ASK FATHER: Validity of absolution of accomplices in sexual sins

Posted August 5, 2017 3:45 pm by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

ASK FATHER: Validity of absolution of accomplices in sexual sins

From a reader…
QUAERITUR:
I have two questions about c. 977, which bars a priest from absolving an accomplice in sins against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue except in danger of death (on pain of excommunication, per c. 1378).
First, is the term “accomplice” to be understood as referring strictly to those who have taken part in impure acts with the priest, or does it extend to those who have been accomplices in other ways, such as a wingman or pimp, or a brother priest who has learned of what he’s done and responded with a high five?
Second, the canon mentions absolving the accomplice, not strictly absolving the sins. [For example, absolving a censure and not a sin?] Is a priest barred, except in danger of death, from absolving someone with whom he has ever sinned against chastity?
This is a disgusting topic.  However, in light of some of the antics of certain infamous priests reported recently in the media, we need some straight talk.
Canon 977 says:
The absolution of a partner in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue [Absolutio complicis in peccato contra sextum Decalogi] is invalid, except in danger of death.
That’s pretty straight forward on one level.
In just one scenario, say a priest tells a person, “It’s okay. I’ll give you absolution afterward”, that absolution would be invalid.  In another scenario, say a priest has some sexual contact with a person and then, later, sees that person on the pavement bleeding out after having been struck down by a flying shark from one of those shark-filled tornadoes. He could give absolution validly because there is danger of death.  In another scenario, the priest’s accomplice winds up days later in the priest’s confessional and confesses the sin, the priest does not validly absolve.
Let’s also make a distinction.  There are ways in which we can participate

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