Page:Vactican as a World Power.djvu/453

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PENITENTIARY 439

The Church lays claim, by reason of its divine foundation, to a code of law independent of the state, and this makes necessary the existence of Papal courts. Among these a particular importance attaches to the Penitentiary. This is an organization in control of consciences, a court of confession and penance, the head of which is the Cardinal Grand Penitentiary, who is assisted by six councillors chosen for their ripe scholarship. The Penitentiaries of great cathedrals have all the powers of a bishop in so far as giving absolution is concerned, but they are not members of the Confessional Court. Canon law speaks o "reserved sins," from which only the Pope or the bishop, who may be represented by the Penitenriaiy, can absolve: the slanderous denuncia- tion of a priest in certain grave matters is a sin reserved to the Pope; then there are murder, abortion, arson, etc. A second sin quite re- cently reserved to the Pope characterizes the sharp opposition to Rome to heretical philosophical nationalism. A confessor who knowingly absolves an insubordinate member of I' Action Franfaise, can secure pardon for this grave sin of priestly disobedience only from the Pope. The simple father-confessor can be the mediator of this absolution if he appeals to the bishop or directly to the Penitentiary. When a doubtful matter arises which he does not himself feel able to settle, he likewise follows the same course. The name of the penitent is not revealed, since it is an inviolable law that the secret of the confessional must be strictly guarded. Only the sin itself is clearly described. Release from vows, conflicts of conscience which arise in marriage, , or as the result of the acquisition of ill-gotten goods, a conflict between one's oath as a state official and one's duty as a Catholic, and disparity between what one owes to human society and to the Church these are examples of other matters than grave offences which are brought before the forum of the highest court of conscience. The confessor is sent the absolution or decision in Latin, and this he then reads to the penitent in the confessional. Afterward the communication is torn up, for not a trace must remain of the matter discussed in this secret tribunal. Every case is settled for the individual conscience in foro interne, and it is impossible to appeal to precedent. The Peni- tentiary is in charge of a real office of grace: it gathers together again souls that have strayed from the flock. Not infrequently something which a Congregation would have had to decide in the negative by


440