The rapid advance of COVID-19 has produced angst among the faithful, as with the rest of society. It has also generated a surge of religious innovation. Many of us pastors have suddenly become iPhone evangelists, streaming gospel messages to our people and anyone else who will listen. My own church, for example, has been increasing its use of technology and just shared its fourth Sunday service on the web.
The Roman Catholic Church, known in recent years for its dynamic development of doctrine and religious modernization, has also been required to pivot in unforeseen ways. Because of the severe impact of COVID-19 on Italy, Pope Francis has canceled his main public appearances to prevent crowds from forming. The pontiff is instead livestreaming various events—much like the growing ranks of innovative pastors here in the US. He has replaced the mandatory Mass with a “virtual parish.” He also offered the possibility of a plenary indulgence, the forgiveness of sins, because of the pandemic.
But some of us Vatican observers are wondering if the changes go beyond form to the very substance of Roman religion. And if they do, how should Protestant believers respond?
Given the inability of most Catholics to leave their homes right now, confessing one’s sins to a priest—mandated by Roman Catholicism for the forgiveness of sins at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215)—is out of the question. So what should Roman Catholics do with their unconfessed sin?
Speak Directly to God
A headline in the Catholic-sponsored Our Sunday Visitor answers, “If you can’t go to confession, take your sorrow directly to God, pope says.” This sounds startlingly like a sentiment a sin-tormented Martin Luther would ...1
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