What sins need to be absolved by a bishop or Pope?

Sorry if this were asked before. Thanks!

EVERY sin can be absolved by ANY priest.

However, certain penances and punishments can only be lifted by either episcopal or papal benefice.


What penances and punishments would those be? :shrug::confused:


Go there and scroll down to “Excommunications specially reserved to the pope” and then a little farther to “Excommunications reserved to the bishop.”

I hope that helps.

Uh, you can find them in the code of canon law starting at 1365 and going through about 1399. That range includes lots of other things, but that is where you would look to find them. Examples include taking a consecrated host and throwing it away, ordaining a bishop without the permission of the pope (and also being the one being ordained), a priest who absolves his partner in a sexual sin, a priest who directly violates the seal, attacking or killing the pope. Hmmm, I think these are most of the ones reserved to the Apostolic See.

There are other types, like a woman who gets an abortion. That is not so tough. That one is the local bishop. But I am given to understand that here in the USA, it is most likely that the priest has been given permission to deal with it directly. Oh, I suppose automatic excommunication is also from heresy, apostasy, or schism. I don’t know if that one is given over to the priest here in the USA.

Do remember, if you are dying, the priest can lift it.

I seem to remember, however, that the Apostolic Penitentiary as being the only Curial office that remains active even at the death of the Pope and the interregnum period until a new pope is elected for the purposes of providing absolution.

Wikepedia, though not the most reliable source, notes that:

However, its work involves those sins that are reserved for the pope — considered so serious that a local priest or bishop is not qualified to grant absolution. These sins include defiling the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ. In late 2006 Cardinal Stafford said this offence is occurring with more and more frequency, by ordinary faithful who receive Communion and then remove the host from their mouths and spit it out or otherwise desecrate it. Other sins that are handled by the Penitentiary include a priest breaking the seal of the confessional by revealing the nature of the sin and the person who sought penance, or a priest who has sex with someone and then offered forgiveness for the act. These sins bring automatic excommunication from the Church. Once absolution is granted, the excommunication is then lifted. A fourth type of case that comes to the tribunal involves a man who has contributed towards facilitating an abortion — such as by paying for it — or directly so by performing one, who then seeks to become a priest or deacon.

Persons who wish to receive an absolution or dispensation reserved to the Holy See write a petition to the Penitentiary. Usually, this petition is written through their initial confessor. The petition must use pseudonyms when explaining the situation to avoid revealing the identity of the persons involved, and the tribunal itself acts in complete secrecy. The Major Penitentiary considers the matter himself, unless it is particularly important, in which case the whole of the tribunal considers the petition. The members of the tribunal only give advice regarding the petition; the Major Penitentiary has the ultimate decision on whether the dispensation or absolution should be granted. If the Major Penitentiary is uncertain as to whether he has authority in a given case, he submits the matter to the Pope. The impediment or act in question must not be public; otherwise, the impediment or act is a matter of the external forum and cannot be absolved or dispensed by the Penitentiary.

By the way, the current Major Penitentiary is James Frances Cardinal Stafford. I hope this helps.

What about heresy? When I was still Catholic (I never officially left), but I think not “convicted” (though I went to Mass of habit and the priest was an interesting speaker), I denied Mary’s role in our lives to a Protestant. I might have questioned the Church or priesthood’s nature to a small bunch of others. This was about 10 years ago, What then? Thanks!

So how does one get absolved by a bishop or Pope? Do you have to go in person or you can do it by correspondence? I mean, thousands of people have been involved with abortions, so the process shouldn’t be that complicated, right?

I think I have heard this before as well, but I don’t know how to verify it. Also, yes it is true that the original regular priest/confessor can do the contacting for you to get the censure lifted. I think I remember being told that details can be sent, minus the name, via fax.

As a penitent, you don’t have to worry about this. The priest knows how to handle it if you come to him with one of these reserved cases.

In case if there was a confusion, when I referred to if you were dying, I meant that canon law in that case allows any random priest to lift all types of censures (excommunication is one type of censure), on the spot, so that it can be done before you die. In that case, no one need contact anyone. The local, random priest has broader powers in that case.

Can. 976 Even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present.

You start by going to confession with a normal priest, just like usual. :slight_smile: He will tell you if a communication needs to be sent and tell you what to do, and send the communication for you, etc. That is what I was told. For abortion, though, in the United States, I think a communication does not need to be sent first. Here is an ask an apologist thread for the reference on that. Canon law does not state this, so I can’t give you a link to that for proof. I only have that one on the word of others. I assume this is because it is “common” here.

Keep in mind that the priest can absolve you of the sin. What you need the bishop/Pope for is to lift the accompanying sentence/penalty (I called it “penance/punishment” before, but “sentence/penalty” would be a more appropriate term). As brother Pug said, in danger of death, a regular priest would be authorized to lift the sentence/penalty.


In last night’s edition of ZENIT, which I received in my inbox, the online magazine featured an article about Cardinal Stafford, the Apostolic Penitentiary. The final line is most interesting:

The Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary was created in the 12th century with the essential task of receiving the confession of sins that can only be forgiven directly by the Pope given their gravity, and of granting dispensations and graces reserved to the Supreme Pontiff.

The apostolic constitution “Pastor Bonus” confirms that the competence of the Apostolic Penitentiary is concerned with those matters that pertain to the internal forum (questions of conscience), as well as everything that pertains to the granting and use of indulgences.

Since ZENIT is much more of a reliable source than the wikipedia that I quoted, I offer this to help define what the Apostolic Penitentiary does.

EVERY sin can be absolved by ANY priest.

However, certain penances and punishments can only be lifted by either episcopal or papal benefice.

Brother mardukm - are you sure that you are correct? Priestly absolution of sin is an extension of the power of binding and loosing exercised by bishops. Priests (presbyters) receive their authority in this regards from the bishop…I don’t think that they have authority to absolve these particular sins as the Church, with her power of binding and loosing, has reserved their absolution to the bishop (or pope). Let’s say you desecrate the holy eucharist. This carries the penalty of automatic excommunication which can only be lifted by the Holy See. I could be wrong, but I don’t understand how one could be said to be in a state of grace and forgiven of one’s sin when still out of communion with the Church (which you would be until the excommunication was lifted).

There is no communication with anyone required if someone goes to Confession to confess an abortion. The priest can absolve the penitent and the automatic excommunication is lifted. Nothing else is done or required to be done.

I agree about this in the United States concerning abortion (and could be other countries, I just don’t know about them either way). What I don’t know how to do is prove it by an official document. Do you have a link to the document that indicates this?

Ask your priest or write to your bishop. I’m British but live in the Philippines and its the same here as in the US. I also know that its the same in the UK, Germany, and Singapore. My understanding is that for abortion because its so widespread (unfortunately) it would be physically impossible to communicate on each case that all priests are delegated such authority.

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