Thursday, November 07, 2013

General Absolution is a danger to souls

Relics of St Ivo of Chartes, patron saint of lawyers
If you receive General Absolution without an intention to confess your sins individually to a priest, in the normal way (including the sins you had in mind when receiving General Absolution), you will not receive sacramental absolution.

I explained this in my post about Mgr Basil Loftus' scandalous article on General Absolution (using scandal in its technical theolgical sense, of leading others to sin, as well as in the usual sense); a commenter called 'Sebastian' suggested that the practical consequences might not be as bad as I suggested. If people go to a service of General Absolution in good faith, and do not know, because they are not told, about the need to intend to confess their sins in individual confession, and do not so intend, Sebastian suggested they'd get sacramental absolution anyway.

This is because of Can. 144 §1.: "In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and internal forum."

This boils down to: "If you're dumb but not evil, that's okay."

This is what canon 144 says:

§1. In factual or legal common error and in positive and probable doubt of law or of fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance for both the external and internal forum.

The crucifix lifted up in the Good Friday liturgy (the FSSP in Reading)
I promised to come back with a proper canonical response, and I now can. I asked Mgr Gordon Read, the Latin Mass Society's National Chaplain and also our Canonical Advisor, a trustee of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland and, as they say, the Real Deal when it comes to understanding canon law.

One of the points of addressing Loftus' painful ramblings is the chance to air these sorts of issues, and I'm grateful to Sebastian for raising a technical but very important question. Nevertheless, he is mistaken.

Mgr Read writes:

It is misconceived to describe the requirement as a 'legal condition'. Integral confession is part of the Church's doctrine as enunciated at Trent even if spelled out in the form of a legal requirement in this canon. The exceptions referred to in canon 144 do not apply to the exercise of sacramental power as such but jurisdiction or executive power as is made clear by the references in §2. If a priest hears confessions without faculties to do so then the Church supplies them but only in common error. It must not be a simple misunderstanding on the part of an individual but one that anyone would reasonably fall into....

Canon 962 §1 requires for validity not only proper disposition but also that the penitent be resolved to confess in due time the grave sins that cannot now be confessed. Clearly awareness of this requirement depends on both general instruction and if possible the announcement of it on the occasion of its administration (canon 962 §2). Where the person is inculpably ignorant of this requirement and so believes their sins have been forgiven I would suggest that what is applicable is the moral impossibility mentioned in canon 960. Should they later become aware of this requirement then the obligation revives. Clearly this is not the same as making use of this form of the sacrament in order to avoid having to mention grave sin since this is supine or affected ignorance.

Canon 960 tells us:
Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by other means.

The crucifix venerated on Good Friday.
The other means here are things like a perfect act of contrition, acts of penance, and the apostolic indulgence in the hour of death.

The intention to go to individual confession not a merely legal condition, it is not a matter of 'executive power or governance', it is absolutely necessary to make General Absolution work sacramentally, like the intention to marry in marriage and to baptise in baptism. If you are ignorant inculpably that is tough luck. If your contrition was real but imperfect, as is often the case, sacramental absolution would have freed you from your mortal sins; anything else will not.

Yes of course God's mercy can use other means, and I've just mentioned what they might be. But we mustn't run away with the idea that therefore it doesn't matter, that God will look down and say this person is no less sincere than another who's had sacramental absolution, and so his mortal sins must be washed away. Because to say that is to say that the sacraments make no difference. That the priest who stays in his confessional all afternoon, or indeed the priest who risks imprisonment, torture, and death to bring people absolution in time of persecution, make no difference, that if they didn't bother those penitents, who through no fault of their own were without confession, would be fine, they'd be no worse off. And come to that those people who never heard the Gospel, because St Francis Xavier hasn't yet squandered his heart and soul in bringing it to the teeming millions of India and China, they'd be fine because it wasn't their fault, St Francis made no difference, he was not God's instrument in saving anyone. And while we're at it Christ's death on the Cross makes no difference, because if it hadn't happened God is such a softy he's have let us all into heaven anyway.

No, God is not a softy, not like that, because that takes all meaning from human life, it takes away all the significance of human efforts and struggles and sacrifices, and God has not placed us in a meaningless liberal universe, but into one where there is work to do, where the good we do has consequences for good and the evil has consequences for evil.

God's Mercy does not consist in pushing His Justice aside, it consists in giving us the chance to satisfy His Justice, through the merits of Christ, applied through the sacraments. That is why we have a missionary mandate, to bring the sacraments to people. As Pope Paul VI said (Evangelium nuntiandi 5):

It is the duty incumbent on her [the Church] by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people's salvation.
The Blessed Sacrament, made possible by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, on Good Friday.
Yes, it made a difference.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for investigating this. I am convinced now that Can. 144 §1 is indeed inapplicable.