There was quite the hubbub made in the press about Pope Francis being caught on camera making his confession during a penance service this last week. Apparently this is the first time a pope has made confession in a public setting like this. I thought this a beautiful gesture on his part, with several salutary benefits to the Church and the world at large.
For one, it puts his money where his mouth has been, so to speak. Pope Francis throughout his pontificate has stressed the importance of the Sacrament of Penance and has exhorted the faithful to avail themselves of it. By being seen himself partaking of this sacrament, Pope Francis gives witness to its power and efficacy. It's like the ultimate celebrity endorsement: "I'm not only the leader of the Holy Catholic Church, I'm also a client."
For another, this public act of penance is one more way to clear up the all-too-prevalent confusion of papal infallibility for impeccability. Papal infallibility means that the Pope cannot err when in a solemn and public act he proclaims some matter of faith or morals to be definitively held by the faithful. Some people take "infallibility" to mean "the Pope can do no wrong, he is incapable of sin or error of any sort." But that would be impeccability, not infallibility. (From the Latin peccatum, "sin.") The Pope is a man, with foibles and shortcomings and bad habits, like any of us. And he knows he is a sinner in need of absolution. By letting himself be seen confessing, he helps us to know it, too, and thus to know the limits of his office: the Pope is our inerrant teacher, but he can still do all kinds of bad things. Just look at the Borgia popes. Or St. Peter, for that matter.
Let's follow the example of Pope Francis. Confess your sins! Be free of their chains! Embrace God's forgiveness made possible through the loving self-sacrifice of Christ! To quote the Oracle from The Matrix, "I promise, by the time you've finished, you'll be right as rain."