Vatican decrees plenary indulgence for all Catholics dealing with coronavirus

Bishops recommend no removal at funerals and advise priests against visiting sufferers

All Catholics suffering from or caring for those with coronavirus are to be granted a plenary indulgence by the Vatican. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli / AFP via Getty Images

All Catholics suffering from or caring for those with coronavirus are to be granted a plenary indulgence by the Vatican. It has issued a decree granting the plenary indulgences to "the faithful suffering from the Covid-19 virus, commonly known as coronavirus, as well as to healthcare workers, family members and all those who in any capacity, including through prayer, care for them."

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an indulgence is "a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven." It means the most faithful are destined for a period in purgatory before being allowed into heaven.

Those who die having been granted a plenary indulgence avoid purgatory.

Meanwhile Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that we must prepare ourselves for the most difficult experiences over the coming weeks and months, including death, as coronavirus takes hold.


Stressing that it’s within our own gift to win this battle, Bishop Leahy said we are entering a period of weeks when we will experience shock, suspense, fear and dismay, and, sadly for some, bereavement. Loved ones, he said, will be struck down by the virus and some will die.

Stressing how much this is all in our own hands, he said: “I appeal, therefore, again today that we all do our part in preventative action.”

He said that “if we saw a car out of control heading for us, we’d make sure we got out of its way. The virus is that car out of control. The danger is that it will take our parents, grandparents, the unwell, people we love dearly from us. But we can save them.”


The Vatican decree states that the plenary indulgence is granted to coronavirus patients quarantined by health authorities in hospitals and in their homes if, “with a spirit detached from any sin, they unite themselves spiritually through the media to the celebration of the Holy Mass, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, to the pious practice of the Way of the Cross or other forms of devotion.”

It also allows diocesan bishops complete discretion over the administration of collective absolution except where there is an “imminent danger of death” or a “grave necessity.” Individual confession remains preferred however.

If it is deemed there is need to impart absolution to several faithful the priest concerned is obliged to inform the diocesan bishop as soon as possible, it said.

Meanwhile the seven Catholic bishops in Munster have called on priests, "especially those who are elderly and vulnerable," to take care of themselves at this time.

They recommended that “attendance at funerals should be restricted to the immediate family and very close friends” and that “all Catholic funeral liturgies in our dioceses be limited to the funeral Mass. In other words, there should be no removal to the church the evening before. We strongly advise that the priest celebrating the funeral Mass should be the only priest officiating.”

Mass “should not be offered in family homes even in the circumstance of a bereavement. Normally, priests are advised against visiting homes at this time because priests themselves may be carriers of the virus without knowing it or the virus may be in the house,”they said.

Last Rites

In administering the Last Rites, they said “it is essential that in anointing the sick, the priest should use a cotton bud or surgical glove for the anointing with Holy Oil and dispose of them appropriately. The rite should be administered while at a distance of one metre.”

It was “important to follow recommendations on hand hygiene after the celebration of the sacrament. The priest should avoid contact with others in the home of the person who is seriously ill. It is clear that some priests will themselves, because of their health condition or age, feel unable to attend to the sick person in their local parish. They may need to call on another priest from elsewhere to celebrate the sacrament,” they said.

The seven Munster Catholic bishops are Archbishop of Cashel Kieran O'Reilly, Bishop of Cloyne William Crean, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Kerry Ray Browne, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Phonsie Cullinan, Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monaghan, and Bishop of Cork and Ross Fintan Gavin.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times