Tag Archives: catholic church

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]

Catholics on Alpha Centauri?

It seems strange that the same religious body that refused to apologize to Galileo until 1992 for claiming that the Earth was not the center of the universe (among other things) would welcome extraterrestrials as brothers. Yes, it’s true, aliens from another planet would be welcomed with open arms by the Catholic church. Without getting overly reactionary, it seems like an interaction like that would slowly begin to bring us a little too close to a Dune-like scenario of futuristic religious practices that have to cope with an increasingly expansive population – and not all on one planet.

How does one send out missionaries to the other planets in the universe? What would that do to intergalactic politics if there are aliens who have no sense of our history running around as Catholics? It seems like a very perplexing possibility, indeed. The Catholic church assures us, though, that

“Since God created the universe, theologians say, he would have created aliens, too. And far from being weakened by contact, Christianity would adapt. Its doctrines would be interpreted anew, the aliens greeted with open — and not necessarily Bible-bearing — arms.”

Modernity brings a lot of things to people, but it seems like a strange change for a religion as large as the Catholic church to express such a new theological stance. Perhaps it’s a good sign of their adaptability; perhaps it’s just a sign of their desire to convert the whole of existence. Who knows? It’s certainly an interesting topic for discussion.