Priests Who Sin
Please explain the use of the confessional for clergy who have sexual or love affairs but continue to celebrate Mass and receive the Eucharist. Is there a special dispensation for them or is this practice tolerated by the Church? If not, surely a sacrilege is being perpetrated.
No person, priest or not, can receive a dispensation to sin or to remain in sin, because the Church must always strive in all its members to live in union with Christ, the all-holy Son of God. A priest who violates his obligation to remain celibate is guilty of a grave sin and, like anyone else, must repent and seek absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Those who profane or unworthily treat any of the sacraments are really doing the same to Christ, because it is Christ who acts and brings about the effect of each sacrament through the agency of the Church and its ministers. This is why moral theology considers such profanities as sacrilegious. Some moralists hold that such sacrileges violate the first two of the Ten Commandments, which emphasise God’s unique holiness.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds that sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, because in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us (2120). A priest who impenitently persists in the conscious state of grave sin and simultaneously performs his sacramental duties can be said to be also committing sacrilege. Moralists may take a more lenient view depending on circumstances, such as if the priest is called on to celebrate a sacrament before he has had time to repent or confess his sin.
Canon law is clear: priests having sexual partners, particularly if their behaviour has become a public scandal, can be suspended from office or punished in some other way. If they persist in this, after due warning they can be dismissed from the clerical state (c1395).
It must be remembered that a priest in mortal sin still celebrates the sacraments validly. This is because the sacraments receive their spiritual effects from the merits of Christ, and not as a result of the minister’s state of soul. In 1547 the Council of Trent taught that the effect of each sacrament is accomplished through the instrumentality of the sacramental rite itself (ex opere operato).