Faith — Indulgences on the rise

By Jeff Strickler

Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — One of the newest things in the Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest. Middle Ages old, to be exact.

Indulgences are back.

Unused for decades, the rites that the faithful believe wipe away punishment for sins are now being offered by 15 churches in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that have been designated as pilgrimage sites. While it has taken time to educate parishioners, things are picking up now that Lent is in full swing.


"The first phase involved teaching," said the Rev. Jon Vander Ploeg of the Catholic Church of Saint Paul, Minn., a pilgrimage site in Ham Lake. "But now we’re getting a very good response."

An exact count isn’t available because people seeking indulgences aren’t required to check in. They go to a pilgrimage site and recite a set of prayers privately.

But considering the volume of unfamiliar faces the Rev. Thomas Wilson is seeing at All Saints Catholic Church in Lakeville, Minn., he says that indulgences are finding a widespread audience. "It’s an important part of their spirituality."

That opinion is supported by postings on Internet blogs, where people write about finding "a sense of comfort, connection and renewed hope" and the security that comes from "reclaiming historical traditions in a time of uncertainty."

The Roman Catholic Church stopped granting indulgences as part of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. While many Catholics older than 50 consider their revival as a curious blast from the past, others welcome renewed focus on the ritual.

"We’re seeing a resurgence in the interest of traditional piety, especially among the young," said the Rev. John Paul Erickson, director of the Archdiocese’s Office of Worship. "The young faithful are excited about these" indulgences.

On the campus at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, student after student confirmed Erickson’s view.

In fact, St. Thomas junior Sarah Legatt not only knew about them, but she was also able to offer an explanation of the difference between an indulgence and a confession that was as succinct as anything offered by a priest.


"I think of it as a chalkboard," she said. "A confession is like erasing the board, which always leaves a little chalk dust behind. An indulgence is liking washing it with a wet rag."

Their support is not universal among the college crowd. Jamie Manson, a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she got a master’s degree in Catholic theology, wrote an essay for the National Catholic Reporter a week ago in which she criticized the church for "assuming power that belongs to God alone."

What exactly is an indulgence?

For those who want to go straight to the source, there is the church’s official "Manual of Indulgences." It’s 172 pages and available online for $19.95. (You also can find copies at, where they’re being offered for as little as $12.52.)

Here’s a shorthand explanation.

There are two prerequisites for seeking an indulgence: You must be baptized and you must be in "full communion" with the Roman Catholic Church. Beyond that, there are five steps to follow:

  • Performing an act of love or devotion.
  • Having no attachment to sin.
  • Receiving communion.
  • Attending confession.
  • Saying prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father.

The Jubilee Year in honor of St. Paul, also called the Pauline Year, ends June 29. On that day, people seeking an indulgence can go to any Roman Catholic church.

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