Friday, March 29, 2019

Greetings for Canon Law students

At 11:00am local time (6:00am EDT) in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience those who are participating in the XXX Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary.  The Course has taken place in Rome - at the Palazzo della Cancelleria - from 25 to 29 March 2019.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to participants taking part in the
Course on the Internal Forum

Dear brothers, good morning!

I welcome you during this season of Lent, on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum, which is being offered this year for the thirtieth time.

And I would like to add - off text - a word about the term internal forum. This is not a nonsensical expression: it is serious! Internal forum is internal forum and it cannot go outside. And I say this because I realized that in some groups in the Church, the appointees, the superiors - let us say so - mix the two and take from the internal forum in order to make decisions in the external forum, and vice versa. Please, this is a sin! It is a sin against the dignity of the person who trusts the priest, he manifests his reality to ask for forgiveness, and then he uses it to fix the things of a group or a movement, perhaps - I don't know, maybe to invent - perhaps even of a new congregation, I don't know. But internal forum is internal forum. It is a sacred thing. I wanted to say this because I am worried about this.

I offer a cordial greeting to Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary, and I thank him for the kind words that he has offered to me.  With him, I greet all the members of the family from the Apostolic Penitentiary.

The importance of the ministry of mercy justifies, requires and almost demands an adequate formation, so that the encounter with the faithful who ask for God's forgiveness is always a real meeting of salvation, in which the embrace of the Lord is perceived in all its strength, able to change, convert, heal and forgive.

Thirty years of experience of your course on the internal sacramental forum, are not many years compared to the long history of the Church and to the antiquity of the Apostolic Penitentiary, which is the oldest Tribunal in the service of the Pope: a court of mercy! And I really like it that way.

However, thirty years, in this age of ours, which runs so quickly, is a sufficiently long time to be able to make reflections and budgets. In addition, the very high number of participants - over seven hundred this year! The Cardinal said that he had to stop registration for logistical reasons. It seems a joke that there is no space in the Vatican! It seems like a joke! - indicates how acute the need for training and security is, with respect to matters so important for the life of the Church itself and the fulfillment of the mission that the Lord Jesus entrusted to us.

If it is held by many that Confession, and with it the sense of sin, is in crisis - and we cannot fail to recognize a certain difficulty of contemporary man in this regard -, this large participation of priests, newly ordained and ordinands, testifies to the permanent interest in working together to face and overcome the crisis, first of all with the weapons of faith, and offering an ever more qualified service capable of really manifesting the beauty of divine Mercy.

Jesus came to save us by revealing to us the merciful face of God and drawing us to him with his Sacrifice of love. Then we must always remember that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a real way of sanctification; it is the effective sign that Jesus left to the Church so that the door of the Father's house would always remain open and that the return of men and women to Him was always possible.

Sacramental confession is the way of sanctification both for the penitent and for the confessor. And you, dear young confessors, you will soon experience it.

For the penitent, it is clearly a way of sanctification, because, as repeatedly stressed during the recent Jubilee of Mercy, sacramental absolution, validly celebrated, gives us baptismal innocence, full communion with God which is never interrupted toward any man, but which man sometimes escapes by misusing the stupendous gift of freedom.

For the meeting with the priests of my diocese, this year they chose as their motto Reconciliation, sister of Baptism. The sacrament of Penance is a brother of Baptism. For us priests, the fourth sacrament is the way of sanctification first of all when, humbly, like all sinners, we kneel before the confessor and implore for ourselves the divine Mercy. We always remember - and this will help us a lot -, before going to the confessional, to be first forgiven sinners and, only later, ministers of forgiveness.

Furthermore - and this is one of the many gifts that Christ's love of predilection holds for us - as confessors we have the privilege of constantly contemplating the miracles of conversions. We must always recognize the powerful action of grace, which is capable of transforming the heart of stone into a heart of flesh (cf Ez 11,19), of changing a sinner who fled far away into a repentant son who returns to his father's house (cf Lk 15, 11-32).

For this reason the Penitentiary, with this Course on the internal Forum, offers an ecclesial service, favouring the necessary formation for a correct and effective celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, an indispensable presupposition for its fruitfulness. This is because every single Confession is always a new and definitive step towards a more perfect sanctification; a tender embrace, full of mercy, which helps to expand the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of love, truth and peace.

Reconciliation itself is a good that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded with all its moral and juridical strength with the sacramental seal. Although not always understood by the modern mentality, it is indispensable for the sanctity of the sacrament and for the penitent's freedom of conscience; which must be certain, at any time, that the sacramental conversation will remain in the secrecy of the confessional, between one's conscience that opens to grace and God, with the necessary mediation of the priest. The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has jurisdiction, nor can it claim it.

Dear young priests, future priests, dear Penitentiaries, I urge you to always listen with great generosity to the Confessions of the faithful - it takes patience, but always with an open heart, with the spirit of a father -, I urge you to go along with them the way of sanctification that is the sacrament, contemplate the miracles of conversion that grace operates in the secret of the confessional, miracles of which only you and the angels will be witnesses. And may you sanctify yourself above all, in the humble and faithful exercise of the ministry of Reconciliation.

Thank you for your service!  And remember to pray also for me.  Thank you.
Original text in Italian
Texto en espaƱol