Pope Francis, in his recent address to the priests who will act as “Missionaries of Mercy,” once again placed himself at odds with established (and infallible) Catholic teaching, when he undermined the very matter and form of the sacrament of confession (all emphasis in the following quotes is mine):
If someone comes to you and feels something must be removed from him, but perhaps he is unable to say it, but you understand … it’s all right, he says it this way, with the gesture of coming. First condition. Second, he is repentant. If someone comes to you it is because he doesn’t want to fall into these situations, but he doesn’t dare say it, he is afraid to say it and then not be able to do it. But if he cannot do it, ad impossibila nemo tenetur. And the Lord understands these things, the language of gestures. Have open arms, to understand what is inside that heart that cannot be said or said this way … somewhat because of shame … you understand me. You must receive everyone with the language with which they can speak.
The Council of Trent made very clear that this position is condemned, and those who hold it are anathematized:
Canon IV. If any one denieth, that, for the entire and perfect remission of sins, there are required three acts in the penitent, which are as it were the matter of the sacrament of Penance, to wit, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, which are called the three parts of penance; or saith that there are two parts only of penance, to wit, the terrors with which the conscience is smitten upon being convinced of sin, and the faith, generated (a) by the gospel, or by the absolution, whereby one believes that his sins are forgiven him through Christ; let him be anathema. (Session 14; Canon IV)
The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X makes this equally clear:
6 Q: What is the matter of the sacrament of Penance?
A: The matter of the sacrament of Penance is divided into remote and proximate. The remote matter consists of the sins committed by the penitent after Baptism; and the proximate matter are the acts of the penitent himself, that is, contrition, confession and satisfaction.
7 Q: What is the form of the sacrament of Penance?
A: The form of the sacrament of Penance is this: “I absolve thee from thy sins.”
If one prefers to look to more recent teaching, it’s not hard to find a modern reiteration of this truth. See Pope John Paul II’s 1984 post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Reconciliatio Et Paenitentia:
Whether as a tribunal of mercy or a place of spiritual healing, under both aspects the sacrament requires a knowledge of the sinner’s heart in order to be able to judge and absolve, to cure and heal. Precisely for this reason the sacrament involves on the part of the penitent a sincere and complete confession of sins. This therefore has a raison d’etre not only inspired by ascetical purposes (as an exercise of humility and mortification), but one that is inherent in the very nature of the sacrament.
The confession of sins is required, first of all, because the sinner must be known by the person who in the sacrament exercises the role of judge. He has to evaluate both the seriousness of the sins and the repentance of the penitent; he also exercises the role of the healer and must acquaint himself with the condition of the sick person in order to treat and heal him. But the individual confession also has the value of a sign: a sign of the meeting of the sinner with the mediation of the church in the person of the minister, a sign of the person’s revealing of self as a sinner in the sight of God and the church,.of facing his own sinful condition in the eyes of God. The confession of sins therefore cannot be reduced to a mere attempt at psychological self-liberation even though it corresponds to that legitimate and natural need, inherent in the human heart, to open oneself to another. It is a liturgical act, solemn in its dramatic nature, yet humble and sober in the grandeur of its meaning. It is the act of the prodigal son who returns to his Father and is welcomed by him with the kiss of peace. It is an act of honesty and courage. It is an act of entrusting oneself, beyond sin, to the mercy that forgives.(188) Thus we understand why the confession of sins must ordinarily be individual not collective, just as sin is a deeply personal matter. But at the same time this confession in a way forces sin out of the secret of the heart and thus out of the area of pure individuality, emphasizing its social character as well, for through the minister of penance it is the ecclesial community, which has been wounded by sin, that welcomes anew the repentant and forgiven sinner. (§ 31-II; III)
The contradictions of what the Church teaches are becoming a habit for Pope Francis. Once again, I feel compelled to ask: when are our bishops and cardinals going to confront these public errors publicly? The effect these things have on the faithful and the means given for their salvation is not insignificant.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director 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 seven children.