Monday, April 13, 2015

Pope Francis to send out "Missionaries of Mercy"

What are the Missionaries of Mercy of Pope Francis?

In his letter for the Jubilee year of Mercy, the Pope says:

During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon. (no. 18).

This made me realize I had only a vague idea about sins reserved to the Holy See. (I was never into reading canon law.)  But I did a little research and this is what I found out.

1. The Pope must be referring to the penalties attached to certain sins. Formerly, absolution of certain sins was reserved to the Holy See. But the new Code of Canon Law (1983) changed that. Now, only the penalties must be removed by the Holy See. The guilt of the sin itself can be absolved by priests in confession.

2. Most sins don’t incur any ecclesiastical penalty. To make this more confusing, there are different types of penalties. Most of the penalties can be remitted more easily, but canon law mentions five sins that incur penalties reserved to the Holy See.  They include desecration of the Holy Eucharist, a physical attack on the pope, breaking the seal of confession, to name a few. (See here for full details.) The list does not include abortion. Although it is a serious sin that incurs automatic excommunication, it is not one of the sins reserved to the Holy See. (Also, to incur the excommunication, the person committing the sin has to know about it beforehand. It's likely that most Catholic women who get abortions do not know this. Since abortion is such a big problem today, by having this penalty in canon law the Church is trying to help people understand what a serious matter this is. But the Church also provides that it can be absolved in an ordinary confession, when the priest has received faculties from his bishop for this. Efforts like Project Rachel try to help women to receive God's forgiveness and mercy in a very loving way. When that sin is repented and confessed, the penalty is also lifted.)

3. It puzzled me that the Pope would even bother mentioning these sins reserved to the Holy See, since it is a matter of only a very few, very rare sins. Probably only about .00001 percent of the world's Catholic population would ever be guilty of them. But I suppose that the main point of the missionaries of mercy is not about remitting these rare penalties, though they will be able to do that. Pope Francis probably intends these missionaries to be like preachers who will stir people up to repentance. As things develop, I would expect there would be some clarification and more information about their role.

I think this Year of Mercy will be a great thing. Yesterday on the Feast of Divine Mercy, I received a beautiful sense of God's love and mercy for us all. May it be so.