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Donald Cook wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Does the Catholic Church still sell indulgences?, and
  • Are indulgences a required belief for Catholics?
  { Does the Catholic Church still sell indulgences and are indulgences a required belief for Catholics? }

Bob replied:


You said:

  • Does the Catholic Church still sell indulgences?

The answer is "no". The Church considers simony, the selling of blessed objects and privileges, to be sinful and impermissible.  

The practice has always been illicit, notwithstanding the fact that abuses have taken place throughout history, prompting Luther and others to revolt.


Bob Kirby

Eric replied:


First, let's get straight what really happened just before the Reformation.

Traditionally in Catholicism, following the Bible, there are three things that we can do to show our repentance that please God: Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

"Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fullness of life, but those who commit sin are the enemies of their own lives."

(Tobit 12:8–10, RSV2CE)

"Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin."

(Sirach 3:3:30, RSV2CE)

See also Sirach 34:26 and 2 Maccabees 12:44-45).

Protestants rejected these books, in part because of their distaste for indulgences, but Catholic recognition of them goes back to the first centuries of the Church, and they were even recognized by the Jewish Essenes. Therefore, before the Reformation, indulgences were offered primarily for acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

What was happening in the early 16th century is that Pope Leo, in the year 1515, needed to raise funds for rebuilding St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. From his perspective, this was an act of almsgiving. You may disagree with this, but it's not an unreasonable conclusion. Still, it wouldn't overthrow the Catholic Church to argue that Leo reckoned it wrongly. In any case, he sent papal indulgence preachers to solicit alms in exchange for indulgences to fund the project. Unfortunately, this had the appearance of selling indulgences or simony, and Luther took issue with it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Council Of Trent affirmed, in principle, the gaining of indulgences through almsgiving (Session 14, Canon XIII), but from a practical and disciplinary standpoint, the Church opted, going forward, to not offer almsgiving as a way of obtaining indulgences to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The Council Of Trent said:

In granting (indulgences), however, it desires that in accordance with the ancient and approved custom in the Church, moderation be observed, lest, by too great facility, ecclesiastical discipline be weakened. But desiring that the abuses which have become connected with them, and by any reason of which this excellent name of indulgences is blasphemed by the heretics, be amended and corrected, it ordains in a general way by the present decree that all evil traffic in them, which has been a most prolific source of abuses among the Christian people, be absolutely abolished.

Other abuses, however, of this kind which have sprung from superstition, ignorance, irreverence, or from whatever other sources, since by reason of the manifold corruptions in places and provinces where they are committed, they cannot conveniently be prohibited individually, it commands all bishops diligently to make note of, each in his own church, and report them to the next provincial synod.

(Council Of Trent, Session 25, Decree on Indulgences)

You can see for yourself what can obtain an indulgence at:

For more information, see:


Mike replied:

Hi Donald,

I just wanted to make sure we addressed all your questions.

You said:

  • Is indulgences a required belief for Catholics?

Yes, Indulgences are still, and will always be, a teaching of the Church.

You can read about what we believe about them from the Catechism here:

X. Indulgences

1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.

What is an indulgence?

"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints." (Pope St. Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Norm 1)

"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Norm 2; cf. Norm 3) The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead. (Code of Canon Law, canon 994. 84 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820)

The punishments of sin.

1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence.

Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the eternal punishment of sin.

On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the temporal punishment of sin.

These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820.)

While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the old man and to put on the new man. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

In the Communion of Saints.

1474 The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God's grace is not alone. "The life of each of God's children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person." (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5)

1475 In the communion of saints, "a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things." (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5) In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.

1476 We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church's treasury, which is "not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the 'treasury of the Church' is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ's merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy." (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5)

1477 "This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body." (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5)

Obtaining indulgence from God through the Church.

1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity. (cf. Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5)

1479 Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.

See also:

2 Corinthians 2:6-11
St. Paul himself issued an indulgence by lessening the temporal penance for sin of a straying brother.

1 Corinthians 5:3-5
which he had previously imposed on him.


Donald replied:


Your message is appreciated. My questions are answered.


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