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DENVER, Colorado, April 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Exorcist and theologian Fr. Chad Ripperger says priests are under an obligation to give the sacraments to Catholics in imminent danger of death “regardless of what their bishop says.”
With Catholics in turmoil and anguish over unprecedented bans on confession, cancellation of public Masses, and the locking of churches as the coronavirus pandemic continues, LifeSiteNews asked Fr. Ripperger about losing access to the sacraments, including confession and even last rites, and how to respond in these times (read full interview below).
Fr. Ripperger said that when death is imminent, “the priest would have an obligation, regardless of what his bishop said, to hear your confession and give you absolution.”
Similarly, when it comes to last rites, the priest would “have the obligation to give the last rites, because his obligation is the person’s salvation over his own physical well-being,” he told LifeSiteNews.
Formerly with the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, Fr. Ripperger is the founder of the Doloran Fathers, an order of exorcists based in the Denver archdiocese. He is well-known for his many conferences and talks on the spiritual life, which are available online.
The priest’s comments come as all American and Canadian dioceses, as well as most in Europe, have cancelled public Masses, with some bishops going so far as to suspend reception of the sacraments. Dozens of bishops in the United States, and at least one in Canada, have suspended confession except in danger of death. The bishop of Springfield Massachusetts has gone so far as to suspend last rites, a directive uniformly criticized as beyond his authority.
Some bishops have advised Catholics to rely on perfect contrition as restrictions increase to contain the spread of the coronavirus. A March 20 note from the Vatican on confession during the pandemic states that the faithful can remember that perfect contrition, with certain conditions, “obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones.”
Fr. Ripperger told LifeSiteNews that when death is not imminent, Catholics in a diocese where confession has been suspended should wait until they can “get to confession normally.”
He counseled Catholics to pray more, make a spiritual communion daily, develop a spiritual life independent of the sacraments, and pray for their bishops at this time.
“This is a good opportunity for the people to realize if they don’t pray for the bishops on a regular basis, they can’t expect them to behave well,” the exorcist said.
Fr. Ripperger’s full interview with LifeSiteNews (edited slightly for clarity)
LSN: What do you think of the bishops suspending confession?
Fr. R: I think that the fact that in some dioceses they’ve shut down confession altogether is unnecessary. And I’m not an expert, obviously, on the coronavirus on a virus, but some dioceses, which I think are doing the right thing, the priest will sit in the confessional; you don’t have face-to-face fashion, and you just simply make it available to people at certain times so that the people can actually get to confession. So I think that’s the best way to do it, given the circumstances. I don’t think it’s necessary to shut it down completely.
LSN: Could you explain what is meant by “perfect contrition”?
Fr. R: Well, historically, the saints and authors and even the Church, they always say it’s an extraordinary grace, it’s not commonly given. It’s also not something you can muster up on your own. And the primary reason for that is because you have to be sorry purely because it offends God. You can’t be sorry because you might end up in hell, or for some other natural reason. So that’s why they’ve always said it was very hard in order to get an act of perfect contrition. And obviously, because it’s an extraordinary grace, it’s something that God gives to somebody and then from there, they’re able to make it.
LSN: Do you think we can assume God will be granting this extraordinary grace if you can’t get confession? And how are Catholics best to respond to this? Should they be calling their priest and their bishops, or do they say, okay, God will send me the extraordinary grace of perfect contrition?
Fr. R: I think if a bishop is open to hearing from the lay people, they should say something. But I think a lot of bishops that have pretty much cut it off are probably not very open to it.
Do I think that God is going to give more of that grace? I do think that He’s probably more likely to give it more frequently. But it’s still an extraordinary grace, so it’s not going to be as common as people would like to think.
I think the main thing is: don’t fall into mortal sin, that’s the primary thing. Just make sure you always stay in a state of grace. And in a case like that, even imperfect contrition can remit venial sin. So that way, they can make acts of contrition. Historically, they always recommended doing an examination of conscience before you go to bed each night, and then making an act of contrition at the end, and that would suffice for the remission of venial sin. And that doesn’t mean that later, when the confessions are more available, you wouldn’t confess those. It’s a pretty good indicator of the way the Church has always talked, they’re still remitted under those circumstances.
LSN: If you’re certain you’re in a state of mortal sin, could you beg your priest to even disobey his bishop on your behalf? Because there’s been the argument, you can disregard the directives of the bishop if you can find a priest to do that.
Fr. R: I would probably — if you look at the way it’s discussed in the moral manuals in the past, they would normally say no, unless there is danger of death. In a situation like that, then the priest would have an obligation, regardless of what his bishop said, to hear your confession and give you absolution. But if there’s not great cause on the side of possibility of death, then normally they say, you have to wait until such time as you can get to confession normally.
LSN: So even if you’re in the state of mortal sin, you’re not to go to your priest and say, can I go to confession because I’m in the state of mortal sin, even though I don’t think I’m in danger of physical death?
Fr. R: Yes, if you look at the way the moralists have written in the past, that’s the way they tend to present it.
LSN: So this isn’t actually as dire as it seems?
Fr. R: I don’t think it is, actually. I think that people are used to having regular access to the sacraments, and now that they don't have it, I think that can lead them to think that, you know, the situation is worse than it actually is. So if they’re not in danger of death, they should try to make a perfect act of contrition but there’s no guarantee, unless they’re doing it purely for that intention of God. But even then, the Church says you still have to confess mortal sins because of the fact that once confession becomes available — the phrase they used to use in the past [was that] mortal sins still have to be “submitted to the power of the keys,” so that a suitable penance can be applied or given, so they would still have to confess it later. But I don’t think it’s as dire as people like to think it is, at least on that level.
LSN: There’s also the case of one bishop suspending last rites.
Fr. R: Yes, the same principles apply. In the past, the way it was always said is that you didn’t give the sacrament of the sick, or last rites, unless there was danger of death, at least remotely. But because of the circumstances, now, it has to be imminent. So if there is somebody dying imminently, then the priest would still have the obligation to give the last rites, because his obligation is the person’s salvation over his own physical well-being.
I think the other side of it is, too, that there are things available even on the Internet, and if you go to the hospital they’ll tell the priest, this is how you should do it, so that there’s the least possibility of contamination. So, for example, in the past, the priest would gown up, and have masks and everything on and then the Church, in cases of necessity, would dispense the priest from actually physically applying the oil of the sick to the person with his own thumb, he could use a Q-tip, and so then all that stuff would be burned afterwards. So that was permitted in the past when there was great necessity.
So for the bishops to say that they cannot even give last rites is not within the context of the Church’s traditional teaching on matter.
LSN: So the main point is that when death is imminent, that’s when priests should go out of their way, their duty is to administer the sacraments, in the final hours, whereas as far as confession suspensions go, if you are in the state of mortal sin but physically healthy, you should just endure it?
Fr. R: Yes, exactly, you’re just going to have to wait. But they can, they can petition God. St. Thomas asked the question, does God hear the prayers of sinners, and by that he means people who are in a state of mortal sin. And he says, no, He doesn’t, because there’s no basis of merit. However, he said, if it’s necessary for the person’s salvation, God will hear the person’s prayers. Now, how do we know that to be the case? The way that we know it is that God will give the person an actual grace to continue to ask Him for the actual grace to get back into the state of grace. So they should continue praying and asking Him, and make sure they’re not continuing to commit any mortal sins, and then God will provide for them when the time comes.
LSN: Do you think it’s better for people who want devotional confession not to go [because of undue burden on priests]?
Fr. R: I think it depends. If you’re in a diocese where the bishop hasn’t restricted it and people are able to go behind the screen, I would say they should continue going
LSN: What do you make of all of this in general? Do you have any thoughts on this being punishment from God and how Catholics should be responding?
Fr. R: When you look at historically, when the saints of the church would say this is a punishment from God, it was usually because there was a local kind of a disaster of some sort and there was some particular grave sin in the region as a result of it. Taking that as a kind of a springboard, I would say that it’s hard to say that this is a punishment from God. On the other hand, it’s not like we don’t deserve it. So I would say probably it is, but, and God can use this to purify people to say, look, don’t take the sacraments, don’t take the ability to go to Mass and go to confession with any regularity, don’t that for granted, because it can be taken from you. So they should be more grateful and also be more solicitous to make use of those sacraments when the time comes.
LSN: So the proper disposition of a Catholic that you would advise is to pray and hope we get the sacraments back?
Fr. R: Yes, ask God, ask God, He hears our prayers, ask Him to restore the sacraments, so that we can go back to them, and maybe even express thanksgiving for the sacrament, the forgiveness that they received in confession in the past, and the ability to attend Mass, thank Him for having been able to do, and ask Him, beg Him to restore the situation so that they can go back.
LSN: The other thing is, people are pretty angry, myself included, or very hurt. You can’t go to Adoration either, which just seems really, really painful, why would you do that? and how would you advise Catholics —
Fr. R: I don’t think stuff like that is necessary either. I think it could be allowed but that they just have to be somewhat strict on the social distancing that the government’s requiring, which is not unreasonable. So when you come in to Adoration, you don’t have to sit [beside] the guy right next to you, you make sure that there’s ample room and they have to restrict the number of people going based upon that. I don't think it has to be completely shut down. It’s the same thing with the churches. I don’t think they need to be shut down. Part of it is just to tell people, look, if you’re sick, don’t come to church. They can take precautions, things like sanitizing the church on a somewhat regular basis etc.
LSN: Yes, but I’ve talked to a priest in the cardinal’s office, I called up and said, why can’t you do this? Why can’t you do that? But they’ve shut the doors and they’re not giving people Holy Communion. What would you advise Catholics? Because it’s hard not to be really angry with the bishops, and I’m sure that’s not a good response, but it looks like they aren’t trying.
Fr. R: Putting aside any malice on the side of certain bishops, I think that this is the result of being in a compromised relationship with the state. The state has for years, actually, centuries, been clamouring for separation of church and state, but they’ve stepped right in and told the churches what they can and cannot do and the bishops, because of their compromised situation as a result of the whole pedophilia scandal and the civil authority stepping in, because of that they’re a bit too quick to be overly compliant, or to be overly cautious, rather than being more moderated in their judgment about can and cannot be allowed.
LSN: So what should we do? I want to be properly disposed myself. I guess I’m getting too personal here, but if I go down to the cathedral and I’m kneeling in front of the cathedral because I want to get close to the Blessed Sacrament, is that being too political? Or just offer it up? What would be the proper disposition?
Fr. R: I don’t think that’s necessarily too political, unless you’re trying to make a statement, of course. But I think that two things, one is, people should be — I was happy to see that on the Internet there was a lot of promotion of making spiritual communions — people should be making spiritual communions daily, anyway, if they can’t get to Mass, so there’s that.
As far as the bishops, this is a good opportunity for the people to realize if they don’t pray for the bishops on a regular basis, they can’t expect them to behave well. They need to be praying for their bishops, and don’t allow a particular bishop’s behaviour, or bad behaviour, to separate you from the devotion or filial piety that you should have for the office. And part of that filial piety is praying for him regularly, that he receives the graces to make the right decisions.
It’s not unreasonable that people are becoming angry because they’re seeing that the bishops are overreacting in certain circumstances, but what they need to do, they need to see, instead of being angry, that this is a sign that God’s calling us to pray for them, because being angry with them isn’t going to help them. Praying will.
LSN: And it wouldn’t help us who are angry either, I suppose.
Fr. R: Exactly.
LSN: The other thing is spiritual communion, as you mentioned. People say that a spiritual communion is just as efficacious as receiving Holy Communion. Is that actually true?
Fr. R: It is, but only under the condition that the person’s devotion rises to a level that would make it that efficacious. Generally speaking, though, most people don’t have that level of devotion and so it’s not going to. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn't do it.
LSN: So it’s like perfect contrition, where you may not actually achieve it but you certainly have to try, and God will grant you the grace.
Fr. R: That’s right, ask and stay at it. Ask Our Lord and Our Lady to give you the grace to be as devout as possible when making this act of spiritual communion.
LSN: So there’s actually a potential here for people to become very devout, those who are lackadaisical, and even those in a state of mortal sin, although obviously there’s a huge difference between those?
Fr. R: Yes, I think so. I think that this is an opportunity for people to start developing their spiritual life, independently of only going to Mass or only going to Communion or only going to confession. They can actually start praying more and start the process of working on their spiritual life, more independently of those things. Not that you shouldn’t make use of those when you can, but this is a sign that God wants people to start working on that independently of that.
LSN: You mean that there actually may be over reliance on the sacraments?
Fr. R: Right. Exactly.
LSN: So you can do that without access to the sacraments. It’s just that here’s the perfect opportunity for people to turn back to God, but the ordinary means of salvation that He’s given us, the sacraments, are not there, so it just seems kind of ironic, is that the right way to look at it?
Fr. R: Yes, it is, in fact, it’s similar to what the Christians experienced in the early church, they didn’t always get regular access to the sacraments. That didn’t mean they weren’t developing their spiritual lives.
LSN: Do you have anything else that you would want to tell Catholics who are in anguish about this?
Fr. R: Well, what I’ve said, just start praying, pray more.
LSN: And I guess don’t despair.
Fr. R: Right. Exactly.