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Pope Francis: In confession, the priest should guide penitent to holiness

March 26, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis goes to confession during a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 25, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Mar 26, 2022 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told hundreds of priests and seminarians on Friday that when they are hearing confessions, they should strive to accompany penitents along the path to greater holiness.

“The confessor always has as his goal the universal call to holiness, and to accompany discreetly to it,” the pope said on March 25, speaking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when a penitent Catholic discloses his or her sins to a priest or bishop, who acts in persona Christi, Latin for “in the person of Christ,” to grant God’s pardon and forgiveness.

“To accompany means to take care of the other person, walking together with him or her,” he continued. “It is not enough to indicate a goal, if you are not willing to walk even a stretch of road together.”

“However brief the confessional interview may be, from a few details you can understand the needs of the brother or sister: we are called to respond to them, accompanying them above all to the understanding and acceptance of God’s will, which is always the way of the greatest good, the way of joy and peace,” the pope stated.

Francis addressed around 800 priests and seminarians at the end of an annual course on the seal of confession and the internal forum, which is an extra-sacramental form of secrecy, or confidentiality, applied to spiritual direction.

The course, in its 32nd edition, was held in person and online. It was organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the office of the Roman Curia responsible for issues related to the sacrament of confession, indulgences, and the internal forum.

“Dear brothers, I thank the Lord with you for the ministry which you carry out, or which will soon be entrusted to you — for there are [transitional] deacons here — a ministry at the service of the sanctification of the faithful People of God,” Pope Francis said.

He reminded priests that though they are ministers of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they should also receive the graces of the sacrament themselves.

“You go to ask forgiveness for your sins, do you not? This is very healthy. It is good for us confessors to do so,” he said.

Francis also advised priests to “inhabit” the confessional, always being ready to welcome, listen, and accompany those who come to seek God’s forgiveness. Everyone needs forgiveness, he said, “that is, to feel that they are loved as children by God the Father.”

“The words we say: ‘I absolve you of your sins’ also mean ‘you, brother, sister, are precious, you are precious to God; it is good that you are there.’ And this is a most powerful medicine for the soul, and also for the psyche of everyone,” he said.


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North Dakota lawmaker withdraws bill requiring violation of seal of confession

February 2, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2021 / 11:05 am (CNA).- A North Dakota bill that would have required priests to violate the seal of confession has been withdrawn by its co-sponsor. 


The bill, SB 2180, required priests or other religious figures to report cases of child abuse or neglect to the authorities if they learned about the abuse in a confession or private conversation. 


State Sen. Judy Lee (R-West Fargo), who co-sponsored the bill, requested on Jan. 29 that it be withdrawn from consideration. Lee said the controversial bill had become “a distraction” and cited a “lack of understanding about the goal and the circumstances.”


Current state law provides a religious exception for mandatory reporting of confirmed or suspected child abuse. Cases when “the knowledge or suspicion [of abuse] is derived from information received in the capacity of spiritual adviser,” such as in the confessional, do not require reporting the abuse to authorities. The bill sponsored by Lee and other senators would have revoked that exception.


The North Dakota Catholic Conference published a statement on Friday agreeing with Lee’s goals of fighting child abuse, but disagreeing over her legislation. 


“We share in Senator’s Lee call to do more to prevent child abuse.  We simply disagreed about the bill,” said a statement from the North Dakota Catholic Conference on its Facebook page on Friday. 


“The North Dakota Catholic Conference looks forward to working with her and all legislators for the protection of the weakest among us and the common good,” the conference said, thanking all who contacted their state senators in opposition to the legislation. 


Lee said that the conversation regarding child abuse “has to continue.” 


“We all need to do what we can to protect these little ones by intervening,” she said. 


According to the Code of Canon Law, the seal of confession is “inviolable.” A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession, nor can he say if the confession took place; for violating the seal, a priest can incur a latae sententiae excommunication.


Both of North Dakota’s bishops had previously written letters to Catholics saying that the state’s bill violated religious freedom.


Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck on Jan. 20 described the bill as one that would “[m]ake the State and not our beloved Catholic Church the moderator of our faith and our sacramental life.” 


“If this bill passes it will have a direct impact on every Catholic in the State,” he said. “If this bill passes it will impede directly our free exercise of our religious beliefs and practices.”


The Bishop of Fargo said the bill was “inherently biased against religion.” 


“The Church condemns the abuse of minors by any person. Priests and deacons are already mandated reporters of any suspected abuse of a minor,” Bishop John Folda of Fargo stated on Jan. 22. “Up until now, spiritual advising has been exempted from this mandate, but SB 2180 would end this exemption.”


Folda stated that the bill, if it became law, would “violate the rights of all people of faith to practice their religion without government interference.”


Furthermore, he warned that “for centuries, tyrants have attempted to infiltrate the sanctity of the confessional for their own ends, and this is yet another attempt to violate the sacred confidentiality of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”