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THE FACULTY TO HEAR CONFESSIONS UBIQUE

Rev. Fr. Brian T. Austin, F.S.S.P., J.C.L., 2017

In addition to the Roman Pontiff, cardinals and bishops possess the faculty of hearing the

confessions of all the Christian faithful everywhere (ubique; c. 967, 1). This faculty is also granted

to three distinct groups of priests:

Those who possess the faculty of hearing confessions habitually whether [1] by
virtue of office or [2] by virtue of the grant of an ordinary of the place of
incardination or [3] of the place in which they have a domicile can exercise that
faculty everywhere [ubique] unless the local ordinary has denied it in a particular
case, without prejudice to the prescripts of can. 974, 2 and 3.1

Those who possess this ubique faculty by virtue of office are:

1. local ordinaries (c. 968, 1)


a. prelates equivalent in law to a diocesan bishop (cc. 368 and 381, 2)
i. territorial prelates
ii. territorial abbots
iii. vicars and prefects apostolic
iv. apostolic administrators of stably erected apostolic
administrations
b. those who govern an impeded or vacant see (cc. 413, 419, 421)
c. vicars general and episcopal vicars (134, 1)
d. military ordinaries
e. ordinaries of personal ordinariates
2. canons penitentiary (c. 968, 1)
3. pastors (parochi) (ibid.)
4. those who take the place of pastors (ibid.)
a. when the parish becomes vacant or the pastor is impeded
i. parochial administrators (540, 1)

1C. 967, 2. Codex iuris canonici auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus, fontium
annotatione et indice analytico-alphabetico auctus, Libreria editrice Vaticana, 1989, English
translation CANON LAW SOCIETY OF AMERICA (ed.), Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition, New
English Translation, Washington, D.C., CLSA, 1999.
ii. the parochial vicar senior by appointment before appointment of
a parochial administrator (c. 541, 1)
b. priests to whom the pastoral care of a parish is entrusted in solidum (cc.
542-543)
c. a priest provided with the faculties of a pastor who directs a vacant
parish (c. 517, 2)
5. chaplains2 (c. 566, 1)

Those who possess this faculty by virtue of the grant of a local ordinary fall into two

categories. Into the first category fall priests who have received the faculty to hear confessions from

an ordinary of the place where they are incardinated (c. 967, 2). The majority of parochial vicars,

for example, would fall into this category. Into the second category fall priests who have received

this faculty from an ordinary of the place where they have obtained domicile.

Domicile may be acquired in three ways. The first two ways are common to all of the

Christian faithful: Domicile is acquired by that residence within the territory of a certain parish or

at least of a diocese, which either [1] is joined with the intention of remaining there permanently

unless called away or [2] has been protracted for five complete years (c. 102, 1). For diocesan

priests residing in the diocese of their incardination, this canon presents no particular problems of

2 According to the norm of c. 967, 2, the faculty to hear confessions conceded to the
chaplain vi officii is able to be exercised everywhere (ubique), unless, in a particular case, the local
ordinary has forbidden it. L. CHIAPPETTA, Il Codice di diritto canonico: Commento giuridico-pastorale,
vol. 1, 3rd ed., Bologna, Edizione Dehoniane Bologna, 2011, p. 688; translation my own (=
CHIAPPETTA, Commento). In relation to the faculty of hearing the confession of the faithful entrusted
to his care, we are dealing with one of the habitual faculties that c. 132, 1 talks about which
corresponds to the chaplain by virtue of office and that can be exercised with the breath provided in
c. 967, 2. E. TEJERO, Commentary on c. 566, in . MARZOA, J. MIRAS, AND R. RODRGUEZ-OCAA (eds.),
and E.L. CAPARROS (gen. ed. of English translation), Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law,
vol. II/2, Montral, Wilson & Lafleur, 2004, p. 1434. A priest is granted by this canon ipso iure the
faculty to hear confession for all the faithful anywhere in the world: [] in virtue of an office
helde.g., canon penitentiary, pastor, chaplain []. W.H. WOESTMAN, Sacraments: Initiation,
Penance, Anointing of the Sick: Commentary on Canons 840-1007, 3rd ed., Ottawa, Faculty of Canon
Law, Saint Paul University, 2004, p. 244.
interpretation. But what of the case of extern priests, or priests belonging to religious institutes or

societies of apostolic life? Chiappetta offers the following example:

A [priest incardinated elsewhere] arrives at a parish, but he knows [] that sooner


or later he will be moved [outside of the diocese]: he does not acquire domicile from
the beginning, because, while waiting for the transfer [], he neither has nor is able
to have the intention of remaining indefinitely in that [diocese]. He will acquire
domicile only after five years of actual residence.3

On the other hand, consider the case of a priest who retires to a diocese in which he is not

incardinated, having every intention of remaining there until his death. In that case, he acquires

domicile from the first day of taking up residence. If he were to receive the faculty to hear

confessions from a local ordinary, he could exercise it everywhere by virtue of c. 967, 2.

The third way of acquiring domicile is unique to members of religious institutes and

societies of apostolic life, who, in addition to the two ways mentioned above, also acquire a

domicile in the place where the [canonical] house to which they are attached is located (c. 103). If a

member is habitually living outside of a canonical house, it is quite possible that he will obtain two

domicilesone according to c. 102, 1, and another according to c. 103.4 But what of the case

where a priest is habitually ministering in a diocese where his institute does not have a canonical

house and his superiors have told him he may be called away at any time? In this case, he does not

obtain domicile immediately in the place of his ministry. After three months, he obtains quasi-

domicile; after five years, domicile. Therefore, if the priest does not possess the ubique faculty by

virtue of office or by virtue of a faculty granted by a local ordinary where he has domicile, any

faculty to hear confessions which he may receive from a local ordinary could be exercised validly

3 CHIAPPETTA, Commento, pp. 123-124; translation my own.

4See ibid., p. 125; A. DE FUENMAYER, Commentary on c. 103, in . MARZOA, J. MIRAS, AND R.


RODRGUEZ-OCAA (eds.), and E.L. CAPARROS (gen. ed. of English translation), Exegetical Commentary
on the Code of Canon Law, vol. I, Montral, Wilson & Lafleur, 2004, p. 712.
only within the jurisdiction of that same ordinary. Such a situation could be easily remedied,

however, by asking a local ordinary of the place of domicile also to grant the faculty to hear

confessions.

What happens, then, when a priest who erroneously thinks he has the ubique faculty

attempts to impart sacramental absolution to a penitent outside of his proper jurisdiction? While

obviously not applicable in all situations, in cases of common error or postive and probable doubt

de iure or de facto, the Church herself supplies the necessary faculty (c. 144).5

5 While a treatment of common error is beyond the scope of this study, see J.M. HUELS, The
Supply of the Faculty to Confirm in Common Error, in Studia canonica, 40 (2006), pp. 299-301,
327-328. For a consideration of the case where a priest knowingly provokes common error, see
ibid., pp. 342-343.
Bibliography

Sources
Codex iuris canonici auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus, fontium annotatione et indice
analytico-alphabetico auctus, Libreria editrice Vaticana, 1989, English translation CANON
LAW SOCIETY OF AMERICA (ed.), Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition, New English
Translation, Washington, D.C., CLSA, 1999.

Books
CHIAPPETTA, L., Il Codice di diritto canonico: Commento giuridico-pastorale, 3rd ed., 3 vols., Bologna,
Edizione Dehoniane Bologna, 2011.

WOESTMAN, W.H., Sacraments: Initiation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick: Commentary on Canons 840-
1007, 3rd ed., Ottawa, Faculty of Canon Law, Saint Paul University, 2004.

Articles
DE FUENMAYER, A., Commentary on c. 103, in MARZOA, ., J. MIRAS, AND R. RODRGUEZ-OCAA (eds.), and
CAPARROS, E.L. (gen. ed. of English translation), Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon
Law, vol. I, Montral, Wilson & Lafleur, 2004, pp. 712-713.

HUELS, J.M., The Supply of the Faculty to Confirm in Common Error, in Studia canonica, 40 (2006),
pp. 293-348.

TEJERO, E., Commentary on c. 566, in MARZOA, ., J. MIRAS, AND R. RODRGUEZ-OCAA (eds.), and
CAPARROS, E.L. (gen. ed. of English translation), Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon
Law, vol. II/2, Montral, Wilson & Lafleur, 2004, pp. 1434-1436.