Pope Francis on Creativity and Confession

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


  1. “But he had spoken to canon lawyers who had told him he couldn’t, that absolution could only be given in direct contact.”

    Well, the first problem is that this bishop has idiots for canon lawyers…

    1. Possibly or possibly not. Do read Ed Peters on the Canon law blog. He suggests that a mobile telephone can be used for confession. He also raises the absence of speedy processes for resolving Canon Law questions and suggests that “this contributes to a widening contempt for law in the Church during a time when respect for law, at all levels of the Church, is already at historic lows, and it fuels the impulse (again, I judge no motives here) for everyone to do pretty much whatever he thinks best under the circumstances.”

      1. Thanks for mentioning that. It’s interesting that one of voluble starboard-side bloggers who normally cites Dr Peters hasn’t yet (so far as I am aware) mentioned his cautions, but instead went right to invoking canonical crime of simulation of sacraments but for the condition of intention.

        I am OK with the indeterminate state of encouraging in Hope what is possible under the circumstances without the comfort of conclusive determination. (If asked if X is valid or invalid: “We don’t know (yet), but we act in hope and trust to join our will to God’s will here, and that God’s will may become clearer to us in so doing.”) I think that’s the spirit of Pope Francis’ remarks in this regard. (It would be nice to have canonical crime dogs kept on a leash at this time, though.) This is what I mean by “working around the box” – it’s not untethered to the “box” nor does it posit a claim to other members of the faithful to be definitively Right and Just. Rather, it’s an act of charity in hope and good faith that may (or may not) eventually be confirmed to have the fullness of sacrament.

      1. Perhaps it is to protect confidedentiality. In a hospital ward those in beds alongside might overhear. What if the priest believes it right to withhold absolution? The others should not notice.

  2. Fr XYZ’s argument (you know who I mean) is based upon “physical proximity” – noticeably, there are a number of inconsistencies and contortions in the minutiae of his argument.

  3. I believe that confessions can be done on telephone or iPhone or by any other means of communication.
    The important thing in confession is not the form but the essence –
    The sincerity of the heart.

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