Sin, confession, and absolution
David Gibson March 19, 2010 - 9:58am
An interesting piece via John Thavis at CNS regarding confession and absolution and sex abusers. The article is drawn from an interview in L'Osservatore Romano with Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the sacrament of penance:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A priest who confesses sexual abuse in the sacrament of penance should be absolved and should generally not be encouraged by the confessor to disclose his acts publicly or to his superiors, a Vatican official said......Bishop Girotti spoke strictly about the response of a confessor, and not about the wider responsibility to acknowledge and investigate priestly sexual abuse outside the confessional.When a priest confesses such acts, "the confession can only have absolution as a consequence," he said."It is not up to the confessor to make them public or to ask the penitent to incriminate himself in front of superiors. This is true because, on one hand, the sacramental seal remains inviolable and, on the other hand, one cannot provoke mistrust in the penitent," he said."From the confessor, (the penitent) can only expect absolution, certainly not a sentence nor the order to confess his crime in public," he said.
These things are beyond my competence, but my layman's notion of confession (reconciliation) was that a penitent in fact could be given a penance of some sort as part of (rather than a condition of) absolution. It could be ten Haily Marys or a vow to tell authorities about one's crime, etc. I know this is dodgy territory, given the free lunch that is grace, and the absolute confidentiality of the confessional. But enlightenment would be welcome.Thavis's article goes on to explore some of these sfumature:
Other Vatican officials, who spoke on background, said a distinction should be drawn between what a confessor requires of a penitent as a condition for absolution, and what the confessor may strongly encourage the penitent to do.In the case of priestly sexual abuse, for example, a confessor may want to recommend that a priest discuss the situation with superiors in order to avoid the occasion of future sins, they said. Publicly admitting the sin might even be required of a penitent if it would clear the name of another person unjustly accused of the same act, they said.
So is it just a recommendation -- and then go on your way, absolved? (Girotti also makes an interesting argument about why absolution for abortion is reserved to bishops, something I didn't know, though the sexual abuse of children is not. I'd vote for changing that.)In any case, these issues are very much in the news given the scandals spreading through Europe, and increasing questions about actions by, e.g. Cardinal sean Brady in Ireland and ongoing questions about Joseph Ratzinger's role in a terrible case in Munich. It's easy to fuel suspicion about secrecy and the church.The whole CNS story is here.