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Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Can A Priest Hear My Confession at an Airport or on a Cruise Ship?
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For most Catholics, our encounters with the Sacrament of Penance are in a confessional.  But can you ask a priest who is passing through an airport or walking down the street to hear your confession?

Question: May I ask a priest in a public place like an airport to hear my confession?

The Sacrament of Confession is ordained by God as the means by which mortal sins performed after Baptism are forgiven.  A Catholic may not "pray to God himself" as some falsely allege - our Lord Jesus Christ in His order for the world instituted the Sacrament and gave the power to forgive sins to priests to exercise in His name (cf. John 20:21-23).  He never told a single soul to pray directly to Him for forgiveness; rather, He respected the order He instituted - it was our Lord Himself who after curing the lepers told them, "Go, show yourselves to the priest" (Luke 17:14).

The Sacrament of Confession requires proper form and matter.  The matter for the validity of the Sacrament is threefold: 1) a contrite heart of a sinner who intends to amend his life, 2) confession of all mortal sins in number and kind since one's last valid Sacramental Confession, and 3) the intent to carry out the penance prescribed (cf. Canon 4 of Fourteenth Session of the Council of Trent). 

The form is the exactly worded formula of absolution: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit."

Furthermore, the Sacrament of Confession requires a validly ordained Catholic priest who possesses the faculties to forgive sins in the name of Christ Himself. For this matter, it is helpful to turn to the Code of Canon law which will also provide us an answer to our original question.
Can.  965 A priest alone is the minister of the sacrament of penance. 
Can.  966 §1. The valid absolution of sins requires that the minister have, in addition to the power of orders, the faculty of exercising it for the faithful to whom he imparts absolution. 
§2. A priest can be given this faculty either by the law itself or by a grant made by the competent authority according to the norm of ⇒ can. 969. 
Can.  967 §1. In addition to the Roman Pontiff, cardinals have the faculty of hearing the confessions of the Christian faithful everywhere in the world by the law itself. Bishops likewise have this faculty and use it licitly everywhere unless the diocesan bishop has denied it in a particular case. 
§2. Those who possess the faculty of hearing confessions habitually whether by virtue of office or by virtue of the grant of an ordinary of the place of incardination or of the place in which they have a domicile can exercise that faculty everywhere unless the local ordinary has denied it in a particular case, without prejudice to the prescripts of ⇒ can. 974, §§2 and 3. 
§3. Those who are provided with the faculty of hearing confessions by reason of office or grant of a competent superior according to the norm of cann. ⇒ 968, §2 and ⇒ 969, §2 possess the same faculty everywhere by the law itself as regards members and others living day and night in the house of the institute or society; they also use the faculty licitly unless some major superior has denied it in a particular case as regards his own subjects.
And thus, we come to our answer which is addressed in Canon 967.2. A priest who possesses the faculty to hear confessions habitually, by virtue of his office or by grant of his ordinary can validly hear confessions anywhere unless expressly denied by the ordinary of the place. This is not done, at least I have never heard of it being done. So yes, a priest with faculties to hear confessions can hear them anywhere - at the airport while he is passing through, while on vacation, while on a cruise ship, etc.

Do not delay and allow thoughts of "does the priest have permission to hear my confession" enter into your mind.  If you need to avail yourself of this Sacrament, do not delay! 

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