On October 9, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI received the Bishops from the Western Catholic Conference of Canada, who were making their "ad limina" visit to the Vatican. Here are excerpts from the Pope's address:
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most appreciated passages of sacred Scripture. Its profound illustration of the mercy of God and the important human desire for conversion and reconciliation, as well as the restoration of severed relations, speak to men and women of every age...
Dear Brothers, as you reflect upon the three characters in this parable – the Father in his abundant mercy, the younger son in his joy at being forgiven, and the elder brother in his tragic isolation – be confirmed in your desire to address the loss of a sense of sin, to which you have referred in your reports. This pastoral priority reflects an eager hope that the faithful will experience God's boundless love as a call to deepen their ecclesial unity, and overcome the division and fragmentation that so often wound today's families and communities. From this perspective, the Bishop's responsibility to indicate the destructive presence of sin is readily understood as a service of hope: it strengthens believers to avoid evil, and to embrace the perfection of love and the plenitude of Christian life.
I wish therefore to commend your promotion of the Sacrament of Penance. While this Sacrament is often considered with indifference, what it effects is precisely the fullness of healing for which we long. A new-found appreciation of this Sacrament will confirm that time spent in the confessional draws good from evil, restores life from death, and reveals anew the merciful face of the Father.
Understanding the gift of reconciliation calls for a careful reflection on the ways to evoke conversion and penance in man's heart (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 23). While manifestations of sin abound – greed and corruption, betrayed relationships and exploitation of persons – the recognition of individual sinfulness has waned. Behind this weakening of the recognition of sin, with its commensurate attenuation of the need to seek forgiveness, is ultimately a weakening of our relationship with God (cf. Address at Ecumenical Vespers, Regensburg, Germany, Sept. 12, 2006).
Not surprisingly this phenomenon is particularly pronounced in societies marked by secularist post-Enlightenment ideology. Where God is excluded from the public forum the sense of offence against God – the true sense of sin – dissipates, just as when the absolute value of moral norms is relativized, the categories of good or evil vanish, along with individual responsibility.
Yet, the human need to acknowledge and confront sin in fact never goes away, no matter how much an individual may, like the elder brother, rationalize to the contrary. As Saint John tells us: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 Jn 1:8). It is an integral part of the truth about the human person. When the need to seek forgiveness and the readiness to forgive are forgotten, in their place a disturbing culture of blame and litigiousness arises. This ugly phenomenon, however, can be dispelled. Following the light of Christ's healing truth is to say with the father: "My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours", and we must be glad "because your brother... who was lost... is found" (Lk 15:31-32)...