Pope Francis told priests Friday to make confession a priority in their parishes, and, if they want to be good confessors, to have a strong prayer life focused on growing in humility and closeness to the Holy Spirit in order to evangelize.
The confessor, in face, is called daily to go to the peripheries of
evil and sin,” the Pope said March 17, adding that “this is an ugly
periphery,” but the priest is called to go “and his work represents an
authentic pastoral priority.”
“To confess is a pastoral priority,” he said. “Please, may there not
be those signs (that say): ‘confessions only Monday and Wednesday, from
this time to this time.’”
“Confess each time they ask you,” he said, telling priests that if
they are sitting in the confessional praying, “you are there with the
confessional open, which is the open heart of God.”
Pope Francis spoke to participants in the Apostolic Penitentiary’s annual course on the internal forum.
The Internal Forum branch of the Apostolic Penitentiary is one of the
three tribunals of the Roman Curia and is responsible for issues
relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church, particularly
sins involving some types of grave matter which require a special form
of absolution that only certain priests can administer.
Taking place March 14-17, the course is held every year in Rome and
is designed to educate attendees on canon law regarding Confession, as
well as what the internal forum does. It is attended by around 500
seminarians in their third year of studies and by priests who wish to
In his speech, the Pope said that to be a good confessor, a priest
must be a man of prayer, who is attentive to the Holy Spirit and knows
how to discern well, and who also is a good evangelizer.
They must be “a true friend of Jesus the Good Shepherd,” he said,
adding that without this friendship, “it will be very hard to mature
that paternity which is so necessary in the ministry of Reconciliation.”
This friendship is cultivated primarily through prayer, he said,
whether it's a personal prayer “constantly asking for the gift of
pastoral charity,” or a special prayer for “ the exercise of the duty of
confessors toward the faithful … who come to us looking for God’s
A ministry of confession that is “wrapped in prayer” will be a
“credible reflection of God’s mercy” and will help to avoid the
“bitterness and misunderstandings” that can at times happen in the
Confessors must also pray for themselves, the Pope said, specifically
to understand well that they themselves are sinners who have been
“One cannot forgive in the Sacrament without the knowledge of having
been forgiven first,” he said, adding that prayer is “the first
guarantee of avoiding every attitude of harshness, which uselessly
judges the sinner and not the sin.”
Francis also stressed the need for priests to pray for the gift of “a
wounded heart,” which is able to understand other wounds “and heal them
with the oil of mercy,” like the Good Samaritan did to the man on the
side of the road.
A priest must also pray for humility and invoke the Holy Spirit, who
is the spirit “of discernment and compassion” that allows him to
accompany others with prudence.
A confessor must also be “a man of the Spirit, a man of discernment,”
who knows how to listen to the Holy Spirit in trying to discern the
will of God.
“How much harm is done to the Church from the lack of discernment!
How much harm comes to souls from an act that is not rooted in humble
listening to the Holy Spirit and the will of God,” he said.
“The confessor does not act according to his own will and does not
teach his own doctrine. He is called always to do the will of God alone,
in full communion with the Church, of whom he is the minister, that is,
Discernment, the Pope said, allows the priest to distinguish
individual cases instead of generalizing and putting everyone together
in the same category, which helps the penitent to open “the shrine of
their own conscience” in order to receive light, peace and mercy.
This discernment is necessary above all because many people who come
to confession find themselves in “desperate situations.” They could also
be “spiritually disturbed,” he said, explaining that these cases have
to be discerned well, keeping all of “the existential, ecclesial,
natural and supernatural” causes in mind.
“When the confessor becomes aware of the presence of genuine
spiritual disturbances – that may be in large part psychological, and
therefore must be confirmed by means of healthy collaboration with the
human sciences – he must not hesitate to refer the issue to those who,
in the diocese, are charged with this delicate and necessary ministry,
namely, exorcists. But these must be chosen with great care and great
Confession must also be a true place of evangelization, Pope Francis
said, stressing that “there is no more authentic evangelization than the
encounter with the God of mercy, with the God who is mercy.”
“The confessional is then a place of evangelization and therefore of
formation,” he said, explaining that in the brief dialogue with the
penitent, the confessor is called to discern “what is most useful and
what is even necessary for the spiritual path of that brother or
At times this will mean re-explaining the most basic fundamentals of
the faith, “the incandescent core, the kerygma,” without which the
experience of God’s love and mercy would be “mute.”
Other times it will
mean explaining the basics of the moral life, “always in relation to the
truth, to the good and to the will of the Lord.”
“It involves a work of ready and intelligent discernment, which can
be of great benefit to the faithful,” the Pope said, urging the priests
to be good confessors who are “immersed in relation with Christ,” and
who are capable of careful discernment and attentive evangelization.