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On the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Present Emergency of the Coronavirus


THE seriousness of the current situation calls for reflection on the urgency and centrality of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, along with some necessary clarifications, both to the faithful lay people and to the ministers called to celebrate the Sacrament.

Even in times of Covid-19, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is administered according to universal canon law and according to the provisions in the Ordo Paenitentiae.

Individual confession is the ordinary way to celebrate this sacrament (cf. can. 960 cic), whereas collective absolution, without prior individual confession cannot be imparted except in situations where there is imminent danger of death, as there is insufficient time to hear the confessions of the individual penitents (cf. can. 961, § 1 cic), or when there is a grave necessity (cf. can. 961 § 1, 2° cic), the consideration of which, is up to the diocesan bishop, after reviewing the criteria agreed upon with the other members of the Episcopal Conference (cf. can. 455, § 2 cic) subject to the necessity of the votum sacramenti from each penitent to obtain valid absolution, that is, the intention to confess in due time the individual serious sins which at the time they had no possibility of confessing (cf. can 962, § 1 cic).

This Apostolic Penitentiary believes that there are cases of grave necessity as mentioned above at can. 961, § 2 cic, especially in places that are most greatly affected by the pandemic contagion, and until the phenomenon subsides.

Any further detail can be referred to diocesan bishops, always taking into consideration the supreme good of the salvation of souls (cf. can. 1752 cic).

Should there be a sudden need to impart sacramental absolution to several faithful at the same time, to the extent possible, the priest must forewarn the diocesan bishop or, if he is unable to do so, to inform him as soon as possible (cf. Ordo Paenitentiae, n. 32).

In this present pandemic emergency, it belongs to the diocesan bishop to indicate to priests and penitents the cautious attentiveness that should be adopted in the individual celebration of sacramental reconciliation, such as being in a ventilated place, outside the confessional, the adoption of a suitable distance, the use of protective masks, subject to absolute attention to the safeguarding of the sacramental seal and the required discretion. Moreover, it is always up to the diocesan bishop to determine which cases are of grave necessity and require collective absolution within the territory of his own ecclesiastic circumscription and depending on the level of pandemic contagion: for example the entrance to hospital wards where there are infected faithful who are in danger of death, using as much as possible and with the necessary precautions, means of vocal amplification so that the absolution may be heard.

Where necessary, the need and possibility of forming groups of “extraordinary hospital chaplains” in agreement with health authorities, should be evaluated, even on a voluntary basis and in respect of regulation for the protection from contagion, in order to guarantee the necessary spiritual assistance to the sick and the dying.

Where individual faithful should be in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, loved above all else, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (one which the penitent is able to express in that moment) and accompanied by the votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to receive sacramental confession as soon as possible, obtains the forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones (cf. ccc, n. 1452).

Never before than at this time, has the Church experienced the strength of the communion of saints, raising vows and prayers to her Crucified and Risen Lord, in particular the Sacrifice of Holy Mass celebrated daily by priests, even without people.

As a good mother, the Church implores the Lord that humanity may be freed from such a plague, invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, and of her Spouse, Saint Joseph, under whose patronage the Church, as ever, journeys throughout the world.

May Mary Most Holy and Saint Joseph obtain for us abundant graces of reconciliation and salvation, in careful listening to the Word of the Lord that repeats to humanity today: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:11), “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20).

Given in Rome, Apostolic Penitentiary, 19 March 2020, Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patron of the Universal Church.


Major Penitentiary

Krzysztof Nykiel


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