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General absolution/Movies, morality and sin

     Q. Our priest now has three parishes to take care of, so he is kept very busy. Can he be given permission to have a rite three penance service with absolution, perhaps once or twice a year? This would free up some time for him, and I also feel that it would help to bring some people back to church. (Wisconsin) 

 

      A. The short and simple answer is "probably not." But let's explain. First, so that readers understand the question: "rite three" is a form of the sacrament of reconciliation in which penitents do not make an individual confession of sins. Instead, they simply indicate their sorrow, perhaps by reciting the Confiteor ("I confess") together and then are granted general absolution by the priest.

      What is clear from the Code of Canon Law (in No. 960-61) is that this form is meant to be used only in specific and narrow circumstances and that individual confession and absolution is the ordinary way in which someone conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and with the church.

      The Code of Canon Law provides for the use of general absolution either in danger of death or when the diocesan bishop has decided that a "grave necessity" exists. The most frequent examples offered for danger of death are a large troop of soldiers about to go into battle or passengers on a plane that is about to crash.

      As for "grave necessity," a bishop's discretion is somewhat circumscribed by Canon No. 961, which indicates that it is limited to emergency situations. (The canon says that the permission would not apply simply because a large number of penitents were to be gathered for a feast or pilgrimage.)

      The code also specifies (in No. 963) that a penitent who has received general absolution for a serious sin must mention that sin in an individual confession as soon as is reasonably possible.

      So the determination of "grave necessity," which would warrant general absolution, is ultimately the diocesan bishop's call, but the code seems to envision only emergencies that could not have been foreseen. (I have read that, several years ago, when the SARS crisis made it dangerous to congregate in crowds, the Catholic bishop in Hong Kong dispensed with the Sunday Mass obligation and granted general absolution, making it clear that when the crisis was over someone conscious of serious sin should go to confession as soon as possible.)

      In the case of your pastor (for whose workload, by the way, I have sympathy), he should extend the time period for confessions when he foresees a sizable crowd or recruit neighboring priests to help him conduct a penance service that would include the opportunity for individual confession. 

     

     Q. I have a question with regard to the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey." Is it a mortal sin to see that movie? Also, does the church still rate movies, as it did in the past? And if so, where are those ratings listed? (Forest Hill, Maryland) 

 

      A. I have not seen the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey," nor do I have any intention (or desire) of seeing it. So I am limited to telling you what has been said by people whose opinions I value who have watched the film.

      The Religious Alliance Against Pornography is an interfaith group that includes leaders from a wide range of religions -- Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim. They have said that the theme of the movie "is that bondage, dominance and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable."

      The group went on to observe that "the contrast between the message of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and God's design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy could not be greater. The books and the movie undermine everything that we believe as members of the faith community."

      Catholic News Service said in a review that the movie "features a modern-day Marquis de Sade as its male protagonist" and contains "excessive sexual content, including graphic deviant behavior and nonmarital sexual activity with much nudity."

      As to whether seeing the movie constitutes a mortal sin, that depends to some extent on the person's motive for seeing it. If the purpose is a prurient desire for sexual gratification, it very well could be a mortal sin. (For purposes of review, a mortal sin requires serious matter, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will.)

      My advice would be this: If the film could prove to be morally troublesome, why risk seeing it -- especially if, as it seems, it is so bereft of any redeeming social value?  As to your question regarding movie reviews, Catholic News Service regularly reviews feature films against the background of the church's teaching and values. This important resource is available in many Catholic newspapers, as well as by conducting an Internet search for "Catholic movie reviews."

     

     Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.

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