Tag Archives: liceity

Saint Alphonsus: When it is morally licit to receive the Sacraments from unworthy ministers?

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

Many Catholics, who remain in communion with Pope Benedict, but have no clergy in their area who do so, ask me whether it be morally licit for them to receive the Sacraments from these clergy. I also get this question from Catholics who live in the Mid-East, where many Catholics receive the Sacraments in both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, which for long centuries have not been in communion with the Apostolic See.

Here I will present the doctrine of the Doctor of the Church, Saint Alphonsus dei Liguori, C.Ss.R., from his Theologia Moralis, by citing what he says on diverse questions. The Roman Church, by raising Saint Alphonsus dei Liguori to the dignity of a Doctor of the Church in questions of moral theology, gives at least a tacit approval to those opinions. This does not mean that they are the teaching of the Church or that they are, by that fact alone, opinions which form part of the ordinary magisterium. But it is a strong indication that if the Church ever judge such questions, that she will likely side with the opinions of the Saint, even though on one of his opinions, She has expressly withdrawn her approval — I am told.*

Here is Saint Alponsus teaching, which regards clergy who are public sinners or excommunicated or under some censure. He does not speak of heretics, of whom it is the teaching of the Church at all times, that we cannot receive any Sacrament from condemned heretics.

Saint Alphonsus de Liguori

Theologia Moralis

Tome III, Book VI

Tract I — On the Sacraments in General

Doubt II

n. 88 — There is asked 2nd.: Whether it be licit to receive the Sacraments from an unworthy minister? — Here it is necessary to distinguish between a minister who is unworthy because of some censure and/or inability, and a minister and one unworthy because of mortal sin.

I respond 1st.: If a minister is unworthy through a censure etc., and is not to be tolerated, most of all if he be excommunicated as one to be avoided and/or publicly and by name suspended, or irregular through a judicial sentence, certainly it is not licit to seek the Sacraments from him, except in extreme and/or in the greatest of necessity in which all say it is licit to receive Baptism and Penance … {Editor’s note: here follows a citation of authorities from whom the Saint drew his opinion. I will omit these in this translation with the symbol …}.

Likewise, probably also the Sacrament of the Eucharist as say … . And adhering to this opinion is Tournely, who citing Pope Innocent III, in Gratian, chapter Quod in te, de poenitent. et remission, who though he denied Extremunction to the dying in the time of a general interdict, did not deny Penance and Viaticum.

Likewise, concerning the Sacrament of Extremunction think … by this that such a Sacrament can be the cause of grace. But better do those not admit this with … except when the infirm is not able to receive any other sacrament.

Equally, say … that it is licit to receive the Sacrament of Orders from a Bishop who is excommunicated, when in some remote province, he alone can be found, and such an ordination redounds to the common good.

Likewise, the aforesaid authors say regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony, in the case in which it would be necessary either for the spiritual salvation of one who is dying and/or for the great temporal utility of the children, and when no other minister is at hand.

But whether a  priest who has been excommunicated as one to be avoided can minister the Sacrament of Penance in extreme necessity? This is to be denied, see …

I respond 2nd.:  But if the minister is excommunicated and/or suspended, as one to be tolerated: there is a question among the doctors whether it be licit to receive the Sacraments from him without grave cause. — Some deny this. — But more truly is it to be affirmed, because the Council of Constance conceded in an absolute manner to the faithful that they could receive communion with those to be tolerated. See ….

n.89 — I respond 3rd. But when the minister is unworthy on account of mortal sin, Saint Thomas seems to indistinctly concede that the Sacraments can be received from someone whose sin is hidden from us, saying:  So long as he is tolerated by the Church in ministry, the one who receives the Sacraments from him does not share in his sin. — And the same is had in Gratian, in the chapter, Vestra 7, de cohabitatione clericorum etc., where there is said:  Without a doubt . . . hold that from clerics and bishops, even though they be fornicators, so long as they be tolerated and there not be had evidence of their works (that is, as the Gloss has, they have not been condemend nor have they confessed before the law), the Divine Mysteries are licitly heard and the other Sacraments of the Church are received. But this must be sanely understood, to be valid only to excuse from sin, not to contravene the prohibitions of the Church.

Otherwise, to receive the Sacraments from a sinner, always requires a reasonable cause, in accord with the words in Gratian, Book II, n. 47, v. Secunda et n. 49; and as is otherwise taught by Saint Thomas, where he says: Besides the occasion of necessity, it would not be safe, that he induce him to fulfill anything of his Order, while having such knowledge that that one be in mortal sin.  Moreover, under the name of “necessity” the Continuator of Tournely rightly explains that in this case one is to understand a moral necessity. — Wherefore, to excuse (from sin) there probably also suffices a causae of grave utility; as is most commonly taught by … .

Discussion

As can be seen, Saint Alphonsus speaks of priests who are either public sinners or who have been punished with a decree of excommunication or censure. When he speaks of those to be tolerated, he is referring to the previous discipline, before Vatican II, which distinguished between those who were to be shunned or not to be shunned, on account of the punishment imposed upon them. Holy Mother Church imposed the punishment of shunning, since the time of Saint Paul the Apostle, when She judged that the person was very dangerous or because their conscience required this punishment to bring it back to a right state. In the new Code the punishment of shunning as been abolished, so all excommunicates and censured persons are to be considered to be tolerated, under Saint Alphonsus’ classification.

What is lacking in Saint Alphonsus is any question regarding what is to be done during a schism in the Church.  I think we can extrapolate from the present Code of Canon Law which imposes excommunication upon all schismatics ipso facto, and thus classify them as excommunicated but to be tolerated.

However, the present case of the Bergoglian schism has to do also with public heresy and immorality. And so if the clergy who are schismatic are also heretics, then one should under no condition receive the sacraments from them. The Council of Trent holds as to be excommunicated, also, those who say or teach or practice the giving of the Sacraments of the Eucharist, to those who are public sinners: which certainly applies to the author of Amoris Laetitia and all who accept that doctrine. I would hold such a teaching also to be heretical, but since the Council of Trent did not classify it as heretical, I think we cannot on our own authority regard it as such, until a Council so condemns it.

However, the Bergoglians teach many other heresies. And so the determination if this or that minister is unworthy or not on account of heresy, depends on each individual case of each minister. And in cases in which you do not know if the minster agrees with or accepts any particular heresy, Saint Alphonsus says elsewhere, that you should presume that he is not a heretic.

Regarding, the question of mere schism, however, if a priest has not accepted that Benedict validly resigned, but simply goes by that opinion, he is probably not a formal schismatic, just in error. But if he is shown the evidence that Benedict is still the true pope and examines it, and rejects it publicly or privately to your knowledge, he should be presumed to be formally a schismatic. However, if he refuses consideration without examination, he is more likely just lazy or as of yet psychologically indisposed to consider that such a great lie or error was made, as I was for 6 years. Likewise, if he rejects the arguments that Benedict is still the pope, but does not refuse you the Sacraments, whom he knows publicly or privately to be in communion with Benedict, then he is probably not a formal schismatic, because by his behavior he shows that your opinion is one which can be licitly held.

What Saint Alphonsus does not explain here, is the duty to avoid public scandal. If you are not known to be in communion with the true Pope, and attend the liturgy of schismatics, then no scandal is given, because scandal is only a sin on account of someone knowing of it and being scandalized. But if you are known to be in communion with the true pope and go to the liturgies of Schismatics, and on that account even one poor soul would take scandal and consider it not important for salvation whether they be or not be in communion with the true pope, then you must omit going to those liturgies. Because as Saint Paul teaches in his letters to the Corinthians, we should prefer the salvation of the weak to any desire we have of liberty.

What Saint Alphonsus says here is mostly the repetition of others opinions, though he makes some personal judgement on the questions. However, these principles should be used with prudence and precision, and not taken to be license for the lax or exaggerated in their severity by the super-scrupulous. That is, if you are inclined not to follow rules and do as you please and fudge on definitions of words, then what Saint Alphonsus says should not be interpreted by your conscience, but you should follow the interpretation of a more prudent and upright man of good counsel who respects the Divine and moral law as a minimum duty of every Christians. However, if you are inclined to consider everything a sin or every sin a mortal sin, then you should not follow your understanding of what St. Alphonsus says here, but that of a man with a better understanding of the proper ability to distinguish between what things are and what things might be according to one’s fears.

Finally, what Saint Alphonsus does not discuss is what is the holier or more perfect thing to do. I think that testifying to the truth, right now, in the Church, is a grave necessity for the salvation of all souls. Each of us should do that. How we do it, God leaves to our own initiative. But we should not conceal the truth under a bushel basket, especially on account of only caring for ourselves and the reception of sacraments by ourselves, and not caring for the salvation of priests and our fellow brothers and sisters in the Faith. That is why I write all that I write. And that is why I wrote a Handbook for Converting Priests back to allegiance to Pope Benedict.

That being said, Saint Alphonsus gives us good counsel as to when and under what circumstances we can act without hiding the truth, and avoiding sin, when we have to make personal decisions about receiving the Sacraments.

__________

FOOTNOTES:

* I was told by Fr. Alphonsus Sutton, STD, my professor in moral theology, that Saint Alphonsus at one time held that if one intended out of revenge to burn down the house of one’s enemy and by accident and confusion or ignorance burned down the house of someone who was not one’s enemy, that one would not be obliged to pay restitution. That opinion was censured in his own day, and he withdrew it. The Church holds with the Fathers of the Church that restitution must be paid by all in all circumstances when they are the cause of the damage, either directly or by intended that which is its cause, especially in cases of arson.

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