Some reactionaries are outraged by Pope Francis saying that absolution can be given to someone who can’t confess his sins. They quote Saint John Paul II in his Reconciliatio et paenitentia, to wit:
Whether as a tribunal of mercy or a place of spiritual healing, under both aspects the sacrament requires a knowledge of the sinner’s heart in order to be able to judge and absolve, to cure and heal. Precisely for this reason the sacrament involves on the part of the penitent a sincere and complete confession of sins. This therefore has a raison d’etre not only inspired by ascetical purposes (as an exercise of humility and mortification), but one that is inherent in the very nature of the sacrament.
Strong words to be sure. I’ve done otherwise 1000 times in my decades long priestly ministry. General absolution given to, say, a group of soldiers heading off to extreme danger, without hearing any of their sins, though reminding them that they must have the intention to go to individual confession, is both possible and recommended. I’ve never had occasion to do that, but I just wanted to insert that into the argument at the get-go. But I do want to say that I’ve granted absolution a 1000 times on, I think, pretty much every continent in the world, and in so many countries, to those who did not make, could not make a confession of sins in any way, that is, of those who were dying, who had suffered whatever form of violence, whatever.
If I’m shot and can’t speak, I hope that there’s a priest around to absolve me regardless of the idiocy of the traditional-ism-ists. Saint John Paul II was not one of those, and I’m sure that he’s done what I’ve done, as every priest I’m guessing pretty much without exception has done or will do in his lifetime of ministry, that is, grant an absolution expeditiously to those who are dying and cannot confess their sins in kind and number and aggravating circumstances with the due care by which this sacrament is honored. This sacrament is also honored when absolution is to be given regardless of oracular confession of sins.
Anecdote from Africa told to me, as I wasn’t there: A group of missionaries were detained by some warlords who had them standing in a big circle so as to interrogate them. They got tired of asking questions and said that they were just going to shoot them all. They were all Catholic and had a priest with them. One of the young men cried out, scared out of his mind, “Father, give the absolution! Give the absolution!” But the priest was so scared the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. That intense fear seems to have melted the hearts of the warlords enough, or it was so humorous to them, that they just let them all go. The point is, however, that the priest could have given the general absolution.
Having said all that, I can imagine other examples perhaps more to the point, but what’s the use of speaking to those who are not priests, have never heard a confession in their lives, nor will they, but who only want to criticize and make sure that no one goes to confession by mocking pretty much all priests in the world as not being true priests since they were not ordained by this or that bishop of their liking? Just to say, I’ve been publicly mocked by this crowd, with them saying, in fact, that I’m not a real priest. Despite them: Go to Confession!