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Apostolic Constitution Regarding the Power of the Roman Pontiff to Remit Sins Prior to His Ordination

Ex Cathedra

BONIFACE X, Servant of the Servants of God, in perpetual memory,

In a time when faith remained steadfast in almost all regions already converted by holy saints like Saint Boniface, before the great attack on the Spouse of Christ by the Protestant heresies, the Crusaders were commissioned by Our Predecessors for the defense of the holy faith and the Catholic Church.  Many benefits were decreed for these Crusaders who went for the glory of God and for a holy purpose.  

It is known that Our Predecessor Pope Urban II granted remission of sins unto all the worthy that participated in the first Crusade in 1095.  It appears from the varied transcripts of this speech that some kind of remission was granted, and this remission was surely valid according to its provisions.  Indeed, by the Apostolic Authority accorded to Peter and his successors, not only the remission of sins but many other privileges were granted unto the Crusaders.

It is further known that Our Predecessor Pope Eugenius III in 1146 granted the same remission of sins, according to the same conditions and terms, as that granted by Pope Urban II when Pope Eugenius III wrote “moreover, by the authority vested by God in Us, We who with paternal care provide for your safety and the needs of the church, have promised and granted to those who from a spirit of devotion have decided to enter upon and accomplish such a holy and necessary undertaking and task, that remission of sins which our predecessor Pope Urban instituted.”  Again, the precise details of this privilege (other than that it was for a remission of sins and was also instituted by Pope Urban II) are not mentioned.

A subsequent decree regarding remission of sins issued by Our Predecessor Innocent III in 1215, specifies the required conditions for the remission of sins directly by the will of the Roman Pontiff, wherein it is written “Therefore, trusting in the mercy of omnipotent God, and in the authority of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, by that power of binding and loosing which God has conferred on Us, although unworthy, We grant to all, who undergo the labor in their own person and at their own expense, full remission of the sins of which they have truly repented with contrite hearts, and which they have confessed with their months; and at the retribution of the just We promise an increase of eternal salvation.”

Thus, We find that in order to receive remission of sins from the Roman Pontiff, it was required that they truly repented with a contrite heart and confessed the sins with their mouths (not merely in their minds).  The decree of 1215 does not specify that this confession would necessarily have been in the presence of a priest or bishop on earth, since the rule simply allowed any confession with the mouth (there is no mention of a priestly minister).

The Council of Trent taught that the sacrament of penance was necessary for the remission of the sins of those who have lapsed out of grace after baptism: “And this sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen [lapsed] after baptism, necessary unto salvation; just as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated.”

We determine that a Roman Pontiff may call upon Jesus Christ to be a minister of penance to any Catholic with a contrite heart who confesses his sins with his mouth, wherever he may be, and Jesus Christ will honor that request in heaven.  

As a result, in His wisdom, God preserved a way for a Catholic to have his sins remitted outside of the normal course of receiving the sacrament of penance directly from and in the presence of his Ordinary or the Ordinary’s delegated parish priests.

By the power of the Keys of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, using the Supreme Apostolic Authority unique to himself and provided to no other bishop, may himself remit the sins of those Catholics who have fallen into sin through an especial method unique to the authority of the Pontiff, provided they have a contrite heart and confess their sins with their mouth wherever they may be.  By exercising this unique power of the Keys through His Supreme Apostolic Authority in this manner, the Pontiff is in fact calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to hear the confession and see the contrition of the Catholic penitent, and offer the required absolution.  In this way, the Tridentine dogmas are not denied, and also the decrees of Our Predecessors concerning the remission of sins of the Crusaders can be seen as not superfluous or false in any way. Indeed, it is impossible for the disciplinary laws imposed by the Catholic Church to ever be false or scandalous.

WHEREFORE, We decree and define by the fullness of Our Apostolic Authority, that the Roman Pontiff may remit the sins of Catholics by the power of the Keys and by the exercise of his Supreme Apostolic Authority, in a way that is unique to Saint Peter and his successors in the Pontificate, such that even before his ordination the Roman Pontiff may both impose the appropriate satisfaction of the sacrament, and also effectively call upon Jesus Christ to administer the sacrament of penance for those living Catholics who have a contrite heart and who make a complete confession with their voice and mouth to the Lord, of their sins both in number and kind that they can remember.

DECREED this 25th day of July, 2015.

Boniface X pp