Vatican allows General Absolution during pandemic

General absolution is allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the global difficulty Catholic priests are having in hearing confessions, the Vatican says it is acceptable for bishops to offer general absolutions to certain groups of people.

While the norm is an individual confesses their sins and celebrates the Sacrament of Reconciliation, General Absolution can be used when there is danger of “imminent danger of death, not enough time to listen to confessions of individual penitents, or a grave need”.

The COVID-19 pandemic meets this circumstance, the Vatican says.

The Apostolic Penitentiary holds the situation for a general absolution exists while there are cases of grave need and for as long as COVID-19 exists.

Referencing Canon Law 961  the Vatican tribunal says that it is up to individual bishops to determine when to adapt the practice of individual confession in order to minimise the risk of contagion.

The Vatican office acknowledges is a fine balance between compassion and the health of all parties but added that while diocesan bishops are the judge of when to grant a General Absolution, bishops should always take “account of the supreme good of the salvation of souls.”

Indicating that keeping a social distance may be too social, leading to a confession being overheard, the Vatican says that at all times the sacramental seal of the confession must be kept.

The Tribunal says risk minimisation can be through the proper implementation of social distancing between the confessor and penitent, the use of masks and such measures as the increased regular sanitisation of confessional spaces.

Whenever a priest is faced with “the unforeseen situation of having to impart sacramental absolution to several faithful”—in other words, to give general absolution, he should first inform the bishop, if possible, or otherwise tell him afterwards, the Vatican said.

Whenever a priest is faced with “the unforeseen situation of having to impart sacramental absolution to several faithful”— in other words, to give general absolution, he should first inform the bishop, if possible, or otherwise tell him afterwards, the Vatican said.

Francis, at his Saturday Mass at the Vatican also says people who cannot get to confession because of the virus lockdown or another serious reason can go to God directly.

They need to be specific about their sins, request pardon and experience God’s loving forgiveness.

“This is the right time, the opportune moment. An act of contrition done well, and our souls will become white like the snow.”

Referring to the Catechism, Francis said: “If you cannot find a priest to confess to, speak directly with God, your father, and tell him the truth. Say, ‘Lord, I did this, this, this. Forgive me,’ and ask for pardon with all your heart.

Make an act of contrition and promise God, that you will go to confession afterwards, but ask for forgiveness now, he said.

The effect is immediate, “you will return to a state of grace with God,” Francis said.

In this crisis, Francis said, “I do not wish to distinguish between believers and non-believers.

“We are all human beings and, as human beings, we are all in the same boat. And nothing that is human can be alien to a Christian.

“Here one cries because one suffers.

“We have in common our humanity and suffering….

“We should not make a difference between believers and non-believers. Let us go to the roots: our humanity.

“Before God, we are all his children.”

He added that when the pandemic ends, the experience may be a little like after the end of World War II. “There will not long be ‘the other’ but the ‘us,’” Pope Francis said, “because we can only get out of this situation all together.”

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