Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva gave general absolution to about 45 people in a deacon formation program in response to the alert of an imminent ballistic missile attack that put Hawaii in a state of panic shortly after 8 a.m. Jan. 13. It was the first time he had ever performed the rite. The absolution of sins given to a group of people at one time is allowed only in grave circumstances, such as situations of great danger or imminent death, or for soldiers going into battle, when private confessions are logistically impossible. “I am not in favor of general absolution in general, but that was an appropriate use,” he said in a Jan. 16 interview with the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu’s diocesan newspaper. “If there ever was an occasion that was it,” he said. “It was scary.” Silva was in his residence at St. Stephen Diocesan Center in Kaneohe at 8:07 a.m. when the Hawaii Emergency Management Center sent this message to cellphones across the state: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Time was of the essence. A ballistic missile from North Korea would take 15 to 20 minutes to hit Hawaii. The first thing the bishop did was attempt to alert a visiting monsignor, but the priest did not answer his knock. So, he walked the 50 or so yards to the center’s chapel where nine deacon candidates and their wives, there for the weekend with their formation team, were attending Mass. “I thought, ‘How can I make myself useful?'” the bishop said.
Read on to learn what happened.