A bad priest doesn’t invalidate a sacrament

The following letter appeared in the Wilmington (DE) News Journal's Letters to the Editor section this morning:

I hope the release of the names of priests in Delaware who are accused of pedophilia helps the victims of these men. However, what are we who were married by these men to do with our feelings about the sanctity of the sacrament we received? Does the bishop have an answer for that? Linda Boyer, Bear

A few points in response to this:

1) The holiness of the priest has no bearing on the sanctity of a sacrament. In the strictest sense, the priest does not perform a sacrament: Christ, acting through the priest, performs the sacrament. Since Christ is the true minister of any sacrament, the holiness of any validly ordained priest has no bearing on the efficacy of said sacrament. Even an excommunicated priest can perform a consecration, although it would be illicit for him to do so. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: "Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting. (1584)"

2) All sacraments are permanent, so even a priest who has been excommunicated, or one who has been defrocked, can still perform sacraments, although it would be illicit for him to do so. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church again tells us:

1582. As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.

1583. It is true that someone validly ordained can, for grave reasons, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.

3) In fact, this question misses the mark in another way: in marriage, the priest is an official witness of the Church and the couple are the joint ministers of the sacrament: "According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ's grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church." (1623)

4) In her example of marriage, but it is true for any sacrament, in order to receive the graces of that sacrament the recipient of the sacrament must be in good graces with the Church: "From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them." (1128) So, as long as the man and the woman were in good graces with the Church (not in a state of mortal sin), married couples received the graces of the sacrament of matrimony.

Crossposted at my blog, Gazizza.net.

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