For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened

**For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened **

The announcement in church bulletins and on Web sites has been greeted with enthusiasm by some and wariness by others. But mainly, it has gone over the heads of a vast generation of Roman Catholics who have no idea what it means: “Bishop Announces Plenary Indulgences.”

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.

The fact that many Catholics under 50 have never sought one, and never heard of indulgences except in high school European history (Martin Luther denounced the selling of them in 1517 while igniting the Protestant Reformation), simply makes their reintroduction more urgent among church leaders bent on restoring fading traditions of penance in what they see as a self-satisfied world.

“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”

[excellent line, your Grace]

Like the Latin Mass and meatless Fridays, the indulgence was one of the traditions decoupled from mainstream Catholic practice in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council, the gathering of bishops that set a new tone of simplicity and informality for the church. Its revival has been viewed as part of a conservative resurgence that has brought some quiet changes and some highly controversial ones, like Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decision to lift the excommunications of four schismatic bishops who reject the council’s reforms.

The indulgence is among the less noticed and less disputed traditions to be restored. But with a thousand-year history and volumes of church law devoted to its intricacies, it is one of the most complicated to explain.
According to church teaching, even after sinners are absolved in the confessional and say their Our Fathers or Hail Marys as penance, they still face punishment after death, in Purgatory, before they can enter heaven. In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Catholic can receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or sacrament.

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

It has no currency in the bad place.

Can you imagine if reporters were as ignorant about science or economics as they are about religion?
Oh, wait! They are as ignorant about science & economics as they are about religion.

Which plenary indulgence is he talking about being in Church bulletin? The one for the Year of Saint Paul, the one for the World Meeting of Families or the upcoming annual one for Divine Mercy Sunday? :smiley:

Personally I cringe every time I see an article about the Catholic faith on the front page of the New York Times!

However, all of the errors in the article aside, one can only hope it will remind Catholics of the existence of personal sin and the need for confession and penance, especially as Lent approaches.

(Even though I am fairly certain that was not the purpose of the article)

I am constantly amazed by the flurry of discontent hurled at non-Catholic entities such as the New York Times. I love the Times, it teaches and informs me regularly. In fact just yesterday it informed me that plenary indulgences are back in favor in my hometown of Brooklyn. Thank you NYT. It is in my nature to question everything, so questioning the Times is neither new nor of consequence to me, I am just glad it once again informed me.

I underwent a great deal of study this past winter and plenary indulgences were high atop the list of prior bad practices. So to hear of their return as if they never saw the dark of night seems very sketchy. I spoke to a few fellow Catholics at work today, one had 18 years of Catholic Schooling before Catholic Higher Education and she had never even heard of the PI. I told her about them in order to solicit an opinion.

I keep seeing the same justification for their return printed and reprinted. Does anyone have an original thought on this subject? Does anyone want to defend or dispute the practice? How about just explaining the “volumes written on the subject.”

I believe in sacrifice and penance, I believe in doing without and the beauty of forgoing - I wonder why the PI has returned. If it is to reconnect people with personal sin then the oft-quoted piece makes it clear this is not the way, to paraphrase, “this goes over the heads of most of the generation.”

Deep in Thought,


Welcome to the forums!

Just two comments that might be helpful to the conversation:

Indulgences (plenary or partial) never “left”.

and 2.

[quote=JRPV] I spoke to a few fellow Catholics at work today, one had 18 years of Catholic Schooling before Catholic Higher Education and she had never even heard of the PI.

No offense to your coworker at all, but either a) she wasn’t paying very much attention in class, or b) her teachers did her a disservice (dare I say it was malpractice?) by not teaching her about them. It is a part of the Catholic faith.

Again, welcome to the forums,

Those who claim that indulgences are no longer part of Church teaching have the admirable desire to distance themselves from abuses that occurred around the time of the Protestant Reformation. They also want to remove stumbling blocks that prevent non-Catholics from taking a positive view of the Church. As admirable as these motives are, the claim that indulgences are not part of Church teaching today is false.

This is proved by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states, “An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins.” The Church does this not just to aid Christians, “but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity” (CCC 1478).

Indulgences are part of the Church’s infallible teaching. This means that no Catholic is at liberty to disbelieve in them. The Council of Trent stated that it “condemns with anathema those who say that indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them”(Trent, session 25, Decree on Indulgences). Trent’s anathema places indulgences in the realm of infallibly defined teaching.

The pious use of indulgences dates back into the early days of the Church, and the principles underlying indulgences extend back into the Bible itself. Catholics who are uncomfortable with indulgences do not realize how biblical they are. The principles behind indulgences are as clear in Scripture as those behind more familiar doctrines, such as the Trinity.

… In his apostolic constitution on indulgences, Pope Paul VI said: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina 1).

This technical definition can be phrased more simply as, “An indulgence is what we receive when the Church lessens the temporal (lasting only for a short time) penalties to which we may be subject even though our sins have been forgiven.” To understand this definition, we need to look at the biblical principles behind indulgences.


also see the Catholic Answers tract A Primer on Indulgences (where the above came from, emphasis mine).

At the risk of looking totally ignorant, I thought once you confessed the sins and did your penance, you were free of the punishment. I read this article too and was confused. If you get punished after confession and completion of your penance what’s the point? Did I miss something here? Please tell me some twit at the AP didn’t do their homework.

When someone repents, God removes his guilt (Is. 1:18) and any eternal punishment (Rom. 5:9), but temporal penalties may remain. One passage demonstrating this is 2 Samuel 12, in which Nathan the prophet confronts David over his adultery:

“Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan answered David: ‘The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die’” (2 Sam. 12:13-14). God forgave David but David still had to suffer the loss of his son as well as other temporal punishments (2 Sam. 12:7-12). (For other examples, see: Numbers 14:13-23; 20:12; 27:12-14.)

Protestants realize that, while Jesus paid the price for our sins before God, he did not relieve our obligation to repair what we have done. They fully acknowledge that if you steal someone’s car, you have to give it back; it isn’t enough just to repent. God’s forgiveness (and man’s!) does not include letting you keep the stolen car.

Protestants also admit the principle of temporal penalties for sin, in practice, when discussing death. Scripture says death entered the world through original sin (Gen. 3:22-24, Rom. 5:12). When we first come to God we are forgiven, and when we sin later we are able to be forgiven, yet that does not free us from the penalty of physical death. Even the forgiven die; a penalty remains after our sins are forgiven. This is a temporal penalty since physical death is temporary and we will be resurrected (Dan. 12:2).

For more read: A Primer on Indulgences

also see: Purgatory

I can surely accept I am wrong in assuming that the indulgences left. Clearly they have not.

With respect to bad teaching, well, one need only look at the sales pitch for this thing (pardon my failure to quote properly, I just got here and have not figured out the technical end yet:

“But mainly, it has gone over the heads of a vast generation of Roman Catholics who have no idea what it means: “Bishop Announces Plenary Indulgences.””

Doesn’t this make clear that PIs were either out of common use or in disfavor?

… or don’t know about them. But most Catholics know about Purgatory

Yes they know about Purgatory, but that is not at issue, is it? The suggestion was made that teaching was bad, but I have to take issue with that if “the vast majority” don’t know - doesn’t that signal disfavor at least?

It signals bad training. Which may be what you are aiming at. But I would argue most Catholics don’t bother to learn about the richness of their faith. :frowning:

But I don’t go to the NY Times for religious training. :rolleyes:

no it does not, unless there is virtually no good Catholic training. If the “vast majority” are not trained than there is intention at work. Don’t you agree?

No. Most Catholics attended CCD as a kid. Then stopped their religious training. Understanding indulgences, especially with all the bad press they received from Protestants trying to find a vehicle to bash Catholics, requires adult understanding.

How can you not agree? It is the “vast” majority, not just a few people who were not exposed. If the vast majority are not exposed or do not know, let alone understand, it signals a desire not to have it known.

The practice was at one point injurious to the church inasmuch as it was viewed by Church members who left to start the Reformation. Could it be our desire to bring back Lutherans that kept it in disfavor, I am not sure, but I do know that when the “vast majority” does not know, than it is simply more than bad teaching, lack of curiosity and other things that might be laid at the feet of the faithful.


The newspaper is wrong. That’s all there is to it. There have been several special years in recent times, one was dedicated to the Rosary and was accompanied by Plenary Indulgences, and then there were the three years dedicated to the three Persons of the Trinity and each year was accompanied with specific P.I.s. Remember the 2000 Jubilee? It had P.I.s, and the year dedicated to Jesus in the Eucharist? Sure enough there were P.I.s attached to it too.

Anybody devoted to the Rosary can tell that there are P.I.s attached to saying the Rosary.

The newspaper and the very poorly catechized are the only ones not aware of this.

How can you say it is the “vast majority” have you taken a poll?

It is an infallable practice that has, as far as I know, never been discontinued. It may have been distorted by our enemies and misused by some clerics in the past, as has a lot of things, including the collection plate and distribution of the eucharist, but it has, as far as I know, never been discontinued. You history is, I think, incorrect.


Let us not forget that the “vast majority” of Catholics haven’t been at Mass since their baptism, with the exception of a small subset that attend Church as C&E Catholics. There is no way these people could know about some of the niceties of Catholic doctrine. Of course in my opinion, these people are Catholic anyway so to speak about the uninformed “vast majority” of Catholics is an oxymoron.

When I responded last your post had merely said “no”, so apologies for the incomplete response because now I see your response included,

Most Catholics attended CCD as a kid. Then stopped their religious training. Understanding indulgences, especially with all the bad press they received from Protestants trying to find a vehicle to bash Catholics, requires adult understanding.

I attended CCD as a kid. I have studies religion as an adult. Blaming the “bad press” from Protestants looking to “bash” Catholics seems the weakest of rationales and disrespectful to the “vast majority” of Catholics. The lawyers brain, it’s both a blessing and a curse. The fact is simple, if the vast majority doesn’t get it it is not simply because they lack curiosity, training, brains, access and are at the mercy of the NYT, Protestant Bashers or any other such thing.

I am sorry, but my respect for “the vast majority” is true and without reservation. Sure they can be wrong, misinformed and ignorant, but they can also be in the dark and at the mercy of the keepers of the keys - and isn’t that at work here? Isn’t that why this made the front page of the NYT, isn’t that why we are talking in the first place - because PIs are leaving the dark and being shone the light of day again?


Are you suggesting that they (the vast majority of Catholics) don’t know about plenary indulgences because the Church intentionally kept it a secret? Is that what you are saying? Because if it is, you are totality incorrect. There is a book that is sold that lists all the regular indulgences available both Plenary and Partial. During those special years I mentioned in a previous post, the Plenary Indulgences were well publicized. It is possible that some Catholics might have gone to Church that didn’t mention it in the bulleton (sp?) but that would not account for the “VAST” majority, just a few here and a few there.

Or are you saying that the people in charge of catechizing the children of the Church did a really bad job and that’s why Plenary Indulgences are the best kep secret in the solar system? If that is what you are saying, I have to admit that from 1965 to roughly 2000 Catholic kids certainly did get the short end of the stick when it came to being properly catechized. And things are only now getting noticeably better. But, even then, when the Pope announces a special year and says, “By the way, the following Plenary Indulgences will be available for the following acts in connection with this special year,” wouldn’t you expect a kid or adult to respond with, “a plenary whatsis?” and then be informed?

Pleanary Indulgences have never been hidden away or kept secret, so it is no new thing that is being announced, no change in Standard Operating Procedures. It is just a slow news day for the TImes.

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