Diritto e Religione nelle Società Multiculturali/ Law and Religion in Multicultural Societies/ Derecho y Religión en las Sociedades Multiculturales/ Droit et Religion dans les Sociétés Multiculturelles/ Recht und Religion in Multikulturellen Gesellschaften/ 多元化社会中的法与宗教 / القانون والدين في المجتمعات متعددة الثقافات

by Daniela Tarantino*

mail: daniela.tarantino@unige.it


The current pandemic state law limits severely gatherings and participation in liturgies and sacramental devotions. The Catholic Church has worked to find ways and times to answer to the Covid-19 emergency. In order to pursue the salus animarum[1] – according to the “signs of the times” – the forms of exercise of the munera ecclesiae has been adapted[2], first of all those related to the munus sanctificandi, since they demonstrate the efforts to be close to the people of God, who demands of an ongoing “sociality” m that is wounded by the pandemic[3].

In this context, the sacrament of Reconciliation is of central importance, as it highlights the inseparable link between the formal and the substantive aspects of law, particularly in a legal system that has flexibility tools capable of applying the aequitas as a means of updating it[4]. The present circumstances made the sacrament of reconciliation even more necessary, stimulating the Church to recover ancient and exceptional forms of administration and at the same time to develop new ones. According to the norm of can. 960 of the Codex Iuris Canonici, the ordinary way of celebration of this sacrament remains the individual confession, but it is recalled that a collective absolution can be given where the imminent danger of death or a serious need occur (can. 961, CIC). This possibility is granted at the discretion of the diocesan bishop, who must take into account the criteria eventually established by the Episcopal Conference[5]. The absolution will be valid only if the penitent promises to confess his or her every single serious sins at the first opportunity (can. 962, § 1 CIC)[6]. The «Protocol on the resumption of celebrations with the people» signed on May 7th 2020 between the Episcopal Italian Conference and the Italian Government is established that from May 18th the sacrament of confession can be administered «in large and airy places», which allow «full respect for the distancing measures and the confidentiality required by the sacrament itself»: the penitent and the confessors must both wear a surgical mask[7]. This is an exception to the can. 964 § 1, which states: «The proper place to hear sacramental confessions is a church or oratory»[8]. The Episcopal Italian Conference has “promoted”, or at least not hindered, the search for “alternative” forms of carrying out to perform, to celebrate the confession, that can be useful also other future emergencies that may make the ordinary administration of the sacrament of penance difficult.

This is the case of the drive-confession, an idea conceived in a city in Maryland, in the United States, where Father Scott Holmer, a priest of the Catholic Church of St. Edward the Confessor, in the city of Bowie, began to confess the penitents faithful through the windows of their cars, parked in the church courtyard[9]. From the United States the idea spread to Europe, arriving first in Poland and then in France. In Warsaw the priest Mateusz Kielarski of the Temple of Divine Providence, as well as Father Adam Pawlowski, parish priest of Rogalin in the Poznan region[10], and in France father David de Lestapis, parish priest of the parish Saint Jean-Paul II and his vicar father Vincent Poitau did the same, positioning themselves under a tent mounted for the occasion, under which they stopped with the engine off in front of the specially prepared cages, without therefore having to move from their car interior[11].

The «on the road» confession is certainly an unprecedented method of administering the sacrament, which however maintains the simultaneous physical presence of both the penitent and the confessor. More daring is the method suggested by Mons. Reinaldo Nann, Peruvian bishop of the Prelature of Caravelí, who authorized priests to celebrate confessions by telephone, emphasizing on reconciliation as “medicine of the soul”, and therefore underlining tha the confessor is a medicus animarum as well as a iudex peccatorum[12]. Ù

In Bergamo, one of the Italian cities most affected by Covid-19, the priest Luciano Locatelli administers the sacrament of reconciliation through whatsapp, in the belief that «Jesus at the time would have done the same thing … I don’t care», said the priest, «who wants the sacrament to get right, but I share it with those who believe in the power of forgiveness to build a humanity that is worthy of the name»[13].

Although at first glance these new ways may appear daring if not even impracticable, proposals have also been made which envisage the use of digital tools for the administration of reconciliation. From a certain perspective, the use of technological tools appears impracticable given the absolute inviolability of the confessional seal (think of a video call or the presence of another person next to the penitent)[14]; but on the other hand, the violation of the seal does not operate due to the mere presence, certainly morally regrettable, of audio or video material hidden by the penitent or by a third person during the confession in order to record it, but only in the case of spreading or disclosure of the matter object of the sacrament[15].

Even the auricular confession made in places traditionally assigned to its administration does not always protect against the violation of the seal, whose absolute inviolability can be guaranteed by the awareness of both the confessor and the penitent of the sacredness of the act, which does not depend on the place where it happens neither by the way it takes place[16].

In this pandemic moment, when distance appears to be the only tool capable of curbing the spread of contagion, the virtual embrace given by the word of comfort of a priest, can represent for the faithful a relief from the afflictions that weigh on the soul, a refreshment from the anxieties that grip everyday life, a cure for wounds that mark the spirit. In particular, precisely with reference to the modalities of administration of the confession, the Church should manifest herself not only as an institution, but also «as freedom of the Spirit»[17]. Moreover, during the pandemic the use of modern technologies has supported the diffusion of sacramental grace on several occasions, and it seems appropriate that priests should also be able to carry out their function as medicus animarum using, where possible, these tools, without placing obstacles formal. This may be an additional opportunity for this crisis «to become an opportunity to look at what is truly essential for our lives»[18].

[1] About the concept of salus animarum cf. the contributions in Ius Ecclesiae, 12/2000, pp. 291-529.

[2] For further information about the concepts of munus, officium and ministerium relationship and about the theological and juridical roots of these notions, cf. S. Violi, Officium e munus tra ordinamento canonico e comunione ecclesiale, in Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale Rivista telematica (www.statoechiese.it), n. 31/2019, pp. 1-32.

[3] Cf. D. Tarantino, “Eppur si muove”. La socialità del diritto canonico tra ieri e domani, in P. Consorti (a cura di), Costituzione, religione e cambiamenti nel diritto e nella società, Pisa University Press, Pisa, 2019, p. 218.

[4] On this point cf. B. J. Berkmann, La codificazione del diritto compromette la sua flessibilità? Il diritto canonico comparato con altri diritti religiosi, in Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale Rivista telematica(www.statochiese.it), 28/2017, pp. 14-15.

[5] For further information on the topic, cf. lastly S. Testa Bappenheim, Does the Covid-19 pandemic authorize the derogation from the canonical rule of absolution necessaritly preceded by individual confession? (canon 961cic), in P. Consorti (edited by),Law, Religion and Covid-19 emegency,Diresom Papers, 1, Pisa, 2020, pp. 221-250.

[6] Echoing forms of reconciliation of medieval memory, the priest, if necessary, can also impart the general sacramental absolution, forewarning the diocesan bishop or in any case, if this is not practicable, informing him as soon as possible (cf. Ordo Paenitentiae, n. 32).

[7] Cf. Ministero dell’Interno, Protocollo circa la ripresa delle celebrazioni con il popolo, in www.diresom.net.

[8] Can. 964, § 1.

[9] Cf. Confessioni stile “drive in” per evitare il contagio da Coronavirus in www.commentimemorabili.it.

[10] These from the cockpit of their car can also listen to liturgical music played by employees and leaning out of the window they can confess and receive absolution from their sins (cf. Coronavirus, in Polonia confessioni in auto in modalità drive-in, in www.tg24.sky.it). On the subject cf. also Cf. Confessioni stile “drive in” per evitare il contagio da Coronavirus in www.commentimemorabili.it.

[11] Cf. T. Dhellemmes,Scoprite la “Drive Confession” di Limoges, in www.aleteia.org.

[12] Il vescovo peruviano autorizza la confessione per telefono, in www.religiondigital.com.
As is known, the analogy between the priest and the doctor finds its evangelical roots in the words of Christ quoted by Luke: «et respondens Iesus dixit ad illos: non egent qui sana sunt medico sed qui male habent. Do not come vocare iustos sed peccatores in paenitentiam» (Lk., 5, 31 s). In the wake of the evangelical teaching in the path that led to the codification of canon law, the definition of the confessor as medicus animarum has always been at the center of doctrinal reflections and conciliar deliberations (cf. D. Tarantino, Dalla riconciliazione alla guarigione. Alcune riflessioni sulla confessione come cura animarum nella teologia morale e nel diritto canonico, in www.statoechiese.it, n. 9/2017, pp. 1-18).

[13] P. Zygulski, Nella Chiesa che cambia/3, in www.settimananews.it/sacramenti/nella-chiesa-che-cambia-3/.

[14] Precisely with reference to the hypothesis, third-party registration and disclosure of what has been learned in confession, alongside what is provided for in can. 1388 § 2 («The interpreter and other persons mentioned in can. 983 § 2, who violate secrecy, are punished with just punishment, not excluding excommunication»), adds the criminal figure configured by the norms of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which establishes: «art. 4 § 2. Firmo praescripto § 1 n. 5, Congregationi pro Doctrina Fidei reservatur quoque delictum gravius quod consistit in captione quovis technico instrumento facta aut in evulgatione communicationis socialis mediis malitiose peracta rerum quae in sacramentali confessione, vera vel ficta, a confessario vel a paenitente dicuntur. Qui hoc delictum patraverit, pro gravitate criminis puniatur, non exclusa, si clericus est, dimissione vel depositione» (Congregatio Pro Doctrina Fidei, Normae de ggravioribus delictis, 21 maii 2010, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, CII/2010, p. 423). For further information on the topic cf. D. Cito, Delicta graviora contro la Fede e i Sacramenti, in Questioni di diritto penale canonico, Città del Vaticano, LEV, 2012, pp. 31-53; C. Papale, Registrazione e divulgazione della confessione sacramentale, in C. Papale. (ed.), I delitti contro il sacramento della penitenza riservati alla Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, Città del Vaticano, 2016, pp. 85-102. 

[15] And so it actually happened on March 18, 1973 when seven religious denominations recorded on tape appeared on the Espresso under the title "Sin". Offered in advance to the public to stimulate their curiosity and induce him to buy the book that would have reported many others, these "confessions" had been chosen among the 112 that were published in Padua by the publisher Marsilio on 23 March (cf. G. De Rosa, Il sesso in confessionale, in La Civiltà Cattolica, 2/1973, pp. 55-60). Following this scandalous event, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith intervened with a Declaratio, the content of which was confirmed by a decree of the same in 1988. In it the criminal offense was configured which in 2001 would become Captation with technical tools and dissemination through the means of communication of the contents of the confession for the purpose of malice, inserted some time later among the delicta graviora through a re-written of John Paul II (cf. G. Incitti, Il Confessore e il Sacramento della Riconciliazione. Doveri e diritti dei penitenti, in www.penitenzieria.va, pp. 20-22).

[16] The confessor who violated the obligation of the seal – which arises only from the sacramental confession, that is, from the accusation made by the faithful with the desire to obtain absolution, regardless of his obtaining – would sin both of injustice towards the penitent, who places his trust in him as a sacred minister, also illegitimately affecting his good reputation (cf. can 220 and G. Boni, Sigillo sacramentale e segreto ministeriale. La tutela tra diritto canonico e diritto secolare, in Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale, Rivista telematica (www.statoechiese.it), 34/2019, p. 20); both sacrilege towards the sacrament itself (cf. E. Miragoli, Il confessore, giudice e medico, in Quaderni di diritto ecclesiale,4/1995, p. 399 ss.). The penitent, on the other hand, does not commit sin and does not fall into ecclesiastical complaints if, of his own free will and without harming others, he declares publicly out of the confession of what he confessed. At the same time he should keep silence on the content of the words that the confessor, trusting in his discretion, told him during the confession (cf. Giovanni Paolo II, Segreto della Santa Confessione, in L’Osservatore Romano, Polish edition, 5/1994, p. 21).

[17] Francesco, in A. Ivereigh, Pope Francis says pandemic can be “a place of conversion”, www.thetablet.co.uk, 8 aprile 2020. On the potential of the practical solutions offered by canon law cf. P. Consorti, Relazione di sintesi: la necessità di tornare a un diritto canonico pratico, in Il Diritto Ecclesiastico, 2016.

[18] A. Tornielli, Introduzione, in Forti nella tribolazione. La comunione della Chiesa sostegno nel tempo della prova,Dicastero per la Comunicazione della Santa Sede (edited by), Città del Vaticano 2020, p. 4, in www.liberiaeditricevaticana.va


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