Jan 16, 2009

World - Confession tribunal opens up after 830 years

ROME: One of the Vatican’s most secrecy-shrouded tribunals, which handles confessions of sins so grave only the Pope can grant absolution, is giving the faithful a peek into its workings — for the first time in its 830-year history.

The so-called “tribunal of conscience” invited the public into the frescoed halls of its imposing 16th-century palazzo for a two-day conference that ended on Wednesday. The aim was to explain what the Apostolic Penitentiary actually does, and thereby encourage more of the faithful to go to confession, said Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, the tribunal’s No. 2 official.

Confessions of even the most heinous of crimes and sins — such as genocide or mass murder — are handled at the local level by priests and their bishops and are not heard by the tribunal. Its work involves those sins that are reserved for the Pope — considered so serious that a local priest or bishop is not qualified to grant absolution, said Cardinal James Francis Stafford, an American who heads the Apostolic Penitentiary.

These include defiling the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ. Cardinal Stafford said this offence is occurring with more and more frequency, not just in satanic rites but by ordinary faithful who receive Communion and then remove the host from their mouths and spit it out or otherwise desecrate it.

Others include a priest breaking the seal of the confessional by revealing the nature of the sin and the person who sought penance, or a priest who has sexual relations with someone and then offered forgiveness for the act. A fourth type of case that comes to the tribunal involves a man who directly caused an abortion — such as by paying for it — who then seeks to become a priest or deacon, Cardinal Stafford said. — AP

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