Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to prison inmates: “A possibility of finding again, the goodness of the Lord, the certainty of reconciliation.”
On Sunday, December 18, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI made a pastoral visit to the inmates of Rebibbia Prison in Rome. During his visit he had an unprecedented dialogue with the inmates when they were allowed to ask him questions. I found the following question and the answer by his Holiness quite moving.
My name is Gianni, from section G8. Your Holiness, I was taught that the Lord sees and reads inside of us. I wonder why absolution is delegated to priests? If I asked for it on my knees alone in my room, turning to the Lord, would he absolve me? Or would it be another kind of absolution? What would the difference be?
Yes, you are asking me an important and true question. I would say two things. The first: naturally, if you kneel down and with true love for God pray that God forgives you, he forgives you. It has always been the teaching of the Church that one, with true repentance – that is not only to avoid punishment and difficulty, but for a love for the good, for love of God – asks for forgiveness, he is pardoned by God. This is the first part. If I honestly know that I have done evil, and if a love for goodness, a desire for goodness is reborn within me, repent for not having responded to this love, and I ask forgiveness of God, who is the Good, he gives it to me.
But there is a second element: sin is not only a “personal,” individual thing between myself and God. Sin always has a social dimension, a horizontal one. With my personal sin, even if perhaps no one knows it, I have damaged the communion of the Church, I have sullied the communion of the Church, I have sullied humanity. And therefore this social, horizontal dimension of sin requires that it be absolved also at the level of the human community, of the community of the Church, almost physically. Thus, this second dimension of sin, which is not only against God but concerns the community too, demands the Sacrament and the Sacrament is the greatest gift in which through confession, we can free ourselves from this thing and we can really receive forgiveness in the sense of a full readmission to the community of the living Church, of the Body of Christ. And so, in this sense, the necessary absolution by the priest, the Sacrament, is not an imposition – let us say – on the limits of God’s goodness, but, on the contrary, it is an expression of the goodness of God because it shows me also concretely, in the communion of the Church, I have received pardon and can start anew.