I have had several emails about a youtube video posted by our friends at Rorate.
The video in question shows a “penance service” at a parish in Portugal. A priest with a green stole has put a shredder on the altar (which itself is a not a good thing to do). Young people come up to him with pieces of paper, upon which I suppose they wrote one, some or all of their sins. The priest reads the paper quickly and then puts the paper into the shredder and the next person comes up. At the end the priest has the congregation say a kind of act of sorrow and then he pronounces the formula of absolution.
Confession by writing sins? That is the question.
And can you name that tune starting about about 1:30? (Hint: The group who performed it gathers no moss.)
At Rorate they are chalking this up to Vatican II. I think it is easier to chalk this up to stupidity.
Here’s the deal.
The matter of the sacrament is the communication of all the mortal sins to the priest. Sins can be communicated to the priest by signs or gestures or, yes, writing. The form of the sacrament is the formula of absolution spoken, not written, by a priest with faculties. For example, you could write your sins to a priest even by mail, but you could not be absolved in writing. You have to be physically present to receive absolution validly when the priest pronounces the formula. We leave aside here the question of whether a priest who is mute, without the ability to speak, can validly absolve by signs or gestures such as American Sign Language. He cannot validly absolve by writing the form.
Having consulted manuals, for we ought to be unreconstructed ossified manualists from time to time, I believe these people in the video could have received absolution validly if, if, at the end, the priest, having faculties, pronounced the words of absolution and if, if, everyone had actually written all their moral sins, all they were aware of (confessions must be integral, as complete as is physically and morally possible), and the priest had actually read them all, and then received from the penitent some sign of sorrow for those sins. St. Alphonsus Liguori says, for example, the penitent who had written sins and had given them to the priest to read could then in the presence of the priest kneel and say “Accuso me de omnibus peccatis quae legisti…. I accuse myself of all the sins which you have read.” In this case the absolution would be valid.
We aren’t privy to what these kids wrote on those papers or how they were instructed to prepare them, but I’ll bet you all a whiskey sour that they were not told to write all the mortal sins in number and kind. However, at the end of the filmette we see and hear from the congregation a kind of act of sorrow and see and hear the priest speak the formula of absolution.
So, aside from the fact that this might have been valid for some or all of them who did this paper thing, it sure raises doubts about the validity of the sacrament and, in my opinion, it causes scandal. At the very least this sort of thing can lead to a lot of confusion about the matter of the sacrament (integral confession of all mortal sins in kind and number to the best of one’s ability).
I think this was a really bad idea. Were I that priest’s diocesan bishop, I would have a serious talk with him about what happened (for example, were they were instructed to write all their mortal sins), why he did this this way (was he trying to save time?), and then tell him never to do it again.
Bonus video for those of you who read this far:
If only the official WDTPRS parodohymnodist could write some lyrics for this.