By Father Kenneth Doyle
Q. I have always had great admiration for Mother Angelica. Would it be wrong of me to talk to her and ask her prayers if she has not yet been declared "blessed" by the church? (Phoenix)
A. Mother Angelica died in 2016 at the age of 92. In 1981, she founded the Eternal Word Television Network and turned it into a vast religious media operation, which today transmits programs to more than 200 million homes in nearly 150 countries.
At her death, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, then-president of the U.S. bishops' conference, praised Mother Angelica for spreading the Gospel of Jesus, saying that "like the best evangelists, she used the communications tools of her time to make this happen."
There are many who share our writer's confidence that Mother Angelica is now enjoying the peace of God's presence; in fact, just three days after her death Pope Francis spoke to members of the EWTN staff in Rome and, pointing to the sky, said of Mother Angelica, "She is in heaven."
So as to whether it's OK for you to ask her prayers, I'd say that the answer is a resounding "Yes." It strikes me, too, that if you could only pray to canonized saints, there might never be any saints – since it takes miracles, gained through the prayers of the faithful, for canonization to occur.
The vast majority of those who make it into heaven will never, of course, be formally canonized by the church; but there are people we have all known -- including family members -- who have lived good lives and who, we are quite sure, now enjoy the company of the Lord in heaven.
I think about some of these people often, talk with them and pray for their help. But to be on the safe side, I continue to pray "for" them as well as "to" them – just in case they still need a boost!
Q. When I was going through the RCIA program (to join the Catholic Church), the presenter said that there are some sins that can be absolved only by the pope. I didn't have the presence of mind at the time to ask, but now I am wondering: What sort of sins are they? (Little Rock, Arkansas)
A. There are, in fact, certain sins that are also crimes in the church -- named specifically in the church's Code of Canon Law -- that are so egregious they can be pardoned only by the pope. Probably the reason you might not know what they are is that (thankfully) these offenses rarely, if ever, happen.
Some examples are: a person who throws away, or otherwise desecrates, the consecrated bread or wine of the Eucharist; a priest who breaks the seal of confession by revealing the nature of the sin and the identity of the person who confessed it; someone who uses physical force against the pope; or, a priest who has sex with a penitent and then offers that penitent sacramental absolution for that very sin.
It should be noted that if a penitent were in danger of death, any priest could absolve that person from any sin, including those listed above. This would apply even if that priest had been deprived of his faculties to hear confessions.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.