Chartres 2006
Photo Story

Remnant Tours

Click Here to visit
THE REMNANT Scrapbook!


See Remnant

Are the SSPX Confessions Valid?
Chris Jackson POSTED: 5/13/13

To read Mr. Jackson's subsequent response to reactions

posted by Father Z and Jeff Mirus to the following article, please click HERE


Are absolutions given by Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) priests in the Sacrament of Penance valid?  If you search the internet you are bound to find very confident sounding answers to this question from various “experts.”  These answers are typically couched in most impressive canonical terms.  The reader is told that a priest has to have the proper “faculties” or “jurisdiction” to validly absolve.  Society priests, we are told, have neither. Thus, unless one is ignorant of this fact, one’s sins are not forgiven in this situation. 

On the other hand, these same “experts” claim that heterodox priests in “full communion” with the Church and even Orthodox priests do have the power to validly absolve sins. Therefore, following the logic of these experts, Traditional Catholics would have an obligation to confess their sins to a heretical priest with faculties or to a non-Catholic priest with jurisdiction rather than a Society priest, if these were the only options. One such “expert” even went so far as to tell a reader that he may even commit a sin in confessing to a Society priest, as it would be participating in the simulation of a sacrament. Another “expert” told a questioner that his friend’s marriage before a Society priest was invalid and that he may not attend his friend’s wedding even as a guest.

In the end, these “experts” have no authority to decide for the faithful that the Society’s sacraments are invalid.  Only the Church can decide, in an official, public, and binding manner, that absolutions from Society priests are invalid. Indeed, the Church would have an obligation to make such a public declaration if a large number of faithful were truly imperiling their salvation through invalid confessions. To the contrary, Rome has made no such declaration. Although I personally do not attend an SSPX Chapel, I believe the evidence demonstrates that Society confessions are valid and that Rome recognizes, at least unofficially, this validity.

The Canonical Argument

The supreme law of the Church is stated in the last canon of the new 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1752. This canon states in relevant part, “…the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.”[1]  Thus, the supreme law of the Church, the salvation of souls, is the very purpose of canon law itself.  Therefore, if we are interpreting canon law in a manner that impedes salvation, and thus impedes the Code’s very purpose for being, we have to ask ourselves if this interpretation is correct.

Like all good legal analysis, we must start with the general rule.  The general rule in the case of confessions is that the absolving priest, in addition to valid orders[2], must have “jurisdiction” to validly absolve sins.  Jurisdiction is a fancy canonical term that, in the case of confessions, basically means permission to absolve.  The most common place jurisdiction comes from is a priest’s diocesan bishop. Diocesan bishops typically have what is called “ordinary jurisdiction” by the very nature of the office they hold. These bishops can then delegate their jurisdiction to their priests.  Granting delegated jurisdiction to a priest to hear confessions is called granting “faculties.”  Society priests don’t have faculties because bishops with jurisdiction won’t give faculties to them. Unfortunately, this is as far as most armchair internet analysis of the issue goes.

However, in addition to the delegation of jurisdiction from bishops, there is another source whereby priests can receive jurisdiction: from the Church Herself.  Under certain circumstances laid out in canon law a priest can receive jurisdiction directly from the Church. This is called “supplied jurisdiction” as the Church supplies the jurisdiction that is lacking in order to make the sacrament valid.  This is done for the salvation of souls, which, as we have seen, is the highest law of the Church.

Supplied Jurisdiction

Before delving into the specific canons involved, it is important to know what method is used to interpret canon law; i.e. what “hermeneutic” is used.  The hermeneutic of canon law is ironically the same hermeneutic Pope Benedict encourages us to use in interpreting Vatican II.  Canon Law must be interpreted in light of canonical tradition. In other words, those canons in the new Code, which repeat those in the old 1917 Code, must be understood in the same manner as the canons in the 1917 Code were. This is spelled out in canon 6, section 2 of the new Code: “Insofar as they repeat former law, the canons of this Code must be assessed also in accord with canonical tradition.”

This is important because, to the extent the canons we will be examining simply repeat the canons of 1917, we should have a rich history of canonical tradition to look at in applying those canons to Society confessions.  The good part about this is that we have unbiased and objective commentary on interpreting these canons from 1917 until the time that the validity of Society confessions even became an issue in the early 1970’s. Canon law commentators who wrote during this time period can hardly be said to have been “Society apologists.”

Common Error

The most direct argument for the validity of Society confessions can be found in canon 144, section 1 in the new Code. Canon 144, section 1 states, “In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance [jurisdiction] for both the external and internal forum.” In short, this means that if there is a factual or legal common error regarding a Society priest hearing confessions, the Church supplies jurisdiction and the confessions are valid.  This naturally leads us to ask the question: “What is a common error?”

Factual Common Error

Let’s set up a hypothetical factual example to guide us in our analysis.  Let’s say Fr. Jones is a Society priest who is prior of “St. John Roman Catholic Church” in Anytown, USA.  He puts in the weekly bulletin that confessions are offered on Saturdays from 3-4pm.  Inside the chapel is a traditional box confessional where Fr. Jones hears confessions.  Now, let’s suppose we have an ordinary Catholic, Mr. Smith.  Mr. Smith is in Anytown on a business trip and needs to go to confession.  He notices a sign that says “St. John Roman Catholic Church” as he is driving by. He stops in and he’s in luck. It is Saturday and penitents are lined up to go to confession. Mr. Smith, like most Catholics today, has little knowledge of canon law and doesn’t keep up with traditional happenings. He just knows there is a Catholic Church, he needs to go to confession and there is a confessional box with a priest in it, with a line of people waiting to be absolved. Therefore he assumes the priest has all the necessary authority and permissions to absolve. Mr. Smith goes to confession and receives absolution. Is his confession valid?

Here, most everyone, even the modern “experts”, would agree that Mr. Smith’s confession is valid. Why? Because Mr. Smith actually believed Fr. Jones had jurisdiction even though he did not. Since Mr. Smith was in error about the fact that Fr. Jones had no such jurisdiction, this is called error of fact. In cases where there is error of fact, the Church Herself supplies jurisdiction, per canon 144, section 1, to ensure that Mr. Smith’s confession was valid.

Legal Common Error

Unfortunately, the few internet “experts” who actually get to this canon, often stop the analysis right there.  The problem is that they ignore the additional circumstance of legal common error specifically listed in canon 144, section 1. This is probably because legal common error is counterintuitive to most people since it involves a legal concept called a “fiction of law” that is unfamiliar.  So what is legal common error?

The best way to understand legal common error is to analyze the facts from the point of view of the law itself, not the individual penitent. When applying the concept of legal common error it does not matter at all what Mr. Smith knows or believes. All that matters is determining whether a factual situation exists that triggers legal common error.  If the factual situation exists, then there is legal common error and the Church supplies jurisdiction. It is as simple as that. So what factual situations trigger legal common error?

A Dictionary of Moral Theology from 1962 states the following regarding legal common error, “(Common error) is called error of law when it stems or may stem from a fact which of itself is such as to lead many people into error even though in fact no one errs. Today it is generally held (and such an interpretation may be called certain) that the error of law is sufficient to require that jurisdiction be supplied.”[3]   A commentary on canon 144 written in 1983 states the following regarding legal common error, “…it is necessary that the error has its foundation on a public fact, firm and solid, capable of producing such error, and that the application of the suppliance may have an incidence in the general interest and benefit. This has a particular application to the usual faculties for hearing confessions…”[4]

Fr. Ramon Angles, SSPX, sums up the definition of legal common error well in his canonical study on the validity of SSPX confessions and marriages.[5]  There he states:

Error of law consists in a FACT whose nature is sufficient to induce the error in a community, even though nobody in the community is mistaken about the lack of jurisdiction in the agent. It is not an actual error, but a fiction of law: an interpretative error, a fact that of its nature WOULD lead many in actual error. This means practically that if a priest without jurisdiction to hear confessions sits in a confessional or puts on a purple stole indicating that he is ready to hear confessions, the Church will supply his lack of jurisdiction for every absolution he will give.

Lest you think Fr. Angles is biased in his definition, the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law by Paulist Press (hardly a traditional publication) says the following:

Although the canon [144] presupposes the existence of common error, occasions might arise when common error could be induced, e.g., when a priest has no faculty to hear confession, but enters the confessional because many people want to confess and he is sure that in the given situation people will think he has jurisdiction.  In such a situation the Church will supply the faculty.[6]

The New Commentary is also clear that no particular person is required to be in error for jurisdiction to be supplied:

It is also not necessary that in fact a certain number of people actually do make the error, for the Church supplies power when, objectively speaking, reasonable persons would make the error.[7]

A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law from 1962 confirms this: "The fact that the person knows that the priest has no jurisdiction, does not interfere with the validity of the priest's acts if by common error he is believed to have jurisdiction."[8]

So what does this mean? It means that if a Society priest creates a situation that would generally induce people to believe he has jurisdiction to hear confessions, the Church Herself supplies jurisdiction for each confession, regardless of whether each individual penitent who confesses knows that the priest does not have ordinary delegated jurisdiction (faculties).  Thus, in our previous hypothetical, Fr. Jones, SSPX, is in a confessional box waiting to hear confessions in a chapel named “St. John Roman Catholic Church.” This clearly creates a factual situation envisioned by Canon Law that triggers supplied jurisdiction due to common error of law. Reasonable people, like Mr. Smith, would be induced by this situation to believe that Fr. Jones had permission from the Church to absolve. However, even if Mr. Smith knew Fr. Jones had no faculties, Fr. Jones could still validly absolve him because the very nature of the priest being in the confessional ready to hear confessions triggers a common error of law. Notice that the error is a “legal error.” It is an error the law presumes even when there is no factual error.  As Fr. Angles states:

In the Society of Saint Pius X chapels, schools, Mass centers, summer camps, and extraordinary gatherings of faithful in the occasion of pilgrimages, ordination ceremonies, and similar cases, it is sufficient for a priest to sit in the confessional, to put on a violet stole or to give some external public sign which the faithful recognize as an indication that he is ready to hear confessions for a group of people, for common error at least de iure to exist. In many established chapels the common error will be de facto.

The priest in such conditions will VALIDLY absolve the faithful in virtue of Canon 209, New Code Canon 144.[9]

Positive or Probable Doubt

In addition to common error of law and fact, Canon 144 lists additional situations where the Church supplies jurisdiction for confessions. Canon 144 states, “…in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance [jurisdiction] for both the external and internal forum.” So what is a positive or probable doubt?

A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law of 1962 states:

Generally speaking, a negative doubt means that one has no reason to serve as a basis for deciding a question, and it is about equal to ignorance on that question. A positive doubt means that one has a good reason for deciding a question one way, but that there is also a reason in favor of a contrary decision of the question. For example, the reasons for and against the existence of jurisdiction in a certain case create a positive doubt; and if the reasons on both sides are of such weight so as to create a bona fide doubt, the Church supplies the jurisdiction, even though actually the person did not possess it.[10]

This portion of the canon ups the ante for those who would declare confidently that Society confessions are invalid. For even if they establish some reasons in favor of jurisdiction not being supplied in the case of Society confessions, those reasons would have to be so compelling as to all but extinguish any good reasons on the other side. If there are good reasons on both sides, then there is a positive doubt. In this case, the Church, recognizing Her highest law is the salvation of souls; would supply jurisdiction to ensure the absolution is valid.

The Faithful’s Right to Request Sacraments

Canon 1335 states:

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.

Assuming the worst, that Society priests are currently under a declared latae sententiae (automatic) censure, would they be able to validly absolve if a member of the faithful requested the sacrament of Penance from them?  The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law responds that the absolution would be valid.

…the cleric subject to a declared latae sententiae or a ferendae sententiae censure may not minister to the faithful outside of danger or death, whether they legitimately seek a sacrament, sacramental, or act of governance. If he attempts to do so, acts of the power of orders are valid but illicit.[11]

Therefore, any Catholic who requests confession from a Society priest would receive a valid absolution. However, if said priest were under a declared censure, then his responding to the penitent’s request would be an illicit act on the priest’s part. It should be noted that the SSPX believes that its priests, for various reasons, are not currently under any valid censure. However, even if they were, Fr. Angles claims that no censure was ever declared in the canonical sense, and therefore a Society priest would still act validly and licitly in this situation.[12] Regardless of your opinion on these issues, the relevant point here is that under canon law, a penitent who asks a Society priest to hear his confession receives a valid absolution.


Having established a canonical case for the validity of Society confessions, let us consider the most common objections heard from the “experts.”

But That’s Not Fair!

Objection: What’s the point of diocesan priests having faculties if Society priests can simply create a common error of law and validly absolve with supplied jurisdiction?  Society priests are denied faculties because they are in an irregular canonical situation. Doesn’t the use of supplied jurisdiction reward them and let them skirt the intent of canon law? Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of faculties?

Response: This objection misses the point of supplied jurisdiction. The Church supplies jurisdiction for the sake of the penitent’s soul, not for the sake of the Society priest.  Whether the Society priest acts licitly in creating common error of law is an entirely separate issue from that of validity. If a particular priest acts illicitly in creating common error, then there are separate canons that punish the priest for this act.[13]  However, the Church does not punish the penitent by denying him a valid absolution in that situation. Again, the highest law of the Church is the salvation of souls.


Objection: Only SSPX priests and faithful believe that Society confessions are valid. All other knowledgeable and “unbiased” people in the Church agree they are invalid.

Response:  To answer this objection, it is useful to consider opinions of knowledgeable persons not affiliated with the SSPX. Fr. Joseph J. Farraher was one such person. Fr. Farraher was a Jesuit, a canon lawyer, a moral theologian, a holder of a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from Gregorian University in Rome, and a former president of Alma College.[14] In the October 1983 issue of the "Homiletic & Pastoral Review”, Fr. Joseph J. Farraher, SJ, wrote the following:

As for Archbishop Lefebvre's priests, see my answer in the Aug.- Sept.1982 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review where I stated that, although his priests are illicitly ordained, they are validly ordained and have the radical power to absolve sacramentally. And, although ordinarily priests require "faculties" or jurisdiction to absolve validly and the Archbishop's priests do not have valid faculties, nevertheless when they enter a confessional in what appears to be a Catholic church, the supreme authority of the Church in Canon Law supplies jurisdiction to them just so that the faithful who approach them in good faith for Confession will not suffer lack of valid absolution.[15]

In the February 1985 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Fr. Farraher again spoke to the question of confessing to Society priests: “The Masses said, the absolution given, and the marriages witnessed by them are all most probably valid, the latter two categories at least by ‘common error’.”[16]

However, if the opinion of Fr. Farraher isn’t convincing enough, consider the opinion of Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer. In 1989, as President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” Cardinal Mayer responded to a letter written by a Catholic from California asking about the validity of Society sacraments. The Cardinal wrote, “The principle of "common error", whether on the part of only one faithful or on the part of the community, can be applied in this case, and such acts are thereby valid (cf. canons 144, 976, 1331, 1333, 1335)”[17]

Furthermore, on November 22, 2012 the website for the German District of the SSPX reported that well known canonist Dr. Georg May, made Apostolic Protonotary by Benedict XVI in January 2012,[18] affirmed that the Church supplied jurisdiction in the case of SSPX confessions and that they are, therefore, valid.[19]

In addition, Catholic lawyer and apologist, John Salza, who has appeared on EWTN television and radio and has written books for Our Sunday Visitor[20] has the following to say on the issue:

Would a community of average Catholics be induced to believe that a priest has faculties if they saw that priest celebrating Mass and hearing confessions in a Catholic chapel? Particularly when the chapel is in the public square, advertises its Mass times, has hundreds of congregants and all the other indicia of a Catholic parish? (Remember, the community doesn’t have to actually believe it; only that they could be induced to believe it.) I believe the answer to this question is “Yes.” This is why the community of believers is “capable of having a common error.”[21]


Orthodox Confessions are Valid but not the SSPX

Objection: The New Code of Canon law does allow Catholics to receive valid absolution from Orthodox priests, but only because they are formally schismatic and thus, have jurisdiction for confessions. Since Society priests are still Catholic, they still need faculties to absolve, which they don’t have.

Response: Ironically, the “experts” actually admit that formally schismatic Orthodox priests can validly absolve Catholics under the New Code, yet, under their own private interpretation of canon law, Society priests cannot. Conclusion? If you need to go to confession and your only two choices are a non-Catholic priest and a Catholic Society priest, you must choose to confess to the non-Catholic priest or else your sins will be retained. Even on a purely logical level, this doesn’t make sense. One would figure that somewhere an alarm bell would go off in the “expert’s” mind that somewhere he forgot to carry the one in his canonical mathematics. Yet ironically most of these “experts,” who don’t hesitate to call Traditionalists “pharisaical,” only see the letter of the law in this case.  Their only response to the apparent absurdity of their conclusion is to shrug their shoulders and say that’s what canon law tells us.

The news may come as a shock to some Traditionalists, but the “experts” do actually get the analysis half right, at least under the 1983 Code. In the new Code the idea of “sacramental hospitality” was introduced in contradiction to the 1917 Code’s strict rules against the sharing of sacraments with non-Catholics. Canon 844, section 2 states:

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.

Thus, under this Canon, if a Catholic meets all of the listed requirements, said Catholic can validly receive the sacrament of penance from an Orthodox priest. Since Society priests are Catholic, they are not strictly included in this canon’s permissions. Even the Vatican has confirmed that Society priests are Catholic priests, albeit in an “irregular canonical status.” Regardless, the Society never claims to use this canon to show the validity of its confessions. The validity of Society confessions relies on arguments primarily from canons 144 and 1335.

However, canon 844 is useful in proving the logic of the Society’s argument. If the Church intends to widen the ability of Catholics to receive the sacraments through canon 844, even to the extent of permitting Catholics to receive them from non-Catholic ministers, it would be inconsistent for Her to then deny valid sacraments to Catholics who wish to receive them from Catholic priests. Under the “experts’” contradictory interpretation of the New Code, Canon Law would actually be working against itself and its very purpose and highest law, which is the salvation of souls. Unfortunately, logic and common sense seems to be lost on many in the Church these days. This includes the Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Charles Morerod, OP, who recently decreed that churches in his diocese were open to Calvinists, Lutherans, and Orthodox but not to the SSPX and non-Christian religious communities.[22]

The PCED has Spoken! The Matter is Settled.

Objection: In July 2008, Msgr. Camille Perl of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED) responded to a letter from Renew America columnist Brian Mershon asking various questions about the SSPX. In that letter Msgr. Perl stated:

The Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony…require that the priest enjoys the faculties of the diocese or has proper delegation. Since that is not the case with these priests, these sacraments are invalid. It remains true, however, that, if the faithful are genuinely ignorant that the priests of the Society of St. Pius X do not have proper faculty to absolve, the Church supplies these faculties so that the sacrament is valid (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 144)[23]

In his letter, Mr. Mershon asks the following question of Msgr. Perl, “What level of authority do your answers to this private correspondence hold?” Msgr. Perl responds:

As we already stated to you in our letter of 4 July 2007: "This Pontifical Commission does its best to transmit responses which are in full accord with the magisterium and the present canonical practices of the Catholic Church. One should accept them with docility and can act upon them with moral certainty." We would further add that no dicastery of the Holy See will give other responses than those which we have given here.[24]

Response:  First, it is important to point out that the authority of this response is simply that of a private letter. Private letters are not official declarations of the Holy See, binding on all Catholics. Next, Msgr. Perl’s response should be read carefully so we know what he said and what he did not say. Msgr. Perl says that the Sacrament of Penance requires that the priest enjoys faculties of the diocese. As I have shown, this is normally true. Msgr. Perl then says that since this is not the case with Society priests their sacrament of penance is invalid. As we have seen, this is true unless the Church, through provisions in Her canon law, supplies jurisdiction. Msgr. Perl goes on to mention one such provision, proving that he recognizes there are exceptions to his previous statement. He states that if the faithful are genuinely ignorant that Society priests do not have faculties to absolve, the Church supplies these faculties (actually jurisdiction) so that the sacrament is valid. This is true. As I demonstrated previously, this is referred to as factual common error under canon 144.

The problem is that Msgr. Perl chose not to list the other relevant exceptions to this general rule whereupon the Church also supplies jurisdiction.  For instance, Msgr. Perl did not mention that the Church supplies jurisdiction for confessions heard by a Society priest for a penitent in danger of death. Does this mean that Msgr. Perl is saying we should accept with docility and moral certainty that if we are dying a Society priest cannot validly hear our confession and absolve us? Certainly not! Thus, the fact that Msgr. Perl did not mention the portion of canon 144 regarding legal common error, nor the canon involving the valid absolution given by a censured priest should a Catholic request it does not mean that these canons are not operative.

The only way to interpret Msgr. Perl’s words on this matter and still have the PCED’s responses remain consistent would be to grant that Society confessions are valid under these other canons, not discussed in the letter. Remember that Cardinal Mayer, when he was president of the PCED in 1989 sent a private letter to a Catholic stating that Society confessions were valid under canon 144, as they met the definition of common error.[25]

But besides these detail-oriented arguments, there is the big picture.  If Rome truly believed the confessions of the SSPX to have been invalid since the suspension of its priests in 1971, would it really choose to inform the faithful of this fact through single private PCED response in 2008? If Rome truly believed there was even a possibility that millions of invalid confessions were taking place under canon law from 1971-2013 would it fail to make even one official and authoritative public pronouncement, decree, or decision informing and warning all Catholics of this fact for the sake of their souls? To date there have been no such public decrees upon the regularization of any Traditional community such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) (initially composed of regularized Society priests), the Institute of the Good Shepherd in France, the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney in Campos, Brazil, the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (Transalpine Redemptorists) in Papa Stronsay, etc. Could it be that Rome recognizes Society confessions are indeed valid under canon law, and this is why they have not made such a decree?

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

In some cases, official acts have shown that Rome actually does recognize Society confessions as valid. Consider the following account told by Bishop Fellay at the 2010 Angelus Press Conference as reported by Brian McCall in the Remnant:


As most Catholics know, there are certain grave sins, the remittance of which is reserved to the Holy See alone.  Under Church law if a priest hears the confession of a person who has committed one of these reserved sins, he is obligated to report the matter to the Holy See within thirty days to receive permission to absolve as well as guidance for the imposition of an appropriate penance.  His Excellency indicated that from time to time Society priests have heard such confessions, and that, in every case, the required notification was sent to the Holy See.  In each of these cases, the response received from the Vatican was that “all was good and licit” and that the permission for the SSPX priest to absolve was granted. 


What inference are we to draw from this?  Obviously, the Society priests can validly hear confessions.  If the Society priests lacked any form of jurisdiction to hear confessions, the Holy See would have replied that the penitent needed to confess to a priest with legal jurisdiction to hear confessions.  By definition, we are here dealing with grave matter and hence mortal sin (assuming all other conditions are present).  Yet even still, the Holy See replied to the SSPX that “all is good and licit.” The Holy See is thus making a de facto recognition of SSPX jurisdiction to hear confessions, a position that the Society and a number of canonical experts have maintained for years in the face of what is obviously a difficult legal situation.[26]

In addition, I can relay a piece of anecdotal evidence. A good friend of mine was one of the first FSSP faithful in the United States in 1988 and can remember a Q&A given by an FSSP priest soon after the FSSP was founded. Members of the audience, until recently SSPX faithful, asked the priest if they would need to re-confess sins they previously confessed to Society priests. The FSSP priest said not to worry because the Church had supplied the necessary jurisdiction to make those confessions valid.


It is my hope that this article, in some small way can provide a counterbalance to the vast amount of confusion and misinformation made available by self-appointed internet “experts” on the validity of Society confessions.  In conclusion, here is a summary of what we know about the validity of Society confessions:

·   Rome has made no public official ruling on the validity of Society confessions, despite a moral obligation to do so if these confessions have been invalid since 1971.

·   There are strong canonical arguments in favor of the validity of Society confessions under at least canons 144 and 1335. These arguments are supported by canon law commentaries dating before the Society’s existence, ensuring the opinions in these commentaries are unbiased.

·   At least two prominent canonists, (one a Jesuit and theologian, the other an Apostolic Protonotary) as well as one Cardinal and former head of the CDF, none of whom are or were in any way associated with the SSPX, believe(d) in the validity of Society confessions.

·   Under canon 144 (positive and probable doubt), if a Society priest sees good reasons for his confessions being valid due to legal common error, but also recognizes some reasons they may not be, the Church supplies jurisdiction and the absolutions are valid. Opponents of validity would have to demonstrate that there are no good reasons at all for a Society priest to believe he acts under common error of law. Thus, the burden of proof is on the opponents and their standard of proof is extremely high.

·   No Ecclesia Dei community was required by Rome to instruct their faithful to re-confess mortal sins previously confessed to their priests while in an irregular canonical state. To the contrary, Bishop Fellay tells us that Rome has accepted the validity of Society absolutions, even absolutions of excommunicable offenses.

·   It is entirely illogical that the new Code of canon law would allow Catholics to confess to Orthodox priests and not allow them to confess to Society priests. Such an interpretation would make canon law self-contradictory and worse, cause it to work against its very purpose which is the highest law of the Church: the salvation of souls.



[2] A layman can never validly absolve in sacramental confession under any circumstance.

[3] Pugliese, in Palazzini’s Dictionary of Moral Theology, 1962, article Jurisdiction, Supplied: the Church supplies jurisdiction in a case of common error. Cited by Fr. Ramon Angles, SSPX in his canonical study, “The Validity of Confessions and Marriages
in the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X” found at Fr. Angles also cites many more examples of Canon Law commentary confirming this concept in his study.

[4] Lombardía, Código de Derecho Canónico, 1983. Cited by Fr. Angles at


[6] New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, edited by John P. Beal, James A. Coriden and Thomas Joseph Green, Published 2000 by Paulist Press, p. 193.

[7] Id.

[8] Woywood, A practical commentary on the Code of Canon Law, p.101 of 1962 edition.


[10] Woywood-Smith, A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 1962, # 162. Cited by Fr. Angles at

[11] New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, edited by John P. Beal, James A. Coriden and Thomas Joseph Green, Published 2000 by Paulist Press, p. 1567.


[13] Fr. Angles discusses the separate issue of the liceity of Society priests creating common error at:

[15] Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Oct. 1983, p. 67 as cited by

[16] Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Feb. 1985, p. 61 as cited by

[17] Apostolic Nunciature in U.S.A., letter 1885/89/4, dated May lst,1989 as cited by


[19] Original in German: Translation of relevant portion: “It is true that the priests of the SSPX have no ordinary jurisdiction to hear confessions, but jurisdiction is supplied by the Church, so that the confessions are certainly valid. This has also been affirmed by well-known canonists (for example. Prof. Georg May), and Rome has never asserted anything else.”





[25] Apostolic Nunciature in U.S.A., letter 1885/89/4, dated May lst,1989 as cited by


  HOME    |    PRINT SUBSCRIBE    |    E-EDITION    |    ADVERTISE    |    NEWS    |    ARTICLES   |    RESOURCES    |    ABOUT    |    CONTACT
Web Format and Content   ©  1996-2010 Remnant Press