"This is a religiously mature man," the Pope said.
Pope Francis stressed the importance of tenderness towards those who come to confession.
"If we don’t show them the love and mercy of God, we push them away and perhaps they will never come back,” he said. “So embrace them and be compassionate, even if you can’t absolve them. Give them a blessing anyway.”
In The Name of God is Mercy, the Pope touches on a wide range of topics on the theme of mercy, with significant attention given to the subject of confession.
Pope Francis was asked about the importance of going to confession to a priest – specifically, why it is not enough to ask God's forgiveness “on one's own.”
The Pope responded saying priests and bishops “become instruments of the mercy of God” and act in the person of Christ. They are the successors of the Apostles, to whom Christ said, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”
The act of going to confession to a priest is significant because man is a social being, and forgiveness has a social dimension: “We are social beings, and forgiveness has a social implication; my sin wounds mankind, my brothers and sisters, and society as a whole.”
“Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus,” he said. “It’s a way to be real and authentic: we face the facts by looking at another person and not in the mirror.”
“If you are not capable of talking to your brother about your mistakes, you can be sure that you can’t talk about them with God, either, and therefore you end up confessing into the mirror, to yourself.”
“It is important that I go to confession, that I sit in front of a priest who embodies Jesus, that I kneel before Mother Church, called to dispense the mercy of Christ,” he said. “There is objectivity in this gesture of genuflection before the priest; it becomes the vehicle through which grace reaches and heals me.”
Pope Francis said he is moved by the tradition in Eastern Churches, in which the priest the places his stole on the penitent's head, and puts his arm around his shoulder, describing it as “the physical representation of acceptance and mercy.”
He explained how the faithful do not go to confession to be judged, but to encounter mercy.
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“It’s true that there is always a certain amount of judgment in confession, but there is something greater than judgment that comes into play,” he said.
“It is being face-to-face with someone who acts in persona Christi to welcome and forgive you. It is an encounter with mercy.”
Pope Francis was also asked about references he made to mercy early on in his pontificate, like the anecdote of the elderly woman who said that without God's mercy, “the world would not exist.”
“It was an example of the faith of simple people who are imbued with knowledge even if they have never studied theology,” he said.
“I was struck by that woman’s words: without mercy, without God’s forgiveness, the world would not exist; it couldn’t exist.”
“As a confessor, even when I have found myself before a locked door, I have always tried to find a crack, just a tiny opening so that I can pry open that door and grant forgiveness and mercy.”