Today’s London’s Tablet carried an interview with Pope Francis by the famous papal-biographer Austen Ivereigh. Given the social-distancing reality Ivereigh agreed to submit half a dozen written questions to the Holy Father who answered in a recording that Ivereigh translated into English. The interview is the first exclusive that Pope Francis has given to a UK media outlet, and it is aimed at the English-speaking world in general. The whole interview is well worth reading, U.S. readers might be particularly interested in Pope Francis’ comments on his visit to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery of U.S. World War II casualties on All Souls Day 2017.
Here I want to share one point that Pope Francis made on the Sacrament of Confession. Answering Ivereigh’s question as to whether he sees a new king of “home church” that is more creative emerging from the experience with the Covid-19 crisis, Pope Francis gives an excellent answer basing himself on the relation between institution and charism in a Church that must remain between the poles of Gnosticism and Pelagianism. This is to be done by having a strongly institutional Church, yet a Church that is “institutionalised by the Holy Spirit.”
As part of his answer, Pope Francis mentions the challenges to the practice of the Sacrament of Confession:
About a week ago an Italian bishop, somewhat flustered, called me. He had been going round the hospitals wanting to give absolution to those inside the wards from the hallway of the hospital. But he had spoken to canon lawyers who had told him he couldn’t, that absolution could only be given in direct contact. “What do you think, Father?” he had asked me. I told him: “Bishop, fulfil your priestly duty.” And the bishop said Grazie, ho capito (“Thank you, I understand”). I found out later that he was giving absolution all around the place.
This is the freedom of the Spirit in the midst of a crisis, not a Church closed off in institutions. That doesn’t mean that canon law is not important: it is, it helps, and please let’s make good use of it, it is for our good. But the final canon says that the whole of canon law is for the salvation of souls, and that’s what opens the door for us to go out in times of difficulty to bring the consolation of God.
You ask me about a “home Church”. We have to respond to our confinement with all our creativity. We can either get depressed and alienated – through media that can take us out of our reality – or we can get creative. At home we need an apostolic creativity, a creativity shorn of so many useless things, but with a yearning to express our faith in community, as the people of God. So: to be in lockdown, but yearning, with that memory that yearns and begets hope – this is what will help us escape our confinement.
Pope Francis Tablet interview, 11 April 2020