Confession And Absolution By Telephone. Second Part.
All theologians agree that a penitent must be present to a confessor morally.
Some theologians - who admit validity of confession and absolution by telephone - say that a penitent can be united with a priest morally at a great distance while he is absent physically. Yes, he can. But, to be united with a priest morally at a great distance and to be personally present morally before a priest are not equal things.
Moral unity without a physical presence is justified only when a penitent in an extreme necessity makes an act of perfect contrition when it includes at least implicitly the will to confess his sins to a priest.
It is clear from the very idea of the Sacrament of Penance that a moral presence must be connected with a physical presence. Such connection constitutes personal immediate presence in its fullness.
One can read this the book Theory And Practice Of The Confessional by Dr. Caspar E. Schieler, who was a Professor of Moral Theology at the Diocesan Seminary of Mayence this (my emphasis):
“According to the Council of Trent the sinner should present himself before the tribunal as the accused. This is quite clear, too, from the constant tradition of the Church, in which all penitentials contain a form which is pronounced over one who is present, and either explicitly require the immediate presence of the penitent before the confessor or evidently suppose it; nor do we find in the whole of antiquity any clear instance of a sacramental absolution pronounced over an absent person.” (Theory And Practice Of The Confessional by Dr. Caspar E. Schieler, p. 56)
Someone may be present physically, but be absent morally.
The best illustration of moral presence and moral absence can be found in the Holy Gospel:
Two thieves were hanged together with Christ and both of them were present physically before Him. However, the thief, who blasphemed and mocked Our Savior, was absent morally, while the other, the penitent thief, was present morally.
By His own example, Christ demonstrated where the confessor and the penitent should be during the Sacrament of Penance, that is, in the personal immediate presence of each other. Certainly this example is the best demonstration of what the moral presence actually IS.
Also, we should keep in mind that to the question whether “in casu extremae necessitates dari possit absolutio per telephonium?” – “can absolution be given by telephone in case of extreme necessety?” the Sacred Penitentiary replied, July 1, 1884: “Nihil esse respondendum” – “Responded nothing”. If to this question the Holy See responded nothing during the reigns of the five Popes, Leo XIII, St Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII, then priests bound to follow the constant tradition of the Church.
Some priests argue that Pope Pius XII granted an indulgence for those who received the Papal Blessing by radio. Yes, the Pope may grant indulgences in a manner which he finds to be useful for the faithful. However, as far as I know Pius XII neither heard confessions nor he absolved by telephone.
As for the indulgences, the Church teaches that an indulgence is a remission before God of temporal punishment due to sins, the guilt of which is already forgiven or wiped out, either by sacramental absolution or by an act of perfect contrition.
Indulgences are applied extra-sacramentally to a person (a confraternity) or are attached to an object (rosary, crucifix) or to a certain place (church, altar).
In order to gain an indulgence a faithful is not obliged to be in immediate presence before a Pope; a faithful can be in any place in the world. For an indulgence to be gained, the following prescribed works are necessary: Confession, Holy Communion, visiting a church, and prayers for the Holy Father’s intentions.
A reader argued that being in Russia, for example, a penitent may confess by phone to a priest who is in Australia, and that any priest may give absolution to any penitent in such a way.
I answer, if such a ritual was ever approved by the official decision of the Holy See, then yes. But since I don’t know whether the Holy See ever approved such a manner of confession and absolution, I can only say that neither a priest nor a layman has the right to introduce new rituals. If they arrogate to themselves the authority of the Holy See, then they act as Modernists or Protestants, and not as Catholics.
According to Moral Theology, for the validity of sacramental absolution it is required that a confessor and a penitent should not be in rooms which are in no way connected.
Even Rev. HERIBERT JONE who wrote in his Moral Theology that in extreme need a penitent may be absolved conditionally by telephone, clarifies in the same book: “Absolution is doubtfully valid if a priest and a penitent are in different rooms between which there is no communication” (Moral Theology, p. 391).
No matter where two different rooms are located, in the same house or in different countries, telephone does not connect them.
Here I would like to quote a famous Catholic theologian, Fr. Michael Müller, who explained in which case a penitent can practice perfect contrition and what is the benefit of it for the penitent:
"3. What must one do in danger of death, if he cannot make his confession?
He must earnestly wish to confess his sins to the priest, and try to be sorry for having offended so good a God.
We cannot be saved unless we do the will of God. Heaven is the reward of those who, on earth, believed and did all that God the Father, has taught, through His wellbeloved Son Jesus Christ, for our salvation and sanctification. "Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt, vii., 21.) He, therefore, who, after baptism, has grievously sinned against the will of God, cannot be saved unless he truly repents of his sinful conduct and confesses his sins to a priest. By sincere repentance he stands again on the side of God, and the Lord receives him again into his friendship.
If, however, confession is impossible, then the ardent desire of confession accompanied with true faith in Jesus Christ and perfect contrition for sin, will suffice to cancel our sins. The Lord, in his infinite mercy, accepts the good will for the deed. In this case, the words of the Blessed Virgin are verified: "The Lord hath filled the hungry with good things." (Luke i., 35.) God bestows heaven itself upon those who die with the sincere desire of confession, and who are at the same time truly sorry for their sins."
(GOD THE TEACHER OF MANKIND: A PLAIN, COMPREHENSIVE EXPLANATION OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE, THE SACEAMENTS OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST AND PENANCE, BY MICHAEL MULLER, 0. SS. R., NEW YOKR, CINCINNATI, AND ST. LOUIS: BENZIGER BROTHERS, PRINTERS TO THE HOLY APOSTOLIC SEE, 1880, Imprimatur: +VERY REV. JOHN McMULLEN, D.D., Administrator of Chicago, p. 441)
We must always have before our eyes the example of Our Lord Himself, Who, being on the Cross, accepted the perfect contrition of the dying thief: “Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise", thus demonstrating His infinite mercy to the repentant sinner in the hour of his death.
The same thing happens every single time, when every dying sinner, having no opportunity confessing to a priest - unfortunately, this is the reality of our days in many countries - makes an act of perfect contrition; the High Priest, in His infinite mercy, accepts the good will for the deed and wipes out the guilt of sins.
I end the second part of my brief research with the quotations from A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW By THE REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE and Theory And Practice Of The Confessional by Dr. Caspar E. Schieler.
A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW
By THE REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE:
"THE SEAL OF THE CONFESSIONAL
CAN. 889, 2.
2. Obligatione servandi sacramentale sigillum tenentur quoque interpres aliique omnes ad quos notitia confessionis quoquo modo pervenerit.
2. The obligation of keeping the sacramental seal binds also interpreters and all other persons who may in any way have acquired knowledge of confession."
"CONFESSING THROUGH AN INTERPRETER
Qui aliter confiteri non possunt, non prohibentur, si velint, per interpretem confiteri, praecavendo abusus et scandala, firmo praescripto can. 889, 2.
Those who are unable to confess otherwise, may, if they wish, confess through an interpreter, provided abuses and scandals are avoided, with due regard to can. 889, 2." p. 340
"By the way it may be stated that the term "interpreter" is to be understood strictly of a person, not of any other means, such as a letter, a telegram or a telephone message, etc." p. 341
(A COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW By THE REV. P. CHAS. AUGUSTINE, O.S.B., D.D., Professor of Canon Law, BOOK III, VOLUME IV, On the Sacraments (Except Matrimony) and Sacramental (Can. 726-1011, 1144-1153), B. HERDER BOOK CO. , 17 SOUTH BROADWAY, ST. Louis, Mo., AND 68, GREAT RUSSELL ST., LONDON, W. C. , 1920, CUM PERMISSU SUPERIORUM, NIHIL OBSTAT Sti. Ludovici, die 11, Martii, 1920 F. G. Holweck, Censor Librorum., IMPRIMATUR Sti. Ludovici, die 12, Martii, 1920 +Joannes J. Glennon, Archiepiscopus, Sti. Ludovici, pp. 300, 340, 341)
Theory And Practice Of The Confessional
by Dr. Caspar E. Schieler:
“The Rituale Romanum prescribes how a priest should give absolution, and, as it is the official book of the Church, he is bound to follow its directions. Any unauthorized change would be a sin because it is a breach of the commands of the Church; indeed the confessor would sin grievously if he wished to introduce any change into the form of absolution."
“It is certain that the use of the telephone for giving absolution is extra casum necessitatis a grave sin because it introduces into the administration of the Sacraments a practice which is novel and liable to misuse. The case is limited to the question whether in urgent need the use of such a method can be tolerated…” (Theory And Practice Of The Confessional by Dr. Caspar E. Schieler, pp. 57-59)
Therefore it is quite clear that using telephone (or other similar methods of communication as video chat, for example), the Seal of Confession can be easily broken; this method therefore is not acceptable. It is also clear that the use of telephone for giving absolution introduces a novelty into the practice of administration of the Sacrament of Penance, and may cause 1) misuse, 2) devaluation of the Sacrament, 3) denial of the constant Traditional practice of the Catholic Church.
The Rituale Romanum (and similar books in the Eastern Rites) prescribes how a priest should give absolution, and, as it is the official book of the Church, he is bound to follow its directions.
Here the quotations follow:
THE HOLY GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST,
ACCORDING TO ST. LUKE.
"39 And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: lf thou be Christ, save thyself, and us.
40 But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done no evil.
42 And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.
43 And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise." (ST. LUKE 23:39-43)
(HOLY BIBLE, Douay Version of the Old Testament of 1609, and with the Rhemish Version of the New Testament of 1582, Published by JAMES DUFFY, 7, Wellington-quay, Dublin, MDCCCLVII. PUBLISHED WITH THE APPROBATION OF THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOPS & BISHOPS OF IRELAND APPROBATION Given at Dublin, this 4th day of May, 1857.)
Theory And Practice Of The Confessional,
By DR. CASPAR E. SCHIELER:
"The Rituale Romanum prescribes how a priest should give absolution, and, as it is the official book of the Church, he is bound to follow its directions. Any unauthorized change would be a sin because it is a breach of the commands of the Church; indeed the confessor would sin grievously if he wished to introduce any change into the form of absolution.
"When the priest is about to give absolution," is the direction of the Ritual, ''after imposing a penance on the penitent and the latter having accepted it, let him say: Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus et dimissis peccatis tuis perducat te ad vitam aeternam. Amen. Then he raises his right hand over the penitent and says: Indulgentiam, absolutionem et remissionem peccatorum tuorum tribuat tibi omnipotens et misericors Dominus. Amen.
"Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat, et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris + et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."
"If there are many penitents to be heard and in urgent confessions, the Misereatur and Indulgentiam may be omitted and simply the Dominus noster, etc., said.
"In cases of pressing necessity, in danger of death, the priest may simply say: Ego te absolvo ab omnibus censuris et peccatis in nomine Patris + et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen"
Such is the form of absolution according to the prescription of the Roman Ritual. The confessor is at liberty to make use of the above abbreviations under the circumstances mentioned." (pp. 51-53)
"The fact that the absolution should be pronounced in words requires as its complement that the penitent should be present, for the words Ego te absolvo are not such as we would address to a person when absent, but thus we speak to one who is nigh. The form must certainly be applied to the matter actually present; moreover, according to the Council of Trent the sinner should present himself before the tribunal as the accused. This is quite clear, too, from the constant tradition of the Church, in which all penitentials contain a form which is pronounced over one who is present, and either explicitly require the immediate presence of the penitent before the confessor or evidently suppose it; nor do we find in the whole of antiquity any clear instance of a sacramental absolution pronounced over an absent person." (p. 56)
"The praesentia moralis of the penitent is sufficient for absolution. This condition is satisfied if the priest and the penitent are sufficiently near to hear one another when they speak in an ordinary tone of voice, though cases may occur where the voice must be exerted a little more than is usual.88 In general greater proximity is required for valid absolution than is demanded for hearing a preacher or for satisfying the obligation of hearing Mass.89
St. Alphonsus declares with respect to this subject that Tamburini is justified in rejecting the view of Leander, who holds that the moral presence is secured if the priest sees the penitent or is sensibly aware of his presence.90 A man may be seen at a distance at which it would be impossible to hold speech with him in the usual manner or even by raising the voice. If in case of necessity absolution must be given at a distance, it should be given sub conditione.
Hence to secure the validity of the absolution it is required (1) that the confessor and the penitent should not be in rooms which are in no way connected; and if (2) they are in the same room, they should not be too far apart, certainly not more than twenty paces; if the distance is notably less, there need be no misgiving about the validity of the absolution; finally (3) the required proximity is secured if the priest knows that the penitent is present.
(a) If the penitent has already left the confessional but is still close by the confessor, he may and ought to be absolved, even, according to Lugo, Tamburini, and others, if he be so merged in the crowd that he cannot be seen; the confessor must, however, be certain that he is not or cannot be far off; for the penitent is still morally present and has the desire of receiving absolution. The penitent ought, however, to be recalled if this can be done without causing disturbance or remark.
(b) If, through fear of infection or for other reasons, the priest cannot enter a sick-room, he may validly absolve the penitent from the window or the door.91
(c) If at a distance a priest sees some one falling from a height or into the water, or if he knows that someone is buried under the ruins of a building, etc., he should give absolution conditionally.92
79 Lugo, 1. c. Dist. 13, Sect. 7; Lacroix, 1. c. Lib. VI. P. 2, n. 645, etc.
88 S. Alph. 1. c. n. 429.
89 Though all theologians agree in requiring the moral presence of the penitent for valid absolution, they vary in assigning the limits of that presence. Many theologians suppose that a penitent stationed at twenty paces from the priest may be regarded as morally present; this distance is thought by St. Alphonsus to be too great.
90 S. Alph. 1. c. VI. n. 429.
91 The priest is, however, strongly advised not to be too nervous in exercising his office for a penitent struck down by an infectious disease; confidence in God joined to a little prudent foresight and courage will be more useful to him than a cowardly nervousness.
92 Cf . Reuter, Neoconfess. 1. c. n. 31; Scavini, Theologia Moralis universa, Tom IV. n. 77; Muller, 1. c. § 132; Aertnys, 1. c. Lib. VI. Tom. V. cp. IV. 11. 215, Q. 6. In accordance with this teaching we must solve the question raised whether absolution given by telephone is valid. (Aloys. Sabetti, S.J., in Collegio SS. Cordis ad Woodstock, Th. Mor, Prof., Compend. Theol. Moral. Gury ... ad breviorem formam redactum, etc. Benziger, 1884; Alphons. Eschbach e Cong. S. Spiritus et Imm. Cord. M. Rectoris Sem. Gall. Romae, La Confession par telephone; Melata, Manuale Theol. Moralis, De Poenit. cp. II. art. I.) It is certain that the use of the telephone for giving absolution is extra casum necessitatis a grave sin because it introduces into the administration of the Sacraments a practice which is novel and liable to misuse. The case is limited to the question whether in urgent need the use of such a method can be tolerated - if, for instance, a member of a secret society, seized with a dangerous illness and anxious to be reconciled with the Church, but debarred by his associates from the sight of a priest, could make use of the telephone placed in his room to call up a friendly priest and make his confession to him and receive absolution through the telephone. Eschbach, in his work mentioned above, teaches that such an absolution is quite invalid. Sabetti acknowledges that the solution of the question involves many difficulties, and that it ought to be submitted to the decision of the Holy See; he appears, however, to incline to an affirmative answer. He says: Though it is true that moral presence and a connection between matter and form are necessary in every Sacrament, yet this exigency varies. Since Penance has been instituted on the lines of an earthly tribunal, in which judge and accused must be so far present to one another as to be able to speak together, the absolution in the given case cannot be said for certain to be invalid, since one might always argue that the priest and the penitent could speak together. Against this, it may be objected that the illustration of an earthly tribunal is not quite applicable, since here the presence of the accused is not necessary, for he may be condemned in contumaciam. To the question whether in casu extremae necessitates dari possit absolutio per telephonium? the Poenitentiaria replied, July 1, 1884: Nihil esse respondendum. - Bucceroni, Enchiridion Morale (Romae, 1887), p. 119. (pp. 57-59)
(Theory And Practice Of The Confessional, A GUIDE IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE, By DR. CASPAR E. SCHIELER, Professor of Moral Theology at the Diocesan Seminary of Mayence, Edited by REV. H. J. HEUSER, D.D., Professor of Theology at Overbrook Seminary, Introduction by the MOST REV. S. G. MESSMER, D.D., D.C.L., Archbishop of Milwaukee, NEW YORK, CINCINNATI, CHICAGO, BENZIGER BROTHERS, PRINTERS TO THE HOLY APOSTOLIC SEE, 1905, Nihil obstat: REMIGIUS LAFORT, Censor Librorum, Imprimatur: +JOHN M. FARLEY, Archbishop of New York, New York, Aug. 31, 1905 , pp. 51-53, 56, 57-59)