Mercy Squads? Sounds Ominous.

Monty Python



One of the newest Catholic blogs on the interwebs is quickly becoming one of the most interesting. Mahound’s Paradise, the project of Oakes Spalding (a reader and friend of 1P5) walks the razor’s edge of analysis and commentary, biting satire, and dry wit – all from a Catholic perspective.

Mr. Spalding’s most recent post takes a look at one of the provisions in Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis’s new Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy:

The weirdest thing about this weird 9,000 word document is the bit about the Missionaries of Mercy.

During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon. They will be missionaries of mercy because they will be facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again…

I ask my brother Bishops to invite and welcome these Missionaries so that they can be, above all, persuasive preachers of mercy. May individual dioceses organize “missions to the people” in such a way that these Missionaries may be heralds of joy and forgiveness.

Let’s call them the Pope’s Mercy Squad. What is the purpose of it, again? Faithful Catholics know that they may confess to any priest. On the other hand, the Sacrament of Confession has disappeared from the lives of most Catholics. And most priests rarely do much of it. “The Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available from 6:40 PM to 6:45 PM on Saturday evenings or by appointment made four weeks in advance and validated by a notary” and all that.  This of course means that technically, most Catholics will go to hell.

But to be technical is to be without mercy. Forgive me.

The Pope has spoken favorably of Confession, but has done nothing to arrest this obvious trend. Indeed, his friends and allies have been responsible for it.

Yet, we will have the Mercy Squads.

Now, according to the Bull, the Mercy Squads will have additional powers that standard priests do not have, “the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.”

What sins are those?

Actually, there aren’t any. (This bizarre mistake was first noted byRorate Caeli.)

There used to be five such sins:

  1. Throwing away or stealing a consecrated host.
  2. Assaulting a pope.
  3. As a priest, absolving someone of sexual sin who you just had sex with.
  4. Consecrating a bishop, illegally.
  5. As a priest, violating the seal of confession (tattling on a confessee).

But the 1983 Code of Cannon Law granted all priests the ability to pardon even those.

That’s right, in 2015, I can punch the Pope in the nose and then walk into my local church, confess it, and be in the free and clear.

Does Francis even know this?

Admittedly, it seems strange to deputize certain priests to have special “authority” when that authority is already possessed by every priest. Spalding goes on:

What is still true is that even though you can be absolved by any priest of these sins, some of them might incur automatic excommunication for you, and it is still true that only the Holy See can lift that.

But now the Mercy Squads can do that too.

This solves a major problem. There are just so many people walking around who have assaulted pontiffs or consecrated bishops illegally or whatever, have confessed and have been forgiven, but who still want their excommunication lifted, but are too lazy to go to Rome for it. The Mercy Squads will solve that.

That’s insane.

Am I the only one who sees something more sinister in this? You know, like the picture above, “No one expects the Missionaries of Mercy!” Just don’t tell me they’ll arrive in black helicopters. That will really stoke my suspicions.

Sometimes, it’s not so much that certain Vatican initiatives seem sinister as that they seem completely random and pointless. And when an institution as prestigious and respected as the Vatican does seemingly random, pointless things, it can be difficult not to wonder if there’s some ulterior motive that would make sense of the action. That would make it actually…have a point. Ergo, thoughts of dark conspiracies.

That said, I doubt Cardinal Fang is making a comeback, but I won’t completely table my suspicion. Either way, you can’t blame people for looking for some rhyme and reason.

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