A text message that sparked panic in Hawaii by claiming a missile attack was imminent led the Bishop of Honolulu to give general absolution to about 45 people, it has emerged.

“I am not in favour of general absolution in general, but that was an appropriate use,” Bishop Larry Silva told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, a diocesan newspaper. “If there ever was an occasion that was it,” he said. “It was scary.”

It was the first time the bishop had 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.

Bishop Silva was in his residence when the Hawaii Emergency Management Centre sent a text that said: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

The bishop first tried to alert a visiting monsignor, but the priest did not answer his knock. So he walked the 50 or so yards to a 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. By then Fr Mark Gantley was halfway through the distribution of Communion.

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