Pope Benedict XVI, has granted a “plenary indulgence” to believers who visit the Basilica of St Paul in Rome during the Pauline Year (June 2008-June 2009).
Five centuries ago, indulgences were a major source of dissent between the papacy and the followers of Martin Luther, but now they can help Christian unity, says a senior Vatican cardinal.
According to Rome, indulgences allow the remission of time spent in purgatory.
In a 7 March article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, claimed that properly understood, indulgences are not a hindrance to faith. Rather, he said, they show the mercy of God, through the Church, to the repented sinner.
Kasper’s article follows the announcement of the indulgence by the Pope. “The irritation of Protestants about the continuing Catholic practice of indulgences is understandable,” Kasper wrote. However, “Today Catholic historians also admit that in the Middle Ages there existed serious abuses of indulgences”.
Plenary indulgences entail the remission of the entire punishment spent in purgatory, compared to partial indulgences which are intended to remit part of the purgatorial period on the journey to heaven.
Kasper noted that indulgences were subject to gross abuse by the church, with indulgences being granted for cash payment and were a major reason for Luther’s bid to reform the Catholic Church in the 16th century. Luther condemned the practice in his 95 Theses which were posted in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. However, Kasper claimed, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) “reformed in a radical way the practice of indulgences, and eliminated misunderstanding”. [ENI]
(Even if true, no reforms would remove the Protestant objection which is to the underlying doctrine of purgatory which is without scriptural warrant. Presumably attendance and offerings have fallen below expectations at the Basilica of St Paul, necessitating this announcement. - Hon ed.)