Archbishop: General absolution permitted if individual confession not possible

| March 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

Priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis should make extra efforts to hear individual confessions during the pandemic, Archbishop Hebda told them in a March 20 letter.

But if that becomes impossible, the archbishop has granted each priest who presently hears confessions in the archdiocese “the extraordinary permission to impart absolution to multiple persons without prior confession,” otherwise known as “general absolution,” until the novel coronavirus pandemic no longer has an impact on the celebration of public Mass in the archdiocese.

Archbishop Hebda was responding to two documents issued earlier that day by the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See, one on general absolution and the other on a plenary indulgence.

“While I continue to stress the importance of individual confession in these challenging circumstances, actions taken today in California, New York and Illinois imposing lockdowns of one form or another have me concerned that we could soon experience a situation in which opportunities for individual confession could be severely reduced for a significant period, making it physically or morally impossible to satisfy all our penitents desiring to be absolved as we approach Easter while also facing this crisis,” Archbishop Hebda wrote. “Historically, we have relied heavily on our retired brothers to assist us in this ministry in Advent and Lent. Given the considerable health risks, they will, quite understandably, not be available at this time.”

He encouraged priests to expand their efforts to hear individual confessions in churches or parking lots. “This can be done creatively in order to take all necessary safety precautions,” Archbishop Hebda said.

If circumstances require general absolution, Archbishop Hebda reminded the priests that while they may use equipment to amplify their voices, the priest must be physically close enough to the faithful that he could be seen and heard. “You cannot extend general absolution by text or phone or on a tape recording,” he added.

Priests must also remind the faithful that “they must be properly disposed, sorry for their sins, and resolved to avoid committing these sins again” and that the obligation of individual confession remains, meaning they must go to individual confession at their earliest opportunity and confess the grave sins for which they received general absolution.

“Whether it is through individual confession or general absolution, I ask you to encourage the faithful to celebrate this sacrament, especially as we await the possible further restrictions civil authorities may determine,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Please do not place your faithful or yourself at an unreasonable risk.”

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