Palazzo del Tribunale; 00120 Cittá del Vaticano; tel.: +39 06.69883704; fax: +39 06.69895411
Twenty-four hours of service per week, five-hour shifts per day, knowledge of at least two languages, a good grounding in moral theology and canon law and membership in the Order of Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv.). That is the basic Apostolic Penitentiary “identikit” for the friars one encounters in the confessionals of St Peter's Basilica.
The Apostolic Penitentiary, among other things, is responsible for the ministry of reconciliation in the Papal Basilicas. It appoints Minor Penitentiaries (Confessors) supplied with the appropriate faculties and is one of the oldest dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Its origins date back to the 12th century, when it was felt the Pope needed assistance exercising his jurisdiction over matters regarding the internal forum [the internal forum deals with the private actions of individuals in relation to their conscience, for which jurisdiction is exercised privately, secretly and without legal effect]. Its faculties were granted to a Cardinal Penitentiary. To perform his duties, he took over an office which was already in existence during the pontificate of Gregory IX (1227-1241).
In 1569, Pope Pius V established three Colleges of Penitentiaries tasked with ensuring an adequate celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation in the basilicas of Rome. At St. Peter’s the service was entrusted to the Jesuits; at St. John Lateran it went to the Friars Minor Observant; and at St. Mary Major it went to the Dominicans. In 1933, Pope Pius XI constituted a fourth College for the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, entrusting it to the Benedictines.
It was Pope Clement XIV, of the Conventual Franciscan friars, who entrusted the Ministry of Penance at Saint Peter's to his confreres, following the suppression of the Jesuits. The Conventual Franciscans began their ministry in the Penitentiary on January 17, 1773. The juridical formulation of entrustment was finalized on August 10, 1774, with the motu proprio Miserator Dominus, which constituted them as Vatican Confessors in perpetuity.
In 1948, the College was transferred, by order of Pius XII, from the old residence in Via della Conciliazione (now Hotel Columbus) to the Palazzo del Tribunale, inside Vatican City, where it remains today.
The College of Minor Penitentiaries is composed of 14 Conventual Franciscan priests who carry out the ministry of reconciliation in stable form. The Confessor appointment is itself a full time position. The community has an international character and features friars representing eight different countries. In addition to two confessors from Italy, there are four from Poland, and one friar each from Spain, Brazil, Malta, Taiwan, Romania, Croatia, Germany and Ireland.
The Minister General of the Friars Minor Conventual chooses friars from the entire Order whom he considers suitable for such a ministry and presents them to the Apostolic Penitentiary. After an interview-exam, they are appointed as Minor Ordinary Penitentiaries. The College, as regards the ministry of the sacrament of reconciliation, is subject to the Apostolic Penitentiary. The internal life of the fraternity falls under the direct jurisdiction of the Major Superior.
Every week, each confessor engages in 24 hours of service, for no more than five hours a day, with a maximum of three consecutive hours (see: hours of confessions).
There are 14 confessionals in the side chapel to the right of the Altar of the Confession of St. Peter (see: map of the Basilica).
If needed, extra service is provided in the Basilica, as may occur, for example, during the Holy Year of Mercy.
Based on interviews with Friar Rocco Rizzo,
Guardian and Rector of the College of Minor Penitentiaries.