Note the following question and answer that appears on the EWTW web site in the Catholic Doctrine and Catechetics forum (I have abbreviated the question for the sake of simplicity).

Sinful priests
Question from Lisa on 06-24-2002:

Dear Fr. Levis,

[...] I have heard about some priests that practice satanic rituals. Now, maybe these are rumors, but what if it were true? Could a priest who worships Satan still dispense the sacraments? Personally, I feel that if I were dying and the only priest around was an evil man with no love for God, I would not want to receive last rites from him.

I hope you can clear this up for me as it is very hard to understand. Thank you for your time!


Answer by Fr. Robert J. Levis on 06-25-2002:

Dear Lisa, As long as any priest, even the sinful and unworthy priest, as long as he wants to effect and do what his Catholic Church desires to be done, his work is efficacious and grace flows from God thru him to the faithful. E.g. A sinful priest baptizes a baby. He wants to confer the Sacrament, to do what the Church wants done, and it always happens. The baby is baptized. Now, if a sinful priest loses his faith and doesn't want to do what the Church intends, then nothing happens, no grace is given. He puts up an obstacle. This of course is extremely rare. God bless. Fr. bob Levis


Again, notice that it is stated by Fr. Levis that "if a sinful priest loses his faith and doesn't want to do what the Church intends, then nothing happens". In other words, if an evil and devious Catholic priest goes through all the external motions of baptizing an infant perfectly, but internally, in his heart, he deviously has no intention of performing a valid baptism, then by Catholic teaching no valid baptism has occurred!

This doctrine has some very serious ramifications for the Catholic:


    THIS is one of the most curious and dreadful doctrines ever proclaimed by human lips or written by the pen of man. In the seventh session of the Council of Trent, thirteen canons were enacted upon the sacraments generally, cursing those who shall say, that the sacraments of the new law were not appointed by the Saviour; that they do not differ unless in externals from the sacraments of the ancient law; that the sacraments of the new law are not necessary to salvation; and pronouncing curses upon all persons guilty of various crimes against the sacraments. Among these maledictions is the following:
    This canon sows uncertainty broadcast over the Catholics of the world. Suppose that the priest who baptizes a child did not intend to "do as the Church does," in granting the sacrament, then the child is not baptized, and no faith subsequently received, no works performed in the future can remove that original defect; according to the Catholic theory that man is not a Christian, and cannot be saved. Suppose that when that man come to be married, the same priest performs the ceremony with the usual rites, but he does not intend to marry the couple, then in follows, that the sacrament of marriage has never been administered to this

* Si quis dixerit, in ministris, dum sacramenta conficiunt et conferunt, no requiri intentionem saltem faciendi quod facit ecclesia; anathema sit.— Can. xi. sess. vii., Canones et Decreta Conc. Trid., p. 43., Lipsiae, 1863. [Council of Trent, 7th Session, March 3rd, 1547, On the Sacraments in General - Canon 11.]

[pg. 358]

man and his wife, that their wedded relations are stained with the infamy of fornication, and that their children are branded before God with the crime of illegitimacy. And suppose again, that this priest in consecrating the host does not intend to consecrate it, it follows, according to the papal theory, that it is not the real body and blood of Jesus, that it is only bread; and, therefore, when the people worship what they regard as the very Son of Mary, they are only adoring a piece of paste, they are guilty of idolatry. And suppose this priest in the confessional solemnly absolves a penitent man from his sins, but does not intend to release him from his guilt, on the Roman theory, the poor supplicant has no pardon, he rejoices in a delusion, he is the victim of sacerdotal imposition. And suppose that this priest baptizes an infant boy without the intention of doing it, and as a consequence the child is not a Christian, and can never perform with true validity any act of a Christian; that in time the priest becomes a bishop, and the babe becomes a man, and a candidate for the service of the altar; that this old friend ordains him deacon and priest, but "does not intend to do as the Church does," in either case, it follows that all the children he baptizes are heathens outside of Church, and with no title to heaven; that all his absolutions are null, and his penitents are still in their sins; that all his marriages are invalid, the parties being yet before God destitute of wedded sanctions; and that all his masses are impositions, the man himself being neither a priest nor a Christian; and hence all the people that worshipped the hosts which he consecrated were guilty of idolatry on every occasion in which they were in the church when he celebrated mass. Now let us suppose farther, that this young man becomes pope in the process of time, and he sits in Peter's chair for many years. He is not a Christian, he is not a priest, he can perform no religious act because he was never baptized; then all his masses are senseless mummeries, all his pontifical blessings are impositions; he has no right to send the Pallium to any bishop, so that the hundreds of bishops who have been consecrated during his long reign are destitute of authority to perform one episcopal act; all the priests and deacons they have ordained are laymen still, all the children they have baptized are yet in heathenism; all their absolutions are mockeries,

[pg. 359]

and all their masses are but idolatries. Since the heavens were stretched over the earth, since this globe's covering of waters was gathered up into seas, nothing so monstrous as this doctrine was ever invented. No Catholic, without omniscient knowledge of the priest's intention, can possibly tell whether he was baptized, absolved, married, ordained; or whether in the mass he was idolatrously worshipping unchanged bread, or reverently adoring the veritable God-man made out of flour. In this way the whole earthly and everlasting religious privileges of the Catholic depend, not on Christ, not the man's own deeds or his priest's, but on the intentions of a minister whose purposes he has no possible way of learning.
    And while Catholic priests have, no doubt, the ordinary honesty of motive common to men in general; yet, as Protestant communities have the deceitful, so unquestionably the Romish Church has the insincere and hypocritical, who, out of malice, or to gratify some caprice, or some sceptical opinion about the power of their sacraments, occasionally or frequently have no intention to "do as the Church does," and their masses, absolutions and other rites are all counterfeits.
    Anthony Gavin, a Catholic priest of Saragossa, describes the confession of a brother priest on his deathbed, whose name he conceals, and who says: "The necessary intention of a priest in the administration of baptism and consecration (of the wafer) without which the sacraments are of no effect, I confess I had it not on several occasions, as you may see in the parish books; and observe that the baptism was invalid of every person whose name is there marked with a star, for in such cases I had no intention. And for this I can give no other reason than my malice and wickedness. Many of them are dead, for which I am heartily sorry. As for the times I have consecrated (the wafer) without intention we must leave it to God's mercy, for the wrong done by it to the souls of my parishoners, and those in purgatory cannot be helped."* This disclosure is one of the most natural in the world. Unless Romish priests are made of different materials than other men, than the elements of which the Saviour's twelve apostles were composed, there must be such characters as this dying priest, whose

* "Master Key to Popery," p. 36., Cincinnati. 1833.

[p. 360]

intention was not always "to do as the Church does" in making sacraments. Gavin, on examining the parish books, found one hundred and fifty-two names marked with a star, and of the persons enrolled in this ill-starred register eighty six were dead. Gavin was greatly troubled about these persons, knowing that it is the decided opinion of the Church that "The intention of the priest is absolutely necessary to the validity of a sacrament, without which there is no sacrament at all." By the advice of his brother priests he communicated the case to the bishop, who summoned the persons still living, who through the absence of intention in the defunct priest, were not baptized when they passed through all the forms of baptism, and bringing them into his own chamber separately, he baptized them; enjoining the strictest secrecy under the heaviest penalties upon each.*

No Certainty about Salvation in the Catholic Church.

    According to Cardinal Bellarmine, † "It is not possible for any one to be sure with the certainty of faith that he has received a true sacrament, as a sacrament cannot be celebrated without the intention of the minister, and no one can see the intention of another." In the Romish Church, by the testimony of Bellarmine, and the Council of Trent, no one can tell whether he has ever received a true sacrament; nor has he any certainty whether he is not going headlong to the pit when he may have observed all the rites of the Church; and when he may have the assurance of all its clergy that he is going straight to heaven. There is ground here for dreadful uncertainty and apprehension.

* Gavin's "Master Key to Popery," p. 38., Cincinnati, 1833.
† Neque potest certus esse, certitudine fidei, se percipere verum sacramentum, cum sacramentum sine intentione ministri non conficiatur, et intentionem alterius nemo videre possit.—Bell. Disput. de Justif., lib. iii. c. 8, sec. 5, tom. iv. p. 488. Prag., 1721.

Source: The Papal System: From Its Origin to the Present Time, by William Cathcart, D.D., published in
1872 by Menace Publishing Company, Aurora, Mo., pages 357-360.

Additional sources on the intention of Catholic ministers


Pope Eugenius IV 1431-1447
Council of Florence 1438-1445

Decree for the Arminians
[From the Bull "Exultate Deo," Nov. 22, 1439]

695. ... All these sacraments are dispensed in three ways, namely, by things as the matter, by words as the form, and by the minister conferring the sacrament with the intention of doing as the church does; if any of these is lacking the sacrament is not fulfilled.

Source: The Sources of Catholic Dogma, translated by Roy J. Deferrari from the Thirtieth Edition of Henry Denzinger's Endiridion Symbolorum, Library of Congress catalogue card number 57-5963, copyright 1957 by B. Herder Book Co., published by Marian House, Powers Lake, N.D. 58773, page 221.

Pope St. Pius V 1566-1572


VII - Defect of intention

23. The intention of consecrating is required. Therefore there is no consecration in the following cases:

Source: Papal Bull DE DEFECTIBUS, decree of Pope Saint Pius V which appears (in Latin) in Roman Catholic missals prior to Vatican II.

Pope Alexander VIII 1689-1691

Error of the Jansenists
[Condemned in a Decr. of the Holy Office, Dec. 7, 1690]

1318   28. Baptism is valid when conferred by a minister who observes all the external rite and form of baptizing, but with his heart resolves, I do not intend what the Church does.

[In the above, the assertion of the Jansenists that the intention of the minister is irrelevant to a valid baptism, is condemned as error by the Roman Catholic Church.]

Source: The Sources of Catholic Dogma, translated by Roy J. Deferrari from the Thirtieth Edition of Henry Denzinger's Endiridion Symbolorum, Library of Congress catalogue card number 57-5963, copyright 1957 by B. Herder Book Co., published by Marian House, Powers Lake, N.D. 58773, page 340.

The Church teaches very unequivocally that for the valid conferring of the sacraments, the minister must have the intention of doing at least what the Church does. This is laid down with great emphasis by the Council of Trent (sess. VII). The opinion once defended by such theologians as Catharinus and Salmeron that there need only be the intention to perform deliberately the external rite proper to each sacrament, and that, as long as this was true, the interior dissent of the minister from the mind of the Church would not invalidate the sacrament, no longer finds adherents. The common doctrine now is that a real internal intention to act as a minister of Christ, or to do what Christ instituted the sacraments to effect, in other words, to truly baptize, absolve, etc., is required.

Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII, Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight, entry on Intention.

Whether the minister's intention is required for the validity of a sacrament?

Objection 1. It seems that the minister's intention is not required for the validity of a sacrament. For the minister of a sacrament works instrumentally. But the perfection of an action does not depend on the intention of the instrument, but on that of the principal agent. Therefore the minister's intention is not necessary for the perfecting of a sacrament.

Reply to Objection 1. An inanimate instrument has no intention regarding the effect; but instead of the intention there is the motion whereby it is moved by the principal agent. But an animate instrument, such as a minister, is not only moved, but in a sense moves itself, in so far as by his will he moves his bodily members to act. Consequently, his intention is required, whereby he subjects himself to the principal agent; that is, it is necessary that he intend to do that which Christ and the Church do.

Source: The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas , Second and Revised Edition, 1920, Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Online Edition Copyright © 2000 by Kevin Knight.


1256 The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon.57 In case of necessity, anyone, even a nonbaptized person, with the required intention, can baptizeNT, by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The intention required is to will to do what the church does when she baptizes. The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation.58

Source: Catechism of the Catholic Church, online at the Vatican.