Events occurred during the week preceding Christmas 2002 that have caused considerable disquiet among members of the Catholic community in the Diocese of Toowoomba. The cause of this is the continued use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation, or what is commonly known as general absolution.
General absolution has been occurring prior to Easter and Christmas in the Toowoomba Diocese for several years. So why is the concern heightened now?
By 1998, use of general absolution was common in many Australian dioceses. However, following release of the Statement of Conclusions, with its directive to keep "use of the Third Rite strictly within the conditions laid down by Church law" - and acceptance of this by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference in April 1999 - use of the Third Rite generally disappeared, save in the Diocese of Toowoomba.
On 2 May 2002, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter, Misericordia Dei (The Mercy of God), to clarify the laws of the Church regarding general absolution. The document refers to "some places" where there has been "a tendency to abandon individual confession and wrongly resort to 'general' or 'communal' absolution."
The content of the clarification makes it clear that general absolution - at least within the city of Toowoomba with its seven parishes - could not be justified by any logical reading of the relevant Canons.
It is understood that at the time of writing (January 2003) the Bishop of Toowoomba has not issued to his priests any clarifying communication concerning his reception and interpretation of The Mercy of God.
Once again, major teaching and clarification statements issued by the Holy See appear to have been passed over in this diocese as if they had never been made.