Such is a specimen of the Tradition, marvellous to say, as it exists among the classes who are well-to-do in the world. You see, they are so clear on the point, that, for all their mercantile sense of the value of character, their disgust at false intelligence, their severity with fraud, and their sensitiveness at libel, they have no hesitation in handing down to the next generation this atrocious imputation, that the Catholic Church proclaims that she is commissioned by the Moral Governor of the world to bestow on her children permission to perpetrate any sin whatever, for which they have a fancy, on condition of their paying her a price in money for that perpetration, in proportion to the heinousness of the offence.
Now this accusation is not only so grave in itself, but, miserable to say, is so industriously circulated, that, before using it for the purpose for which I have introduced it, in order to remove all suspicion against us, I am induced to go out of my way to enunciate, as briefly and as clearly as I can, what the Catholic Church really does teach upon the subject. The charge in question then rests on a confusion between the forgiveness of sins and admission to Church communion, two ideas perfectly distinct from each other, both in themselves and in Catholic theology. Every scandalous sin contains in it, as we consider, two separate offences, the offence against God, and the offence against the Church; just as Protestants would allow that murder is at once a sin against God and our neighbour, a sin in the eyes of God, and a crime in the eyes of the law. And, as human society has the arbitrary power of assigning punishments to offences against itself, heavy or light, or of overlooking the offence altogether, or of remitting the penalty when imposed, so has the Church. And as the magistrate often inflicts a fine, under sanction of the law, instead of committing to prison, so does the Church allow of the commutation of her own punishments, which are called censures, into alms to the poor, into offerings for some religious object, or even into the mere paying the expenses of the process, that is, the costs of the suit. And as the connivance or free pardon of the magistrate is no pardon in the sight of Heaven of the adulterer or the burglar, nor is supposed to be such, so neither does the offender receive, nor is he promised, any forgiveness of his sin, either by the Church's taking off the censure (whether in consequence of an almsgiving or otherwise), or by her forbearing, which is the common case, to inflict censure altogether. It is true, the Church has the power of forgiving sins also, which I shall speak of directly; but this is by a different instrument, and by a totally different process, as every Catholic knows.
I repeat, the Catholic who perpetrates any great and public sin offends his Maker, and offends his ecclesiastical Society; the injury against his Maker is punished by an ipso facto separation from His favour; the injury against his Society, when it is visited at all, is visited by excommunication or other spiritual infliction. The successor of St. Peter has the power committed to him of pardoning both offences, the offence against God and the offence against the Church; he is the ultimate source of all jurisdiction whether external or internal, but he commonly restores such a sinner to the visible society of Christians, by an act of his own or of the metropolitan or ordinary, and he reconciles him to God by the agency of the priesthood. Repentance is required on the part of the offender for both restorations; but the sin is forgiven, and its punishment remitted only in one of them,—viz., in the Sacrament of Penance; and in this Sacrament, in which is the only real pardon, no money is, or ever can be paid. The Sacrament cannot be bought; such an act would be a horrible crime; you know this, my Brothers, as I know it myself; we witness to each other that such is the received teaching among us. It is utterly false then to assert that it has ever been held in the Catholic Church that "the perpetration of crime could be indulged" for any sum of money. Neither for sins committed, nor sins to come, has money ever been taken as an equivalent, for one no more than for the other. On the other hand, it is quite true that the injury done to the Church, when it happens to have been visited with a censure (which is not a common case), has certainly sometimes been compensated by the performance of some good work and in the number of such works, almsdeeds and religious offerings are included. I repeat, the Church as little dreams of forgiving the sinner by removing the censure and readmitting him to public communion, as the magistrate by letting a culprit out of prison.