A couple weeks back, I excerpted a post from Oakes Spalding at his blog, Mahound’s Paradise, in which he questioned the purpose of Pope Francis’s proposed “Missionaries of Mercy”:
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:
- Throwing away or stealing a consecrated host.
- Assaulting a pope.
- As a priest, absolving someone of sexual sin who you just had sex with.
- Consecrating a bishop, illegally.
- 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?
A dispute arose in the comments on that post about whether such reserved sins even exist.
Today, I read a post by Father Pius Pietrzyk, a Dominican priest who was formerly a civil attorney and is currently pursuing a degree in Canon Law at the Angelicum in Rome. He writes:
Once in a while I post something on canon law, usually to correct some major error I see. It is odd now to write a post to correct a rather major error from the Holy See on Canon Law, and even from the Pope himself.
So what is the mistake. A bit back, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary jubilee to begin this year. He has called this a Year of Mercy. As is typical, he has issued a Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (the Face of Mercy), listing the spiritual benefits to accrue to the faithful in this Jubilee Year. In that document he makes the following statement in paragraph 18:
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.
A bit of background here. Most Catholics are under the impression that any priest may hear a confession at any time. This is not true. While the sacrament of Order (i.e., just being a priest) gives the priest sacramental power. that is not sufficient for him to absolve sins during confession. He also needs something called jurisdictional power, or the executive power of governance. The Code usually calls this faculties. Basically, he needs to be given permission by his local Bishop to hear confessions. (Although pastors of parishes and some others have the power by the law itself.) Without that granting of authority, he has no power to absolve sins.
The point in question here is about the “authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See”. That refers to sins that the Pope has reserved to himself (or one of the Apostolic Penitentiaries) alone to absolve — no other priest or bishop would have the power to absolve those sins.
So what’s the problem? In the Latin Church, the law has eliminated all of these reserved sins since 1983 — more than 30 years. In other words, there are no sins reserved to the Holy See in the Latin Church. So, it’s not clear at all what these “Missionaries of Mercy” will be doing.
Father goes on to make the distinction between canonical penalties (delicts) which only the Holy See can lift, and the sins which can incur those penalties (ie., violating the seal of confession, desecrating the Eucharist, etc.) which can be absolved by any priest.
Father wonders along the same lines as Mr. Spalding and some of our commenters did: “Perhaps the Pope means to assign these “Missionaries of Mercy” to these reserved penalties. If so, it does not seem to me that there are all that many of these, or why the usual process through the Holy See would not suffice.”
What we are left with is legitimate confusion on this issue. As is often the case when any criticism of a papal initiative comes up, admonishments get thrown around and Catholics like to argue with each other about what true papistry demands in such situations. Some objected to Mr. Spalding’s sarcastic tone. But Father Pius — in a post completely free of apparent bias or irony — shows that from the standpoint of the Church’s law, the questions being asked are valid.
The answers, it seems, we will have to wait for.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.
Confusion is the modus operandi of this Vatican.
Seems it would be easier and more universal if the Holy Father directed all priests to double their confession hours, preferably on a weekday evening.
All of this just adds to mystery of what the mission of the these Mercyinaries is all about. Given our experience with Pope Francis to date it is probably not a good thing and will tend to continue the undermining of Catholic doctrine. On Oakes Spalding’s sarcastic tone being inappropriate I disagree. What tone could be more appropriate when dealing with the patent nonsense coming from the Vatican recently? The best way to deal with evil is to make fun of it. The devil is oh so serious and can’t see the absurdity in his actions. Oakes is just teasing out the truth. More power to him.
I agree……how does one deal with the incoherent nonsense coming from this Pontificate? The Holy Father’s ‘God of Surprises’ has no definitive road map. The only thing that seems to be concrete is the annihilation of tradition.
It’s the Vatican II, stoopid. Una fruta del concilio del dios de las sorpresas.
Excellent picture! (“I Confess”)
One cannot sacramentally be “absolved” from sin if one is laboring under the censure of excommunication which remains “unpardoned” or “unlifted.” While many types of excommunications can be “lifted” or “pardoned” by an individual priest confessor, there ARE INDEED excommunications reserved to the Apostolic See. Therefore, until the excommunication is “pardoned” or “lifted”, the penitent is forbidden to receive the sacraments, cf Canon 1331, p.1, n.2, thus precluding the priest from “absolving” the sin. The lifting of the excommunication comes first, the absolution comes second.This is the clarification that is needed; this is what the Pope probably meant in using the word “pardon.” A priest’s action in confession is not usually described as “pardoning” sins. They “absolve” them. But I have heard of penalties being pardoned.
P.S. – Clever Jesuit that he is, the fact that the ‘Missionaries of Mercy’ are to be sent out by the Pope means that the censures reserved to the Apostolic See ARE STILL reserved to the Apostolic See…it seems he intends to send the ‘full weight’ of the Apostolic Penitentiary ‘on the road’ which brings the Curia to the world, rather than the world to the Curia….
As a priest, absolving someone of sexual sin who you just had sex with.
So, the cleric, sodomite Stan, can grant absolution to his cleric buddy, sodomite Stu, who has been butt-bumping his catamite,Charlie, prior to hearing Charlie’s confession of participating in a sin crying to Heaven for vengeance.
You just know this is going on somewhere….