Thank you, Vatican

I am so grateful to have something besides the economy to write about, I could just cry.

Apparently, indulgences are back.

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.


There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it. You can get one for yourself, or for someone else, living or dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1857 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.
Got that? One per day.

As an Episcopalian, I'm really on the outside looking in on this. I don't believe in Purgatory, and I certainly don't believe that the church (a human institution) has any sway over God's grace. But there are aspects of this that, heaven help me, I just find hilarious.

“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”
Which is another way of saying the "reduce the sinning" strategy hasn't panned out.

I am also not sure about the way that time spent in Purgatory is calculated. Having read Dante's Purgatorio, which features punishments nearly as unpleasant as the ones in the Inferno but with far cheerier sufferers, I can certainly understand the desire to get out of as much of it as possible. But, short of getting hit by a taxi after leaving the church and donating some alms on the way out, isn't a plenary indulgence a flawed strategy? I suppose, while being crushed or roasted for a few hundred years, the indulgence would allow one to really repent for the sins that got one there, since one could better pinpoint when one committed them. But it would probably make me resentful, since I have a hard time understanding how any sins really justify having one's eyelids sewed shut. (I think that's for pride, but I can't remember.)

Still, they seem to have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Confessions have been down for years and the church is very worried about it,” said the Rev. Tom Reese, a Jesuit and former editor of the weekly Catholic magazine America. In a secularized culture of pop psychology and self-help, he said, “the church wants the idea of ‘personal sin’ back in the equation. Indulgences are a way of reminding people of the importance of penance.

“The good news is we’re not selling them anymore,” he added.

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