In 1988, the U.S. bishops’ conference adopted a policy saying that, outside the imminent danger of death, general absolution can only be imparted to a group of the faithful if they would otherwise be unable to go to confession within a month.
Piacenza also stressed that anyone receiving general absolution would still need to go to individual confession as soon as possible, and this must be explained to them.
Piacenza said that “it is always up to the diocesan bishop to determine, in the territory of his ecclesiastical jurisdiction and in relation to the level of pandemic contagion, the cases of serious need in which it is permissible to impart collective absolution.”
The cardinal’s note reminded bishops that any use of general absolution has to conform to the norm of law.
Priests giving general absolution in particular cases must explain the conditions of general absolution and be physically present to those receiving it, at least to the point of penitents being able to hear the priest’s voice.
The cardinal offered a hypothetical example to illustrate the severe circumstances which would warrant general absolution.
“For example,” Piacenza said, priests could absolve those in medical isolation by standing “at the entrance of hospital wards, where there are hospitalized members of the faithful who are infected and in danger of death.”
Piacenza said that the priest could, if necessary, absolve the Catholics on the ward by “using the means of amplification of the voice as far as possible and with appropriate precautions, so that absolution may be heard.”
The cardinal also urged bishops to consider “where necessary, [and] in agreement with the health authorities,” setting up “groups of ‘extraordinary hospital chaplains,’” using volunteers if necessary, to guarantee the necessary spiritual assistance to sick and dying.
Cardinal Piacenza also said that, given the extraordinary circumstances in many dioceses affected by coronavirus, Catholics need to be aware that the mercy of God was always accessible to them.
“Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving
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sacramental absolution, it is recalled that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, loved above all else, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness... and accompanied by... the firm resolution to resort to sacramental confession as soon as possible, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal sins.”
Piacenza also urged Catholics to pray, and to lean on the spiritual power of the Church, “in particular in the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, celebrated daily, even without people, by priests.”
“As a good mother, the Church implores the Lord for humanity to be freed from this scourge, invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, and of her Spouse St. Joseph, under whose patronage the Church has always walked the world.”