Catholic Church bringing back indulgences


Full disclosure: I was raised Catholic. So maybe I could use one of these.  And when I told like-backgrounded friends and relatives about this New York Times story, the reaction was uniform: “You’re kidding.” No:

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.

Pope John Paul II liked the idea of bringing them back, and Pope Benedict is even more enthusiastic. What indulgences are:

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.

Confession is a prerequisite. Dammit. (Oops.)

[Plenary indulgence. Inscription on the left transept of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome): Wikimedia Commons]

8 thoughts on “Catholic Church bringing back indulgences”

  1. I too was raised a Catholic.

    When we had confession at my school I would always start (after the “bless me Father for I have sinned…” bit) with:

    “I’ve come to the conclusion that God as described is a logically incoherent concept and therefore I confess I don’t believe in God.”

    From what I gathered from my fellow penitents this is a fairly common confession, but at least the priest knew where we stood.

  2. Absolute heresy. As Luther said,”Unless sacred scripture or conscience convict me otherwise, I can not, nor will I recant.”

    Children can understand the basis for salvation as taught by Jesus but it bounces off the forehead of Roman Catholics and liberal protestants. Does this have to do with man’s propensity for self-love?

  3. “but at least the priest knew where we stood.” This is the whole point of confession. It’s not to absolve sins, but to give the church information they can use against you. Obviously, this isn’t quite as important as it was in the middle ages, when this information could get you killed.

  4. The Church has no shame, does it? (Granted, I suppose it never did.) But this is just…it’s like the Windows Update of religion. (“Oh hai. U no haz salvation? Download patch here!”)

  5. If memory serves, the first Edmund Blackadder had an indulgence in advance for anything bad he might do, signed by both popes. That’s pretty airtight.

    See William Tenn’s sf story “Time in Advance,” come to think.

  6. This horrible buying away your sins, someone could be the worst person and do rimes such as murderer or robbery and still go to heaven beacause they get an indulgence. That is hogwash, not true. I am very disapointed in the catholic church.

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