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An Ex-Sede, the Motu Mass and Refusing Sacraments

A CASE TO RESOLVE: Father Romanus, a sedevacantist, is asked to offer Mass for and address a small gathering of traditionalists in another state. The topic of his address: Why one should not actively participate in “una cum” Masses — that is, Masses at which the name of Benedict XVI is put into the first prayer of the Canon. (These include Latin Masses offered under the aegis of Benedict XVI’s 2007 Motu Proprio, as well as those offered by such groups as the Fraternity of St. Peter and the Society of St. Pius X.)

As Father Romanus is preparing the temporary altar for Mass, Titus arrives and announces his intention to listen to the address and then assist at the Mass.

Titus was raised in a large and somewhat prominent traditionalist family and is known to all present. For many years, Titus, together with his wife and children, traveled a great distance to assist at the Mass of Fr. Romanus, and was to all appearances, a convinced and highly articulate sedevacantist.

He and his family, however, tired of the travel, and under the influence of “conservative” Catholics in their area, began to assist regularly at the Indult, later, the Motu Mass.

Fr. Romanus and his colleagues repeatedly and with considerable patience explained to Titus why this course of action was wrong and attempted to dissuade him.

These efforts, alas, were to no avail, and sad news of the defection of Titus spread to members of Fr. Romanus’ congregation. Indeed, the story was known to most of the traditionalists present at the gathering at which Titus had unexpectedly arrived.

Fr. Romanus informed Titus privately that he commits a mortal sin by taking himself and his family to the Motu Mass, and that Fr. Romanus was therefore obliged to deny him the sacraments.

Titus became indignant, and accused Fr. Romanus of being “like the St. Pius V Society,” which on spurious grounds publicly withholds the sacraments from various categories of traditional Catholics.

Was the course of action of Fr. Romanus justified in this case?

RESPONSE: Based on the general principles of moral theology governing the refusal of sacraments to the unworthy and upon the facts of this particular case, yes.


The canonist Cappello lays down the following general principle:

“The minister of a sacrament is bound per se under pain of mortal sin to deny sacraments to the unworthy … because they cannot obtain its effect, since they are in the state of mortal sin without the will to amend.…”

“Sacraments must be denied to a public sinner, whether he asks for them publicly or secretly. The reason is that in this case, a reason for administering sacraments is lacking; indeed, administering the sacraments would give grave scandal to the faithful.

“A public sinner is one whose unworthiness becomes common knowledge.…

Per se and ordinarily speaking, two things are required for someone to be considered a public sinner: (1) That the sin be grave. (2) That it be continuous and persevering, either by reason of the type of sin itself or at least by reason of the scandal that proceeds from it.” (De Sacramentis 1:58, 63. Cappello’s italics and bold.)

As some examples, Cappello gives concubinage, murder and neglect of Paschal communion or confession, when it is publicly known.


As regards how the foregoing applies to the case of Titus:

(1) Gravity of Sin: Titus’s active assistance at the Motu Mass, among other things, (a) affirms that a sacrilegious and invalid rite (the Novus Ordo) is the “Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite,” (b) affirms that a false religion (that of Vatican II) is the religion founded by Jesus Christ, (c) places his family in a proximate occasion of mortal sin against the faith.

These acts are grave sins against religion, faith and charity.

To this is added the grave sin of scandal — “a word or deed (whether of commission or omission) that (1) is itself evil, OR (2) has the appearance of evil, AND (3) provides an occasion of sin for another.” (Prümmer, Moral Theology, 230.)

Other Catholics, knowing that Titus comes from a well-known traditionalist family would conclude that assistance at a Motu Mass is not only permissible but laudable for a Catholic — and thus be induced to imitate his sin.

(2) Continuous and Persevering: Titus’s assistance at the Motu was not simply one-time or occasional, but continued and persevered.

(3) Public: His participation at the Motu Mass is not simply known to a few, but it is somewhat widely known.

(4) Aggravating Circumstances: The point of the address that Fr. Romanus intended to give was to explain why it is wrong to participate in una cum Masses. To have administered sacraments to Titus, especially under those circumstances, would not only have condoned Titus’s sinful example, but also contradicted the principles Fr. Romanus intended to explain.

(5) Imputability: While many (if not most) who assist at the Motu Mass may do so in good faith or out of ignorance of the issues, such excuses would not hold in the case of Titus. He is intelligent, clearly understood the issues, and has had the principles explained clearly to him many, many times.


For the foregoing reasons, Fr. Romanus was obliged to refuse the sacraments to Titus.

* * *

SOME lay Catholics may find the mere mention of such a conclusion to be distressing. And it will set a-chattering a few lay controversialists who maintain that any valid Latin Mass is just fine, and that for the administration of sacraments, the Prime Directive is “the consumer is king.”

But here the priest is merely doing his job by applying to a particular case the principles of moral theology and canon law that he learned in the seminary and that he applies every day. He is supposed to judge the morality of acts — to separate right from wrong — and then instruct the layman to act accordingly. If this is not the priest’s job, whose is it?

Finally, just as appealing to the correct principle “Outside the Church, no salvation” almost inevitably leads to the accusation that one is a “Feeneyite,” so too, appealing to and applying correct principles about the refusal of sacraments leads to accusations of being “like the St. Pius V Society.”

But such accusations are merely emotional appeals based on honest misunderstandings (or in a few cases, cynical manipulation), rather than real arguments that are based on objective principles in theology or canon law.

That ignorant clergy consistently misapply the Church’s rules for refusing the sacraments does not make these rules the exclusive property of the ignorant and then suspend their application to all other cases.

There are, in fact, situations in which these principles oblige a priest to refuse to administer sacraments to someone. And the case under discussion, alas, is one of them.