Pope Francis hears a confession in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, Italy, Aug. 4. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Apostolic Penitentiary has nothing to do with a jail cell and everything to do with ensuring repentant sinners experience God's mercy.
Established in the 12th century when penitential pilgrimages to Rome began to bring thousands of faithful to the city seeking absolution of their sins, much of the office's work is covered by anonymity and the absolute secret of the confessional seal.
But this summer the office, officially a tribunal, offered a little glimpse into its main areas of concern when it published "Sin, Mercy, Reconciliation: A Theological-Pastoral Dictionary."
The book, available only in Italian for now, features a presentation by Pope Francis, who lauds the staff's "service, which by its nature unfolds in the most discreet silence."
However, he wrote, "this ancient dicastery's numerous initiatives to tell the world of the marvels of the mercy of God have not gone unnoticed."
One of those projects is the dictionary, which, the pope said, "is based on the contribution of scholars used to pastoral practice."
That experience, the pope wrote, is translated into practical suggestions, particularly for the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, which plays "a fundamental role in the marvelous embrace between return (to God) and forgiveness."
"God's faithfulness is unchanging, infinite and continues to exist and produce fruits despite the infidelity of creatures," Pope Francis said.