The Sacrament of Reconciliation in the current pandemic

Note from the Apostolic Penitentiary on the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the current pandemic, 20.03.2020

«I am with you always»

(Mt 28: 20)

The gravity of the present circumstances calls for reflection on the urgency and centrality of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, together with some necessary clarifications, both for the lay faithful and for ministers called to celebrate the Sacrament.

Even in the time of COVID-19, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is administered in accordance with universal canon law and with the provisions of the Ordo Paenitentiae.

Individual confession is the ordinary way of celebrating this sacrament (cf. can. 960 CIC), while collective absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be imparted except where there is an imminent danger of death, since there is not enough time to hear the confessions of individual penitents (cf. can. 961, § 1 CIC), or a grave necessity (cf. can. 961, § 1 CIC). 961, § 1, 2 CIC), the consideration of which is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop, taking into account the criteria agreed upon with the other members of the Episcopal Conference (cf. can. 455, § 2 CIC) and without prejudice to the necessity, for valid absolution, of votum sacramenti on the part of the individual penitent, that is to say, the purpose of confessing serious sins in due time, which at the time could not be confessed (cf. can. 962, § 1 CIC).

This Apostolic Penitentiary believes that, especially in the places most affected by the pandemic contagion and until the phenomenon recedes, the cases of serious need mentioned in can. 961, § 2 CIC above mentioned, will occur.

Any further specification is delegated by law to diocesan bishops, always taking into account the supreme good of the salvation of souls (cf. can. 1752 CIC).

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

In the present pandemic emergency, it is therefore 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 the necessary discretion.

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.

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).

Never before has the Church experienced thus the power of the communion of saints, raising to her Crucified and Risen Lord her vows and prayers, especially the Sacrifice of Holy Mass, celebrated daily, even without the presence of the people, by priests.

Like a good mother, the Church implores the Lord that humanity may be freed from such a scourge, invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, and of her Spouse Saint Joseph, under whose patronage the Church has always walked the world.

May Mary Most Holy and Saint Joseph obtain for us abundant graces of reconciliation and salvation, in attentive listening to the Word of the Lord, which he repeats to humanity today: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46: 10), “I am with you always” (Mt 28 :20).

Given in Rome, from the seat of the Apostolic Penitentiary, on March 19, 2020,

Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patron of the Universal Church.

Mauro Cardinal Piacenza

Major Penitentiary

Krzysztof Nykiel





Similar Posts


  1. Peter Worn says:

    As the numbers of priests go down; as the age of priests go up; as so many of us have compromised immune systems…NOW is the time for general absolution– as people are scared and confused–they need God’s tender mercy–in whatever form we can help impart it.

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    On our first day of Self-Isolation, Wordsworth’s Sonnet ‘Nuns fret not …’ seemed a suitable metaphor:

    ‘NUNS FRET NOT at their convent’s narrow room;
    And hermits are contented with their cells;
    And students with their pensive citadels;
    Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
    Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
    High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
    Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells;
    In truth the prison, into which we doom

    Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
    In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
    Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
    Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
    Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
    Should find brief solace there, as I have found.’

    Wordsworth chose the rule-bound Petrarchan or Italian form to make his case for the ‘Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground’, which makes it doubly appropriate for our narrowly rule-bound existence over the coming months. Petrarch lived through the Black Death of the mid-14th century, losing his son Giovanni to La Pestilenza in 1362, while Italy had already lost a third of its population by the winter of 1348. Seven centuries later, last night’s Stuart Ramsay documentary for Sky News from the top hospital in Bergamo was devastating and puts all our gallows humour aside for now. The Vatican reported last week that Bergamo Diocese had already lost ten of its priests to La Pestilenza.

    But to return to Brendan’s piece above, maybe this too calls for a Petrarchan Sonnet?


    ‘Priests fret not at their Church’s shifting rules
    – even Patrick seemed contented with his bells –
    Though the Pious, more serpentine than the Book of Kells,
    Cling to an orthodoxy from scholastic schools,
    Supposing Cappadocian Basil ridicules
    Cyril of Jerusalem who ingeniously spells
    Out how communion in crossed hands excels
    The piety of prelates at priedieux and faldstools.

    But that was last week’s war, it seems to me,
    So if Ferns, Kilmore and Clogher have heard the sound
    Of COVID-20 knelling out his next decisive round,
    Maybe they too will join the Standing Army of the ACP
    In this virtual parish whose social distance grants liberty
    To congregations of 1000+ their opinions to propound.’

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    General absolution is a classic form of that sacrament, but here the Vatican resisted all nudgings of the Spirit and let the sacrament die instead.

  4. Kevin Walters says:

    “they need God’s tender mercy–in whatever form we can help impart it”

    Yes, now and in the future. Many years ago (1970’s) I attend mass at St Michael’s on the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides.
    The pulpit was in the shape of a sailing ships bridge with balustrade and a large wooden ships wheel, which the priest held while giving his sermon in Gallic to about thirty plus members of the congregation, who stood at the back of the Church, the majority of whom were men, shabbily dressed in black and poorly fed ( Who stood very rigid and upright), they appeared to be pressing their backs against the backwall of the Church, while perhaps half a dozen people sat in the pews which included my wife and myself. This was probably due to some heretical doctrine (Can someone enlighten me), as their actions demonstrated an unhealthy extreme form of unworthiness, most probably emanating from fear, conveyed by the doctrine of Mortal Sin. Which the priest obviously had not address in the past and we must assume that this situation would continue into the future.

    Many None’s perceive Christianity, as in, when you visit many Conservative Websites, there appears to be a self-righteous obsession with ‘Mortal Sin’, especially in others, inciting words to the effect of, ‘they will burn in Hell’ etc. Rather than seeing the full person, as with many cultural Catholics, some of whom are looking for a way back.

    Prejudices can be found in all our hearts—in many cases the seed was placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture’. Only humility can cleanse this prejudicial root from within our hearts.

    Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual writer, wrote of how prejudice can degrade another human person “Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified only with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.” Do we take prejudices into our place of worship? Are we prejudiced against individuals or any community? If so, we turn to Jesus for healing we need”

    For many cultural Catholics, it does not take a ‘strong act’ of will to commit a Mortal Sin, while a strong act of will against God, assumes hatred of Him; that is to want to extinguish the divine spark within one’s heart (The Sin against the Holy Spirit). That is a Mortal Sin, as it cannot be forgiven. By definition all other sins can be forgiven and, in this sense, they are not ‘truly’ mortal. But ‘all sin’ leads us away from the love of God.

    Jesus teaches in relation to the Commandments (Law) ‘not one iota’. While amplifying our understanding, as in, even to look at a woman with lust in your heart is to commit adultery with her, etc. Taking us several steps further into the reality of ‘sin’ which separates us from the Love of God, as in the First Commandment.

    “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”

    My given understanding of sin, is that sin is Anything we covet in preference to the love of God, and it is that what is within your heart that matters to Him, as He ‘alone’ sees (Judges) the heart. So, does our present understanding of sin (Venial/Mortal) need to be reflected upon as in this given statement on another site.

    “For example, suppose while you stole a diamond pin you thought you were stealing a pin with a small piece of glass, of little value. You would not have had sufficient reflection and would not have committed a mortal sin till you found out that what you had stolen was a valuable diamond”

    But this analogy does not reflect the seriousness of sin as in “even to look at another woman with lust in your heart is to commit adultery with her” (Mortal Sin). Which is equivalent to ‘Coveting’ and then stealing another’s goods (Pin).

    The reality of stealing something with little monetary value, the loss of which to the owner, we can never fully comprehend, as in it been the straw that broke the camel’s back, or something that possess great sentimental value or unknow significance to the owner. In effect to steal the Widows Mite would be no different from stealing a diamond of great value from a wealthy merchant.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  5. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Peter Worn@1
    I think Cardinal Piacenza’s announcement yesterday went into great detail about special Plenary Indulgences granted to C-ViD patients and their carers “under the usual conditions”. The front line of this battle is no place for elderly priests with reduced immunity, even if armed with cotton buds. Let them stay in the communicating trenches. As at the Somme, this is no time for lions led by donkeys.

  6. Martin Murray says:

    Reads more like the terms and conditions for an emergency bank loan than anything to do with the grace if God. The beneficiary even has to check into a local branch when the crisis is over to speak with an official.
    We have created layers of bureaucracy over the centuries for the presumptuous dispensing of God’s grace and it just looks ridiculous. I hope and am sure most priests will just roll their eyes and just use their common sense. Such a pity generations of people were fed this stuff with many left with unnecessary scruples and fears. What a tragic misrepresentation of our loving creator.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.