Who are the Missionaries of Mercy?

An Interview with Father Matthew Wertin
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016) is now well underway. A special feature called for by Pope Francis is the Missionaries of Mercy, but “Who are they?” and “What does this mean for us?”

Who are the Missionaries of Mercy?
In Misericordiae Vultus, the official papal decree, Pope Francis explains that he intends to send out Missionaries of Mercy who will be, “a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”

How did you become a Missionary of Mercy?
When the Holy Father’s decree was published, I read about this and thought it was amazing, but I never considered myself a candidate. In August, through a Zenit.org daily Church news email, I noticed applications were being accepted on the official website: www.im.va. I felt strongly called to apply, which was confirmed by my spiritual director and in conversation with Bishop Berg, who provided the necessary letter of recommendation. In October, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization welcomed my collaboration.

What will be your role in the diocese?
My role is helping to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation more available to the faithful throughout the year, since it is a critical component of the Jubilee and the special indulgence the Holy Father wishes us to receive. At Our Lady of Guadalupe/St. Patrick’s Parish in La Junta, we have one of the Holy Doors of Mercy, and there will be four (4) separate times each week for confessions to facilitate the pilgrims. Then, for the city of Pueblo and beyond, I will be posted at the Shrine of St. Therese on Wednesdays from 6-8 pm, both because it is the shrine of our diocesan patroness and because of the Perpetual Adoration chapel there for the sake of the entire diocese.

Pope Francis said he will be granting these missionaries “the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.” Who does this affect?

  1. A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose (i.e. desecration of the Eucharist; canon 1367 of the Code of Canon Law, 1983).
  2. A priest who in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession solicits a penitent to sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue (c. 1387).
  3. A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate, and the person who receives the consecration (c. 1382).
  4. A confessor who violates the sacramental seal (c. 1388). 5. A person who uses physical force against the Roman Pontiff (c. 1370).

In 2010, other persons were added, such as the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, as well as the recording, by whatever technical means, or in the malicious diffusion through communications media of what is said in sacramental confession, whether true or false, by the confessor or the penitent.

How are these things different than the sins people usually confess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
They do not simply require the weighing of moral culpability (object, intention, circumstances – CCC #1750), but in a distinguishable way they are crimes against justice in the Church, calling for a different kind of accountability in the reform of the offender and the repair of the damage. Their mere existence in law provides the warning, acting as a preventative measure. The particular acts (delicts) listed above involve an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication (noting the exceptions in canons 1323-24), which is a censure, a medicinal penalty beckoning the person to correct the harmful behavior and thus return to full and fruitful communion.

It says also that this authority will be conferred upon you by Pope Francis through a mandate. Does that mean you get to go to Rome?
Yes! I’ve never been before, and I’m so excited! We will meet with Pope Francis on Tuesday, February 9, 2016, during which time “he will personally welcome all of the Missionaries of Mercy and speak about the sensitive nature of [our] service.” The next day, Ash Wednesday, we will join the Holy Father at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, where he will confer upon us the mandate. The relics of Saint Padre Pio and Saint Leopoldo Mandi, special patrons of confessors and the confessional, will be brought to Rome for this unique occasion.

Any final comments?
Please pray for me! Thank you, Bishop Berg, for making this opportunity possible for us! This service is being offered, through the Blessed Virgin Mary, for ongoing renewal in our diocese with a renaissance and a new springtime of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, especially among our young Catholics and their families. To everyone reading this interview, know that the Door of Mercy is open for us! Each of us is personally being invited to encounter the Lord and experience his transforming love in this amazing Sacrament of pardon and peace. “Do not be afraid! Do not be ashamed! The Father awaits you with open arms!”