Pope stresses individual confession in new sacramental norms
In a new teaching document on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope John Paul II emphasises that confession of sins, and absolution, must be done on an individual basis.
In a 12-page document entitled Misericordia Dei, which was introduced to the media at a press conference yesterday, the Holy Father emphasises that general absolution - also known as the Third Rite of Reconciliation - should be used only under very rare circumstances.
The Pope makes it clear that all Catholics have the right to make individual confession of their sins, and that right "is in no way subject to the discretion of pastors." In fact, the Pope declares that pastors have an obligation "to verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins."
A "grave necessity," the Pope continues, exists "when in the light of the number of penitents, a supply of confessors is not readily available to hear the confessions of individuals in an appropriate way within an appropriate time, so that the penitents would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time through no fault of their own." The presence of a large number of penitents, "as can occur on the occasion of some great feast or pilgrimage," does not in itself constitute a "grave necessity," the Pope says. And even when general absolution is given, penitents should make individual confessions as soon as it is possible.
At the press conference introducing the document, Cardinal Ratzinger stressed that while the Sacrament of Reconciliation has "undergone many transformations" during the history of the Church, one unchanging aspect has been the personal confession of sins. Cardinal Ratzinger told reporters that this aspect of the sacrament was "instituted, as the Council of Trent says, by the Lord himself." Therefore, he insisted, "it is not in the Church's power" to change the essential form of the liturgical act.
Pope says habitual sinners can never be forgiven
Apostolic Letter on Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance (excerpts)
Confession must be full and absolution personal (VIS)
Vatican reaffirms need for penance (AP)
3 May 2002