Is this a joke?
It seems to be impossible to get off the Francis beat on which Remnant writers and other tradition-minded Catholic commentators around the world have found themselves over the past three years. Not a week passes without something from the Vatican, orchestrated by Francis and his public relations team, designed specifically to call attention to the latest sensational development in what is being marketed shamelessly as Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love.® Many journalists have devoted entire careers to covering the Vatican beat, but this Pope’s endless of train of publicity stunts has made Vatican-watchers of the rest of us.
Take, for example, the Missionaries of Mercy,® the super-confessors whose still mysterious super powers will be activated by Francis in Rome on Ash Wednesday, when he will personally present 700 of the 1000 Missionaries of Mercy with their “mandate.”
Why the mocking tone, you ask? Because the whole affair is patently ridiculous, as was shown last week when Monsignor Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization®, explained the initiative:
[T]he Missionaries of Mercy are a select number of priests who have received from the Pope the charge to be privileged witnesses in their respective Churches of the extraordinariness of this Jubilee event. It is only the Pope who nominates these Missionaries, not the Bishops, and it is he who entrusts them with the mandate to announce the beauty of the mercy of God while being humble and wise confessors who possess a great capacity to forgive those who approach the confessional…
So what are the rest of the approximately 400,000 priestly confessors in the Holy Catholic Church supposed to be during the Jubilee of Mercy®? Chopped liver? Doesn’t every priest with faculties to hear confessions have precisely the same “great capacity to forgive those who approach the confessional”? For example, everyone knows that ordinary parish priests are already authorized to forgive the sin of abortion and that they do so regularly. Has Francis now withdrawn that authorization or placed it in doubt? The Vatican has been mum on the point, allowing the media to create the false impression—immensely disturbing to many women who have confessed this sin—that abortion was not previously forgivable at the parish level.
In fact, no one really knows exactly what the Missionaries of Mercy will be able to do that God Himself does not already do when the Sacrament of Confession is administered by an ordinary priest acting, in persona Christi, to a sincere penitent with a firm purpose of amendment. The Missionaries of Mercy will come forth from Rome surrounded by a carnival cloud of tinted steam—an impressive display, but what does it really mean?
Catch Chris Ferrara's latest in the new print edition of The Remnant-- "It's very entertaining to be Pope!"
At any rate, why should a mere 1000 priests, or 0.25 percent of the total Catholic priesthood, be given a special papal “mandate to announce the beauty of the mercy of God”? Doesn’t every priest in the world already have the same mandate from God Himself by virtue of his ordination? And, since this is the Year of Mercy® and God’s mercy toward the repentant is boundless, why such a strictly limited number of specially deputed dispensers of mercy? Why does Francis, hailed by the world as the First Merciful Pope, not simply declare that during the Year of Mercy all priests shall be able to do whatever he thinks his Missionaries of Mercy can do?
In short: Why so stingy with the mercy? Here is Mons. Fisichella’s revealing explanation:
We have received a great response for participation [in the Missionaries of Mercy] but must place a limit on the large number of requests in order to ensure that the specific sign value, one which expresses how truly special the initiative is, be maintained.
That’s right, the number of Missionaries of Mercy is being kept low so that each of them will be just that much more valuable as a “sign” of “how special the initiative is”—meaning how special Francis is for having invented it. It would hardly do simply to declare that during the Year of Mercy every priest-confessor shall exercise to the fullest the capacity for absolution he already has, given a properly disposed penitent. No, there must be a select group of priests, monopolized by Francis, who are given the appearance of being a cut above all the others in the absolution department because Francis alone has conferred that special status. We have here a kind of spiritual monopoly in which one supplier controls the supply.
Thus, Fisichella is pleased to inform the press that on account of this papally- enforced scarcity of Missionaries of Mercy, “Father Richard from Australia will visit 27 communities in his rural Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle where there is only one church and no priests in residence. Traveling in a camper, he will journey from community to community as a ‘Missionary of Mercy on Wheels’! This is but an example of the way in which the Jubilee is meant to reach all, allowing everyone to touch the closeness and the tenderness of God.”
Is this a joke? The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has 30 priests ministering to 150,000 Catholics in 39 parishes, whereas “Father Richard” appears to be Father Richard Lennan, the only Father Richard in the diocese, who is listed as being on leave while living at Boston College. If the Jubilee is “meant to reach all” so that everyone can “touch the closeness and mercy of God”—as if God and His mercy were inaccessible before Francis—then why not declare that all 30 priests are Missionaries of Mercy, available at the 39 parishes? Why recall just one priest from the other side of the world, put him in a camper and have him drive from parish to parish? Or why not put all 30 priests on the road and divide the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle between them in order to increase the possibility of everyone being able to “touch the closeness and Mercy of God?”
Again, why so stingy with the mercy? The answer, evidently, is that one priest in a camper sent specially by Francis into the Outback, endowed with a special “mandate” of mercy that only Francis, “not the bishops,” can give, naturally focuses all the attention on Francis by insuring the conspicuousness and exclusivity of his innovation. The absolution of sins and the good of as many souls as possible are apparently beside the point.
Now, there are only two ways to view this thing: Either Francis has indeed somehow invested his Mercy Monopoly with special powers of absolution not available except through the monopoly, in which case he is literally hoarding mercy, or else there is no real difference between the Missionaries of Mercy and a regular parish priest in terms of the capacity to absolve sins, in which case the thing is an elaborate sham whose only purpose is to advance the papal personality cult.
Finally, what sinner would expose himself to public humiliation by approaching a roaming Missionary of Mercy for confession as opposed to his own parish priest, thereby signaling that his sins are so grave that only the Mercy Monopoly can absolve him?
Yes, this is a joke.
“The Pope Francis Mercy Monopoly”—Update
A commenter to my original article under this title has objected: “The Missionaries of Mercy receive delegation to absolve the canonical Reserved Penalties. By not explaining this, you distort the whole fact.”
I have distorted nothing.
First of all, canonical penalties are remitted, not absolved. Only sins are absolved, and there are no longer any “sins reserved to the Holy See” under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, even though the Bull of Indiction for the Year of Mercy erroneously refers to such sins as being “pardoned” by the Missionaries of Mercy. As you can read here, here, and here, a parish priest with faculties can now absolve all those sins as to which there are canonical penalties reserved to the Holy that must still be remitted.
Secondly, under the 1983 Code there are five sins as to which, even after absolution, only the Holy See can remit the attached penalties:
(1) defiling a consecrated host by throwing it away or keeping it for a sacrilegious purpose; (2) physically assaulting the Pope; (3) a priest absolving an accomplice to a violation of the Sixth Commandment; (4) consecrating a bishop without a papal mandate; (5) violating the seal of the confessional.
Abortion is not one of these five sins because the penalty of excommunication attaching to abortion under Canon 1398 is not reserved to the Holy See (but apparently can now be remitted by the local bishop).
Notice that three of five penalties involve clerics, not members of the lay faithful who are supposedly benefitted by this beneficent display of mercy. At any rate, there is no need for a papal “Mercy Squad” to remit these penalties, for the Pope could simply declare that whoever is absolved of any of these five sins by any priest with the faculty to hear confessions shall have the attached penalties remitted by the Holy See as well. In that regard, the Mercy Squad is just for show. Moreover, if Francis insists on using a showy Mercy Squad to remit penalties he could simply declare remitted upon prior absolution locally, why limit membership in the Mercy Squad to only 1,000 priests for the whole world?
On the other hand, if Francis has decided that only the Mercy Squad can absolve the sins involved in these five cases, not just remit the penalties, then he has substantially contracted the scope of mercy in the confessional by limiting it to the chosen 1,000. But it is not clear what Francis actually does intend in this regard. Can the Mercy Squad do anything more than absolve the underlying sins, while the penalties remain reserved to the Holy See? No clarification has yet been provided.
Lastly, and most important, Francis has cited the above-noted five cases as merely examples of the “breadth” of the mandate of the Missionaries of Mercy, but he has not explained what else is included in this mandate beyond the power of an ordinary priest to absolve sins. If something more is included, then Francis is indeed hoarding mercy by limiting its dispensers to 1,000 priests for 1 billion Catholics. If, however, the Missionaries of Mercy have no power to absolve sins beyond that of any other priest then, again, the whole thing is just for show. And I fail to see how Francis could grant any priest such a “super power” as the power of absolution comes from Christ, not papal fiat. There is nothing Francis could add to that power as any priest with faculties, acting in persona Christi, can already absolve any sin in God’s name, no matter how grievous, if the penitent is properly disposed.