A Priest’s Right to Hear Confession
Instruction by Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM, Cap.
February 13, 1997
Ordination to the priesthood gives a man the power to forgive sins.
His right to hear confessions in a particular locality is normally given
by the local Ordinary (bishop) and this is called jurisdiction. With jurisdiction,
a priest may use his power of forgiving sins, and without jurisdiction,
a priest may not.
There are two factors to consider in this all important use of jurisdiction.
The first is Canon Law, and the second is a decree made by Pope Pius XII
in Motu proprio on December 15, 1947. I shall quote from "A Practical
Commentary of the Code of Canon Law" by Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, OFM,
LL.B and revised by Rev. Callistus Smity, OFM, J.C.L. The book has an imprimatur
and copyright dates of 1925, 1929, 1932, 1943 and 1947.
Hearing Confessions On the Ocean
Starting on page 491, no 788 we read:
"On an ocean trip, all priests may hear confessions
on the boat during the time of the voyage and absolve the faithful who
travel with them (even though the boat may pass through districts subject
to various Ordinaries or stop for a while in some port), provided they
have been properly approved for confessions either by the bishop of their
own diocese, or by the bishop of the port where they take the boat, or
the Ordinary of any of the ports at which the boat calls.
Whenever the boat stops at a port during the voyage,
such a priest may hear confessions, absolve not only the people who for
any reason enter the boat, but also, if the priest goes ashore for a while,
persons who request him to hear their confessions, and he may absolve them
even from sins reserved to the local Ordinary (Canon 883).
A declaration of the Committee of the Authentic
Interpretation of the Code has decided that if the boat stops in some port
and the priest goes ashore, he can hear confessions on land all who want
to confess to him, even though the boat stops for two or three full days.
The priest may hear confessions for the same length of time, when he changes
boats in some port and has to wait for the connecting boat. In both cases,
he cannot hear confessions beyond three days, if the local Ordinary
Hearing Confessions in the Air
Next we go to page 493:
"In order to make the benefits and convenience
of this faculty (which can be so helpful for the sanctification of souls)
more widely and more readily available to the faithful who with daily increasing
frequency travel by air, Pope Pius XII by Motu proprio of December 15,
1947, perpetually extended the sense of Canon 883 to include priests who
undertake a journey by air. What therefore is said in Canon 883 concerning
the faculty to hear confessions enjoyed by priests who undertake a journey
by sea now holds and is extended, under like conditions and under the same
terms, to priests traveling by air."
Jurisdiction and Priests in the Church Today
Here I, Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher, OFM. Cap., bring myself (and some other
priests also) into the equation.
In regard to forgiveness of sins, every validly ordained priest has
this power. However, it may be used only within the Catholic Church and
under the direction of the Church. The Pope and his bishops assign members
of the faithful to these priests. That assignment we refer to as jurisdiction.
That can be very extensive, or very confined according to the mandate giving
In the Catholic Church every ordination must be under the Pope in some
way. The ordaining bishop must be subject to the Pope. That makes the ordained
man a Catholic priest. Hence, when a bishop, not under the Pope, ordains,
he makes a priest, but he is not a Catholic priest. Here I shall not deal
with the penalties for such an action. I will say those priests and bishops
are just like the Russian and Greek Orthodox priests. Hence, the men made
bishops and priests under such men as Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop Thuc
after bogus Council Vatican II may not function as priests and bishops
in the Catholic Church until they are received into the Church (and cleared
to hear confessions) by the true Pope.
I was ordained a priest in 1946 by a bishop who was subject to Pope
Pius XII. In 1948 I was assigned to the Ryukyu Mission fully subject to
Pope Pius XII. I had the ordinary faculties for confession. I was in good
standing with the ecclesiastical authorities.
The Novus Ordo Takeover
Gradually, the Novus Ordo like a thief in the night sneaked into the whole
world. I hated every bit of it, but it seemed to me at the time that it
was still the Catholic Church (a simple mistake – not accepting heresy).
As a matter of fact, the bishops and priests around me fully embraced the
Novus Ordo. I figured that the Church in Australia was less evil than the
Church in Japan, so I petitioned and received permission from the superiors
to transfer to Australia. Little did I know that all of them were in another
When I departed from the Ryukyu Islands, I left by airplane. Since I had
not abandoned the faith, I retained my place in the Church and faculties
for confession. Then Canon law took over. I had faculties for confession
on flight, and I had them for three days after leaving the plane in Australia.
After those three days, I would be obliged to get faculties from a true
bishop there – unless, as the law states, it is too difficult. There
were no true bishops there, so my faculties started ticking away, and those
three days will continue to tick away until we get a true Pope. I am not
presuming any jurisdiction. My jurisdiction is fair and square, just as
it was on the Ryukyu Islands. If perchance I return to the Ryukyu Islands
then faculties will shrink to that place only, but when departing again
the three days start ticking away again. Just keep Canon 883 in mind, and
keep Pope Pius XII’s extension of that Canon from ship to plane in perpetuity.
Let us thank God’s holy providence for setting up Canon law in such
a way that priests like me throughout the world still have their faculties