Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
In the ancient Christian church, a name given to certain presbyters or priests, appointed in every church to receive the private confessions of the people, in order to facilitate public discipline, by acquainting them what sins were to the expiated by public penance, and to appoint private penance for such private crimes as were not proper to be publicly censured. Penitentiary, also, in the court of Rome, is an office in which are examined and delivered out the secret bulls, dispensations, &c. Penitentiary is also an officer in some cathedrals, vested with power from the bishop to absolve in cases referred to him.
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Penitentiary'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/p/penitentiary.html. 1802.