During Advent of that year, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal, launched, “ad experimentum,” confession with general absolution.
The experiment did not last long. Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Mancini, vicar general of the diocese, explains why.
Q: Why was it felt necessary to create this possibility?
Bishop Mancini: A very broad interpretation of “serious need” was certainly applied. In fact, we thought that certain conditions, such as the climate, which is especially harsh during winter, the lack of priests who could be dedicated full time to confessions, and also the great distances were sufficient to fulfill that requisite.
Q: How long did the experiment last?
Bishop Mancini: The whole of Advent 2000. In parishes of the Montreal Archdiocese, parish priests who regarded it as opportune asked permission to proceed with general absolution.
Q: And what were the results?
Bishop Mancini: I must say, sincerely, that they were not positive. Whoever hoped that confessions would increase was disappointed because, on the contrary, the faithful showed clearly that they did not like this way of celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.
Q: And for what reason?
Bishop Mancini: Many told me that they did not feel they had been forgiven. And this reason, which belongs to the psychological sphere, must not be underestimated. On the contrary, from the spiritual point of view, it is very important.
At the moment we receive forgiveness for our sins, we need to hear the voice of the “other,” the priest, who is the intermediary of the mercy of the “Other” par excellence, namely God. Moreover, every sacrament is received individually, and confession cannot be an exception.
So, having also heard the opinion of the Episcopal Council, the cardinal decided to put an end to the experiment.
Q: According to your pastoral experience, what must be done to relaunch the sacrament of reconciliation?
Bishop Mancini: We must listen to the voice of the Holy Father and follow his instructions. Personally, I had a very significant experience precisely in the period in which general absolution could be given.
One afternoon in a parish, despite the parish priest´s opposite view, I wished to confess individually. I was there until 2 o´clock in the morning. And many of the faithful who came told me they had not been to confession in years. Following that experience, I am convinced that we cannot deny our people the possibility of a personal meeting with Christ through the sacrament.