Vatican Corner 05-17-2020

During the coronavirus shelter-in-place rules, many Catholic are concerned about how they can obtain the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The sacrament’s goal is to forgive serious postbaptismal sin so that one’s friendly and familial conversation with God and the Church can be restored. Some people have asked why they can’t use the telephone or the internet in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? The Church teaches that the physical presence of a priest who represents Christ and God is required. The sacrament is basically a conversation which needs to be an in-person, true, live, and natural conversation. The sound waves produced by an electronic speaker are not part of the human body like vocal cords or the hands. A telephone or an electronic speaker is an artificial tool of communication and is not fundamentally different from smoke signals , letters or a messenger, just faster and more accurate. Consequently, they are not considered in-person communication and therefore not allowed. Based on that teaching, the question has then come up about hearing aids. They are used to amplify natural in- person communication so they are allowed. The telephone and internet are also not allowed because they could be a threat to the penitent’s right to confess privately. It is true that penitents can waive their right to private confession such as in a busy hospital room, but the telephone and internet may not provide secure communication of which a penitent has a right. Some people have asked what can a person do if travel to their parish church is prevented due to quarantine or social distancing measures, or because of other serious reasons such as persecution, illness and emergencies? The Church teaches that it is possible to repent in another way through an “act of perfect contrition.” It is where a profound sorrow is felt for one’s sins and is based upon the love for God. It includes the firm resolution not to commit those sins anymore. Also necessary is a firm commitment to go to confession when that becomes possible. A perfect contrition is never a replacement for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and if a person says “I make a perfect contrition, but I’m not going to the sacrament anymore.”, they in fact do not have a perfect contrition.” Also the sacrament of penance is the only ordinary means for the forgiveness of mortal sins a’er baptism. Pope Francis in the week of March 20, 2020 encouraged Catholics confined to their homes to ask God for forgiveness and then go to confession when they are able. He said if you “promise Him: ‘Later I will confess, but forgive me now. ‘ And immediately you will return to the grace of God.” Father Giorgio Giovanelli, a professor of cannon law at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University and pastor of St. Maria Gore* Parish in Fano Italy, asks the question: “If a priest is wearing a mask and standing 6 feet away from a penitent requesting the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is he really more present to a penitent he knows than would be by telephone?” Father Giovanelli says he has two groups of parishioners who deserve special, extraordinary attention: the elderly – to whom an asymptomatic person could transmit the virus – and those in the hospital who have tested positive for COVID-19, are in isolation and in danger of death. He says for his own parishioners among them, he should be able to hear confessions and grant sacramental absolution with a phone call or video call. It would be a call from their pastor – a priest they know and who knows them. He said breaking the “in-person” rule would take special permission from Pope Francis. Giovanelli is not looking for a change in the sacramental practice, but to respond to a new situation in which we always must consider that the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls.”