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A friend of ours alerted us to an example (maybe there are more) of a Catholic Church (took a little checking to make sure it was really a Catholic Church) that is only allowing people who are vaccinated to receive confessions. Now, this seems like a constitutional crisis of faith to me.

Does this somehow tie vaccinations to grave matter? Does it mean there are no private confessions? Is this even legal, under church law? What happens if you want to go to confession, but not get vaccinated (or you can't get vaccinated for whatever reason)?

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As in most such cases: It depends on the context and is complicated. The relevant norms of the CIC are:

Can. 213 The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.

Can. 980 If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is to be neither refused nor deferred.

Can. 991 Every member of the Christian faithful is free to confess sins to a legitimately approved confessor of his or her choice, even to one of another rite.

Can. 980 (cited by Geremia) applies only to this situation: After the penitent stated his/her sins the priest does not want to give absolution because of non-spiritual reasons (personal differences etc.). This is not allowed. The norm does not say something about someone wanting to confess but not getting an appointment. In this case the condition "the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent" cannot be fullfilled.

More relevant are cann. 213 and 980. Every member of the faithful have a right to the sacraments, esp. to confession with a priest of his/her choice.

But to have a right does not mean, you can use it under every circumstances. If your selected priest has no time/is ill/... you will have to wait. And a if a pandemic compels some hygienic measures you will have to confess under that circumstances. If the vaccine reduces the risk of a confession I see no problem to differentiate between vaccinated and not-vaccinated christians.

The screenshot seems very harsh. But I have the strong presumption that it does not represent the full picture. Most priests will find possibilities to hear confessions as safe as possible, if someone really want. But they may also ask, if the penitent could wait a few weeks/months. That the public opportunities to confess are bound to vaccination seems justifiable to me. For the others one may find individual solutions.

The wording of the screenshot suggests before the vaccination-rule there was no possibility to confess. So let's celebrate there is more freedom now and not complain that the pandemic is not yet over!

The church wants to bring the grace of God in the sacraments to every human in the world. But it is restricted in its means by the earthly circumstances. This is not new, but we notice it in this pandemic in a hard way.

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    Even the vatican has said it's not morally obligatory to receive the vaccine, thus it cannot be morally obligatory to get the vaccine to confess. The rest of this is at best speculation. Disposition doesn't simply mean "non-spiritual" reasons after hearing sins. Disposition would include not appearing to be sincerely penitent. Canon Law does state that access to the sacraments should not be restricted when people ask reasonably and are properly disposed; i.e. the priest doesn't have to hear your confession if you come knocking on his door at 3 in the morning. – eques Mar 30 at 14:47
  • @eques "Canon Law does state that access to the sacraments should not be restricted when people ask reasonably and are properly disposed" Where? – K-HB Mar 30 at 15:33
  • Canon 843 "Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them." vatican.va/archive/cod-iuris-canonici/eng/documents/… – eques Mar 30 at 16:32
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    Just last month in my state, a parishioner caused a priest's premature death by meeting him in person. I really doubt parishioners can feign ignorance at this point, we all know the deadly consequences of our actions. – Ryan Mar 31 at 22:57
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    @Ryan that's unfortunate, but we should not be too quick to conclude based upon minimal evidence the casualty. You imply basically that if that priest had not met that parishioner, he wouldn't have died. Is that necessarily the case? And he consented presumably to meet the parishioner. – eques Apr 1 at 13:12
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Absolution cannot be denied for truly penitent sinners:

1980 Code can. 980
If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is to be neither refused nor deferred.

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    The word "if" in the Canon make it "subjective" and the Priest who issued the guidelines can easily defend his judgement for health and safety reasons. – jong ricafort Mar 29 at 19:04
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    @jongricafort that's not how canon law works. Disposition to the sacrament is not based upon health. To interpret it thus would turn the entire point of the sacraments on their head. Many people are dying when they need confession, some of whom are incurable, some of whom are potentially contagious. A merciful Church does not risk them going to hell out of their own safety. – eques Mar 29 at 19:14
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    @Thats the reality since the start of pandemic. Canon Law is subject to interpretation & judgement of the Supreme Pontiff, and he can change and modify it according to Holy Spirit inspiration. And the Priest will be subjected to trial to cite his defense if valid or not. – jong ricafort Mar 29 at 19:16
  • @jongricafort citation needed otherwise that's just vague speculation. The Church is not a dictatorship. – eques Mar 29 at 19:24
  • and the requirement is still above all else the salvation of souls. It's right there in scripture even – eques Mar 29 at 19:25
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Can a church pastor prohibit sacraments to people for any reason, other than mortal sin?

The short answer is no. This is bared out in Geremia’s answer.

Can. 980 If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is to be neither refused nor deferred.

This is certainly a violation of canon law.

Difficult times and situations bring out the best and the worst in some individuals, this includes priests.

Priests have a duty and obligation to administer the sacraments to the faithful. The priesthood is not a career, but a vocation. They take the place as God’s representative to those in need of the sacraments.

Unfortunately, some lack courage to administer the sacraments when the possibility of harming their health comes into play.

The Coronavirus is only the latest example of this. For example, my own parish priest, some years ago, refused to take communion to the elderly and those in hospital because he feared getting sick. He thus delegated this duty to Eucharistic Ministers. More unfortunate, now, is that this same parish now has three priests and they never visit the sick, the infirm or the elderly. What a shame!

On the other hand, some priests will look on this as a tremendous opportunity to administer the other sacraments, such as confession.

I can recall reading the life of St. Saint Damien De Veuster of Molokai, who volunteered to work amongst the lepers.

After some years of working in the leper colony, we was asked to return to Belgium. He asked to be allowed to return to the colony because they had no one to administer the sacraments. Initially he was refused because his superiors deemed it to dangerous for health reasons to send another priest. During this conversation Father Damien had his hand very close over a candle and did not feel the pain that he had burned his hand. When his superiors noticed this, they had Father Damien examined by a physician. He was diagnosed with leprosy. Again he requested permission to return to his island and this time he was not refused. At his first mass upon his arrival he pronounced these now famous words: ”We lepers...”.

We need more priests with Fr. Damien’s courage.

How many priests died administering the sacraments during the Black Plague!

It is true that priests must look after their health, and prudence plays a part. Priests can take the required protocols that have been proven effective in controlling the virus instead of putting out a rule that unless you are vaccinated, you can not go to confession. Rome does not even obliged the faithful to get the vaccines. Priests should know better than circumventing Canon Law.

There is a story somewhere out there about confessors hearing confessions of lepers in a particular catacomb in Rome. I can not recall the source, but if someone knows of it could they please edit it into this answer or at least pass me a link.

There is in Rome a catacomb, where the acoustics are held in such a way that a priest can hear the confession of lepers at a relatively large enough distance while speaking in a low voice and thus avoiding close contact and avoiding the contact with the Hansen's disease.

Priest need to be more courageous and step up to the plate. Doctors and nurses do not abandon the sick during the pandemic; nor should priests refuse to hear penitents because they have not received a vaccine.

Rome has already made it clear that the faithful are not morally obliged to receive a vaccine.

  1. At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one's own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. - Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines

Addendum: Visual contact must still be maintained for confession!

While there are now apps such as "Confession" that can assist during the examination of conscience, you cannot receive sacramental absolution via the internet or on the phone. Matter of conscience are forbidden by Rome over the phone, e-mail, internet and other modern forms of modern communication when the sacrament of confession is involved. The priest must keep the identity of the person secret. The internet is not.

Can a priest hear confession over the phone?

With regard to Penance, it is clear that the Sacrament is not to be celebrated via cell phone. In addition, in the present circumstances cell phones should not be used even for the amplification of voices between a confessor and penitent who are in visual range of each other. Current threats against the seal of confession also raise questions about information on cell phones.

It is important to note that the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation has not been prohibited during the pandemic in the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastors have been encouraged throughout to use their discretion to determine how to safely administer this sacrament to the faithful.

When it is impossible to receive sacramental absolution through individual confession, due to lack of availability or the individual’s inability to leave home during the pandemic, perfect contrition obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1452). Perfect contrition consists of:

The love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and

The firm resolution to go to sacramental confession as soon as possible.

At present, confessions in my parish are done in a side room with priest and penitent are over 10 ft apart and a veil between them. No problem!!!

Addendum:

The Church’s Code of Canon Law states that confessions should not be refused, provided the proper conditions are met.

A parish in the Diocese of Trenton will no longer restrict the sacrament of confession to those who have received a COVID vaccine, after a clarification from the diocese.

On Sunday, the Church of the Precious Blood in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, had posted on its website that confessions would once again be available - but only for those who had already received the coronavirus vaccination.

“Only those vaccinated may come to the Sacrament of Penance in order to protect yourself, and more importantly, to protect others in case you are asymptomatic and contagious,” said the parish website on Sunday.

Then on Monday afternoon, the Trenton Diocese clarified that the parish would allow people not yet vaccinated to receive confession.

“The Diocese has contacted the pastor in question and the parish website has been updated to allow for all those seeking Confession, regardless of vaccination status,” said the Diocese of Trenton on Monday afternoon on Twitter.

The parish’s confession policy was an update of a previous policy on its website dated from June 3, 2020. The announcement stated that “confessions at this time remain problematic,” due to the ongoing pandemic. The pastor of the parish, Fr. Michael Sullivan, had not yet decided on how to proceed with hearing confessions.

“With the presumption that anyone may be infected without knowing it, then the use of any screen, which allows anonymity, means that we must sanitize that side of the screen and any chair or kneeler used by the penitent between each penitent’s confession,” said the website in February. “I need more time to consider what to do. We may have to only allow face-to-face Confession in the meantime.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law states that confessions should not be refused, provided the proper conditions are met.

Canon 843 §1 of the Code of Canon Law states that “The sacred ministers cannot refuse the sacraments to those who ask for them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.”

By Monday afternoon, the parish website had been updated to state that “Confessions Are Now Available” for all - but still separated those penitents who have been vaccinated from those who have not been vaccinated.

“Now that Fr. Mike has been vaccinated, the Sacrament of Penance will be available in two ways,” said the website. “For those who have not been vaccinated, in the sanctuary of the church, face to face. For those who have been vaccinated, in the confessional where confession can take place anonymously.”

Fr. Sullivan did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication. The parish office at Church of the Precious Blood was closed.

The confession policies at the Church of the Precious Blood were more strict than those the Diocese of Trenton recommended in its pandemic directives from late 2020.

Those directives stated that “as has been the case throughout the pandemic, confession continues to be available as needed,” although “confessionals should not be used.” The directives encouraged outdoor confessions as well indoor confessions in a well-ventilated, socially-distant setting.

“All arrangements for confessions must safeguard the health of both priest and penitent, respecting the dignity and confidentiality of the Sacrament,” the directives stated. Kneelers and chairs were to be sanitized after each penitent.

While the parish now requires that non-vaccinated persons confess their sins face-to-face, both the Code of Canon Law and the sacramental norms of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stipulate that confessional screens must be available in churches.

According to Can. 964 §1, bishops’ conferences must “take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely.”

The USCCB Latin Rite bishops’ complementary legislation for canon 964, §2 states that “[p]rovision must be made in each church or oratory for a sufficient number of places for sacramental confessions which are clearly visible, truly accessible, and which provide a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican has said that canonical norms remain in place for the sacrament of confession, although bishops themselves could determine how the sacrament could be administered safely while upholding the sacramental seal. - New Jersey Parish Reverses Vaccine Mandate for Confessions

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    "There is in Rome a catacomb, where the acoustics are held in such a way that a priest can hear the confession of lepers at a relatively large enough distance while speaking in a low voice and thus avoiding close contact and avoiding the contact with the Hansen's disease." So, would allowing parishioners who aren't vaccinated to confess digitally or over the phone would be allowed? – nick012000 Mar 30 at 5:55
  • @nick012000 No. Rome has already pronounced on that. We have a question about that somewhere. Priest must be able to see their penitent , even when confession is anonymous. Visual contact is necessary. – Ken Graham Mar 30 at 5:58
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    @KenGraham Surely it is praiseworthy and virtuous for a priest to hear confession in the most difficult circumstances. But this is not the same as a legal obligation or a legal right of the faithful. The moral law is not the same as the canon law. Remember also: The church teaches that a full act of deep repetance is enough for salvation if no priest can hear confession before death. The circumstances are difficult, but through the grace of God we can deal with it. – K-HB Mar 30 at 13:22
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    @K-HB Canon Law is explicitly about the Salvation of Souls. The Church only exists for that end. Christ wouldn't have given us the Sacraments if we could reasonably rely on a full act of repentance. The detail you are overlooking by not clearly using the terminology is that only a perfect act of contrition outside of confession can restore one to God's grace, but even imperfect contrition suffices in confession. – eques Mar 30 at 14:38
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Can a church pastor prohibit sacraments to people for any reason, other than mortal sin?

Yes, the Pandemic, is the perfect example as it prohibits the Mass goers to attand Sacrament of the Holy Mass in full capacity of the Church, even if one is pious and have no mortal sin. The Church since the start of pandemic last year prohibits the faithful to attend the Sacrament of the Holy Mass.

A friend of ours alerted us to an example (maybe there are more) of a Catholic Church (took a little checking to make sure it was really a Catholic Church) that is only allowing people who are vaccinated to receive confessions. Now, this seems like a constitutional crisis of faith to me.

There was no constitutional crisis. The issue of vaccines were dealt comprehensively by the CDF and even Pope Francis approved the CDF guidelines on all the faithful that it is morally licit to accept the new vaccines.

If this is the case, then the Priest can also make their own guidelines to support the CDF Guidelines and make it as a fitting criteria to help in the prevention of the transmission of the Covid-19. The CDF Guidelines are clear, for those who will take the option of not receiving the new vaccines, they have the obligation to take precautionary measures. And one of those measures is to avoid going out and getting in close contact with people esp. the Priest to prevent transmission and for the sake of charity.

This document, much like the one from the USCCB, is clear in its reasoning. It is worth noting that the document does respect individual consciences, saying, “Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.” - Catholicism and the COVID-19 Vaccine

Does this somehow tie vaccinations to grave matter? Does it mean there are no private confessions? Is this even legal, under church law? What happens if you want to go to confession, but not get vaccinated (or you can't get vaccinated for whatever reason)?

If one cannot go to Confession, the solution can be found in Catechism and not in Canon Law as @Germia cited in this thread, according to Pope Francis, the Supreme Pontiff this is the solution;

"But many people today would tell me, ‘Father, where can I find a priest, a confessor, because I can’t leave the house? And I want to make peace with the Lord, I want Him to embrace me, I want the Father’s embrace.’”

The pope said his response would be, “Do what the Catechism (of the Catholic Church) says. It is very clear: If you cannot find a priest to confess to, speak directly with God, your Father, and tell Him the truth. Say, ‘Lord, I did this, this, this. Forgive me,’ and ask for pardon with all your heart.”

Make an act of contrition, the pope said, and promise God, “‘I will go to Confession afterward, but forgive me now.’ And immediately you will return to a state of grace with God.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’ — contrition of charity. Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (1452).

“As the Catechism teaches,” Pope Francis said, “you can draw near to God’s forgiveness without having a priest at hand. Think about it. This is the moment.”

If you can’t go to Confession, take your sorrow directly to God, pope says

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    I don't see you addressing the question of whether this is legal under Church law. In order to do that, it seems you certainly have to look in canon law, contrary to your claim. – Matt Gutting Mar 30 at 10:21
  • @MattGutting Don't get me wrong, the issue is not legal but mathematical. Can the unvaccinated confess under one meter rule? what more the previous two meter rule? The Priest wont hear anything, its impractical. If we can receive blessings thru on-line Holy Mass, will the future adapt an on-line confession also? – jong ricafort Mar 30 at 11:43
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    @jongricafort This doesn't answer the question of whether priests act within their canonical authority to deny the sacraments. And what nonsense is this about "not legal but mathematical"? Practicality isn't the concern. The Salvation of souls is! – eques Mar 30 at 12:26
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    @jongricafort The question is not mathematical at all. Confession is easily done at a distance of 10 ft or more. Our parish does that very thing and there is not a problem!!! Anonymity is even maintained... That makes it clear that where there is a will there is a way. – Ken Graham Mar 30 at 20:13
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    What Pope Francis says is practical advice for the laity about what to do if they can't find a priest to confess to. It says nothing about whether priests can only allow vaccined people to confession. Also, individual priests cannot prevent people from coming to mass out of fear of the pandemic; this is, as far as I know, always done at least on the diocesan level (by the bishop). – sgf Mar 31 at 9:03

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