Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pope of Mercy: Weirder and Weirder

We're from the Missionaries of Mercy and we're here to help you
We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. 
-Conclusion of prize winning essay by 8th grade student at St. Xavier High School, Chicago.
Just kidding. The above was penned by Pope Francis in his Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (which will run from November 2015 to November 2016) and released today on the Vatican website. But I digress...

The weirdest thing about this weird 9,000 word document is the bit about the Missionaries of Mercy.
18. During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon. They will be missionaries of mercy because they will be facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again... 
I ask my brother Bishops to invite and welcome these Missionaries so that they can be, above all, persuasive preachers of mercy. May individual dioceses organize “missions to the people” in such a way that these Missionaries may be heralds of joy and forgiveness.
Let's call them the Pope's Mercy Squad. What is the purpose of it, again? Faithful Catholics know that they may confess to any priest. On the other hand, the Sacrament of Confession has disappeared from the lives of most Catholics. And most priests rarely do much of it. "The Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available from 6:40 PM to 6:45 PM on Saturday evenings or by appointment made four weeks in advance and validated by a notary" and all that.  This of course means that technically, most Catholics will go to hell.

But to be technical is to be without mercy. Forgive me.

The Pope has spoken favorably of Confession, but has done nothing to arrest this obvious trend. Indeed, his friends and allies have been responsible for it.

Yet, we will have the Mercy Squads.

Now, according to the Bull, the Mercy Squads will have additional powers that standard priests do not have, "the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See."

What sins are those?

Actually, there aren't any. (This bizarre mistake was first noted by Rorate Caeli.)

There used to be five such sins:
  1. Throwing away or stealing a consecrated host.
  2. Assaulting a pope.
  3. As a priest, absolving someone of sexual sin who you just had sex with.
  4. Consecrating a bishop, illegally.
  5. As a priest, violating the seal of confession (tattling on a confessee).
But the 1983 Code of Cannon Law granted all priests the ability to pardon even those.

That's right, in 2015, I can punch the Pope in the nose and then walk into my local church, confess it, and be in the free and clear.

Does Francis even know this?

What is still true is that even though you can be absolved by any priest of these sins, some of them might incur automatic excommunication for you, and it is still true that only the Holy See can lift that.

But now the Mercy Squads can do that too.

This solves a major problem. There are just so many people walking around who have assaulted pontiffs or consecrated bishops illegally or whatever, have confessed and have been forgiven, but who still want their excommunication lifted, but are too lazy to go to Rome for it. The Mercy Squads will solve that.

That's insane.

Am I the only one who sees something more sinister in this? You know, like the picture above, "No one expects the Missionaries of Mercy!" Just don't tell me they'll arrive in black helicopters. That will really stoke my suspicions.

Or more seriously, maybe they'll come to effectively destroy your Traditionalist Catholic order, like the Pope has already done with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate or is probably even now doing with the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. Luckily, though, if you have ever profaned a consecrated host, it will all be okay.

Pope of mercy.

As Rorate Caeli also perceptively noted, a Jesuit Pope wrote a 9,000 word essay on mercy, containing a gazillion supporting citations, but he failed to cite the quintessentially Jesuit Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, perhaps the most famous Catholic prayer on mercy:

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
R. Christ, graciously hear us.
V. God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us...
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us.
V. Jesus, meek and humble of Heart,
R. Make our hearts like unto Thine.

The Church will survive even this. Christ promised it. But how many souls will be lost in the meantime?

I'm done with it for now, man. If you want to reach me, I'll be at the nearest outdoor skate park. 


  1. Interesting about the five reserved sins being no longer on the list. Do you have some references for us to look up to see that it's been changed in the '83 code?

    1. Rather than being changed per se, my understanding is that the entire notion or category of reserved sins has been dropped. For brief secondary commentary on this see "Sin, reserved" in Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Encyclopedia at or this essay, Treatment of Canonical Penalties by James Bretzke at

      So, what was dropped from the 1917 Code was Chapter 2, On the Reservation of Sins from the section on Repentance. See the Latin version here,, or part of the English here,

      Of course, there are a number of sins that involve automatic excommunication--a list greater than the five sins that were at one point reserved to the Holy See. The list would include having an abortion, for example.

      And, obviously excommunication is a big deal. So I might have been too flippant in almost waving the whole thing off completely. I think Francis or someone else carelessly used the old language--"remission of sins reserved to the Holy See" where he should have more precisely spoken of remission of canonical penalties.

      Let me know whether that makes sense and/or whether you think I made any mistakes.

    2. Correction to the above: Francis didn't use the old language of "remission of sins" but rather the at the very least, ambiguous term "pardon".

    3. Yes, and as I just pointed out to a rather emotional lady over at 1P5, the word "pardon" is used a further 11 times in MV, each time apparently meaning forgiveness simpliciter. It really does appear that is what he meant to write, so your confusion is completely understandable.

  2. Yeah, I wondered about his repeated use of "pardon". I'm given to understand that it is not used by theologians describing what happens in the confessional. That it is a legal term that means something entirely different from what God does with your sins.

    1. I stand corrected. The excitable lady over at 1P5 has informed me that the technical term "pardon" does in fact cover both forgiveness and lifting of penalties.

      If so, it appears that the MoMs may have additional powers to those of an ordinary priest, albeit for a very small number of rare offenses.

  3. Can. 1367 A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; moreover, a cleric can be punished with another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state

  4. If you are excommunicated you can't recieve any sacraments.... including do realize that?

    1. I believe this was answered over at 1P5, where the commenter Robert Wolske pointed out that Canon Law does now allow for undeclared latae sententiae excommunications to be remitted in the confessional:

      Can. 1357 §1. Without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. 508 and 976, a confessor can remit in the internal sacramental forum an undeclared latae sententiae censure of excommunication or interdict if it is burdensome for the penitent to remain in the state of grave sin during the time necessary for the competent superior to make provision.

      Does this resolve the issue?

    2. For Dependent Rational Animal: See the comment above where I said "obviously excommunication is a big deal."

      There is a crisis in the Church. What is that crisis? Is it that there are Catholics, say, in the United States who are walking around thinking, "gee, I knowingly and intentionally spit out a consecrated host nine years ago, fully aware of the consequences, and even though confessing to my local priest remitted my eternal damnation, the fact that I was automatically excommunicated for it wears on me since I haven't been able to go to confession since then (and for whatever reason I've never seen fit to petition the Holy See about it), so I'm so glad they're sending me someone who can help me. I can't wait for them to arrive in six months"? Do you think there is anyone, even one person who feels themselves to be in that position?

  5. So what are the Mercy Squad priests supposed to do, actually? It sounds like they'll be showing up at parishes and causing trouble.

  6. We will see not pardon of sin but approval of sin, all under the guise of mercy and pardon.