Portland's Archbishop explains the theory and practice of Indulgences in the present day. And yes, S.M. Stirling fans, you CAN get one from a pilgrimage to Mount Angel, but only during this 'Year of Faith' as declared by the Pope.
Here's the super short form
Church law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church define an indulgence in this way: “An indulgence is 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 the saints.”
The basic idea is this. Even though sins are forgiven, justice requires some punishment. It’s a grace when a judge may allow you to keep driving, even though you received a speeding ticket, but you still must pay the fine. Our sins are forgiven through the sacrament of Penance and the prayer of the church but temporal punishment is still due to sin. Permanent punishment is not an issue because the sins have been forgiven. An indulgence helps us rid ourselves of the temporal punishment through the power of the church, which is the body of Christ on earth. For those of us seeking an indulgence there is a requirement of the recitation of certain prayers, visiting specified places of pilgrimage or engaging in specific acts of charity.
If only more moderns had less destructive guilt sinks, like Plenary Indulgences. The secular analogs they come up with seriously suck, not just for them, but for the rest of us who have to endure their sanctimonious scolding. But hey, secular SWPL man, convert to Catholicism, this year, and you can get the real thing. Maybe you could stop hating the 'wrong kind of white people' for being white too, and perhaps expiate that self-loathing undercurrent I feel in your nature.