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.