PRESENTATION BY CARDINAL JORGE A. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ

Press Conference introducing the Apostolic Letter Misericordia Dei in the form of Motu Proprio

On Thursday, 2 May, Cardinals Ratzinger, Medina Estévez and Archbishop Herranz presented the Holy Father's new Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei on Certain Aspects of the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance to the press. Here are the translations of the presentations.

The Apostolic Letter, in the form of the Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei, on "Certain Aspects of the Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance", signed by the Holy Father John Paul II on the 7 April, the Second Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, is not an isolated act in the context of the Pope's Magisterium. On the contrary, it belongs to a series of doctrinal and pastoral teachings that have given rise to a corresponding series of canonical norms for the universal Church, that are expressions of the pastoral responsibility entrusted to the Successor of Peter. In this context we have to recall the significant events of the Pontificate of John Paul II, such as his publishing the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church and of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Post-Synodal Exhortation Reconciliatio et poenitentia, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the recent Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday.

Return to basics: sin, conversion, justification through the sacramental economy

Even if the circumstances that brought about the publication of the Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei indicate a weakening of conscience and relaxation of the Christian life, the positive motivation would comprise the Catholic teaching on sin, conversion and justification through the sacramental economy, and especially, through the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.

In the Church which is the mystery, sacrament and universal instrument of salvation, one finds God's saving power at work whose source is the Father's mercy, rendered visible and effective in the work of his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose for our justification through the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit. So the Church is at the service of the salvation of every human being and this task is so essential that it distinguishes her pastoral activity, that of her ministers and of the whole People of God. Moreover, the gift of salvation is impossible without conversion, just as conversion is the fruit of the grace of God who takes the initiative of saving man from the power of the Evil One and the slavery of sin, to lead him to communion with the Father, re-establishing his original image as a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Scriptural images of seriousness of sin

Sacred Scripture stresses the terrible reality of sin. It compares it to death, leprosy, exile, poverty, hunger and slavery: all these images portray the particular effects it can produce in a person's life; they are strong words and images, but in no way are they exaggerated. Sin brings ruinous effects, not only in the disintegration of man's vital bond with God, but also in his relational balance with himself, and also with regard to the imbalance of social relations. Indeed, sin is an offence perpetrated against God's goodness, a wound in the holiness of the Church and the cause of the disorders that afflict society.

Sacramental grace comes through the Sacrament of Penance celebrated by ordained

In this perspective, the announcement of salvation is the Church's primary and essential mission, just as the ministry of the celebration of the sacraments is her permanent mission. The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation is the secunda post naufragium tabula (the second plank after our shipwreck) instituted by the Lord Jesus to reach out to the men and women who, after Baptism, have succumbed to temptation, following the Evil One and moved away from God. With sin, man is burdened with a guilt that endures until the moment when, under the influence of grace, he is converted and regains his participation in divine life, the pledge of eternal salvation.

The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation was entrusted to the Church, to the Bishops in particular as custodians of ecclesial communion, and to priests as their close collaborators. Far from being a privilege or an exercise of power, the ministry of Reconciliation is an expression of the pastoral responsibility that the bishop and priest accepted before God on the day of their ordination; thus it is a service owed to the brethren as a sign of the Church's tender concern for the lost and injured sheep that need to return to the Good Shepherd's fold. The faithful and painstaking exercise of this ministry is a sign of true pastoral zeal and of the attainment of an awareness of the mission God has entrusted to his ministers, that is, to be at the service of the Christian people. The sacramental ministry of Penance is certainly not an easy one; the Holy Father explained its features in his recent Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, in which he stresses the fact that the faithful have the right to find in priests ministers who are willing to hear their confession.

Ordinary way of celebrating the sacrament is integral confession and absolution

The Motu Proprio Misericordia Del reasserts the traditional teaching of the Church that holds that the only ordinary way to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance is with the integral confession of sins to the priest, with personal absolution. The so-called "general" or "communal" absolution is to be considered an extraordinary and exceptional means, to be used only when the danger of death is imminent, or when the celebration of the sacrament in its ordinary form is physically or morally impossible. To equate "general absolutions" with the ordinary form of the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is a doctrinal error, a disciplinary abuse and a pastoral harm.

The Church is mindful of the example of holy priests who dedicated their entire lives to the exercise of the ministry of sacramental Reconciliation. Think of St John Mary Vianney, of St Leopold Mandic and Bl. Pio of Pietrelcina, of whom I quote a few simple but impressive comments. "In the tumult of passions and adverse events, may we be sustained by the dear hope of God's inexhaustible mercy: let us run confidently to the tribunal of penance, where at every moment he awaits us with fatherly concern; and although we are aware of our poverty before him, we are in no doubt of the forgiveness solemnly pronounced over our errors".

 
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
8 May 2002, page 4

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