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The Apostolic Penitentiary (Latin : Paenitentiaria Apostolica), formerly called the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, is a dicastery of the Roman Curia and is one of the three ordinary tribunals of the Apostolic See. The Apostolic Penitentiary is chiefly a tribunal of mercy, responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church.
The Apostolic Penitentiary has jurisdiction only over matters in the internal forum. Its work falls mainly into these categories:
The head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Major Penitentiary, is one of the few Vatican officials who retain their positions sede vacante .  If the Major Penitentiary is a cardinal elector he is one of only three persons in the conclave allowed to communicate with those outside the conclave, so that he can continue to fulfill his duties (the other two being the Cardinal Vicar of Rome and the Vicar General for the Vatican City State).  The Major Penitentiary is a titular archbishop and is normally a cardinal. Since 21 September 2013, the Major Penitentiary is Cardinal Mauro Piacenza. The second-highest-ranking official in the Apostolic Penitentiary, the regent, is Msgr. Krzysztof Józef Nykiel.
During the Middle Ages, the Apostolic Penitentiary had two major functions. The officium minus related to the spiritual care of Christians, and the ability to listen to confessions and absolve sins of grave nature, whose absolving was reserved to the Pope. The officium maius related to the power to grant grace to those petitioned the Pope in relation to: (1) absolution for breaking the regulations of canon law (2) dispensations to act against Church regulations (3) licenses not to observe ecclesiastical norms regarding the exercise of the faith and (4) official declarations. The Penitantiary developed around the 12th century, with its powers gradually increasing and being expanded by subsequent popes. 
Normally confessions of sins are handled at the local level by priests and their bishops and are not heard by the tribunal. The work of the Apostolic Penitentiary involves sins, such as defiling the Eucharist, which are reserved to the Holy See. In late 2006, then Major Penitentiary Cardinal Stafford said this offense is occurring with more and more frequency, by ordinary faithful who receive Communion and then spit it out or otherwise desecrate it. 
The Apostolic Penitentiary also specifies actions for which indulgences are granted, either permanently (in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum),  or on special occasions, such as the Year for Priests (19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010), during which a plenary indulgence is granted, on 19 June 2009, on first Thursdays, on 4 August 2009 (150th anniversary of the death of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney), and on 19 June 2010, to all the faithful who attend Mass, pray for priests to Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest, offer any other good work they do that day, and satisfy the conditions for any plenary indulgence (detachment from all sins, the Sacrament of Penance within the last or next couple of weeks, holy communion (Eucharist in the Catholic Church), and praying for the Pope's intentions).  There are also adaptations for those unable to go to church, and daily indulgences available only to priests.[ citation needed ]
In the Papal Bull Misericordiae Vultus (Latin: "The Face of Mercy"), Pope Francis decreed that the Church would observe a Special Jubilee Year of Mercy lasting from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (a Holy Day of Obligation) on Tuesday, December 8, 2015, until the Solemnity of the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe on the last Sunday before Advent, in November 2016. For this, he allowed certain qualified priests to serve as "Missionaries of Mercy" to each Diocese, with the faculties to absolve even sins that are reserved to the Holy See through the Apostolic Penitentiary. Normally, a priest or even a bishop would not be able to do this unless the person was in danger of imminent death. The Pope has the power, as the earthly absolute sovereign of the Catholic Church, to make this special change for the year.    
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The Roman Curia comprises the administrative institutions of the Holy See and the central body through which the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church are conducted. The Roman Curia is the institution which the Roman Pontiff ordinarily makes use of in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office and universal mission in the world. It is at the service of the Pope, successor of Peter, and of the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, according to the modalities that are proper to the nature of each one, fulfilling their function with an evangelical spirit, working for the good and at the service of communion, unity and edification of the Universal Church and attending to the demands of the world in which the Church is called to fulfill its mission.
A jubilee is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon. In Leviticus, a jubilee year is mentioned to occur every 50th year; during which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.
In the teaching of the Catholic Church, an indulgence is "a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins". The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes an indulgence as "a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and all of the saints".
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The Secretary of State of His Holiness, commonly known as the Cardinal Secretary of State, presides over the Holy See's Secretariat of State, which is the oldest and most important dicastery of the Roman Curia. The Secretariat of State performs all the political and diplomatic functions of the Holy See and the Vatican City. The Secretary of State is sometimes described as the prime minister of the Holy See, even though the nominal head of government of Vatican City is the President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State.
William Wakefield Baum was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri (1970–1973) and archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C (1973–1980) before serving in the Roman Curia as prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1980–1990) and major penitentiary (1990–2001).
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Fernando Cento was a cardinal of the Catholic Church who served as Major Penitentiary of Apostolic Penitentiary.
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The 1758 papal conclave, convoked after the death of Pope Benedict XIV, elected Cardinal Carlo Rezzonico of Venice, who took the name Clement XIII.
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The 1774–75 papal conclave, was convoked after the death of Pope Clement XIV and ended with the election of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi, who took the name of Pius VI.
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The October to December 1590 papal conclave was the second conclave of 1590, and the one during which Gregory XIV was elected as the successor of Urban VII. This conclave was marked by unprecedented royal interference from Philip II of Spain.
The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy was a Catholic period of prayer held from 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to 20 November 2016, the Feast of Christ the King. Like previous jubilees, it was seen by the Church as a period for remission of sins and universal pardon focusing particularly on God's forgiveness and mercy. It was an extraordinary Jubilee because it had not been predetermined long before; ordinary jubilees are usually celebrated every 25 years.
Giacomo Lanfredini was a Roman Catholic cardinal who served as Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Portico (1734–1741) and Bishop of Osimo e Cingoli (1734–1740).
Antonio Maria Panebianco was an Italian prelate of the Catholic Church. He became cardinal in 1861 and held several senior positions in the Roman Curia.