned about abases, rather than the apathy that is
unfortunately so frequent.
Regarding this matter,
we have consulted with a priest who was able to confirm the following...
* Baptisms are not invalidated automatically due to a
priest being suspended (even a Jew can validly baptize, if the baptism itself is
* The suspended priest's Masses may have been valid, but
illicit (e.g. Consecration occurred if the proper form / matter was used & the
intent was proper –
although the action of the priest was "illegal")
* Confessions by a suspended priest who was 'authorized' to
hear confessions may not be automatically invalid (see below)
* Marriages may not automatically be invalidated due to a
priest being suspended [remember that marriage is one sacrament that the couple
confers upon each other, although a proper minister is required to witness the
marriage (the Church may even allow this to be done by a deacon)]
Please recall that the
power of orders can never actually be removed, although it may be illicit to use
those powers (e.g. when a priest's faculties are suspended). A good example
might be Martin Luther – even after his fall he could still validly (although
illicitly) celebrate Mass since he was invested with priestly power.
It is important to
keep in mind that there is a distinction between invalid (not valid at all) and
illicit (valid but "illegal"). From what I read in your comments, it appears to
me that what happened was illicit, but not invalid. (If I am not missing
anything.) If I am correct, that would mean that those baptized with the proper form/matter were
still baptized, those properly married without impediments on the part of either
party were validly married, etc. The sin here is on the part of the priest, not
the unknowing laity. (Of course, the above assumes that the priest knew of his
suspension, but the laity involved did not know of the priest's suspension. If
they did, I think it's possible this might/could change the validity of some
items, but you'd have to consult proper authorities in the Church to be sure.)
However, if this priest used improper form / matter, sacraments could be/would
be invalid (depending on the nature of the defect – some defects are not so
serious as to invalidate while others are).
Given the particulars
of the situation, it seems that the Church would need to determine whether
sacraments were valid or not. Of course, if
sacraments were not valid, we agree that all persons involved should be notified
at once. If the sacraments were in fact valid, it may not be strictly necessary to
specifically notify all people (although I, personally, would want to know about
it if I was involved because one certainly might have some reasonable concerns
regarding the priest's intention – and proper intention IS required for
validity). The people should not be personally guilty of sin unless they knew
that the priest was exercising his powers without authority. If anyone did know
that the priest was exercising his powers without authority, however, they would
be guilty of sin, as the Baltimore Catechism teaches...
and other ministers of the Church cannot exercise the power they have received
in Holy Orders unless authorized and sent to do so by their lawful superiors.
The power can never be taken from them, but the right to use it may be withdrawn
for causes laid down in the laws of the Church, or for reasons that seem good to
those in authority over them. Any use of sacred power without authority is
sinful, and all who take part in such ceremonies [e.g. knowingly / culpable
negligence] are guilty of sin."
We are not canon
lawyers, but we thought you might find the following information taken from the Vatican's
website interesting. The canon below is from the 1983 Code of Canon Law...
Can. 1335 If a
censure prohibits the celebration of sacraments or sacramentals or the placing
of an act of governance, the prohibition is suspended whenever it is necessary
to care for the faithful in danger of death. If a latae sententiae censure has
not been declared, the prohibition is also suspended whenever a member of the
faithful requests a sacrament or sacramental or an act of governance; a person
is permitted to request this for any just cause.
In any event, to
determine 'for certain' whether a particular sacrament was valid or not, it
would be necessary for the Church to look into the matter. You might start
by contacting the diocese for assistance.
Further, we thought
you might also be interested in the following pages on our site. They contain
information from traditional catechisms, saint quotes, popes, etc. Perhaps they
may be useful. Click links to view...
The Holy Eucharist / Mass
Penance / Confession
We also recommend that
you review information on the Sacraments Q & A page
here as this page discusses issues such as...
* What is Necessary for a Valid Sacrament?
* Are There Some Occurrences Which Might Invalidate a
* Does an Unworthy Minister Invalidate the Sacrament?
* What Can Be Done if a Sacrament is Abused?
There is also a
traditional document (De Defectibus) which specifically deals with defects in
Mass that you might find interesting. It can be found
Finally, you may find
helpful information regarding the priesthood
We hope the above may
with this issue.
[Please Note: The
above obviously assumes the suspended priest had a valid ordination. A man not
validly ordained is not a priest and could NOT validly celebrate Mass or hear
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