Bishops in northeast Italy permit general absolution at Christmas due to pandemic

shutterstock 1134297812 Purple stole and confessional. | Roman023_photography/Shutterstock.

Catholic bishops in northeast Italy have said that the risk of illness amid the ongoing pandemic constitutes a "grave necessity" permitting priests to confer the Sacrament of Reconciliation under the "third form," also called general absolution, before and during the Christmas season.

General absolution is a form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation which may be imparted, as defined by canon law, only in moments when death is believed to be imminent and there is no time to hear the confessions of individual penitents, or for another "grave necessity." 

The Apostolic Penitentiary, a dicastery of the Roman Curia, issued a note in March saying it believed that during the COVID-19 pandemic there were cases which would constitute grave necessity, and therefore make general absolution lawful, "especially in places that are most greatly affected by the pandemic contagion, and until the phenomenon subsides."

A penitent who receives absolution in such a manner -- sometimes known as collective absolution -- must also individually confess his or her mortal sins when possible.

The bishops' conference of Triveneto said last week that it had made the decision to allow the sacrament to be administered in this manner in their dioceses from Dec. 16 to Jan. 6, 2021 "due to a series of objective difficulties and also to avoid other infections and further risk to the health of the faithful and ministers of the sacrament."

The decision was made in consultation with the Apostolic Penitentiary, which is responsible for issues related to the forgiveness of sins.

The bishops stressed the importance of keeping community penitential celebrations separate from the Mass and giving proper instruction on "the extraordinary nature of the form adopted for the sacrament."

They also encouraged teaching Catholics about "the gift of forgiveness and God's mercy, the sense of sin, and the need for a real and continuous conversion with the invitation to participate -- as soon as possible -- in the sacrament itself in traditional and ordinary ways and forms," that is, individual confession.

Triveneto is a historic area in northeast Italy now encompassing three modern-day regions. It includes the cities of Verona, Padua, Venice, Bolzano, and Trieste. The area is also sometimes referred to as North-East or Tre Venezie.

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