Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Bishop Cunningham Clairifes Norms for General Absolution

November 13th, 2012, Promulgated by Gen

One of the trademark sacramental anomalies in the Diocese of Rochester is the practice of “general absolution” at communal penance services. Whereas a priest is enabled by God, His Church, and Her Law to grant a general absolution if a dire situation arise (see: Posseidon Adventure, The), several clerics in our Diocese misunderstand the rubrics, and often grant this general abs0lution when no imminent danger is to be had. This practice has been seen at the various Peace of Christ worship sites (St. Ambrose, St. James, St. John the Evangelist), as well as several suburban parishes, most notably Assumption. The Vatican has been very clear that the Sacrament of Penance be celebrated in such a way as not to diminish its efficacy and importance in the eyes of the faithful. Absolution essentially “wipes the slate clean” for us, and is therefore quite a gift from the Almighty. For this reason, it must be treated with dignity and reverence.

Unwarranted general absolution lessens the importance of the sacrament in two ways: primarily, it removes the individual’s literal and actual confession. There is no “Bless me, Father,” no “my last confession was…” Indeed, the only dialogue in a communal penance service can be found here. (Note that this is a program from a service in which individual confessions were heard.) The second diminution of the sacrament comes in the creation of the sense that absolution is easily-obtained, easily-given, and not really something to be worked for. While Our Lord, in His mercy, does freely forgive us should we come to Him with contrite hearts, it is this second bit that is a stumbling block in this instance. General absolution allows the “penitent” a guilt-free “out,” a way to put one’s foot in the Heavenly door, so-to-speak. Without belaboring the point, general absolution is not appropriate as the norm, and serves only to warp the faithful’s understanding of the Sacrament of Penance.

Our Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Cunningham, realizes this, and addressed the matter in a recent letter to all diocesan clergy. He reminded our priests, in no uncertain terms, that there is no need for general absolution, and that should such a need arise, the priest(s) must notify him in order that he might decide to allow such a thing. He refers the clergy to the relevant section of Canon Law, and reminds them that the local ordinary, not the individual priest, is the one to decide such matters. As the UK Liturgy office similarly reiterates:

General Absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be
given to a number of penitents together, unless
1. danger of death threatens and there is not time for the priest
or priests to hear the confession of the individual penitents.
2. there exists a grave necessity, that is, given the number of
penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to
hear the individual confessions within an appropriate time, so
that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of the
sacramental grace of holy communion for a lengthy time. A
sufficient necessity is not, however, considered to exist when
confessors cannot be available merely because of a great
gathering of penitents, such as can occur on some major feast
day or pilgrimage.
It is for the Diocesan Bishop to judge whether the conditions required
in Canon 961, §1.2 are present.

It seems as if our Apostolic Administrator is beginning to reign in the more spastic clergy and administrators, and is doing so with gentleness and charity. He has, in this letter, demonstrated to the Diocese that we need to take seriously the Sacrament of Penance. This dimension of the Faith has been somewhat out of focus in this Diocese; it has not been wholly absent, but it has been far from actively promoted. In light of this, Bishop Cunningham has requested the following:

“…every priest on the Tuesday of Holy Week, March 26th, would help make the Sacrament of Penance available from 12:30 PM to 7:30 PM, in every parish church or cluster in the diocese. I heartily endorse this plan and ask that the details be worked out and communicated to you as soon as possible.”

Evidently, some priests are grumbling about “having to sit in the box” for such a long amount of time. It would seem that seven hours is an acceptable price to pay for the salvation of souls, but that’s just my opinion. After all, St. John Vianney would often spend more than sixteen hours hearing confessions.

Clarification of the possibilities for general sacramental absolution can be found in the “Pastoral Norms for General Sacramental Absolution.” I recommend giving it a read, in order that we might see the whole picture.

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35 Responses to “Bishop Cunningham Clairifes Norms for General Absolution”

  1. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    The bishops are called to repent.
    Let’s join them.

  2. Bernie says:

    Thanks be to God!

  3. Nerina says:

    This is very encouraging news. Good for our AA!

  4. jetscubs86 says:

    Is this really happening in the Diocese of Rochester? What a leader. The way a shepherd should lead his flock. Thanks be to God.

  5. Richard Thomas says:

    OK. Will priests in the DOR be on board? Will they continue to do what they want to do? Only time will tell.

  6. Bernie says:

    No, most will not be on board. They will do as they please until someone finally steps on them -hard. Then they will start to fall into line -or into revolt.

  7. snowshoes says:

    Thank God! And a TOTH to Gen. Thank you, Bishop Cunningham! Let us pray that this is the beginning of our dear AA’s addressing of all the serious abuses, such as Lay “preaching”, Priestless Parishes (and the ejection of the interloper lay altar-kissing King Johns), etc. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, pray for us!

  8. Hopefull says:

    Praise God for His Care of His Church! We have suffered too long with Reconciliation-lite in this Diocese. Of all the changes Bishop Cunningham could have made, this one tells of his appropriate priority. However, it does raise the question if this sends the signal that there won’t be a NEW bishop by Holy Week? Seems a long time. Also, it confirms that it isn’t Fr. Hart’s role to pass on the Apostolic Administrator’s orders, but rather for a direct Bishop to Priest clarity and required obedience. There is also a possible explanation that Syracuse and Rochester may be considered for merger, and why not? With all the church closings and alleged priest shortages, it might make sense.

  9. iteachthefaith says:

    A representative from each Catholic High School has been invited to a meeting at Buff Rd tomorrow (11/14). Topic of the meeting “A day of Penance for the DOR”. As one of these representatives I shall be pleased to be able to announce that my school has held a communal penance service (no general absolution) during both Advent and Lent for the past 4 years. We’re trying hard down on Kings Highway.

  10. DanielKane says:

    Amen and Amen. The Renewal of the DoR has begun. Priests, mindful of the sacred promises that they made to obey the Bishop and his successors, need only to do that which they are ordained to do and leave secular affairs and less relevant ministries to deacons and the laity. It is impossible to imagine a priest so disconnected to his priestly identity that he would neglect the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

    Bravo to Bishop Cunningham who loves us with the love of a father and Bravo to the priesthood of the DoR that is integral to this renewal.

    Study up on the Sacrament of Reconciliation – catechize it person to person. Those in parish leadership – imagine that you get $100 per confession and formulate a business plan accordingly. If you can, find a retired executive or two to assist.

  11. Mike says:


    When the first of my granddaughters was a BK frosh back in 2006-07, her religion text book was not on the USCCB conformity list and neither her teacher nor the administration could (or would) tell me why. That situation, thankfully, was remedied the next year.

    It’s good to hear more good news coming out of BK.

  12. Scott W. says:

    Those in parish leadership – imagine that you get $100 per confession and formulate a business plan accordingly.

    Start a contest and at the end the priest with most confessions gets choice of assignment. 😀

  13. annonymouse says:

    Snowshoes – just for my own edification, what is an “interloper lay altar-kissing King John”? That one went right over my head. Thank you.

  14. snowshoes says:

    Annonymouse, the reference is to the bad King John of Magna Carta fame who was the interloper when his brother, the good Richard the Lionhearted, was imprisoned. The lay administrators who prance up to the altar with the “assisting priest” and reverence the altar with him at the beginning of Sunday Mass are the evil interlopers. The priest who have to serve the parish where hi is assigned is still the pastor in the eyes of God, and the people know it, but he is imprisoned, and cannot exercise his full pastoral responsibilities. “Priestless parishes” in Canon Law do not exist. Only in the diocese of Rochester. Let us pray that this grievous travesty, this molestation of the children, will finally end in this diocese once and for all.

    One reason this evil of Lay Administrators of parishes doesn’t get the loud protest it deserves, except here on this blog, is because it is so horrible, so monstrous, people can’t get their minds around it. St. John Vianney, pray for us.

  15. annonymouse says:

    SShoes – Thanks for the insight! I didn’t realize that lay pastoral administrators were reverencing the altar with the clergy.

  16. Persis says:

    I think this is awesome, and I am happy that our AA has put his foot down.
    That said, I am still filled with reservation. Manning the confessionals is the least of our problems in the DOR. The problem, as I see it, is the complete lack of understanding of the sacrament itself, not only by lay people, but by the clergy. And until we start hearing from the pulpit the graces associated with this sacrament, and the graces that come from whole-hearted examination of self in light of what we believe as Catholics, nothing will ever change.

  17. snowshoes says:

    Annonymouse, It is abuses such as lay administrator Altar-kissing that make me properly wary of the wickedness and snares of satan. There’s nothing written against it! But does it make every Catholic’s skin crawl? Yes. It is a horror. I do not even know if the particular LA I see do it knows how wrong it is. This is something the clergy does because by virtue of the ordination of the bishop, priest and deacon, they participate in a very special way in the ministerial sacrifice of Our Lord. We laymen do not do that when we are in the sanctuary as acolytes. So here’s hoping and praying that our good AA will KO the AK by the AL!!! OAMDG!

  18. Nerina says:

    So here’s hoping and praying that our good AA will KO the AK by the AL!!! OAMDG!

    Snowshoes, this line is awesome!

  19. christian says:

    I think it is a very good idea to request priests of this Diocese to be available !2:30 N. – 7:30 P.M. for confession – especially in preparation for Easter, but doesn’t the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral fall on the Tuesday of Holy Week? What time will the Chrism Mass begin?

  20. Richard Thomas says:

    he relationship of priests to their bishop reminds me of a line in “A Man For All Seasons” when King Henry VIII says they, the lords and knights follow me because I am the lion and they are the jackels. The jackels feed off the kill of the lion and are dependent on him for their survival. They don’t usually kill on their own.

  21. raymondfrice says:

    “Start a contest and at the end the priest with most confessions gets choice of assignment.”

    Let us not neglect quality for quantity.

  22. Hopefull says:

    I noticed that on Dec. 3 at 7:00 P.M. that Fr. Spilly is holding a communal penance reconciliation service. It is not possible to tell if general absolution will be given, but the implication is just that. So is Fr. Spilly ignoring Bishop Cunningham’s directives? Are other priests? I hope we will all notice carefully what is going to happen now. It might be a good way to assemble the list that needs further attention.

  23. Chrysostom says:

    As regards the Chrism Mass usually taking place on Tuesday of Holy Week:

    I have been told that the Chrism Mass will instead be celebrated on Monday of Holy Week this time.

    If we are still without a bishop at that time, I wonder who celebrates the Chrism Mass: +Cunningham or +Clark?

    And…who is in charge of choreographing the obligatory liturgical dance for this Mass?

  24. Dr. K says:

    If we are still without a bishop at that time, I wonder who celebrates the Chrism Mass: +Cunningham or +Clark?

    I would think Bp. Cunningham.

  25. Hopefull says:

    Here’s another norm I’d like to see re-established. Catholic News Service this week reported an exhortation for priests to dress as priests. Here is the link:

    Some excerpts from the Vatican Memo:

    “…the Vatican Secretary of State has issued a letter asking clerics and religious at the Vatican to dress as befits their identity as priests conformed to Christ….it was also a message for the wider Church….Cardinal Bertone said that bishops should faithfully wear the cassock every day during office hours at the Vatican as an example to the clerics who visit the Holy See.

    …a 1994 document on the ministry and life of priests from the Congregation for Clergy … said that in a “secularised and materialistic society … it is particularly important that the community be able to recognise the priest, man of God and dispenser of his mysteries, by his attire as well, which is an unequivocal sign of his dedication and his identity as a public minister.”

    I would add “especially in this year beginning the new evangelization.” Amen?

  26. Richard Thomas says:

    Amen. Wearing the cassock sends a powerful message to people. Something the current and past clergy couldn’t see. They thought seeing a cassock would alienate people.

  27. ptor says:

    I don’t think St. Louis Church in Pittsford got the message. They still list 2 services for December on their website.

  28. Sounds like your AA is doing a good job….continued prayers…

  29. Hopefull says:

    It is my understanding that Penance Services are still allowed, but not general absolution. So it is hard to tell from the Church Bulletins if the Penance service will contain an illicit administration of the Sacrament of Penance, or if there will be obedience or deliberate disobedience to our Apostolic Administrator.

    My suggestion is GO! See what is going on, and either confirm/compliment the presider in his obedience or ask how he could do a general absolution given the directive from Bishop Cunningham. Here are some times/places. It would be helpful if others added their times and places.

    -Tonight (Wed., Dec. 5th) there is a Penance Service at 4:30 at St. John Fisher in Murphy Hall.

    -Mon. Dec. 17th at 7:30PM and Tuesday Dec. 18th at 1:30PM at St. Louis (bulletin mentions opportunity for confession but is silent on general absolution.)

    OTHERS? Please add!

  30. Hopefull says:

    Here’s a few more times and places to check out if the Penance Reconciliation Service is using what has finally been prohibited — general absolution. But has it stopped? Maybe someone can check it out and let us know?

    -St. Anne’s will be held on Sat. Dec. 15th at 2PM

    -St. Joseph’s in Penfield is being held on Monday Dec. 17th at noon.

    -Our Lady of Lourdes will be held on Mon, Dec. 17th at 7PM

    What seems very strange is how there is virtually no mention in church bulletins of the “new rules” from Bishop Cunningham? Why is that?

    -Assumption in Fairport is being held at 7:00 pm on Monday, Dec. 17th.

  31. ptor says:

    I did find a couple of mentions in the bulletins:

    Peace of Christ Parish-
    ” By the way, with regard to the Sacrament of Penance for us all, Bishop Cunningham has sent us a letter instructing that all Advent Penance Services be offered using form 2 instead of form 3. That is, for our two scheduled services on Tuesday, December 18th at St. Ambrose at 7:00 P.M. and on Saturday, December 22nd at St. John the Evangelist at 11:00 A.M., after some initial communal prayer together, we will have only individual confessions and absolution. I am grateful to the Basilian priests of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in upper Irondequoit who will help us in celebrating the sacrament at each of our services.”

    “The long-standing tradition of offering Communal Penance
    Services with Absolution is no longer an option in the Diocese
    of Rochester. Therefore, on Friday, December 21st there will
    be an opportunity for individual confession throughout the day.”

  32. Chrysostom says:

    Good news from at least two parish bulletins:

    From St. Charles Borromeo:

    “This year our parish Advent Penance service (Saturday December 1 at 11:00 a.m.) will be using Rite II: Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution. I know that this is a change from our customary practice during the Advent Season. During this Year of Faith, declared and opened by Pope Benedict XVI, the Church is encouraging all its members to deepen their personal relationship with the risen Lord.
    As I reflect on my own faith experience, I know the healing touch of the Lord that occurs when I admit to God, myself, and the confessor, the exact nature of my sins. With the naming of the fault there is no longer any pretense that I am in need of a Savior. Willingness to express this need seems to be the key to encounter one-to-one the mercy and compassion of the risen Lord. The receiving of God’s forgiveness, as heard in the prayer of absolution, is a freeing and healing experience. We will have 8 priests available for our service to celebrate individual confession.”

    And from St. Stanislaus:

    “The long-standing tradition of offering Communal Penance Services with Absolution is no longer an option in the Diocese of Rochester. Therefore, on Friday, December 21st there will be an opportunity for individual confession throughout the day.”

  33. Dr. K says:

    Excellent, Chrysostom + Ptor!

  34. Scott W. says:

    Deo Gratias! Brick by brick as the saying goes.

  35. Diane Harris says:

    I am delighted to see that Fr. Roman wrote in this week’s bulletin for St. Stan’s that “There is no longer general absolution permitted in the diocese.”

    While ‘Penance Services’ are of course permitted for prayer and examination of conscience, when a bulletin lists ‘Penance Service’ or (worse) “Reconciliation Service” it leaves people thinking they will still have a general absolution. Will they? or not?

    In some churches people are being told that there will be no general absolution “this year.” I think it diminishes the teaching opportunity that general absolution is wrong in a Penance Service context, and avoids explaining how and when the exception of general absolution is permitted. Instead, it may appear that general absolution is a permitted choice but just not being made this year. It is understandable that priests who themselves have been conducting such services offering general absolution may feel a bit slapped on the fingers for having done so, but it isn’t a change in Church teaching that is being made, but a call to faithfulness and obedience.

    “SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION” seems to me to be a term that should be carefully and precisely used.

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