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Pastoral Letter Of Cardinal Marc Ouellet On The Practice Of The Sacrament Of Penance And Reconciliation

Vasily Vereshchagin. Mortally Wounded.
The soldier of Christ, when wounded, must go to the divine Physician,
so he may return to combat as soon as possible.
(Vasily Vereshchagin. Mortally Wounded. Source)

Sorry, this is my very imperfect translation from the French original letter. Also, for an explanation of the colors, see " The Critical Traffic Light".

[Green] "Christ entrusts to the Apostles the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and preaching the Gospel of conversion"
[Mc 16,15 ; Mt 28, I8-20, quoted in Misericordia Dei, Introduction]

Dear faithful of the Diocese,

[Green] Trusting in the grace of Lent for the Year of the Eucharist, I invite you to a new effort of conversion and adjustment for our practice of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The proclamation of the Gospel includes a constant reminder of God's faithfulness to His Alliance, and a call to conversion which touches the whole Church, pastors and faithful, especially during the annual celebration of the Lord's Passover. Celebrations with collective absolution have in general been appreciated in the Diocese

[Red] because of their good quality and the absence of the notorious abuses which have been seen elsewhere.


The whole circus of collective absolution in this Diocese was one large abuse! The Cardinal probably got an earful from the Pope himself, a few weeks before this letter was published!

[Red] We can now take one more step in continuity with the effort to foster greater appreciation of the Sacrament of Forgiveness, which was initiated a few years ago by my predecessor, Monsignor Maurice Couture,

Monsignor Maurice Couture is the cause of the problem to begin with! He started the circus, against the very explicit orders of the Pope. But we can understand that the Cardinal is trying to be charitable.

[Green] and the reminder given by Pope John Paul II in April 2002, concerning the ordinary form of the Sacrament.

[Green] During this Lenten period of 2005, I confirm the previous orientation I had given by my decision to suspend the practice of collective absolution in the Diocese. Please believe that this decision aims to foster, not a step backward, but a deeper personal conversion in the Spirit of the Church. To help you understand this, I'd invite you to reflect upon three particular aspects: communion with the Church, the truth of the Sacrament as sign of the Alliance, and the personal encounter with Christ.

1. Communion with the Church

[Green] In his Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei dated April 7, 2002, Pope John Paul II reasserts the necessity for personal confession of sins during the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. "Through the centuries, the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance has developed in different forms, but it has always kept the same basic structure: it necessarily entails not only the action of the minister - only a Bishop or priest, who judges and absolves, tends and heals in the name of Christ - but also the actions of the penitent: contrition, confession and satisfaction." Following this reminder, many Dioceses of our country divided their practice of collective absolution which had been widely established here.

[Green] During Fall of 2003, I did a tour of the Diocese's pastoral regions to think about this issue with the ministers of the Sacrament, and I gave orientations so that we'd progressively advance toward the general adoption of confession of sins and individual absolution in the near future.

Quite true. But several people who attended those meetings also told me that the majority of Priests were totally opposed to the Pope's order, and "gave Hell" to the Cardinal. Of course, in a way this doesn't need to be said in a Pastoral Letter, but in another way, I claim it greatly harms the Church to avoid telling the faithful how bad things really are.

[Yellow] I observed and appreciated that, following these meetings, various initiatives were taken to emphasize the importance of confession and individual absolution, among others during last year's Lenten homilies.

This could be true. I certainly didn't notice any improvements during that time, but that doesn't mean much.

[Green] The time has now come to set down clearly that: "Individual and integral confession and absolution are the sole ordinary means by which the faithful, conscious of grave sin, are reconciled with God and the Church". This personal confession can occur either during a communal celebration with individual absolution, or during an individual celebration of the Sacrament. I therefore ask all the pastors and ministers of this Sacrament to suspend collective absolution everywhere in the Diocese, and to make sure they offer the faithful clearly defined times and places to facilitate the communal or individual celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. This measure is necessary to emphasize personal conversion as well as to cultivate the necessary dispositions required to profitably receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

[Yellow] Such a measure is not a disavowal of what was done in the Christian communities to develop the Ecclesial dimension of the Sacrament, which was expressed by well-prepared and unctuous communal celebrations.

Of course it is not a disavowal, since nothing was done to "develop the Ecclesial dimension of the Sacrament" in the first place! On the contrary, the faithful were carefully kept in the dark about Misericordia Dei! But some argue that such a "white lie" is appropriate, given the difficult circumstances, and the Cardinal's "unctuous" approach to dealing with a Diocese on the brink of schism.

[Green] Nevertheless, the universal practice of the Church never dispenses from confession, except in completely exceptional circumstances of danger of death and grave necessity which do not correspond to our situation. Communal celebrations with individual absolution let us maintain the gains of Ecclesial enhancement of the Sacrament. They also provide Priests with opportunities to increase their fraternal bonds when they meet to help each other during these celebrations.

The main weakness of his argumentation in Part 1 of this Letter, in my opinion, is his lack of a vigorous defence of the Holy Father and his authority. Yes, we have to eliminate collective absolution in order to remain in communion with the Church. But he should have insisted more: the Holy Father is the boss, because Christ said so. We can't be in the Church of Jesus if we tell the Pope to get lost! This is the disease gnawing away at the Diocese! He should at least mention it!

2. The truth of the Sacrament, sign of the Alliance

[Green] It's important to observe that all the Church's Sacraments are first of all Christ's actions for a person He introduces into the Alliance through the Church. By Baptism, He touches each individual with water and a few words to signify by a tangible sign his incorporation into the Church. It's the same for the anointing of the Holy Spirit during Confirmation, or for the imposition of hands during sacerdotal ordination. It's always a single person who is touched by the Lord's love and grace. This can also be seen in the Sacrament of Forgiveness, where each person receives a very personal grace corresponding to their confession of failures to keep the Alliance.

[Green] For the truth of the Sacrament, it's not enough for a crowd to hear a general declaration of mercy on the part of God, following a generic admission of our condition as sinners.

How true! To bad he doesn't insist on this because, after the necessity to obey the Pope, it's the second strongest argument against collective absolution.

Imagine a husband who would tell his wife: "Dear, I went to a meeting of the Men's Club, and there we listened to a Priest admit for us that we, as a group, were not quite perfect yet, and that God loved us unconditionally, whatever we did".


Do you think his wife would consider that to be an apology for having had sex with his secretary?

Yet this is exactly the same kind of idiocy perpetrated by collective absolutions. It is all part of Satan's master plan to make people believe sin doesn't exist anymore. If sin doesn't exist, you can't confess your sins. If sin doesn't exist, you can't say: "I'm terribly sorry, dear, I had sex five times with my secretary, right here in this house, in our own bedroom". You can't precisely name the species of the sin, the number of occurrences, or the important circumstances.

Collective absolution is not "just another flavor of the Sacrament of Forgiveness". It is an outright attack against Jesus Christ. If sin doesn't exist, then Christ is an idiot, because he wasted his life dying on a Cross, instead of playing golf and drinking beer with the Apostles. But if sin does indeed exist, then we had better open our eyes, see it, confess it, and beg for God's mercy.

[Green] The Crucified Christ atones for the sins of each person, and He expresses through absolution the merciful love of God for each person who precisely needs to feel personally loved and forgiven by God. The Sacrament of Reconciliation specifically reaches into the intimate sphere of each person's wounds and lapses, in a way which restores the dialogue of love and the relation of friendship with Christ.

[Green] We therefore understand the Church's wisdom when She requires confession of faults as an integral part of the Sacrament, unless very exceptional circumstances prevent it, and therefore oblige the penitent to delay the gesture of confession, which can never be totally omitted. Moreover, even from the strictly human perspective, Psychologists and other Human Science experts consider the expression of the wounded person as being a condition of their cure. This can be seen by the importance of listening to people following all kinds of traumas. A Physician cannot give a good diagnosis if a person doesn't tell him where it hurts. Even though it's recognized with more difficulty these days, confession of sins against the love of God and our neighbor is a need and a necessary condition to restore the truth of the Alliance.

3. A personal encounter with Christ

[Green] Christ's very attitude in the Gospels makes us understand this real requirement of dialogue with Him. Many scenes describe the merciful Christ individually meeting a sinner to tell him or her the Good News of Mercy: the adulteress, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, Zaccheus, the paralytic lowered through the roof, etc... Each time, Jesus establishes a bond of love and tenderness which liberates the person and even spares them from death, as in the case of the adulteress threatened with stoning. By the way He welcomes her, and by His words of forgiveness, Jesus opens for her the path of freedom and conversion: "Go, and sin no more".

[Green] The very evening of the Resurrection, Christ gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples so they could perpetuate his merciful actions. "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" [Jn 20:22-23]. The ministers of forgiveness, obeying the Good Shepherd and the Physician of souls [Mc 2:17], receive the humble and sincere confession of sins which lets the faithful meet the resurrected Christ in the joy of His Spirit. The ministers of the Lord's forgiveness cannot change by themselves the conditions established by Him and His Church for the exercise of this Ministry. Let's not forget the price He paid on the Cross, out of love, in order to reconcile the world with God. Confessing our sins, with a contrite heart, means confessing our grateful love for Him, and receiving the gift of His peace.

Conclusion : a call to conversion

[Green] We know there won't be a shortage of challenges for living together a more thorough conversion and an adjustment to the orientations given in the Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei of the Holy Father, John Paul II.

I would have helped if Priests had publicly mentioned the existence of that document, not to mention all the other documents coming from the Pope! I'm willing to bet this Pastoral Letter won't end up at the back of churches, either.

[Green] Prayer to the Holy Spirit will help us accomplish, pastors and laypersons together, a new development of sacramental confession in its ordinary form. If we open our hearts to this call, the Spirit will make us feel even more "this privileged bond of spiritual paternity and filial growth" which is expressed in this Sacrament.

[Yellow] The communal celebrations of forgiveness which have permitted the development of a rich teaching inspired by the Word of God and made tangible by appropriate gestures

Please. We are not idiots. Probably never in the 300-year history of this Diocese have there been more sacrilegious communions than during this collective absolution circus.

[Green] will continue by adding confession to a Priest with individual absolution. This will be done during the celebration itself or afterward.

[Green] As ministers ordained to the service of this ministry of sacramental reconciliation, we'll make sure we offer a greater spectrum of possibilities for individual encounters for the reception of the Sacrament of Forgiveness. In each region* venues will be designated to facilitate the penitent's access to this Sacrament in a welcoming atmosphere. I've personally begun to periodically receive at the Cathedral people who desire to meet with me briefly, for the Sacrament of Penance or for other reasons. Other initiatives are to be encouraged, among others catechesis about the Good News of God's mercy.

[Green] Lent is a time of grace favorable to personal conversion and the following of Christ into the desert after humbly receiving the Ashes. Our daily efforts turn us away from the darkness of our sins, and turn us toward the light of Merciful Christ. May the Year of the Eucharist help us live this process of transformation which will make us commune more deeply to the mystery of His Body given up for us, and His Blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. This will enliven our answer to the invitation of communion: "This is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world", thanks to an evermore true and personal embrace of Christ, Lord of the New Alliance: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed".

Given in Quebec City, Ash Wednesday, February 9 of the year 2005.

Our assessment of this Pastoral Letter

Goodness gracious! The Quebec Diocese might finally have a Catholic Bishop! Praise the Lord!

Apart from rewriting a large chunk of history, just like the worst communist regimes, this Pastoral Letter appears excellent.

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