The Pontiff made his exhortation in a message addressed to Archbishop Luigi de Magistris, major pro-penitentiary of the Church, in connection with a course the Apostolic Penitentiary offered seminarians and young priests on the "internal forum," namely, questions of conscience.
The Pope proposed the sacrament in a positive sense, not just as an instrument to "destroy sin," but also as "a precious exercise of virtue, of expiation and of an irreplaceable school of spirituality."
He said that priests should "frequent it personally, as a valid aid in their own path to holiness, and that they also take recourse to it as a qualified means of spiritual direction."
"Holiness can only be attained, especially priestly holiness, with habitual, humble and confident recourse to the sacrament of penance, understood as a vehicle of grace -- indispensable when it has been lost, unfortunately, because of mortal sin -- and favored when mortal sin has not been committed," the Pope clarified.
In this connection, sacramental confession "corroborates virtue and helps to mitigate tendencies inherited due to original sin and aggravated by personal sins," John Paul II continued.
According to the Holy Father, one of Lord´s highest gifts from the Holy Year 2000 "has been a renewed awareness in many faithful of the decisive role played by the sacrament of penance in Christian life and, consequently, a comforting increase in the number of those who frequent it."