Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Catholic Worst Case Scenario Survival Rule #1

A buddy of mine recently posed this scenario:

You are a Catholic hiking in a remote section of the Himalayan region of south Central Asia or perhaps Russia when you unexpectedly startle a local Yak herd. In the ensuing stampede you are gored by a Yak bull and seriously injured. 

You are afraid you may die and you are aware of a serious sin on your conscience. The herdsman applies basic first aid and carries you down the hill to the nearest Orthodox church. The priest rushes to your side and offers to hear your confession. 

As a Catholic, can this Orthodox priest shrive you?

Wow. That's actually a pretty bad Catholic worst case scenario. What's a body to do? The good news is that Orthodox priests are validly ordained and have valid sacraments. Ergo, an Orthodox priest can forgive sins. The bad news is that the Orthodox church is not presently in communion with the Pope as the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, so their sacraments are not considered licit (legal) for Catholics.
The Code of Canon Law states:
Can. 966 §1 For the valid absolution of sins, it is required that, in addition to the power of order, the minister has the faculty to exercise that power in respect of the faithful to whom he gives absolution.
So the short answer is -- in normal circumstances: No.  Although the Orthodox priest has the power to forgive sins, he does not have jurisdiction over Catholics.

However, this is anything but a normal circumstance. You've just been gored by a Yak. Shouldn't that be taken into consideration?
The Code of Canon Law makes one exception for emergency circumstances:  
Can. 976  Even though he lacks the faculty to hear confession, any priest validly and licitly absolves from any kind of censures and sins any penitent who is in danger of death, even if an approved priest is present.
So, in the case of emergencies where death is possible, then yes, an Orthodox priest can hear a Catholic's confession -- just as any validly ordained priest may hear a confession.

Catholic Worst Case Scenario Survival Rule #1:

If your gore is gory and the perp's a Yak, 
strive to shrive to the priest in black.

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