VATICAN CITY — Calling a priest's ministry in the confessional “among the most significant expressions” of his vocation, Pope John Paul II urged confessors to witness God's mercy to penitents.
“This will not fail to increase trust [in the sacrament] among the faithful,” he said.
In a message to U.S. Cardinal William Baum, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Pope also encouraged priests to promote indulgences by prescribing them in the confessional as penances.
ZENIT, the Rome-based news service, reported that the Pope's April 3 message coincided with the completion of an annual course on reconciliation that was attended by seminarians in their final year of study, deacons en route to the priesthood and junior priests. The course “is of irreplaceable help to these young men beginning their ministries,” said ZENIT.
The Holy Father said the “proclamation of the truth, especially in the moral and spiritual order, is much more credible when he who proclaims it is not only an academic doctor of it, but above all an existential witness of it.”
He encouraged reception of the sacrament and urged individuals to “overcome a rather widespread tendency to refuse any salvific mediation, putting the individual sinner in direct contact with God.”
With the Jubilee Year's emphasis on reconciliation and repentance, the Pope prayed the Holy Year would mark “a general return of the Christian faithful to the sacramental practice of confession.”
He encouraged Catholics to take advantage of the special opportunities to earn indulgences — a remission of the temporal punishment for sins — during the Jubilee.
“I heartily exhort priests to educate the faithful with appropriate and intensive catechesis, in order that they take advantage of the great good of indulgences.”
He said priest-confessors could very usefully assign the practice of indulgences to their penitents as sacramental penances, subject of course to the criteria of equal proportion with the wrongs confessed.”
Indulgences, he said, “far from being a kind of ‘discount’ from the commitment of conversion, are instead an aid to a readier, more generous, more radical commitment.”