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The Latest Bergoglian Novelty:
Confession without Confession

by Christopher A. Ferrara
March 7, 2016

If only it were possible to avoid what has become an almost continuous commentary on the sayings and doings of Pope Francis.  But one does not ignore the public statements of a Pope, especially from this Fatima perspective. And at this point in the Bergoglian pontificate, the landscape of the Church is cratered by the bombshells Francis has been dropping almost weekly in off-the-cuff homilies, meditations, press conferences and other settings outside the four corners of an encyclical or other formal papal pronouncement.

Here is one bombshell from February, on Ash Wednesday. It was dropped in a sermon given to the “Missionaries of Mercy” during the Mass at which they received their “mandate,” which includes “faculties to absolve certain sins reserved to the Holy See” (all of which can already be absolved by any parish priest). (See my previous articles on this mandate, here and here.) The Missionaries were told — incredibly, but perhaps not surprisingly at this point — that they ought to grant absolution even to penitents who are too ashamed to speak and have not expressed any firm purpose of amendment because they expect to sin again:

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 itad impossibila nemo tenetur [no one is held to do the impossible]. 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.

Leaving no doubt of his intentions in this regard, Francis said the same thing the day before (February 9) to a group of Capuchins, thus suggesting that he wishes every priest in the Church to grant absolution to mute penitents:

There are so many languages in life: the language of word, and there are also languages of gestures. If a person approaches me, at the confessional, it is because he feels something that weighs on him, which he wants to remove from himself. Perhaps he does not know how to say it, but this is his gesture. If such a person approaches, it is because he wishes to change, not to do something anymore, to change, to be another sort of person, and he says it with the gesture of approaching, he says it with the gesture of approaching…. It is not necessary to ask questions: ‘But you, you …?’

If a person comes [to Confession], it is because in his soul he does not want to do something anymore. But so often they cannot, because they are conditioned by their psychology, by their life, by their situation … Ad impossbilia nemo tenetur.

First of all, this flatly erroneous advice amounts to the destruction of the sacrament because it eliminates confession from Confession, thus eliminating the very matter of the sacrament, leaving only the form. No citation to Church teaching should be necessary for such an obvious point, but one could cite simply the new Catechism (§ 1456), which affirms unequivocally: “Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: ‘All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret…’”  

(NOTE: We are not speaking here of an emergency in which there is no time for a normal confession, as for example when a plane is about to crash or a person about to die cannot speak but can give some clear sign of contrition, in which case absolution without enumeration of sins would be permissible. Cf. Canon 961.)

Secondly, as for the notion that “shame” excuses one from the duty to recount one’s mortal sins in the confessional, such shame is born of pride: the penitent does not wish to be humiliated by revealing his grave sins to the priest. It is utterly astounding that a Roman Pontiff — even this one — could declare that a sinner afflicted by pride, who cannot bear to speak of his sins to his own confessor, can receive absolution while pridefully avoiding embarrassment.

Lastly, equally destructive of the sacrament, and equally astounding, is Francis’ idea that to ask a sinner to express a firm purpose of amendment when he doubts that he can amend his life is to ask the impossible because “psychology… their life… their situation” make it impossible to stop sinning.  Who wouldn’t be covered by that excuse for sinning, and what then becomes of the requirement of a firm purpose of amendment without which absolution is invalid? Francis apparently thinks he can dispense with it, although neither he nor any confessor has the power to do so.

As Saint Alphonsus, a Doctor of the Church, teaches, a firm purpose of amendment “is the inseparable companion of true contrition” and “a necessary condition to the forgiveness of sin… It is impossible for God to pardon the sinner who still retains the will to offend Him…. Who can doubt the confession of such a man is a mockery of penance?  Who can believe that his absolution was of any value?”

Perhaps I am being overly suspicious, but it seems to me that this unbelievable call for the granting of absolution to mute sinners who are not willing or able to commit to an amendment of life is yet another move toward the endgame of admitting public adulterers in second or third “marriages” to Holy Communion. People living in adulterous unions need only insist that the confessor follow Francis’ advice and not ask them any questions about their sins because they are “too ashamed” to discuss them and find it “impossible” to cease committing them because of their “psychology… their life… their situation.” Many priests will do just that — and many have done so for decades, but without the benefit of a papal wink and nod.  The resulting mockery of the Sacrament of Confession will lead to who knows how many invalid absolutions.

The Catholic mind is all but overwhelmed by the ongoing debacle of this pontificate.  Surely it indicates the nearness of an approaching, and quite dramatic, resolution of our situation.  May Our Lady of Fatima protect us in the storms ahead!