The Church’s highest confessor, Card. Piacenza, says that, in this time of COVID-19, there must not be “ecclesial distancing”

At Vatican News I read that His Eminence Mauro Card. Piacenza – the Penitenziere Maggiore or the head of the Church’s highest tribunal that covers matters of the Sacrament of Penance, all internal forum issues, and indulgences has something to say to priests and bishops.  He has released a letter to confessors for Easter.  HERE

In this time of Coronavirus….

[L]a Misericordia non si ferma e Dio non si distanzia!

Il distanziamento sociale richiesto per motivi sanitari, pur necessario, non può, né deve mai tradursi in distanziamento ecclesiale, né tantomeno in distanziamento teologico-sacramentale.


Mercy does not cease and God does not distance Himself.

Social distancing required for health reasons, even though it is necessary, cannot and must not ever turn into ecclesial distancing, much less theological-sacramental distancing.

He acknowledges that there must be distancing, but clear the Church’s highest confessor under the Roman Pontiff, the Major Penitentiary, is urging priests and bishop to find ways, within the strictures of social distancing and local laws, to continue to confess their penitents.    That’s how I read this.

We have to find sound and prudent ways to make the Sacrament of Penance available to those who need it… and who doesn’t?!?

The Sacrament of Penance was instituted by Christ Himself as the ordinary means for the for the forgiveness of post-baptismal sins.

St. Augustine of Hippo gave us probably the most profound commentary on the Last Supper ever preached.   He explains Christ’s washing of the feet of the Apostles in unsentimental terms.   It isn’t about all people washing each other’s feet.  It’s precisely about priestly service to the people.

Augustine teaches in his exegesis of the washing of feet that ministry can be dirty and risky.  He interprets the mandatum or foot washing by Christ through the lens of the Song of Songs.

You will recall that, in the Song of Songs, when the lover calls to his beloved to rise and come to him, she demures.  At first she says that she has already washed her feet and she doesn’t want to dirty them. If she got up, her feet would get dirty again.  Getting dirty feet, however, is precisely what the priest is supposed to do.  The priest must risk contact with the dirt in his constant battle against the world, the flesh and the Devil for the sake of the people he serves.  Priests must risk getting dirty in order to serve, in order to go to Love Himself.

The grit of the world and the grease of the flesh and the grime of the Enemy must be constantly cleansed.  Augustine explains that Christ wanted the Apostles to get up and get their feet dirty in His service and that He would wash them as they needed.

How can this be other than a call to forgive the sins of penitents?

I hope that priests and bishops out there will find prudent and creative ways to receive sacramental confessions and shrive their people.   C’mon!  You can do it!

And, Fathers, try to make your own good confession as well.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in GO TO CONFESSION and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Book 8 of Apponius’ commentary on the Song of Songs talks about this. The shirt is charity and the feet are hope, and Christ is calling us out to the narrow road of the Gospels. The more perfect soul treats the hard road like an imperial pavement of jewels, and runs eagerly like a hart seeking running water.

  2. APX says:

    I wish we could at least receive communion outside of Mass. Yes, it would take some organization and planning, but at least in my province, it is still possible to do. Now they’re talking months of this. I can’t go months without receiving our Lord.

  3. Stephen Matthew says:

    The parish here has set up “drive through” confessions for two hours each Saturday and Sunday afternoon. There is one of those covered structures to drop off car passengers, and the priests are sitting out there in a chair, people are able to confess from inside their vehicle six feet away. It isn’t ideal, but at least it is something.

    Distribution of the Eucharist in this time: we simply don’t have enough appropriate vessels to be able to do it. However, there is technically no reason the Pope can’t (should or shouldn’t is a different question!) make allowances for the Eucharist to be distributed using some expedient container. I absolutely hate the idea from a point of Eucharistic piety, but I would be tempted to say that zip lock bags that are burned after use might work. Yes, it offends my sensibilities, but if it means we can give people the opportunity to receive Christ at least once during the Easter season… I would not dismiss if out of handeven though it is otherwise offensive. I note that the Mormons (LDS) instructed their local leadership to find a way to bring the “Lord’s Supper” to every family at least once per month, they were apparently rather vague about the “how” aspect (and like all their theology the “why” is better not contemplated).

    I suppose drive through communion would work if the priest washed his hands between each communicant, and wore full medical PPE?

    Our sacramental practices (and our administrative and organizational practices) were not built for this scenario.

    I am not Pope (for which everyone should give daily thanks to God!) but if I were I would have probably (at least been tempted) decreed that the time of quarantine should be considered a long Lent, and that Easter would come whenever it is that the long Lent ends in each place. It will feel as if it were a long Lent no matter what the church calendar says in any regards, so may as well make it official.

    Yes, I am aware this post has some scandalously untraditional content. It is intended to be a bit radical and provocative. I feel that perhaps extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership. Sadly, I haven’t seen much of that lately on the ecclesial side. There are a few exceptions, but very few of our bishops or priests have shown any ability to act in a crisis, rather at best they react, and they do so more slowly and less boldly than their heretical or schismatic counterparts.

  4. APX says:

    Stephen Matthew

    I was simply thinking organizing scheduled times to receive communion. We’re allowed no more than 15 people in public gatherings. Our church and our hall, which is completely separated from the church through a lockable breezeway, has a legal separation from the church itself. This means we could legally have 26 people receive communion at the same time. We don’t have a particularly large congregation as some churches do. Each 26 people get a scheduled time to arrive and leave, everything is sanitized, the next 26 people, and so on and so forth. Weekly would be difficult, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be done bi-weekly.

  5. Bosco says:

    What about applying Canons 960 & 961? – The granting of General Absolution was appropriately applied in the past and occurred on March 29, 1979 when the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was in danger of exploding. If the reactor had exploded, large quantities of radioactive material would have been released into the environment, jeopardizing the lives of countless citizens. Then-Bishop Keeler of Harrisburg (+Cardinal) granted General Absolution to the faithful since every individual person would not have had the chance to go to private confession. If memory serves, (I lived 7 miles from the reactor) the Bishop pronounced a General Absolution for the Faithful over a live radio broadcast.

    [General absolution is not a secret. However, there are aspects of it that must be understood. For example, you must intend to go to regular auricular confession as soon as possible, and it cannot be received twice, unless there is danger of death.]

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Easter should be at Easter, but we could have a very solemn Pentecost.

    (I was going to suggest having a big Byzantine Easter, but that is April 19 and does not seem likely.)

  7. Denis Crnkovic says:

    A priest friend of mine immediately set up parking lot confessions (along with portable screens!) but has been thwarted by his bishop and ordered to stop. In my humble opinion he is a hero. Can the bishop really prevent him from exercising his priestly duty? Can the state do so morally?

  8. OssaSola says:

    March 30 here in Texas Governor Abbot signed an Executive Order stating that churches must be opened. The diocese is still taking no calls and our parish priest said there has been no word from the Bishop regarding plans to open this coming week.

    We park outside the church close to the tabernacle wall and call it our adoration hour, attend Mass online, walk around the yard saying the Stations or Rosary. Best we can do for now.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Texas order just says that houses of worship are “essential services,” contra previous orders by cities and counties.

    But all the restrictions on gatherings, social distance, etc. are still in place in Texas. So no Eucharist.

  10. Pingback: SVNDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  11. tho says:

    For peace and dignity why not hear confessions in the local Catholic cemetery. Surely if you can go to the supermarket and observe the 6 or 10 foot separation, you could easily do the same in the cemetery. To be on the safe side use younger priests in good health, and advise, that only penitents who feel a just need to be shriven should avail themselves. Many Catholics in the past never felt the need for weekly confessions, many just complied with their yearly Easter duty, not that I agree with that. If we are not carrying the burden of a mortal sin, I feel sure, in this pandemic, frequent confession is a spiritual luxury to be renewed when the all clear sounds.

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    “Social distancing required for health reasons, even though it is necessary, cannot and must not ever turn into ecclesial distancing, much less theological-sacramental distancing.”

    Amen. Plague carts rumbling through the streets or no, bishops should act prudently and with fortitude. There’s pestilence, then there’s the four last things.

  13. Cafea Fruor says:

    My parish is still doing confession, so I walked to church and back (I have no car, and the bus is a petri dish of germs). They’re doing confession in two side vestibules, rather than the confessionals, so that the priests can be six feet away from the penitents, and there’s a makeshift screen so that there’s still anonymity. They then limit the number of people waiting in church to the state-decreed max of 10, and the penitents stand six feet apart in line. Though that needed to be policed a little more, because people kept coming in, though they did stay spread out. Since people were waiting to get in, I prayed my penance as I walked out of church, rather than stay for that. I’m glad this is going on in spring, since the weather isn’t too cold or hot/humid, and even though the walk was long (3.5 miles), I was able to make it to the sacrament.

    Some places are doing drive-in Masses, but alas, those of us without cars cannot attend. :-/

Comments are closed.