Next up in our examination of Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities is a look at Reconciliation.
After a basic two-sentence definition (GCSPD 27), the bishops look at some particular circumstances. They remind us that only people who have the use of reason can sin mortally. This is an important statement:
Nevertheless, even young children and persons with intellectual disabilities often are conscious of committing acts that are sinful to some degree and may experience a sense of guilt and sorrow. As long as the individual is capable of having a sense of contrition for having committed sin, even if he or she cannot describe the sin precisely in words, the person may receive sacramental absolution. (28)
That said, participation in a reconciliation liturgy without the experience of confession and absolution is always a possibility. (Ibid.)
What about Catholics who have full and mature use of reason, but who have little to no ability to communicate verbally? Sometimes such conditions occur because of injury or disease, and for others, it has been a lifelong challenge.
Catholics with significant communication disorders may be permitted to make their confessions using the communication system with which they are most fluent. (29)
The operative bit here is “may.” Few priests have a fluency beyond one or a few languages. I suppose written confessions are a possibility here.
One of the Church’s concerns is safeguarding the private reception of Penance and maintaining the seal of the sacrament. That is why people of any communication challenge “are to be taught to be as independent as possible in the use of their communication system.” The bishops couldn’t realistically alter “may” to “must,” but they are urged to work with people.
What about people in the deaf community? Few clergy know sign language. Perhaps nearly as few know that confession may happen through an interpreter. The penitent chooses the interpreter (canon law 990) who is then bound by the seal (canons 983, §2 and 1388, §2). The alternative is listing their confession in writing or even an electronic device. (30) Anything listing private matters must be deleted or destroyed at the end of the rite.
Alas, we are still speaking of confessionals instead of reconciliation chapels or mercy chapels. Users of wheelchairs and walkers must be accommodated, either in face-to-face or anonymous methods. (31)
Thoughts on any of this? Any surprises?