According to Gerald Owst, the most prominent abuses connected with pardoners were of three kinds.
Evidence shows that the Church was extremely concerned about corrupt pardoners and their abuses.
Whereas the shameless pardoners purchase their vile traffic in farm with Simon, sell Indulgences with Gehazi, and squander their gains in disgraceful fashion with the Prodigal Son: but what is more detestable still, although not in holy orders, they preach publicly, and pretend falsely that they have full powers of absolving both living and dead alike from punishment and guilt, along with other blasphemies, by means of which they plunder and seduce the people, and in all probability drag them down with their own person to the infernal regions, by affording them frivolous hope and an audacity to commit sin: therefore, let the abuses of this pestilential sect be blotted out from the threshold of the Church.
And in a vernacular sermon, the only one, according to Owst, in which their abuses are mentioned, (16) pardoners are straightforwardly listed among thieves: Sothell theves beth the men that slyly can robbe men with many queynt sotell wordes, and with fals behestynge; and sum with fals letters and seeles, with crosses, and reliques that thei bere abowten them, and sei that thei be of seyntes bones or of holy mens clothinge, and behoteth myche mede that will offre to hem, and hire the letters of pardon, ichon of other, as a kowe or a nox that man lat to hure; the wiche thei sell all for the penny, and fo no mans mede, with many fals lesynges, as the feend here maister techeth hem, for to robbe the pore pepull sotelly of ther goodes.
An obvious source for Heywood's pardoners is to be found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
In presenting his pardoners, in both this interlude and The Foure PP, Heywood takes, more or less verbatim, sixty-five lines from the 'Pardoner's Prologue'.
The play insists on the questor's credentials because it is there that the key to the unmasking of impostors resides: counterfeit pardoners would undoubtedly be fewer if ecclesiastical authorities, who have the power and the duty to verify the authenticity of their licenses and to punish them for any misdeeds, were more rigorous in performing their task.
But, a modem alternative is possible, one that would provide a good standard independent of state pardoners.
Moreover, this standard, as a basis for the standardization of the value of the international money unit, would remove the political roles of the "grand pardoners," the state authorities that can forgive the debts of debtors, including, in particular, those of themselves.
A debt pardoner is an agency or authority that can pardon the "sins" of the overindebted or of those who otherwise would go bankrupt.