Coronavirus updates from Rome: Vatican Allows General Absolution in Some Cases

A deserted shopping street in Rome. Photo: AP

Latest updates from the Eternal City in lockdown since March 10


March 20, 4.10pm

In a second of two decrees, the Apostolic Penitentiary today ruled that in view of the difficulty in priests hearing confessions during the coronavirus pandemic, bishops can offer general absolution in cases of “grave necessity”.

The decree, signed by Major Penitentiary Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, notes that general absolution is usually only permitted in accordance with canon 961 – when there is an “imminent danger of death, since there is not enough time to hear the confessions of individual penitents,” or there is a “grave necessity.”

The decree then stresses in italics:

“This Apostolic Penitentiary believes that, especially in the places most affected by the pandemic contagion and until the phenomenon recedes, cases of grave necessity mentioned in can. 961, § 2 CIC [in cases of grave necessity] will occur.”

It adds that “any further specification is delegated by law to diocesan bishops, always taking into account the supreme good of the salvation of souls.”

The decree continues:

“Should there arise a sudden need to impart sacramental absolution to several faithful together, the priest is obliged to forewarn the diocesan bishop as far as possible or, if he cannot, to inform him as soon as possible (cf. Ordo Paenitentiae, n. 32).”

Regarding individual confession, it goes on to state that “in the present pandemic emergency,” it is “up to the diocesan bishop to indicate to priests and penitents the prudent attentions to be adopted in the individual celebration of sacramental reconciliation, such as the celebration in a ventilated place outside the confessional, the adoption of a suitable distance, the use of protective masks, without prejudice to absolute attention to the safeguarding of the sacramental seal and necessary discretion.

It adds:

“Furthermore, it is always up to the diocesan bishop to determine, in the territory of his own ecclesiastical circumscription and with regard to the level of pandemic contagion, the cases of grave necessity in which it is lawful to impart collective absolution: for example, at the entrance to hospital wards, where the infected faithful in danger of death are hospitalised, using as far as possible and with the appropriate precautions the means of amplifying the voice so that absolution may be heard.”

It adds that consideration should be given to the “need and advisability of setting up, where necessary, in agreement with the health authorities, groups of ‘extraordinary hospital chaplains,’ also on a voluntary basis and in compliance with the norms of protection from contagion, to guarantee the necessary spiritual assistance to the sick and dying.”

“Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones (cf. CCC, no. 1452)”


March 20, 12.33pm

The Apostolic Penitentiary has issued a decree granting special indulgences to the faithful at this time of pandemic.

Signed on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, by Major Penitentiary Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the decree states that:

“The Plenary Indulgence is granted to the faithful suffering from the Coronavirus, subject to quarantine by order of the health authority in hospitals or in their own homes if, with a spirit detached from any sin, they unite themselves spiritually through the media to the celebration of Holy Mass, to the recitation of the Holy Rosary, to the pious practice of the Way of the Cross or other forms of devotion, or if at least they will recite the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the will to fulfil the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father’s intentions), as soon as possible.”

Cardinal Piacenza adds that the same gift of Plenary Indulgence will be given “under the same conditions” to:

“Health care workers, family members and all those who, following the example of the Good Samaritan, exposing themselves to the risk of contagion, care for the sick of Coronavirus according to the words of the divine Redeemer.“No man has greater love than this: to give his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).”

He adds that the decree also “willingly grants” the Plenary Indulgence under the same conditions to:

“Those faithful who offer a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharistic Adoration, or the reading of Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour, or the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross, or the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and the eternal salvation of those whom the Lord has called to Himself.”

The decree continues:

“The Church prays for those who are unable to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Viaticum, entrusting each and every one of them to Divine Mercy by virtue of the communion of saints and granting the faithful a Plenary Indulgence on the point of death, provided that they are duly disposed and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime (in this case the Church makes up for the three usual conditions required). For the attainment of this indulgence the use of the crucifix or the cross is recommended (cf. Enchiridion indulgentiarum, n.12).”

The decree ends by invoking the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, Health of the Sick and Help of Christians, our Advocate, to help suffering humanity, rejecting from us the evil of this pandemic and obtaining for us every good necessary for our salvation and sanctification.”

Cardinal Piacenza begins the decree by noting that the “whole of humanity” is “threatened by an invisible and insidious disease which for some time now has become part of everyone’s life” and is “marked day after day by anguished fears, new uncertainties and above all widespread physical and moral suffering.”

He adds: “The Church, following the example of her Divine Master, has always cared for the sick. As Saint John Paul II indicated, the value of human suffering is twofold: “It is supernatural, because it is rooted in the divine mystery of the world’s redemption, and it is also profoundly human, because in it man finds himself, his humanity, his dignity, his mission” (Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, 31).”


March 20, 11.19am

“A tragedy within a tragedy,” is how Il Giornale is describing it as another three priests are reported to have died in Bergamo — one of the northern Italian cities hardest hit by the coronavirus.

So far, 13 priests have died in Bergamo including Don Vincenzo Rini, a popular figure in bishops’ conference-run media. Another 15 are recovering in hospital with 2-3 in intensive care, Don Roberto Trussardi, director of Caritas in Bergamo, told InBlu Radio, the bishops’ conference radio station.

“It was a drama and a tragedy to see the army trucks take away more than 60 coffins because the crematorium could not keep up with all the deaths,” Don Trussardi said. “It’s really a tragedy,” he added. “Also yesterday there were so many deaths and infections. We hope that this awful situation will be resolved.”

Pope Francis called Bergamo’s Bishop Francesco Beschi on Wednesday to offer his consolation and encouragement.

Meanwhile, La Nazione newspaper is reporting that a total of 30 Italian priests have died mostly because of the coronavirus, including the 13 in Bergamo.

The newspaper reports that four very old priests died in Parma but also a younger one, Don Andrea Avanzini, who was 55 and probably infected by his elderly mother whom he lived with. It also reports that four other priests died in Piacenza although only one of them had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The bishop of nearby Cremona, Antonio Napolioni, has recovered from the virus and been discharged from hospital.


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1 Response to Coronavirus updates from Rome: Vatican Allows General Absolution in Some Cases

  1. kathleen says:

    Deacon Nick Donnelly has put up photos on Facebook of each one of these dear deceased Italian priests who gave their lives “while working in the vineyard of the Lord”. May they rest in peace.


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