The Sacrament of Penance (Again)

Canonical Consultation


Jennifer Haselberger

I recently had a conversation where the topic of Catholic confession was discussed at length. Since I was not able, given the context of the conversation, to provide citations or references, I thought that I would take the opportunity to post the same on this blog. This post might be of little interest to many of you, but priests might want to review some of the materials attached.

One of the questions that came up during this conversation was about the differences between sacramental confession and other forms of communication between individuals, including between individuals and priests, or even two priests speaking together. I was at pains to explain that reconciliation is a ritual, and therefore there is a prescribed formula that must be followed which establishes that the exchange is sacramental in nature rather than purely conversational or even an appeal for other forms of pastoral care. I am attaching a guide to confession produced by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and which gives the penitent’s formula. For the complete text of ritual form ‘A’, please click here.

Another question that was raised was the location in which confessions are to be heard. While there are always exceptions to the rule, the Code of Canon Law is clear that the proper place to hear confessions is a church or oratory, and that confessions should not be heard outside of these locations without a grave cause (c. 964, 1-3). While I was Chancellor in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, a new clergy bulletin (diocesan policy) was promulgated that reinforced this expectation, along with insisting that confessions of children are never heard outside of properly designated locations.

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