Apparently, Cardinal Schonborn gave an interview to tell us that the exhortation is very clear that the Holy Father is talking 'first and foremost' about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Fr. Z has a fun post up HERE.
Card. Schönborn: I think it is fairly clear: [Please, Your Eminence, make it clear! And is it “fairly clear” or “very clear” (above)?] there are circumstances in which people in irregular situations may really need sacramental absolution, even if their general situation cannot be clarified. [Ummm… “clarified”? What does that mean? Also, these people either have a firm purpose of amendment (in regard to sinful behavior) or they don’t, even if they must stay together for some good reason (e.g., care of children, care of the sick, etc.).] Pope Francis has himself given an example: when a woman [in an irregular marital situation] comes to confess her abortion – the sin, the grave sin of abortion – not to relieve her, even if her situation is irregular – the discernment of the shepherd can be, and I would say, “must be”: you have to help this person to be freed from her burden, even if you cannot tell her that her marital situation has been regularized by this absolution – but you cannot [let her leave] the confessional with the burden of her grave sin she finally had the courage to come to confess. [Ummm…. you can’t target one mortal sin among others for absolution, leaving the others unabsolved. Censures, yes. Sins, no. It’s all or nothing. So, is he saying that even in the absence of a firm purpose of amendment regarding sexual relations in that “irregular” relationship, the priest “must” still give absolution?] That was the example he had given, and I think it is a very good example for what this little note could mean in certain cases: i.e. “[…]even the help of sacraments.”
There's a fabulous synopsis in the comments section at Fr. Z's:
Let me try to thread it all together: If a penitent persists long enough in serious sin, he must be given absolution (and thus Holy Communion) irrespective of a firm purpose of amendment, lest the confessional become a torture chamber.
Let there be no confusion. The Holy Father changed the practice of Confession by eliminating the necessity of firm purpose of amendment when seeking and obtaining absolution. You can now go ahead and break Commandments, just schedule the Sacrament of Reconciliation afterward.
That ought to liven things up!
I somehow missed this attack on the Sacrament of Confession.
I have a hard time believing they think the document clearly conveys a perpetual state of adultery requires the Sacrament of Absolution.
That's almost as good as the fable that all the production drama of this document was about not changing anything about Church teaching.