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Chicago cardinal cracks down on Third Rite of Reconciliation

Two years after the issue was dealt with in Australia, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George is seeking to restrict the use of general absolution to situations of genuine emergency.

Conceding that widespread use of the Third Rite has been beneficial to the Catholics of Chicago, Cardinal George maintained that the practice does not meet criteria established in canon law.

In a letter to priests after a June meeting, George wrote, "The reasons for making use of general absolution are not unpersuasive, and those talking to the question were some of our most effective pastors, all of whom are also giving time to hearing individual confessions."

According to canon law, the rite of general absolution is reserved for situations in which people are in danger of death or when the number penitents is so large that there aren't enough confessors to hear confessions in a timely manner.

George said he would be willing to "bring a report on our experience with the rite directly to the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship." But he immediately added, "This does not mean I personally believe that the conditions for the ordinary use of general absolution are met here at this time; they are not."

Many Chicago priests favour general absolution as a way of attracting more people to the sacrament and responding to a growing shortage of priests. They say the tradition is firmly established in the archdiocese and should be respected.

The issue of the Third Rite was the focus of conflict between the Vatican and the Australian bishops following the Synod for Oceania at the end of 1998.

Archdiocese of Chicago