Pope: the Missionaries of Mercy cannot absolve unlawful bishops

In a letter, Mgr Fisichella does not include this in the list of sins reserved for the Holy See that the Missionaries of Mercy can absolve. This involves bishops ordained "without papal mandate” in China and within the Lefebvrian community.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Missionaries of Mercy will not absolve excommunicated bishops since they were ordained or themselves ordained other bishops without a papal mandate, this according to the letter that Mgr Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation and Jubilee coordinator, personally gave to each missionary.

The letter, which is dated 10 February, day of the pontifical mandate, but was given to the Missionaries of Mercy the previous evening, says,

"Pope Francis has granted you the faculty to absolve, for the duration of the Jubilee Year, those sins reserved to the Holy See. By disposition of the Holy Father, this faculty is to be understood as being limited exclusively to the following sins:

  1. profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose:
  2. use of physical violence against the Roman Pontiff;
  3. absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue;
  4. a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor.

I am certain that you will be a joyful proclaimer of divine mercy and its faithful dispenser, above all in celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

In the Code of Canon Law, five sins are reserved for the Holy See, in the Apostolic Penitentiary - the oldest Vatican dicastery (department) founded in 1200 by Pope Honorius III. They are:

The list also includes the sin of ordaining a woman priest (Decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007) and that of violating "the oath of secrecy” of the conclave, as decided by Pope Benedict XVI.

Right after the papal announcement, some observers of Chinese and Christian matters began to think about the possibility of fixing the situation of Lefebvrian bishops through the Missionaries of Mercy.

At present, for all sinners, hence for all those who have committed the gravest sins, the same principle applies, this according to the Code, namely that the penalty remains until it ends, i.e. the “contumacy” ends when the sinner repents.

As indicated in the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Reconciliation and Penance’ of 1984, “the essential act of penance, on the part of the penitent, is contrition, a clear and decisive rejection of the sin committed, together with a resolution not to commit it again”.

At issue for canonists is however the difference between "sin" (which a Missionary of Mercy can forgive) and "censure,” which remains a prerogative of the Holy See.

Thus, even if an unlawful bishop is pardoned, he remains under "censure" before he can be readmitted as a pastor for the faithful.

Until now, the Holy See has asked China’s unlawful bishops to write a letter to the pope in which he explains his situation, admits his personal responsibility, if any, and ask for forgiveness.

After he receives a pardon from Rome, the bishop must publicly ask for forgiveness before his faithful, to set the scandal right.

The latter becomes a problem however if the bishop continues to belong to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, whose mandate is to build a Church "independent" of the pope. (FP)