Seal of confession, internal forum, and other secrets

The Note of the Apostolic penitentiary on the importance of the internal forum and the inviolability of the sacramental seal seems to distinguish three basic levels of confidentiality: the seal of confession, the non-sacramental internal forum, and other secrets.

The seal of confession

  • The seal of confession is so established by God together with the giving of the sacrament of confession, that not even the Church can make or allow an exception to it, much less any civil authority. The seal is bound up with the priest's acting in persona Christi when he gives absolution, in the very person of Christ the head, who alone can forgive sins. (Translation note: the English translation of this note currently available on the Vatican website and elsewhere omits an important "not" and gets a key sentence backwards: "[In n. 1467 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church] we read that the Church "establishes", by virtue of her own authority, rather than that she "declares" — that is, recognizes as an irreducible datum, which derives precisely from the sanctity of the sacrament instituted by Christ — "that every priest who hears confessions etc." — the Italian text, in fact, and more accurately, says the opposite: "We read not that the Church "establishes"… but rather that she "declares…"
  • Fidelity to the seal of confession is consequently not merely a duty to the penitent, but testimony to Christ as the Savior of all.
  • The sacramental seal extends to all sins admitted by the penitent, even if absolution is not given. (This is stated as such in canon law.)
  • The confessor cannot use knowledge from the confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded (Stated in canon law — this stricture was not always understood to be included in canon law; St. Thomas Aquinas holds that a confessor can act based on knowledge gained in confession as long as there is no danger of thereby revealing the confession.)
  • The sacramental seal binds the confessor also "interiorly", to the point that he is forbidden to remember voluntarily the confession and he is obliged to suppress any involuntary recollection of it. (For this claim, which raises some interesting questions, no source is given in the note.)
  • Outside of confession, the sacramental seal binds the confessor in relation to the same penitent who confessed. Unless the penitent has given the priest permission to speak about the confession, the priest may not speak about it to that penitent outside of confession. (Here reference is made to Pope St. John Paul II, Address to the Apostolic Penitentiary, 12 March 1994).
  • The penitent cannot, after the fact, release a priest from the obligation of the sacramental seal, because this obligation comes directly from God. (For this claim no reference is given) Self-revelation of a crime to civil authorities cannot be demanded by the confessor as a condition for absolution: "It is never permissible, as a condition for absolution, to place on the penitent the obligation to turn himself in to civil justice, by virtue of the natural principle, incorporated in every system, according to which "nemo tenetur se detegere"."

Non-sacramental internal forum

The confidentiality of the internal forum in which spiritual direction taken place is analogous to the sacramental seal. Because the one seeking spiritual direction confides in the spiritual director by reason of the spiritual director's special relationship with Christ (rooted in holiness of life and, in the class of a cleric, from sacred orders), the spiritual director effectively has this knowledge as a kind of representative of Christ. Consequently this confidentiality has a particular sacredness, beyond that of other secrets.

Professional Secrets

  • Professional secrets binding on persons by reason of a special office are binding of virtue of natural law, and must be preserved except "in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very great harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party, and where the very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth".
  • The "pontifical secret" is said to be a special case. The exact intent of the text is hard to make out here, and the English translation unhelpful, but it seems to be suggesting that the pontifical secret, bearing upon the greatest matters, could not be subject to exceptions except by judgment of the Supreme Pontiff. "A special case of secrecy is that of the "pontifical secret", which is binding by virtue of the oath connected to the exercise of certain offices in the service of the Apostolic See. If the oath of secrecy always binds coram Deo the one who issued it, the oath connected to the "pontifical secret" has as its ultimate ratio the public good of the Church and the salus animarum. It presupposes that this good and the very requirement of the salus animarum, thus including the use of information that does not fall under the seal, can and must be correctly interpreted by the Apostolic See alone, in the person of the Roman Pontiff, whom Christ the Lord constituted and placed as the visible principle and foundation of the unity of faith and of the communion of the whole Church."

St. Pope John Paul to the members of the Apostolic Penitentiary, March 12, 1994

Some years ago, occasioned by a civil case in Louisiana, I took up some issues related to the seal of confession. I want to return to the question again, which has been raised by proposed legislature in several countries to oblige priests to report suspected sexual abuse of minors, even if it comes to their knowledge only in the context of confession.

Recently, June 29, 2019, the apostolic penitentiary published a note on the sacramental seal and the internal forum, and some comments thereupon in the presentation of that note. Before looking at this note in detail, I want to here translate a speech of Pope St. John Paul II To the members of the Apostolic Penitentiary and the confessors of the Patriarchal Basilicas of Rome (March 12, 1994), cited in the aforementioned note. Originally given in Italian, it is available on the Vatican website only in Italian and Portugese.

I thank the Lord, who also this year offers me the joy of your presence: of you, Cardinal Major Penitentiary, whom I thank for the sentiments expressed in the address to me; of you, Prelates and Officials of the Penitentiary, Ordinary and Extraordinary Penitentiary Fathers of the Patriarchal Basilicas of the City. I am also pleased to welcome you, young priests or future ordinands to the presbyterate, who in desire anticipate your sacred ministry, and therefore, in relation to one of the highest and most delicate aspects of it, you have specifically wished to prepare by taking advantage of the course on internal forum, which each year the Apostolic Penitentiary organizes and carries out.

This joy derives, first of all, from the observation of your sincere devotion to the Chair of Peter, whose "potior principalitas" Cardinal Baum recalled referring to the venerable testimony of Irenaeus. It is a joy that then springs from the opportunity that our meeting offers me to return to issues pertaining to the sacrament of Penance, always of vital importance for the Church and today of special relevance.

2. As I turn in gratitude to the Members of the Penitentiary and to the Penitentiary Fathers, because they dedicate the best of their energies to the pastoral care of Reconciliation, I stress that the existence of a Dicastery with this specific task, and the full-time assignment of many Priests, belonging to illustrious religious families, to this ministry in the main basilicas of Rome indicate the privileged place that the Holy See attributes to this sacramental function.

I would like to direct that thanks to the individual Penitentiary Fathers as well as to their religious families, because they are well aware of this need and of the singular good fruit that follows, in harmonious cooperation with the Apostolic Penitentiary and on the basis of of secular dispositions issued by the Supreme Pontiffs, generously provide, at the cost of sacrifice, suitable subjects, and with noble spirit subordinate certain peculiarities of their customs to the pre-eminent task assigned by the Holy See.

3. I would further like to highlight your origin from the various continents. This circumstance corresponds to the Pope's intention to send all the confessors of the world his meditation, his recommendation, his hope regarding the ministry of Reconciliation. It must be protected in its sacredness, as well as for theological, juridical, psychological reasons, about which I have spoken in the previous similar allocutions, and out of the loving respect due its character of intimate relationship between the faithful and God. It is God indeed whom sin offends and it is God who forgives sin, who scrutinizes "what is in man", that is, personal conscience, and deigns to associate in this healing and sanctifying conversation the human priest, elevating him to the ineffable prerogative of acting "in the person of Christ."

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having established that the faithful accuse his sins to the minister of the Church, thereby sanctioned the absolute incommunicability of the contents of the confession with respect to any other man, to any other earthly authority, in any situation. The canonical discipline in force regulates this right/duty, founded on the divine institution, with canons 728 § 1, n. 1, and 1456 § 1 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches for the Churches of that Rite and, for the Church of Latin Rite, with canons 983 and 1388 of the Code of Canon Law. And it is very significant that the new Code, despite having mitigated the sanctions against the transgressors in almost all the other spheres of penal law, in this matter instead maintained the maximum penalties.

4. The priest who receives sacramental confessions is forbidden, without exception, to reveal the identity of the penitent and his sins; and precisely, with regard to serious sins, the Priest cannot mention them even in the most general terms; as far as venial sins are concerned, he cannot absolutely reveal the species, let alone the individual act.

It is not enough, however, to respect the silence as regards the identification of the person and his sins: it is necessary to respect it also by avoiding any manifestation of facts and circumstances, the remembering of which, although they are not sins, can displease the penitent, especially if mentioning them entails a disadvantage: in this regard, see the Decree of the Holy Office (Denz, 2195) which categorically condemns not only the violation of the seal, but also the use of the knowledge acquired in confession, when this involves in any case the "gravamen paenitentis". This absolute secret regarding sins and the dutiful strict caution for the other factors mentioned here bind the priest not only by prohibiting a hypothetical revelation to third persons, but also by forbidding hinting at the contents of the confession to the same penitent outside the sacrament, without his explicit consent, and especially if it is not sought.

5. This total confidentiality is directly for the benefit of the penitent. Consequently, there is for him neither sin nor canonical punishment, if he voluntarily and without causing harm to third parties reveals what he has accused himself of in confession. But it is evident that, at least by reason of a pact implicit in things, out of a duty of fairness, and, I would say, out of a sense of nobility towards the confessor, he ought in turn to respect silence regarding what the confessor, trusting in his discretion, manifested to him within the sacramental confession.

In this regard, it is my duty to recall and confirm what, by Decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (cf. AAS 80 [1988] 1367), was established to repress and prevent injury to the sacredness of confession, perpetrated through the social media. [Note: the decree establishes the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae for those who by technical means record what is said by penitent or confessor in confession, or who publish it in the media.]

I must also deplore some unseemly and harmful episodes of indiscretion which, in this matter, have recently occurred to the bewilderment and pain of the faithful: "Ne transeant in exemplum!".

6. Consider here that their levity and imprudence of priests in this field, even if they do not reach the extremes foreseen by the penal law, produce scandal, discourage the faithful from approaching the sacrament of Penance, obscure a glory of two millennia that has also had its martyrs: I think above all on St. John of Nepomuk.

Consider the faithful who approach the sacrament of Penance, who, calling into question the confessor Priest, attack a man without defense: the divine institution and the law of the Church oblige him in fact to total silence "usque ad sanguinis effusionem".

I trust that none of those present will, thanks be to God, be reproached; but the warning is valid for all, and we must all with earnest prayer implore the heroism of an unstained fidelity to the sacred silence.

In order not to end on this negative note, I would like to add the positive things you see, especially the great influx of penitents who confess in Rome and elsewhere, especially in the Sanctuaries. There is a rebirth of the Sacrament, especially among young people, as noted in the World Youth Days, especially in Denver.

If penitents are not lacking, confessors are not lacking either. If once it could have been feared that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was about to be forgotten, today we are witnessing a rebirth of it.

This means that the Holy Spirit is always present and works through us, works above us, finds its paths and we must receive the fruits of its work.

This is why I am delighted. I would like our meeting today to also be a meeting of joy, a pre-Easter meeting, with the Easter vows that are always a great joy for the Resurrection.

The Resurrection is always present in the Sacrament of Penance and many rise again, even great sinners. It is thanks to many movements that have raised awareness of the importance of the Sacrament of Penance and forgiveness even among criminals or the Red Brigades. I talked to these people.

We must always return to the sacred memory of the great confessors of the Church such as St. John of Nepomuk, the Curé of Ars, Jean-Marie Vianney, and as Padre Pio was in our times. Also in Rome one knows many great confessors of the past and present among the various priests of the religious Congregations. There are true martyrs of the confessional in various Roman churches such as St. Peter's Basilica.

I entrust these exhortations and desires to the mercy of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest and to the prayers of Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Refuge of sinners, while, as a pledge of constant affection, I impart my blessing to you all.

The Joy of Love – by Josef Seifert – couples in marriages of conscience?

Continuing the translation from Josef Seifert's article in German, released under the Creative Common's License with Attribution CC BY 3.0). Complete translation on a single page: The Joy of Love – Joys, Anguish, and Hope – by Josef Seifert.

2.1.4 Are there divorced and remarried Catholics, who considered outwardly do not live in a sacramental marriage and have not received certification from an ecclesial court of the nullity of their marriage, and therefore cannot celebrate their marriage in the Church, but who have entered a marriage of conscience, which count be reckoned by the Church as the sacrament of marriage and justify their admission to the sacraments?

A fourth answer to the question, which "irregular couples" should be admitted to the sacraments, could be seen as compatible with the constant teaching of the Church and even with the truth of the first answer. It concerns couples who at least "outwardly considered" are in "irregular situations". AL 298 (as well as FC 84) refers to them:

"the case of 'those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid'" [FC, 84] (AL 298)

This fourth group of cases, in which the admission of such "couples in irregular situations" could seem to be a good, if dangerous thing, can be illustrated with three concrete examples, which are also cited in Amoris Laetitia.

1. The first example would be that of couples who are honestly (and in accordance with the truth) convinced that their first marriage was invalid, but who, on account of external circumstances, cannot celebrate a second church marriage, because they have no access to a church tribunal (or even to a Church). This inability to present their case to a church tribunal possibly is based on the fact that they live in a country in which the Church doesn't exist or is severely persecuted, or on an island, on which there is no Church or priests, etc.

The impossibility of having recourse to a church tribunal can also arise among the extremely poor, who cannot afford the costs of a long trip for a hearing before a church court or of a ecclesial annulment process, who however are honestly and for the strongest reasons convinced of the invalidity of their first marriage, after a sincere examination of conscience and, if possible, a conversation with a confessor. (Pope Francis has already to a large degree redressed this case of the poor, in proposing a gratuitous offer of ecclesial investigations of a suit claiming nullity.) This merciful law redresses the injustice that under certain circumstances, only those who could pay the considerable sums were able to obtain a certification of the nullity of their marriage. Despite the pope's generous support of such couples there can be cases in which a person is not in a position to convince the Church judges and therefore is dependent on the expensive services of a lawyer, since the Church cannot everywhere offer free attorney services, as in some dioceses. In such cases, when there is a large amount of objective evidence and a high degree of subjective certainty about the invalidity of the first marriage, it could seem justified to lay claim to the aforementioned exception from the sacramental discipline and, without a certification of nullity, to enter a "marriage of conscience." Such couples "in irregular situations," one could think, should be admitted to the sacraments.

Indeed one could argue that in such a case the Church could not only allow access to the sacraments, but could presume that despite the merely civil marriage, or marriage altogether outside the civil order that took place on an island, a valid and sacramental marriage has taken place between a baptized man and a baptized woman. Admittedly one could argue: in order that such an "irregular marriage" not be an act of disobedience against the Church, but a valid marriage according to canon law, one could change canon law and adapt it to these cases. Advocates of this four way of interpreting couples in "irregular situations", who, according to AL should be admitted to the sacraments, could perhaps argue that, in a certain sense, making such a change to canon law and so "canonizing" an "irregular marriage" according to canon law, would restore the original discipline of the sacrament of marriage in canon law, when the Church recognized a sacramental marriage that arose simply through the exchange of marital consent between a man and a woman. The many canonical rules for an (a) licit and (b) valid catholic marriage, as well as (c) the rules of the ecclesial process of annulment were added in the course of history to hinder abuses, but are not unchangeable. For, according to this view, if the Holy Father, for specific, very precisely described conditions, revised church law and understood a valid marriage only according to its unchangeable essence and freed it from its historic ballast, this would be a truly good contribution of the teaching office of Pope Francis, always on the supposition of clarity and precision of teaching and canon law. On this view, a similar value would be had by adaptions to canon law for the two following cases of couples in "irregular situations," to whom the Church could grant access to the sacraments.

2. The second case is that of persons who for objective reasons are convinced of the invalidity of their marriage, but who have no objective proofs of the truth of their statement regarding the grounds for the invalidity of marriage (e.g., the absolute "no!" of their partner to children before the moment of contracting marriage), and whom the church court does not believe. This mistrust of the ecclesial judges is possibly caused by a lack of credibility of the claimant in the eyes of the judge, or in his lack of eloquence, or in the fact that his partner lies and is a distinguished and emotional speaker, who convinces the court of her lie, or in a thousand other reasons. In this case it could seem good to allow a "marriage of conscience" and to think that admission of such couples to the sacraments would be no sin, although they could not publicly celebrate a church wedding. One could go further and say that such a union is a valid and sacramental marriage outside of the normal order of the visible Church.

3. The third second is that where a partner, likewise sincerely convinced of the invalidity of a marriage, waits for a long time for the decision of a church court, and despite the rule that a judgment of the first instance in an annulment process should be made within a year, this judgment does not come in 2, 5, or 10 years, or even only after 18 years (as happened to a famous comedian poet in the 19th century.) One could argue that in this case that it would be legitimate for a couple on the basis of the judgment of the conscience to have a civil divorce and enter a new marriage, indeed, that the Church could consider this marriage as a sacrament and admit the couple to the reception of the sacraments, even if their wedding only took place civilly, or in a situation apart from the civil order (e.g., on a remote island), but on the basis of a conscious and mutual marital consent. At the same time one could warn, that the Church should only consider such couples as sacramentally married and admit them to the sacraments, after it has changed canon law and adopted clear regulations (e.g., that such a marriage of conscience may only take place after a certain number of years without a decision of the Church court), on the basis of the conscience of the person who seeks the declaration of nullity. In this case the Church would recognize such a marriage as a possibly valid and sacramental marriage, and from that point in time, when it would recognize the marriage as such, would declare it as such. The church process of annulment would, consequently, have to be aborted at the time when such an "irregular" marriage was recognized. (For if, in such a case, the church process continued in parallel, a possible contradiction between the judgment of the church tribunal and the judgment of conscience would lead to further grave conflicts and aporias.) Could we therefore say, that in this and similar situations couples "in irregular situations" could return to the reception of the sacraments and enter into a "marriage of conscience" in good conscience? And that not only are they by reason of their subjective conscience are in a state of grace, but that their marriage is objectively a sacramental marriage? In this way it would be possible for divorced (without an ecclesial annulment) and remarried persons return to the sacraments. Does, we may ask, AL by this good and merciful innovation give many couples a genuine gift of mercy, and is it for us an occasion for joy?

This fourth answer to the question, who are those couples "in irregular situations," who could be admitted to the sacraments, does not, on first sight, contradict the first. One could think (as I did): to grant divorced and (without a church annulment) remarried persons of this fourth kind access to the sacraments would simply grant to the moral conscience of the individual in very clearly delineated cases the same right as that which normally only the Church court has: to declare a marriage as invalid. Thereby these couples would only be "seemingly irregular", but in reality "regular in an extraordinary mode," to put a name to it. Are there such "irregular regular couples"?

2.1.4.1 Admission to the sacraments of the fourth type of "couples in irregular situations" contradicts the clear teaching and dogma of the Church as well as the manifest reason grounds of this teaching

One could think (I myself thought it until recently), that none of these three cases of the fourth class falls under the strong reasons for which the cardinals cited, together with FC, think that the prohibition from admitting divorced and (without a church annulment) remarried persons to the sacrament is not a matter of a mutable positive law, or a merely pastoral decision, but of a church practice that is based in the Gospel itself. So, the admission of the aforesaid couples and the church recognition of their marriage seemed to me to be a merciful step and a legitimate simplification of the annulment process or an acceptable solution in the case of a negative judgment of the church court.

But despite these apparent beautiful and liberating aspects of AL, that open access to the sacraments to these or similar couples, there are serious objections that justify the conclusion, that the admission of these couples to the sacraments is not compatible with the teaching and unchangeable practice of the Church. Why?

1. The Council of Trent condemns the opinion that the conscience of an individual (the internal forum) could be judge over the invalidity of the first marriage, when it says, in session XXIV: "Whoever says, matters pertaining to marriage do not belong before church judges, let him be anathema."

2. This teaching was solemnly confirmed by many other popes, up through Benedict XVI.

3. Marriage is also on the natural level a public relation with an effect on the life of the family; it is, moreover, the foundation of society. Therefore there are no "merely private" or "merely internal" solutions for the question of the existence of a marriage. This applies all the more to the sacrament of marriage.

4. Marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The reception of a sacrament is a religious, and never merely a private act. It is therefore the Church's task to judge the validity of the sacraments, according to objective criteria.

5. Moreover, leaving this question to the individual's conscience can easily lead to injustices. Consider a man who is tempted to commit adultery. He could easily, in a personal investigation, which is possibly based on an erring conscience, decided that his first marriage was invalid and that he is free to divorce and to marry a second woman.

6. Also individual priests cannot shed light on the truth of a marriage without carrying out a conscientious examination, for which a certain procedure is necessary. It is exactly this that is the task of a church court, whose function, therefore, is irreplaceable.

7. Moreover, the wife and the family have rights of their own. Therefore, the consequences of unjustified judgments about whether there is a valid marriage damage the integrity of the sacrament and easily lead to injustice to the wife, the children, and the entire community.

8. Finally, leaving the decision about the invalidity of marriage to the conscience of an individual partner in marriage or to an individual priest would bring about great chaos. If a marital partner or a priest rejects the invalidity of the marriage, while the other marital partner or another priest accepts it, or if a couple, that is not married, acts as though it were married, the life of the Church would be damaged through manifold confusion and scandal. (Footnote 31: All these teachings of the last popes are rejected pointblank by Cardinal Schönborn in his interpretation of AL: cf. Schönborn 2016 – July 6, 2016.)

If it thus clearly seems that also the described cases of "marriages of conscience" cannot be allowed or recognized by the Church as sacramental marriages, without contradicting the express teachings of the Church, some of which are even solemnly declared through anathemas of anyone who denies them, and if leaving it to the individual conscience to declare a marriage invalid is inadmissible, the only answer to our question which "irregular couples" can be admitted to the sacraments is the first one: none. Moreover, if this follows not from changeable decisions of the Church but from the Gospel and unchangeable Church teaching, not even a Pope can deviate from this doctrine and practice of the Church. Therefore, one ought to plead with the Pope that he retracts any statement that all or some couples in such "irregular situations" are to be admitted to the sacraments.

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – marriage and virginity

Amoris laetitia says, in number 159, "Rather than speak absolutely of  the superiority of  virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another."

The theologians censure the theoretically possible interpretation of this as "denying that a virginal state of life consecrated to Christ is superior considered in itself to the state of Christian marriage." Such a claim would be contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that the married state surpasses that of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be united in matrimony, let him be anathema."

What Amoris laetitia actually says is, "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out…" Strictly speaking, it is not denying that there is some sense in which there could be a superiority absolute in some sense (abstracted from some set of considerations or circumstances), but affirming that it isn't necessary to speak about superiority absolutely, that it should suffice to note, first, that the states are complementary, and then, when appropriate, to note the respects in which each one is superior or more perfect.

The judgment "It's not necessary to speak about a superiority" would generally imply either that (1) there isn't a superiority, or (2) while there is a superiority, it would be unhelpful or even misleading to speak about it. Since Amoris laetitia in the previous sentence notes John Paul II statement that the bible does not give us a reason to assert the superiority of virginity as a mere fact (its superiority is not absolute, but in relationship, in relationship to the kingdom of God), there is some reason to think that the rejection of this kind of superiority lies behind the statement "Rather than speak absolutely." On the other hand, since Pope Francis could have simply denied superiority in this sense, there is plausibility to see the reason for the statement "Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough etc." as being, on the one hand, that noting the complementarity and specifying the respects in which each is more perfect suffices to communicate the particular values of each, and, on the other hand, that speaking about absolutely superiority might be misleading.

My years of teaching about the states of life have given me a lot of sympathy for this view. It is, indeed, for many people difficult to internalize the proposition "abstracting from particular circumstances of individual cases of consecrated virginity or marriage, christian consecrated virginity is superior as a sign of and means to holiness" without drawing various false conclusions, such as, "no married person is holier than a holy consecrated virgin."

Nonetheless, this statement of Amoris laetitia does seem to me to be a bit overstated, i.e., it doesn't specify "for whom", or "to what end", "it should be enough to point out that the different states of  life complement one another etc.", and there seem to be at least some persons and some ends for which it would not be enough to point out complementarity and specific sense of perfection, but for whom and for which it would be important to talk about in what ways these superiorities are "absolute", "conditioned", and/or "relative".

Theologians' Appeal for Clarification of Apparent Errors in Amoris laetitia – death penalty

Amoris laetitia in n. 83, says that the Church "firmly rejects the death penalty." The theologians censure a theoretically possible interpretation of this that would understand it "as meaning that the death penalty is always and everywhere unjust in itself and therefore cannot ever be rightly inflicted by the state." Such a meaning would contradict Church doctrine. Read in context, I don't see anything suggesting that the text would mean anything so absolute. As it is speaking about the Church's mission to defend life, the straightforward meaning of saying that the Church "firmly rejects the death penalty," would be that the Church holds with conviction that the death penalty should not be employed today.

Though it is not relevant to what the common Catholic would understood the text to mean, evidence for this reading is the way Pope Francis elsewhere describes Pope John Paul II's and the Catechism's position on capital punishment. E.g., in his address to the delegates of the international association of penal law, Pope Francis, referring to their statements that the cases where it is necessary to kill an offender are rare, if not practically nonexistent, says that "Pope John Paul II condemned the death penalty, as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church." So the weaker language of "firmly rejects" is adequately interpreted in this sense of being practically never necessary.

Pope Francis has repeatedly spoke out stronger against the death penalty. One may disagree with the prudence of this. But as there are not real indications that he intends to use the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia to further opposition to the death penalty or to change Church teaching on it, it would seem more well-advised to address those stronger statements, rather than raising concerns about what the statement "firmly rejects the death penalty" could be interpreted to mean.

Habemus Papam!

Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., was elected today to the papacy, taking the name of Francis. He is the first Jesuit to be elected as pope. He gave a brief public address, beginning with an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for Bishop Emeritus of Rome Benedict XIV, asked the people to pray for him, and gave the first papal blessing. Read the first public words of Pope Francis.

Words of Pope Benedict XVI at the General Audience

At the beginning of the general audience today, Feb 13, 2013, Pope Benedict spoke about his decision to renounce the Petrine ministry, and thanked the faithful for their prayers.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ's, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.

Website hacker, vandalism

Inmotion hosting, the company where this site is hosted, was hacked yesterday, September 25, and pages on many of the 700,000 sites hosted by this company were replaced with electronic graffiti boasting of the hacker's accomplishment. Here a series of announcements from the company on the matter. The hacker is apparently the hacker who through DNS hijacking intercepted the local domains for google, microsoft, yahoo, and others, instead sending a similar hacked page to internet users' browsers. (http://thehackernews.com/2011/09/inmotion-hosting-server-and-trinity-fm.html) The blog on this site was defaced for around 20 hours, as some readers noticed. The hacked page was not itself dangerous to computers or browsers viewing the site. The pages have been repaired, and the company says that it is acting to close the security vulnerability issues that allowed the attack in the first place.

Puzzle About Happiness

The following puzzle compares the happiness of a man who thinks some of the goods he generally seeks in life are realized with the happiness of a man in the case where those goods are realized, but he thinks they are not. Besides being an interesting thought exercise, it might be helpful for shedding some light on what is involved in the notion of happiness. Warning! The scenario presented is not a pleasant one! A nicer scenario that would so starkly focus on the same issues did not, however, occur to me.

—–

Twenty years from now, two twins, who are both happily married and love their families, have had a falling out with a extremely brilliant, wicked, and rich scientist, who determines to destroy their lives. He kidnaps them, locks them in separate rooms, and offers each of them the choice between the following two options:

(1) I will kidnap your wives and children, and torture them for the rest of your life in the most horrible ways thinkable, but by careful use of precise memory-altering drugs, planted evidence, false witnesses, etc., I will see to it that you are convinced without the slightest doubt that your wife and children died a a heroic or a peaceful death.

(2) I will kidnap your wives and children, and by the use of precise memory-altering drugs so that they no longer remember you at all, arrangement of circumstances, etc., I will do my best to see to it (there's a 95%-99% chance of success) that they are quite happy in their new life, but by use of similar drugs, falsified evidence, etc., I will ensure that you are convinced that they are being tortured and suffering horribly.

The first of the twins chooses the first option, while the second chooses the second. The wicked scientist keeps his threats and promises. Five years later, the first man is still convinced that his family died heroically, though they are in fact still suffering. The second man is still convinced, and reasonably on the basis of the evidence available to him, that his family is suffering, though they are not.

The questions for you, dear reader, are the following: on the basis only of the statements provided: (1) at this point in time, five years after the deed, which of the two men is happier? (2) Taken as a whole, whose life is happier?

Solemn High Mass in Norcia

I was recently in Norcia, Italy, at the Monastery of St. Benedict, and had the opportunity to assist as deacon of a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the first time. (I wrote a post two years ago when they received the apostolate from the Ecclesia Dei commission to celebrate the Holy Mass in both the ordinary and the extraordinary form. Their conventual Mass is now regularly celebrated in the extraordinary form.) Here are couple of photos from a Mass where I and two of my brothers were the ministers.

For those of my readers who are not subscribed to the feed, but come to this website itself, I wish to note that I will be unlikely to make any new posts until the end of August.

Just before the Gloria

Receiving the blessing from the priest before the Gospel