Pope extends special Year of Mercy provisions on confession

| Cindy Wooden | November 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

Acknowledging and sharing God’s mercy is a permanent part of the Christian life, so initiatives undertaken during the special Year of Mercy must continue, Pope Francis said.

“Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church,” the pope wrote in an apostolic letter, “Misericordia et Misera,” (“Mercy and Misery”), which he signed Nov. 20 at the end of the Year of Mercy. The Vatican released the text the next day.

The title of the document is taken from a sermon by St. Augustine about Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery. After those who wanted to stone her slinked away, only Jesus and the woman — mercy and misery — remained.

The Catholic Church’s focus on God’s mercy must continue with individual acts of kindness, assistance to the poor and, particularly, with encouraging Catholics to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation and making it easier for them to do so, the pope wrote.

In his letter, Pope Francis said he formally was giving all priests permanent permission to grant absolution to those who confess to having procured an abortion. While many bishops around the world, and almost all bishops in the United States, routinely grant that faculty to all their priests, Pope Francis had made it universal during the Holy Year.

According to canon law, procuring an abortion brings automatic excommunication to those who know of the penalty, but procure the abortion anyway. Without formal permission, priests had been required to refer the case to their bishops before the excommunication could be lifted and sacramental absolution could be granted to a woman who had an abortion or those directly involved in the procedure.

“I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” the pope wrote. “In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.”

Speaking to reporters during a Vatican news conference Nov. 21, Archbishop Rino Fisichella said procuring an abortion still results in automatic excommunication the very moment the procedure is carried out. Sacramental absolution, therefore, is not just forgiving the sin of abortion, but also means “the excommunication is removed,” he said.

Now that all priests have been given the faculty to lift the excommunication and grant absolution, the Code of Canon Law will have to be updated, said the archbishop, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, the office that organized events for the Year of Mercy.

The pope also formally extended the provision he made during the Year of Mercy of recognizing as valid the sacramental absolution received by “those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X,” the traditionalist society founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

After his Year of Mercy celebration Nov. 13 with the homeless and other people who are “socially excluded,” the pope wrote that he would like a similar celebration to be held annually in every diocese.

“The entire Church might celebrate, on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor,” he said. The celebration, a week before the feast of Christ the King, would be “the worthiest way to prepare” to acknowledge the kingship of Christ, “who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy.”

Calling the Bible “the great story of the marvels of God’s mercy,” Pope Francis also asked every Catholic parish in the world to set aside at least one Sunday a year to promote reading, studying and praying with the Scriptures.

Teaching people “lectio divina,” the prayerful reading of the Bible, will help “give rise to concrete gestures and works of charity,” he wrote.

In another continuation of a Year of Mercy project, Pope Francis asked the more than 1,100 priests he commissioned as “missionaries of mercy” to continue leading retreats, missions, prayer services and offering confession in dioceses around the world.

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