First, what does the code of canon law say?
Can. 961 §1 General absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be given to a number of penitents together, unless:
1° danger of death threatens and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents;
2° there exists a grave necessity, that is, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to hear the individual confessions within an appropriate time, so that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of the sacramental grace or of holy communion for a lengthy period of time. A sufficient necessity is not, however, considered to exist when confessors cannot be available merely because of a great gathering of penitents, such as can occur on some major feastday or pilgrimage.
Interestingly, the lack of opportunity to go to confession is linked to the lack of an opportunity to receive communion. This would suggest that the general absolution described is to cover all types of sin, even serious ones. But what is ‘a lengthy period of time’?
As far as I can make out. ‘one month’.
So, imagine that you have one priest in one parish, and that most people would like to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation in a meaningful way. If the parish has 600 communicants, and they spend 4 minutes at confession, that would take the priest 40 hours, or 10 hours a week for four weeks (about a month).
But the priest is not a full-time shrivener (pardoner). He has other other sacerdotal duties (mass, sermon writing, hospital, school, adult catechesis, pray the divine office, benediction and adoration, weddings, funerals, baptisms, take part in special bishops’ committees, ) and also eat, breath, sleep, and have a day off.
Is that reasonable? I don’t think so.
Or consider this. The village, town or whatever that the parish boundaries cover has a primary school with an intake of 30 children. At least two-third of those children are described as ‘catholic’. So suppose you have 20 people each from age 7 to age 70 who are catholic. That makes 1260 ‘nominal’ catholics. And suppose that you want to teach each year group about the importance of ‘reconciliation’ not simply as a way to go to communion after commiting a sin, or as a ‘spiritual laundry’, but as another route to achieve holiness, an opportunity for spiritual guidance. Do you teach them that they should ideally go to mass once a month? And then find that you have to hear 1260 confessions every month, which would take 20 hours a week (1260 people times four minutes divided by 60 minutes divided by 4 weeks). Which is not possible, logistically speaking?
Or consider this:
The writer of this blog comes to the conclusion that if every priest or bishop had the same number of confessions to hear, then it would be physically impossible to hear all the confessions of all the catholics…
However, I look at it, I can only conclude that General Absolution is always permitted unless there is a parish to priest ratio of not more than 300 to 1, which would make one hour a day five days a week for the priest to hear confessions, non-stop, assuming a four-minute confession once a month.