Pilgrims will not be asked “to pay” for indulgences on Holy Stairs

An article in The Age today (not online) reads:

Holy Stairs cash call

Rome: Catholics seeking an indulgence by climbing the Holy Stairs, which Jesus reputedly mounted before his crucifixion, may soon be asked for a contribution to save the fixtures flaking frescoes. Every year 2 million pilgrims in Rome get on their knees to shuffle at the 28 marble steps, which tradition states once led to the room in Jerusalem where Pontius Pilate judged Christ. They were shipped to Italy in the fourth century. Wooden boards protect the steps, with small openings revealing where Christ’s blood reportedly stained the marble. Researchers say that 16th century frescoes that line the stairs and depict the passion of Christ and the crucifixion are disintegrating and 1.6million euros ($2.18 million) is needed to fix them.

I can just see the ideas forming in some Protestant minds: See! The Catholic Church is still charging for indulgences.

Short answer: no. Because it a practice open to abuse, the granting of indulgences for charitable donations and alms giving (which is a very ancient practice) was stopped after the Council of Trent. The story is a little clearer in its original form in the Telegraph, where one of the Passionist guardians of the stairs comments:

“It’s painful to see the frescoes in this state,” said Fr Tito Amodei, a member of the Passionists, the black-robed order that runs the site. “If just one pilgrim in two contributed a euro, the restoration could easily go ahead,”

In other words, it appears that the Passionists are considering requesting an optional contribution from all pilgrims who climb the stairs. And that is as it should be, one would think. But this contribution is not in any way attached to the indulgence that has traditionally been granted to those who climb the stairs. That won’t satisfy those who reckon the Church has no business granting indulgences in the first place, of course. But it pays to be accurate in these matters.

PS. When I was in Rome in Holy Week 2009, I didn’t get to climb the stairs as I was in a crowd waiting for admission to St John Lateran Basilica for the Maundy Thursday Papal Mass. Waste of time, as we ended up going to St Paul’s instead. I should have gone to the Scala Sancta instead. Ah well. Hindsight is a terrible thing for a pilgrim.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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