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The Truth about Indulgences

By Judie Brown

Anyone who has recently seen the news realizes that a tawdry depiction of alleged “nuns” has become a headline story. Calling themselves the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, these wolves in drag make a mockery not only of truth but of all that is sacred. Such people intend to defy Christ by assaulting His Truth and His teaching with actions akin to the sword of Satan. You remember the childhood image of the red guy with the pitchfork? Well, that is how I see these people.

Another way to see them is to defer to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s description of them as “a group that perversely dresses up as nuns while encouraging lewd and sacrilegious behavior.”

They are but another manifestation of the culture of death—our society’s long slide away from respect for the dignity of the human being.

However, if we look to the actual teaching of the Church on the subject of indulgences, we will see that the Catechism teaches that “an indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” It continues, “An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.”

An actual indulgence is a blessing granted by God our Father.

What we are seeing from His enemies is a distortion, turning the word indulgence into a hellish monstrosity—another indicator of the evil that has crept into the public psyche. Fundamentally, such aberrations sate the dead consciences of people who refuse to see the error of contraception, the preborn child as a human being, and the aging as a blessing. While ignoring simple humane treatment of others, they rush to embrace this latest display of sexual sin.

To what end, you might ask. The answer may depend on whom you ask, but for us Anthony Esolen provides a clue, writing, “What about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence? Where is their mercy? Where is their simple human decency? Someone who actually thinks about other people and their welfare would never do what they do, or appear as they appear, in front of children and young people—and that is quite aside from the thoughtless coarsening of public morals.”

Indeed! The culture of death is like a rapidly spreading fungus. The longer it goes unchecked, the deadlier it becomes. When Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae, he saw all of this coming. His words might ring hollow among those who have fallen for the siren song of the day, but for us they are a clarion call to love:

Now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world . . . was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?

We too are called to love the sinner as we detest the sin. To be His witnesses in our time may not be easy, but it is as Pope Benedict XVI taught, the foundation of all that is just and good. As he said, “If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it.”

Let us strive to be just and charitable, earning indulgences for ourselves, our loved ones, and hopefully for those who will see the Truth and embrace it.