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Vatican says general absolution may be permissible during pandemic

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By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In places particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and with severe limits on people leaving their homes, conditions may exist to grant general absolution to the faithful without them personally confessing their sins first, the Vatican said.

The Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal that deals with matters of conscience, including confession, issued a notice March 20 that while individual confession and absolution is the normal means for the forgiveness of sins, "grave necessity" can lead to other solutions.

"This Apostolic Penitentiary holds that, especially in places most impacted by the pandemic contagion and until the phenomenon subsides, there are cases of grave necessity" meeting the criteria for general absolution, the notice said.

Determining what constitutes grave necessity generally is up to the local bishop in consultation with his bishops’ conference. But throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Vatican sought to limit the use of general absolution and encouraged increasingly strict definitions of what constituted an emergency situation.

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