Holy Cross Seminary

Most Asked Questions About the Society of Saint Pius X


Question 9: Do traditional priests have jurisdiction?


     In virtue of his ordination, a priest can bless all things and even consecrate bread and wine in such wise that they become the very Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But whenever in his ministry he has to deal authoritatively with people, he needs, over and above the power of Orders, that of Jurisdiction, which empowers him to judge and rule his flock. Jurisdiction is, moreover, necessary for the validity itself of the sacraments of penance and matrimony.

     Now, the sacraments were given by Our Lord as the ordinary and principal means of salvation and sanctification. The Church, therefore, whose supreme law is the salvation of souls (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1752), wants the ready availability of these sacraments, and especially penance (canon 968). The Church wants priests (canon 1026) and empowers them liberally to hear confessions (canon 967, §2). This jurisdiction to hear confessions is to be revoked only for a grave reason (canon 974, §1).

     Jurisdiction is ordinarily given by mandate from the Pope or diocesan Bishop, or perhaps delegated by the parish priest. The priests of the Society of Saint Pius X do not have jurisdiction in this way. Extraordinarily, however, the Church supplies jurisdiction without passing by the constituted authorities. This is foreseen in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

  • when the faithful think the priest has a jurisdiction which he does not have (canon 144) [common error],
  • when there is a probable and positive doubt that the priest has jurisdiction (canon 144),
  • when a priest inadvertently continues to hear confessions once his faculties have expired (canon 142, §2), and
  • when the penitent is in danger of death (and then even if the priest is laicised or an apostate, even though a Catholic priest is at hand) (canons 976, 1335).

     Therefore, the Church, wanting the ready availability of penance, extraordinarily supplies jurisdiction in view of the needs of her children, and it is granted all the more liberally the greater their need.

     Now, the nature of the present crisis in the Church is such that the faithful can on good grounds feel it a moral impossibility to approach priests having ordinary jurisdiction. And so, whenever the faithful need the graces of penance and want to receive them from priests whose judgment and advice they can trust, they can do so, even if the priests do not ordinarily have jurisdiction. Even a suspended priest can do this for the faithful who ask: "for any just cause whatsoever" (canon 1335). This is even more the case if a faithful Catholic can foresee his being deprived of the true sacrament of penance from priests with ordinary jurisdiction until he dies. Only God knows when this crisis will end.

     The extraordinary form for marriages is foreseen in canon 1116, §1. If the couple cannot approach their parish priest "without serious inconvenience"—and they may consider as such his insistence on having the Novus Ordo Missae for the wedding, or their apprehensions concerning his moral teaching in marriage instructions—and if they foresee these circumstances to last for at least a month, then they can marry before witnesses alone, and another priest (e.g., of the Society of Saint Pius X) if possible (canon 1116, §2).

     Even if one were to consider the above arguments as only probable, then jurisdiction would still be certainly supplied by the church (canon 144). And so we must answer affirmatively. Traditional priests do have a jurisdiction that is neither territorial nor personal but supplied in view of the needs of the faithful.

 


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Holy Cross Seminary, Goulburn, Australia