A MinD in MoTown

Forgiveness for sale.

Have you heard the news? If you’re Catholic and a bit sinful, you can “buy” your way into heaven at a faster rate and forego a longer period of time in the waiting room of Purgatory before your entrace beyond the pearly gates.

Indulgences have returned – check out this NYTimes article for more information because, well, indulgences aren’t too simple to explain – and apparently, the Catholic church is somewhat using them to sway the more liberal churchgoers back to confession and into the pews. So in the hopes of persuading the part-time-Catholics to return to the church, many dioceses across the country have reinstated the dispensing of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.

In a larger-than-normal nutshell – because I’m certain you didn’t click the link – an indulgence is a means of forgiveness in the eyes of the Catholic church. Traditionally, a sinner would go to confession, explain his sins to the priest and be issued a penance, such as four “Our Father” prayers and maybe a “Hail Mary” for good measure, and lesser sins would be forgiven by the church. However, the sins still stacked up, especially the doozies like adultery and murder, when judged in Purgatory, adding toward how much time one must spend there before entering heaven. An indulgence, more or less, provides a faster track into the cloudy haven up above. Thus, for a few hours of community service or an extra fifteen prayers toward a specific saint, the sinner can receive forgiveness for his indiscretions, knocking off a few days, weeks or years from his wait in Purgatory.

To me, completing an act of kindness shouldn’t be done simply because someone wants to erase their less-than-perfect past and by the Catholic church – a church I grew up with and still deeply believe in – almost dispensing these indulgences for something in return, it’s showing that regardless of one’s actions on earth, heaven is never unattainable. And while that may be a fabulous ideal, I somewhat find it deplorable that the church would practically sell someone their way into a divine afterlife.

Yes, the dioceses involved explain that they are not seeking monetary donations for indulgences, which the Catholic church did accept centuries ago and which, furthermore, became a catalyst for the birth of Lutheranism. But accepting voluntary acts and special pilgrimages for lesser time in Purgatory sits just as badly with me as if the sinner handed a $50 bill to the priest following Sunday’s mass.

Disregarding the sale of indulgences entirely, how exactly can the Catholic church even promise potential sinners such forgiveness? How do they, as human beings just like the rest of us, truly know that a few charitable actions will shorten ones wait prior to heaven? What gives priests, bishops, cardinals and yes, even the pope, the authority to make such claims when they can know absolutely nothing of death and the afterlife that awaits? Need I even go into the scientific side of life after death and the ways in which time will be measured once we leave this planet? I think not.

It’s as if people are bargaining for their forgiveness as the church sells clemency for sinful actions without any concrete knowledge that said indulgences will have any real effect on eternity. And as someone who struggles with organized Catholicism to begin with, it’s another reason to question the entire belief system I’ve held for my 23-year existence.

11 Comments so far
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I first hear of this when the roommate called me on my break at work and my first reaction was to ask if he was joking. For what seems like the hundredth time in the past three months I find myself questioning whether I am cut out for Catholicism or whether I should back out of confirmation now.


You haven’t been confirmed yet? I was in 8th grade.

Comment by Kendall

just a couple of websites for more correct info I would’nt use the secular media as a truthful source on what the Church teaches.
so checkout what the Church says here.
and hit the forums at catholic.com
they have great info over there. peace.

Maybe it’s not a “truthful source” on what the church as a whole teaches, but it is concerning the specific dioceses mentioned within the story – Catholic dioceses, mind you – as well painting a general picture of what other church communities are doing across the country.

I’m assuming you haven’t checked out the rest of my blog, but I am part of the “secular media.”

Comment by Alan

Wow that’s pretty awesome. I was raised Catholic but haven’t been to church in more than a decade (at least for regular Sunday mass… I’ve been to a couple of sporadic masses for friends weddings, but I don’t think those “count”).

In all seriousness though, I agree that you shouldn’t do community service or anything like that to get something in return (i.e. a faster track to heaven). It kind of negates the whole point of doing something nice for others.

I’m the same as you. It was actually 1999 that I last attended mass, with the exception of weddings and funerals.

Comment by Cee

Utterly ridiculous. That’s all I can say without starting off on a complete tirade.

Ridiculous about sums it up appropriately.

Comment by hautepocket

I need to get some of that indulgence.

Don’t we all.

Comment by Matt

I don’t understand religion

I’m beginning not to myself.

Comment by deutlich

I grew up a southern Baptist darlin’, not a Catholic. Renounced it and Christianity in general at 13. Faith renewed at 16. Starting attending Mass with one of my best friends at 18. Now at 21, about two months away from Confirmation. It’s more complicated than that but I have a post in the works about it all.

Makes a whole lot more sense now. Southern Baptist, huh? Should’ve figured you didn’t grow up Catholic, being from the south and all. That rarely happens.

Comment by Kendall

I was taught as a youngin’ that regardless of the nature of your sins, if you confess you will be forgiven and you will be allowed into heaven. If you don’t confess your sins, then there is the chance you will go to purgutory or hell. There is no paying off your sins, however, because the church is a place of worship and a non-for profit enterprise, it has always been encouraged to make donations that you can afford to keep the church running.
The idea of the Catholic Church changing their doctrine to the acceptance of charitable donations and services as repentance of sins in confession has been a long misconstrued concept that has been around for centuries.
If you are Catholic, the rules are clear – there is no cutting in line. All you have to do is ask for forgiveness. I remember asking a priest about murder, he told me yes, as long as that person confesses and truly regrets that sin, they will be allowed in heaven.

I haven’t been to mass regularly since 1998. I lost faith in the rules of Roman Catholicism before that. But I do feel the need to justify my differences with the religion in order to clarify my own beliefs.

I somewhat recall similar ideas from my childhood and Catholic-school upbringing. And indulgences were part of Catholicism centuries ago, but practically disappeared after Lutherans split from the church, when the selling of indulgences for money was questioned. It seems now, however, some dioceses are bringing them back, and some believers who have harshly sinned just might do what is “necessary” for forgiveness.

Comment by Justin (Oats)

I’m catholic too and this is just one more reason why I haven’t been to church in forever. First, it was reinstating a bishop who denied the holocaust and now it’s buying your way into heaven.

Not to mention all of the priests who have fondled little boys… The Catholic church doesn’t exactly have a ripe reputation as it is. And now this? They may never truly regain people our age.

Comment by Megkathleen

I went to a private Catholic school for about 8 years, and was an alter boy for a good portion of those years. I remember that Indulgences were only to be given to those who performed many acts of good deeds in the service of the church/God. I’m not talking about raking leafs or giving food to the hungry, but rather an almost monk like dedication to the church.

Another product of Catholic school? Awesome. I went for 10 years. As for dedication to the church, I think that what an indulgence is worth – at least according to the NYTimes article – depends on the individual church. Some require lengthy pilgrimages while others seemingly provide forgiveness for smaller acts.

Comment by omegaradium

Rare doesn’t quite cut it but this should give you an idea. There is one Catholic church in the county I’m from. Not the town. The county.

Hold the phone, they reinstated a priest that denied the Holocaust? As in saying it never happened and that those millions of people just “got on a bus”? I think I actually feel sick now.

County, huh? Dayum. There’s one in this town, but not sure where others are outside of here. Where I’m from, Catholic churches every couple blocks. Craziness.

And yep, denied the Holocaust. Pretty deplorable, if you ask me.

Comment by Kendall

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