In an address to priests and seminarians attending a workshop today in Rome on the sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope Francis reminded the attendees that the confessional is all about God's mercy and forgiveness, and it should in no way be seen as a place of harshness or a court of condemnation. “Confession is not a court of condemnation, but an experience of forgiveness and mercy!," the Holy Father exclaimed. The conference was being held as part of the Internal Forum, which is part of the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Church's oldest offices. The Apostolic Penitentiary is primarily concerned with issues relating to the forgiveness of sins, particularly those matters which might be so grave that the official absolution for them is normally reserved to the Holy See.
The Holy Father encouraged attendees to the conference to build on their “experience gained and with skillful creativity, to always help the Church and confessors to better carry out the ministry of mercy, which is so important!” The Pope reminded the seminarians and priests attending the conference that the ministry of the sacrament of Reconciliation is one comes from the Holy Spirit in a special way. “The protagonist of the ministry of reconciliation is the Holy Spirit,” said the Pontiff, “the forgiveness that the Sacrament confers is the new life sent by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore, you are called to always be ‘men of the Holy Spirit,’ witnesses and heralds, joyful and strong, of the resurrection of the Lord.”
The Holy Father urged the priests and seminarians to make the penitents who come feel welcome, rather than behaving towards them “with the attitude of a judge.”
“the heart of the priest is a heart that knows how to be moved, not by sentimentality or mere emotion, but to the ‘tender mercy’ of the Lord,” the Pope said, observing that a priest really acts as both judge and doctor, saying that “we must never forget that as a doctor he is called to heal and as a judge, to absolve.” The Pope then urged the priests and seminarians to dispense the sacrament of Reconciliation very regularly and with generosity. “A priest who does not attend to this part of his ministry, both in the amount of time spent and in the spiritual quality, is like a shepherd who does not take care of the sheep that were lost; he is like a father who forgets the lost son and neglects waiting for him,” Francis reminded the priests and soon-to-be-priests.