By Luke Coppen
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales have rejected an appeal from priests to ask Rome's permission to celebrate the rite of general absolution.
The appeal, made by the National Conference of Priests, was dismissed because the bishops believed there was "no prospect" of the Vatican permitting it and pushing for it would be "counter-productive".
Rome last year warned the bishops' conference of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland not to press for use of the rite during the Jubilee Year. The Vatican argued that the ceremony, which grants forgiveness of sins to whole congregations, could only take place in exceptional circumstances and would detract from individual confession if used more widely.
The NCP decided at their annual conference last autumn to ask the bishops to press for permission to make "appropriate use" of the rite in the Jubilee Year.
But the minutes of a meeting between the NCP and the bishops' conference in November. published this month, revealed that the bishops were wary of raising the issue with the Vatican so soon after the warning. Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, the bishops' representative, said that petitioning the Holy See could prove "counterproductive" and that in countries where the general absolution had been used, the "good effect" faded after three or four years.
The archbishop gave the NCP a more favourable response on another sensitive sacramental issue: the admission to Holy Communion of divorced and remarried Catholics. The NCP voted last year to call for a new study of the question, based on the practice of the Orthodox church, which allows the remarried to receive the Eucharist. Priests also expressed concern over the "wide degree of variance in pastoral practice" towards the remarried.
Archbishop Kelly said he was uncertain that the Orthodox model was suitable for the Catholic Church, because it "totally separates the world and the Church". Quoting Pope John Paul II, he suggested that the matter could be resolved if theologians could "find a solution within Gospel truth".