I’m getting a lot of questions about something that Francis said to seminarians from Barcelona. Story at the Catholic Herald HERE.
As the tale goes, Francis delivered profanity-studded “off the cuff” remarks to seminarians, including “not to be clerical, to forgive everything”, adding that … and this is the really sore point… “if we see that there is no intention to repent, we must forgive all”.
“We can never deny absolution, because we become a vehicle for an evil, unjust, and moralistic judgment,” Francis reportedly told the seminarians, who were accompanied by the Auxiliary Bishop Javier Vilanova Pellisa of Barcelona.
Priests who deny penitents absolution are “delinquents”, the Pontiff said, according to the Church Militant website.
We cannot agree with that.
Firstly, denial of absolution is more than likely, really more than likely, quite rare.
If it is clear that there is no intention to stop the sin which has been admitted to and confessed as a sin , a confessor has no choice but to deny absolution. If he gives absolution to someone who has either a) no sorrow for sin or b) no intention to stop a sin, then he would be simulating a sacrament. He would knowingly be giving an absolution that was invalid. That’s simulation of a sacrament. The Seal would still apply, because it would be internal forum. Simulation of a sacrament is punishable with censures.
One could turn the sock inside out and say that, “Priests who don’t deny absolution when it is clear that they ought to are the delinquents”.
Let’s be clear. Denial of absolution and then saying, “Get out and don’t come back until you’re are sorry!” is NOT what I am talking about.
Is that the sort of priest Francis thinks is is sitting in confessionals? If so, that would be another implicit insult of the already thoroughly bludgeoned rank and file priest. Also, I wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with Amoris laetitia and the infamous footnote #351.
Denial of absolution would have to be carefully and gently explained also with a sincere expression of hope that the (im)penitent will reconsider and with an invitation to return. The confessor has to let that (im)penitent know that she can and should come back.
Perhaps it could be good to offer to talk to the person outside of the confessional, but still confidentially.
This sort of situation, which is rare but which can happen, underscores the need for good formation of priests in moral theology and the ability to explain why something is sinful. It could be that the (im)penitent has been told falsehoods by priests or other Catholics about the sinfulness of some actions. Through no fault of their own they are confused.
The flip side of that coin is the ability to explain how something a person is anxious about is not a sin and put them at ease. This is also why a strong knowledge of canon law is necessary for a confessor. Canon law is not useful just for the ordering of the life of the Church as a whole, but also for putting penitents at ease in the confessional. There are quite a few people who think that some things are sins, but they aren’t.
In any event, there are several criteria for a valid absolution under normal circumstances (it isn’t an emergency, the person is conscious and compos sui, etc.). The first point among these criteria is contrition, sorrow for sins (either perfect or imperfect, contrition or attrition).
- Contrition (sorry for sins)
- Intention of amendment (not to sin again)
- Confession of sins (at least venial or something previously confessed and unless it is physically or morally impossible)
- Intention to do penance
On that last point, confessors should give penances that are quickly doable and the penitent knows she is done. If a penitent forgets to do it, that doesn’t snap the person back into mortal sin. And remember: ALL assigned penances are arbitrary.
As far as what Francis said, and there is no reason to think that he did not, given the number of people there, NO… if there is no intention to repent, absolution cannot be given.
Mind you: Sometimes people don’t know how to express well their sorrow for sin. One can assume in most cases that the fact that the penitent is there in the first place, she is sorry for sins. True sorrow doesn’t require rivers of tears and snuffling. And sometimes people are businesslike and sound a little detached, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t truly sorry. The same goes for firm purpose of amendment: sometimes it is hard to tell. A gentle question or two can resolve this in the mind of confessor. BUT… if even with a clarification there is no intention to repent, absolution cannot be given.
This is one of the great advantages to using the old-fashioned Act of Contrition: provided that the penitent isn’t lying about being sorry or intending to avoid sins (how wicked is that?) the confessor can be confident that he validly absolves. And if YOU, the penitent, clearly means what the Act says, after confession of sins (which is the MATTER of the sacrament) YOU can be absolutely confident that your sins are forgiven. After all, this is the way Jesus Himself wants us to be reconciled with Church, others and self.
A point about the traditional Act of Contrition. Some versions end with “confess my sins, do my penance, and amend my life”. Others end with “avoid the near occasion of sins” without explicit statement of about amendment. That can be assumed in saying, “and I DETEST all my sins”. If you detest something, you don’t want to do it.
I could ramble on about these elements, but we need some texts.
In the Roman Catechism we find:
That a sorrow for sin and a firm purpose of avoiding sin for the future are two conditions indispensable to contrition nature and reason clearly show. He who would be reconciled to a friend whom he has wronged must regret to have injured and offended him, and his future conduct must be such as to avoid offending in anything against friendship.
“… Likewise if, by word or deed he has injured his neighbor’s honor or reputation, he is under an obligation of repairing the injury by procuring him some advantage or rendering him some service. Well known to all is the maxim of St. Augustine: The sin is not forgiven unless what has been taken away is restored.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
CCC 1451 Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.
1489 To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others.
1490 The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the past and the future and is nourished by hope in God’s mercy.
1491 The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.
Turning to a manual, because we are unreconstructed ossified manualists, Ott says:
1. Concept and Necessity
The Council of Trent defines contrition (contritio, compunctio) as : “Grief of the soul for and detestation of the sins committed, with the intention not to sin in future” : animi dolor ac detestatio de peccato commisso, aim proposito non peccandi de cetero. D 897. [See that “D”? That means it is found in the handbook of the Church’s teachings called after one of the editors, Denziger.] Thus the act of contrition is composed of three acts of the will which converge to one unity : grief of soul, detestation, intention. It is neither necessary nor always possible that the grief of sorrow, which is a free act of the will, be expressed in sensory feelings of sorrow. The intention of sinning no more is virtually included in true sorrow for sins committed. Contrition, as is evident from the nature of justification, is the first and the most necessary constituent part of the Sacrament of Penance, and has been an indispensable precondition of the forgiveness of sins at all times (D 897). Subsequent to the institution of the Sacrament of Penance this contrition must also include the intention of confession and atonement. As contrition is an essential ingredient of the sacramental sign, it must be expressly awakened during the reception of the Sacrament of Penance (contritio formalis).
Lastly, as in the case of censures that people can incur because of intentional sins, denial of absolution is more medicinal than punitive. Denial, hopefully, will stir an (im)penitent to true sorrow (even if it is just attrition). A confessor should never deny absolution with a spirit of punishment or harshness. Rather, with great gentleness and concern he must explain that he greatly desires to, and looks forward to, granting absolution as soon as possible, provided that the person has a change of heart and is willing to return.
GO TO CONFESSION!
Never hide sins. Don’t ramble, but tell everything. Don’t ever think the priest thinks less of you. There is no sin so terrible that Almighty God can’t forgive. When it is forgiven, even if you still remember it, it is gone forever.
I will carefully moderate the com box under this.