Dear Friends at Catholic Exchange:
I was wondering if there are websites offering online confession for those of us finding it difficult to link up with a priest for confession in the more traditional manner.
Thanks for your guidance,
Ms. Adele Tanguy
Dear Ms. Tanguy,
Peace in Christ! In order to be valid, sacramental confession and subsequent absolution must be given in person. The Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici [CIC]), prescribes the following:
Can. 960. Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by other means.
Can. 964 §1. The proper place to hear sacramental confessions is a church or oratory. [§2 regards norms for the confessional and does not apply to your question] §3. Confessions are not to be heard outside of a confessional without a just cause.
Canon 960 essentially says that one must go to confession unless prevented physically or morally. Confessions are properly and typically heard in a church or oratory, according to Canon 964, unless there is a very good reason confessions are not to be heard outside of a confessional. What “other means” are being referred to in 960 in the event that one cannot go to confession?
Consider Canon 916, which addresses the reception of Holy Communion:
Can. 916. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.
To sum up, if a person can confess his sins, he is to do so the ordinary way, which is to go to confession in a church or oratory and in a confessional. If this is impossible, reconciliation can be obtained by other means. Notice that the law does not say that there are other means of confession, but other means to be reconciled to God and the Church in the event one cannot make use of the ordinary means. While “other means” may be many and varied, one way, for example, that has been specified is to make an act of perfect contrition, resolving to get to confession as soon as possible. Another means can be a general absolution when auricular (one on one) confession is not possible for a large number of penitents for an extended amount of time.
To hear confessions online is incompatible with the provisions made by law. God always presents an ordinary means of grace and salvation, yet if one cannot make use of them through no fault of their own, God's hands are not tied. He still makes provision for those who call upon Him.
Lastly, Canon 213 says, “The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.” If going to confession is “physically or morally impossible” to you, your right to receive the sacraments would commend a “just cause” (Can. 964 §3) for a priest to come to you and hear your confession outside of the confessional. If you are unable to go at scheduled times, you may lawfully and by right arrange a separate time to go to a priest. Unless circumstances make it impossible, your confession is still to be heard in a confessional.
See the attached news story, Bullish on Internet´s Role in Evangelization, from Zenit news service for comments from Archbishop Foley, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which confirms what is written here.
I hope this answers your question. If you have further questions or would like to receive more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). May God bless your day.
United in the Faith,
David E. Utsler
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
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