Philippines parish cancels planned 'online general absolution'

Mass101 Daily Mass live streamed on EWTN for Monday 16 March, 2020. | CNA

A parish in the Philippines has canceled an "online general absolution." Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Quezon City, Philippines had advertised the event would be available by livestream, and was set to take place on April 3. 

On Thursday, the parish issued a retraction and an apology. 

"Fr. Nelson wants to correct himself. General absolution cannot be given via online," said a statement issued by the parish. 

"The penitent must be physically present- meaning, the priest who absolves and the penitent who receives the absolution must be in the same place," the statement clarified. 

According to the Vatican's Apostolic Penitentiary, which has authority over the sacrament of confession and matters falling under the sacramental seal, general absolution without prior individual confession may only be imparted where the imminent danger of death occurs, when there is not enough time to listen to the confessions of individual penitents, or there is a serious need. 

Amid the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and many dioceses worldwide suspending Masses and confessions, the Vatican has clarified that if a general absolution is done, it must be approved by the bishop, and it must be done in person. 

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, clarified on March 19 that priests giving general absolution in particular cases must explain the conditions of general absolution, and also must be physically present to those receiving it, at least to the point of penitents being able to hear the priest's voice.

Father Pius Pietrzyk, OP, chair of pastoral studies at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California, told CNA Thursday that the sacraments must be an encounter between the priest and the person receiving the sacrament.

In the same way that a penitent could not confess sins to a priest over the telephone- which would remove the person-to-person encounter of the sacrament- offering general absolution online removes the unity between the priest and the penitents, and therefore is not valid, he said. 

"This kind of virtual presentation of the sacrament is not what the Church understands a sacrament to be," he said. 

"They need to understand that what they are doing is not a sacrament."

In addition, the law is abundantly clear, he said, that if general absolution is given, the bishop must give the parameters. Parishes must get permission from the bishop to offer general absolution, he said. 

A parish employee at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish was unable to confirm to CNA whether the cancelation of the planned online general absolution was the result of an intervention on the part of the bishop. 

Another Philippines parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in the Diocese of Tarlac is, as of press time, going forward with a livestreamed general absolution for its viewers "with the explicit permission of the Bishop of Tarlac." 

The Diocese of Tarlac and Bishop Enrique Macaraeg did not reply to CNA's request for comment by press time. 

Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Archbishop of Jakarta, reportedly led an online general absolution on Monday. 

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