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The Apostolic Penitentiary , formerly called the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, is one of the three tribunals of the Roman Curia. The Apostolic Penitentiary is chiefly a tribunal of mercy, responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church.

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The Apostolic Penitentiary (Latin: Paenitentiaria Apostolica), formerly called the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, is one of the three tribunals of the Roman Curia. The Apostolic Penitentiary is chiefly a tribunal of mercy, responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church.

The Apostolic Penitentiary has jurisdiction only over matters in the internal forum. Its work falls mainly into these categories:

  • the absolution of excommunications latæ sententiæ reserved to the Holy See,
  • the dispensation of sacramental impediments reserved to the Holy See, and
  • the issuance and governance of indulgences.

The head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Major Penitentiary, is one of the few Vatican officials who retain their positions sede vacante. If the Major Penitentiary is a Cardinal Elector he is one of only three persons in the conclave allowed to communicate with those outside the conclave, so that he can continue to fulfill his duties (the other two being the Cardinal Vicar of Rome and the Vicar General for the Vatican City State). The Major Penitentiary is a Titular Archbishop and is normally a Cardinal. Since 21 September 2013, the Major Penitentiary is Cardinal Mauro Piacenza. The second-highest-ranking official in the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Regent, is (since 26 June 2012) H.E.Msgr. Krzysztof Józef Nykiel.

When Pope Francis, with the Papal Bull "Misericordiae Vultus" (Latin: "The Face of Mercy") decreed that from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (a Holy Day of Obligation) on Tuesday, December 8, 2015, until the Solemnity of the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe on the last Sunday before Advent, in November 2016, the Church would observe a Special Jubilee Year of Mercy, he said he would let certain qualified priests (likely somewhat experienced ones, presumably with knowledge of canon law and confession) serve as "Missionaries of Mercy" to each Diocese, with the faculties to absolve even sins that are reserved to the Holy See through the Apostolic Penitentiary. Normally, a priest or even a bishop would not be able to do this unless the person was in danger of imminent death. The Pope has the power, as the earthly absolute sovereign of the Catholic Church, to make this special change for the year.