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A model penitent

In connection with what I wrote here a few days ago, I must confess to being fascinated by this brief video clip -- see below -- of Pope Francis receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at a Vatican penance service yesterday. He seems to have taken Msgr. Marini by surprise -- something Marini must be getting used to by now -- as Carol Glatz reports for CNS.

What a great idea -- a way to demystify both the papacy and the sacrament itself. Despite the joke about "Is the pope Catholic?" it does keep coming as a surprise to see the pope acting like just another Catholic.

That video led me to this one, from Rome Reports, of Francis talking about Reconciliation at an outdoor audience. For all that I've read about (and by) Francis, I haven't seen him speaking all that much, which is a shame, since his personal, one-believer-to-another style is especially obvious in his manner of speaking (even when you don't understand Italian). I also like his proposal that we think of the sacrament not as an obligation, but a right.

For the past several years the archdiocese of New York has had a day set aside in Lent and Advent -- "Reconciliation Monday," this year, the Monday of Holy Week -- when parishes are expected to offer confession for a significant portion of the day. It's meant, I think, to remove one obstacle to returning to the sacrament, by making it very convenient. It also restores a communal dimension to this very private sacrament. And I'm always grateful for the extra push to do my Easter duty. What about where you are: does your diocese do anything similar to encourage people to receive the sacrament of Confession? Does it pay off?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Several months ago I decided to mirror the pope's practice of going to confession every two weeks.  It has been quite helpful to my spiritual practice.

I am quite taken by Pope Francis.  It started last Holy Thursday when I learned he washed the feet of some young people in jail (I am a prison chaplain) including those of women and a Muslim.  At every step the Holy Father has continued to inspire me to "press on".  

I consider him a gift of the Holy Spirit to my Catholic faith which was struggling amidst the many difficulties, scandals and what not of the last several years.

He reminds me that it is important to remember that "we are all sinners" in need of God's mercy and that the Church is first and foremost a place and a people to encounter God's love in Jesus through whom God's  love, mercy and forgiveness is bestowed.

I have recommended the practice of the pope and confession to others.  While at first, they object, once they take it up - it opens up new vistas for them.

We have been blessed with Francis!

Every Monday evening in Lent, from 5:30 until 7:00 pm, each church in our diocese is open, and has at least one priest available for Confession.  It's called "The Light is on For You", and began last year.  It has been very well received.

There's no added confession time at my church this Lent.  I've only actually been once ever, just before I was baptised (RCIA).  I've never wanted to go back.  Can't help thinking prayer with Jesus/God should be adequate for confession/forgiveness.

The diocese I live in also has a "The Light is on For You" campaign they run in advent and Lent, except I think it's on Wednesdays. I have no idea of how effective it is.

I am with Crystal when it comes to confession to a priest. It was never a practice I found helpful in the spiritual journey, in fact, it was quite the opposite at times. Since regular confession from childhood through middle age was generally either a neutral, unhelpful and unsatisfying experience, or even at times, a highly negative experience,  I finally asked myself why I was doing it?  I was an adult,  no longer under the thumb of Sister or Father as I was when growing up, just following a habit inculcated in childhood, a habit based on the deliberate implanting of fear (of hell) in the young.  It is a form of brainwashing of the young in some ways, and I have read that some are protesting requiring confession of 7 year olds before they receive First Communion.  I agree - little kids should not be forced to do this in order to receive First Communion.  So,  I decided not to bother anymore.  This was about 20 years ago and I haven't missed it at all.  It is not necessary, as Crystal points out, as we are all quite able to talk directly with God, who is the one who forgives.

Crystal, you shouldn't have gone to confession before baptism. Whoever told you to do that was, uh, deeply confused. Baptism forgives all sin; the sacrament of reconciliation is only available after baptism. When I hear stories like this, I shake my head. How can anyone get this so wrong? It's basic stuff and hardly difficult to sort out. Every catechist and priest should know this.

Concerning Mollie's post, I'm inspired by Pope Francis's fervor and humility.

I'm not convinced, however, we need to celebrate this sacrament every week or two. Are we so often in a state of mortal sin? Really? Yes, I know the response: it's the way to perfection! Great saints feel even their little sins are big! Yet there's also a "devotional" use of the sacrament that lends itself to scrupulosity -- a danger to be avoided. What about the Lord's Prayer, penance in everyday life, the penitential act at Mass? If we act as though none of these things "count," and auricular confession is the one and only way we seek forgiveness and reconciliation in the Christian life, it's out of balance. The sacrament is a treasure. But it exists within this rich background. I do think that if we credit these normal aspects of penance in everyday life, then our occasional celebration of the Sacrament has a more wholesome context.

I've had a lot of really terrific experiences of the sacrament of Penance. I've also had a number of dull or mediocre ones, as I'm sure everybody has. Childhood was the dullest, because we were taught a pretty formulaic approach, but it got better later on. Perhaps it's because most of the time I've sought confessors whose counsel I value. Not that it's about counseling, but a certain trust in the wisdom of one's confessor counts for much.

That said, what I appreciate the most (and increasingly find it hard to find) is a good communal celebration. There's a lot of lovely stuff in the ritual that can be done when people gather together, but we rarely use it to capacity. It's true that the reform of the sacrament of penance was not as deep as some of the other reforms of Vatican II, because the fathers as a whole didn't understand clearly enough what the issues were. Still, they did some good things. Sadly, we have yet to see the fruits of this at the parish level, except in isolated instances.

Rite, someone else mentioned that to me too.  Maybe I'm miixing it up in my memory, but I recall we in the RCIA class having to go to confession beofre Easter - it wasn't a voluntary thing but part of the class.   I think partly why I remember it was that the married couple facilitators of our class didn't themselves go to our priest regularly for confession - they disliked him and wen to someone at another church  ;)  It was very midern - a small room with two chairs facing each other over a table.  The funny thing is that zombie me couldn't think of anything to confess.  It wasn't untill a few years later during a retreat that I realized a had a lifetime of bad stuff to deal with, via prayer.

Rita ==

Fine post.

@Ritta Ferrone

In this age of entitlement and ego we live in, where lack of charity abounds, especially on the internet, I hardly think "scrupulosity" is much of a danger for many, if not most.

Maria, I'd bet you are wrong. Any confessors/spiritual counselors reading this?

To support the notion that scrupulosity is not a problem, I remember reading an article concerning a discussion about whether intro theology/philosophy classes in Catholic colleges should focus on Ethics, in order to help make those disciplines more relatable to college first-years. There was a study cited that said that some enormous (>70%, maybe) percentage of students couldn't remember the last moral decision they had made. They just didn't think that the choices they were making had any resonance on a right/wrong spectrum. I really don't think scrupulosity is a problem. And besides, if it was, that would be evident to the confessor, and he's a great person to counsel the penitent on how to avoid scrupulosity. I think it would be worse for someone to be in scrupulous turmoil without another person to guide him/her.

Re: The timing of First Penance for children; I don't think it makes that much difference whether it's before or after First Communion.  One of my sons had it before, the other after; and I didn't really see problems either way.  I am glad they have changed the approach from the way we used to do it back in the day, when I was in grade school. We had a lengthy list for examination of conscience, and then the whole class got marched over to church on the Thursday before First Friday for confession. We were to confess the number and name of every sin; it was God-as-accountant.  I do remember that I had some scrupulosity issues. I am thankful that now the emphasis is the mercy of God, and our relationship with Him.  One of the reasons for introducing children to the sacrament of Penance is to give them familiarity with it so that when they get older and there are heavier moral issues, it isn't total terra incognito. Besides, baby steps; morality for children is such things as telling the truth, obeying ones parents, and being kind to others. It is good for them to know that when we mess up, God is waiting to help.  To quote Isaiah, "Come, let us make things right."

As far as confession as an adult, it does foster a certain self-awareness.  I don't go every first Thursday anymore.  Probably should.  But I do go 2-4 times a year.  And it's always the same sins.  One might say, "So it's not doing much good, is it?"  However, the way I look at it is, these things have their roots in certain weaknesses.  I think it is good to think about these Achille's heels in a serious way so that I can ask God's help with them. I imagine that since they are part of my personality I will be dealing with them my whole life.

Maria and Sam suggest that the part of my comment pertaining to scrupulosity may be fighting the last war. But consider this:

1. The young people who have little awareness of moral decision-making are probably not going to church anyway. (Remember too that Catholic colleges have a lot of non-Catholics.) Do you think you'll get this age group to go to confession when they don't even go to Mass? No, you won't.

2. The people most likely to increase their use of the sacrament are the ones who are already going to church. Dominant in this population is the older crowd that was schooled in a more scrupulous approach, and for whom O Lord, I am not worthy shades into worries about never being worthy. I've seen a lot of it. You can push their buttons and get them to confess more often, but it's not good pastoral care. The net effect is not to make them more holy but to make them more anxious. 


Penitence has always been an integral part of the church. We are all sinners. But there is no theological justification for auricular confession. It was not a practice of the church until the eight century or so when the Irish monks introduced it. In many ways it has done a lot of good. While it has also been a source of terrible evil.  Catholics for the most part stopped going to confession because of Humanae Vitae. The paradox is that there were fewer communicants when everyone was convinced that one had to go to auricular confession than when people stopped going. 

Vatican II emphasized general or communal confession for good reason. This practice makes clear that we are all sinners. The words of Christ "whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven" are more addresed to all the people of God who build up and forgive one another. 

As a confessor I found that it could be an enormous source of Good. Mainly by getting young people away from a stifling interiority to lead more generous and fruitful lives. And for those burdened by a terible guilt it can be a real balm.  Unfortunately, because our parishes are so founded on magic, we do not build a community. The only time the community seems to come completely together is at the Cardinal's Appeal when the Pastors, under pressure, make sure everyone makes a pledge. Other than that there is the only contact at the exit of Mass on Sunday, or at fund raisers. 

As far as abuse in confession, in his new book, The Dark Box, Cornwall recounts countless abuses by priests of those who went to them for confession. 

Nevertheless, auricular confession can be a positive experience with some Catholics. It would be preferable, I believe, if we built up our communities more where we can trulty build up and  uplift each other.  


Rita, I agree, few would find more grace in Reconciliation than in the Mass. But, I very recently graduated from a Jesuit school, and while our Church was packed for every student Mass, I know that Confession was never offered, even during Lent, except by a priest-advisor for a small Catholic club on campus. And I think many take seriously their identity as Catholics, and speak of their Catholicism as inspiration for careers and service; but some mix of Reconciliation not being offered and their lack of interest keep them from it. 

As for your second point, I yield to your experience. It is certainly possible that many people were made to be scrupulous, though again, I think Confession is as likely to combat it, as to exacerbate it.

Kudos to Rita....another perspective:


I no longer "go to confession" nor do I encourage others to do so. I "celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation", and once you have experienced the sacrament celebrated well, there is no need to "encourage" you to do it again, it is something you eagerly look forward to! This change in verb is one (small) part of the change under my iceberg.

Catholics my age were never taught to associate the verb "celebrate" with the noun "sacrament". My catechism taught me that sacraments were "things" that the priest "administered" and that I "received". I received baptism, I received Holy Communion – which was separate from Mass

(and treated in a separate chapter by the catechism) – I went to Mass, or heard Mass, or attended Mass. I did not receive Mass (because Mass was not a sacrament). Like Mass, I "went to" Confession. The priest administered – and I received – absolution. In so far as confession was a sacrament at all, the sacrament part was simply the priest’s absolution formula – which I never heard because he said it at the same time I was saying the Act of Contrition. In the Roman Ritual that I received as an ordination gift (the book which contained all the prayers I needed to administer the sacraments) there was a chapter on each of the sacraments; but there was no chapter on the Sacrament of Penance. The formula for absolution was printed inside the front cover. That’s all the priest needed to know. Absolution and "the sacrament" were pretty much identical. The rest was "devotional" not a Sacrament.

As news began to come from Rome in the mid-1960s, I (a seminarian at the time) began to hear rumors that in the future sacraments would not be "administered" but "celebrated". I began to imagine what this might mean. I thought of ways in which one could celebrate the Eucharist, ways in which one could celebrate baptism, but I was stumped when it came to the Sacrament of Penance. How can one celebrate Confession?

My suspicion turned out to be correct. We cannot celebrate Confession. However we can, and must, celebrate a God who is all merciful and all loving. A God who simply (and literally) loves us to death. This is the intention of the current ritual (which you might not have experienced yet; it was only published in the USA in 1975 and changes in the Church don’t happen overnight).

How to encourage people "to go"?

One way, is to tell them that "they have to." Guilt works for some people (but apparently not for 98% of Catholics!) and the article I was reading quotes the law.

There is, of course, that precept of the Church that says that we must confess our serious sins at least once a year. The trouble is that many people seem to no longer believe that they have committed a serious sin. We have lost our sense of sin.

A couple of comments – actually 3 – one for each sentence.

What actually is the current law? What do we find in the Code of Canon Law ?

(Canon 960) Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by other means.

According to this law, Rite One and Rite Two are the "ordinary" forms for the sacrament currently for those in "grave" sin. Rite Three is excluded as an "ordinary" form by this canon. [Some read the canon incorrectly and understand that it refers only to Rite One.]

The law states that this individual and integral confession of sin is required only for 1) Catholics, who are 2) conscious of grave sin, and 3) who are not excused by physical impossibility or excused by 4) by moral impossibility. [Note that the Code speaks of "grave" sin. The Rite speaks of "serious" sin. Neither speaks of "mortal" sin.]

The article "Go to Confession..." speaks of "serious sins" and comments that: "The trouble is that many people seem to no longer believe that they have committed a serious sin." This is, of course, a judgement call; no one can say how many Catholics have committed a serious sin. In actual fact, the more accurate judgement call – judging from the number of Catholics sharing in the Eucharist (and judging from what I hear in the confessional) – would be that serious sin is very rare.

"Serious sin" is not something we fall into and fall out of repeatedly. If "serious sin" is a complete rupture from our acceptance of God’s love, it is sort of like divorce in a marriage. And divorce is not something you "commit" frequently. But I will "reframe" my judgment of the author of the article and simply admit that he probably has a very different understanding of "sin" than that I find in the New Testament.

But in actual fact, by the law, no one ever needs to confess "I missed my morning prayers," "I was angry with my husband," "I ate meat last Friday," "I missed Mass last Sunday because I was sick" etc. etc. etc. These might be things you would want to discuss with a spiritual director, but you never have to mention them by name and number in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For most Catholics, a simple "I am sorry for my sins" or "I am a sinner" is all one need tell the priest in the sacrament. In fact, the very fact of coming is sufficient.

And even in the (rare?) case where there is serious sin, you do not need to confess it in contexts of physical or moral impossibility. Today, confessing to a priest is morally impossible for many Catholics because of their past history with the sacrament. In a parish with only one priest, someone who has to work with him day by day (e.g. the parish secretary, the director of religious education, the janitor, etc) might consider it morally impossible to confess to "their boss" because of how that would shape their day to day working relation. Moral impossibility is real, and covers many more circumstances than most people think.

(note......too much of the US *confession* experience has been influenced by our Irish roots which twists *humans are created good* to *well, they are really bad*; the stereotypical Irish scrupulosity;  which turns the sacrament from a communal liturgy into a private act, etc.  We need to get back to an earlier, historical tradtion and see this sacrament as an adult *action* and not part of some type of childhood education process.  It needs to capture scriptureal symbols and meanings around metanoia, conversion, today's gospel story of a man born blind can now see (but at a deeper level, we all have our blindnesses; living water symbol (again at a deeper level); the liturgical gestures of healing; laying on of hands; the formula of forgiveness; that all sacraments (at their core) or actions of the community.


Then there is the hilarious Fr. Guido Sarduccin to put it all in perspective.

Misery loves company, I guess, because I was relieved to hear I am not the only one for whom Confession is a source of unhealthiness in my life.  I do have a history of scrupulosity, and every time I go to Confession, it simply awakens that tendency in me.  Anxiety and misery galore!

I haven't gone in about 4 years and feel guilty becuase my children never see me go (I told you I was scrupulous).  But I just can't bring myself to do it and risk falling back into the cycle of unhealthiness and self-absorption.  Because ultimately, that's what a lot of scrupulosity often boils down to---excessive worry about myself and my own salvation.

Do people who go to confession   not ever talk to God about the things they confess?  I mean, does going to confession take the place of prayer about   those kind of things?  I wouldn't want tp put a mediator between myself and God, I guess.

Crystal, the way I have always understood it; yes, you always talk to God first. Confession doesn't take the place of prayer about those things. It goes along with it. One definition of a sacrament is an outward sign of an inner reality.  It is like Baptism, the parents have made the decision; or in the case of an adult, they have made the decision; a long time before the water is poured. The inner reality is always there first, if that makes any sense.  The sacrament is the community aspect. The butterfly effect is that our actions always affect the community as well as ourselves.

Thanks, Katerine.   The community aspect is one I hadn't thought of.  But it seems that people believe the actual forgiving only happens at confession, not  theough personal prayer?  I read about people worrying that if they get hit by a ruck before they get to confession, they'll go to hell, etc.

As I understand it, if you sincerely pray to God and repent of your serious sin (or any sin), He has already forgiven you. It's like when Jesus healed the lepers and told them to go show themselves to the priests of the temple, in order to end their separation from the community.

Sam, thanks so much for your follow-up comment. I do agree, The situation you describe seems to be imbalanced in the other direction, and that is regrettable.

The conditions seem to be in place for a wholesome understanding of the place of the sacrament in that setting. Surely a community steeped in prayer and justice issues and the liturgy can make sense of the human need for God's forgiveness and the Church's ritual celebrations of God's mercy. 

I go back to the rites. I think that the absolute privatization of rites concerning this business of sin and forgiveness has missed the boat. Probably those campus ministers say to themselves "the students could make an appointment to go to confession if they want." But this ignores the fact that we mostly process the mystery of sin and grace communally. Suppose a penance service accompanied a peace walk or experience of service to the people on the bottom rung of society's ladder? We might find a thing or two in our own actions and attitudes for which we desire forgiveness, as we wake up to the fact that we are complicit in "the sin of the world."

When I was growing up, the focus was still a lot on sexual sin, and the sacrament carries along this shadow of prurient interest -- going "into the box" to whisper your sexual sins that dare not be named out loud. I'm not saying there are no sexual sins, of course there are, but focusing all this anxiety on one area and forgetting the rest is deeply wrong too. I was reading in the paper recently about "bystander" training for college students, aimed at reducing the number of rapes and drinking-related accidents and so forth by empowering the friends of people who are engaging in risky behavior to intervene and redirect a dangerous situation. What a wonderful moral training about sins of omission, about being "my brother's keeper"! But do we bring that into how we look at sin and grace or celebrate reconciliation? No, not often enough, I think.


It is interesting, though, that the majority of Catholics, plus most non-Catholic Christians, do not want nor feel the need to confess sins to a pastor or priest. I doubt even the pope confessing publically will change that trend.

"I go back to the rites. I think that the absolute privatization of rites concerning this business of sin and forgiveness has missed the boat. Probably those campus ministers say to themselves "the students could make an appointment to go to confession if they want." But this ignores the fact that we mostly process the mystery of sin and grace communally."

Absolutely spot on. 

Crystal --

We were taught that before confessing we must "examine our conscience", which was sort of systematically trying to remember all our sins.  We were also taught that if you were sincerely penitent and told God you were sorry for you sin that you would be forgiven immediately, even if you were then hit by a truck.  (I'm glad to see that other people here were taught the same thing.) But you still had to confess it.  


Psychologically I think it's good to confess your sin out loud to someone else -- not just say "I did it", but I did it and I'm guilty of sin".  Makes you realize that sin can have continuing effects, for one thing.  Further, people aren't above fooling themselves, so having a priest who understands people well give you a little lecture which also can include encouragement to "sin no more" can also be a very good thing.  And the absolution sort of validates that you are forgiven.


Of course, we don't want to confess.  But it's good for humility.

Hi Ann,

I don't know - I think going to a therapist would probably  be more helpful in assassing what one has done, the moral implications, the remorse, how to go on in a more positive fashion.  But maybe I just think this because I wasn't raised as a Catholic.

Crystal --

If I"m not mistaken, some of the great psychiatrists, e.g., Jung and Freud (?), thought that confessing guilt could be highly therapeutic in removing burdensome *feelings* of guilt.  But I don't think that guilt is simply a *feeling*, though I grant that there is a very distinctive feeling associated with moral guilt.  Moral guilt is a state of soul which is a *lack* -- a lack of a relationship to what ought to be, very often a person.  To be guilty is to be in a state of sin.  


 think it's very important to recognize this fact -- that *feeling* guilty is not the same thing as *being* guilty.  Scupulous people *feel* guilty when they really aren't guilty.  (I knew a psychoanalyst who said "If you *feel* guilty, then you ARE guilty". Wrong!)


It seems to me that the big difference between going to a therapist and going to confession is that a therapist can help one remove *feelings* of guilt that are inappropriate, while going to confession can help one to heal one's guilty soul that lacks a relationship to what ought to be.  It enables you to restore a relationship  that is lacking.  This restoring a due relationship is what requires that we make restitution -- i.e., we must provide what was lacking before. 


Yes, it can get pretty complicated.  And that's why great novels are often about the complications of guilt and feelings of guilt, admissions of guilt and restitution and healing.  


Yes, I see what you mean.  But if you know you've done something wrong and talk to God about it, say you're sorry, and he forgives you, then:  mision accomplished.  After that has happened, I'm not sure why one would feel the need to go to confession, but if one did, it's that need that I think might be better dealt with by a shrink than a priest.  Does that make sense?

"Of course, we don't want to confess.  But it's good for humility."


The danger I see concerns not the young people or the older crowd that Rita Ferrone @11:43am speaks of, but everyday Catholics, myself included, in this country who, so quick to judge and condemn others, appear to be losing their sense of humility.

Just look at the kinds of snark, vitriol and bile hurled at the Church, the pope and really, anyone who disagrees with their line of thinking, and yet, they, we all call ourselves Catholics.

We could all use a lot more humility and mercy, and Pope Francis is reminding us that the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, in all its rich and varied forms, can help us with that.

All this of course is premised upon the notion that every parish has a good confessor, which sadly is not the case, but that's another story.


But the reason many people don't go to confession is *not* that they aren't humble, it's *not* that they don't believe they ever do wrong things ... it is that they believe they can be forgiven by God directly through prayer.

Ann O,  examining one's conscience is a very good practice and should be done every day if possible.  I try to remember both the good and the bad of the day before going to sleep, and if I don't fall asleep in the process of this little examen, to pray about both! 

Regular communal penance services that include a comprehensive examination of conscience are helpful.  But going to confession to a priest is not a necessary component of the examen, unless one is proactively seeking insight and guidance.  In that case, Crystal might be right that a therapist could be a better choice. Other good choices might be a spiritual director of some kind, or a trusted friend.  Very few priests have the personal qualities and gifts needed to be good "confessors".  If confession to a priest was a positive, healing experience that helped people gain insight as to the why of their sins, and helped people to grow spiritually, as well as to heal, the lines would be out the door. But the reality is that confession to a priest is seldom a good experience for most Catholics. That's why so few go.

I have been on and off with confession but have had, by and large, good experiences. I went this Lent and it was good. I try to go once a year but not more often than that. By now, I know what I have to do, and a yearly moral inventory and assessment is sufficient.

I think the examen of consciousness, a variant of the Ignatius's examen is good to do nightly. It provides balance and not excessive pointing to guilt.

Morality is different than moralism and does require teaching and it is a process. We strive to do the best that we can but we can and do fall, all the time.

A point that needs to be made is that you can only confess something that you know full well is sinful. You know through prayer and meditation. So, for example, if I practice contraception due to the fact that having a child would be injurious to my spouse in terms of health and that it is the most responsible decision for all considered, then I do not and have never confessed it. It isn't a sin.

Now, I know full well that people can be very adept at deluding themselves and can say the same thing about adultery. I think principles like fidelity to commitments (morality) are important virtues to teach and it is true that we are not always faithful to all of these and this is where we need help (mercy). But we do have to own that we do these imperfectly and sin has a social implication.

For the longest time for me the reason for not going to confessions was the discrepancy between my sense of right and wrong and the catechism's. On contraception, for example, but there are other examples. When you go to confession, you are supposed to "empty your bag". How can you confess to using contraception, when you have no sense of guilt and no intention of stoppping it? But how can you not confess it without making an incomplete confession? I am taking contraception as an example, but there are many other similar conundrums (often involving sexuality). More generally, the moral guidelines and priorities stated by our church leaders (excluding pope Francis) are significantly different from my own, so what use is it to go and present my sinful self to someone whose moral views are out of phase with mine?


Have you considered going anyway and telling your confessor exactly what you have written here? 

How would he respond to your struggles? If he just resorts to more moralising and lecturing, would you challenge him? Can we, the laity, challenge the confessor when we feel he is failing at his duty, or when we feel we are not getting what we ought to have from said confession, which is, as the pope said, our right?

My struggles are similar to yours, and I have always wondered about these questions. 


Crystal, in addition to reconciliation with God there is also, I think, a reconciliation with the Church. Healing our divisions that are also divisions from one another, trying to be one Body.

I've had a lot of really terrific experiences of the sacrament of Penance.

I've had one terrific experience once, with a priest who knew me well. Perhaps it was because he was aware of everything that I was not bringing up in confession, but it did not prevent him from giving me absolution. Then it seemed like a true reconciliation that gave a sense of possibility, the sense that this was a new start, the feeling that God is with us (not "with me" but "with us"), that what unites us is stronger than what divides us, and that we in the church can help one another in our struggle against sin. 

But that was a one-time exception. I don't expect much from that sacrament. It normally leaves me cold, but I do my once-a-year minimal duty, just in case, to leave open the possibility that it will initiate a change. You never know.

Maria: no, I haven't. But on the rare times when I do go to confession, I could not possibly "challenge" the confessor. I am there to reflect on my own failings, not on his. It seems contrary to the mindset of that moment to start asking for "my right". Basically, I don't know what to make of that sacrament.

Obviously, this is an issue of moral theology, however, you cannot confess a sin that you have no awareness of being sinful.

I can conceive of this problem being particularly acute around marriage and remarriage for some cultures and people. A person is divorced and then ends up marrying civilly with someone. Technically and according to church teaching, they are in a state of sin and committing adultery. But i think very few would view it in this fashion.

This is where the "internal forum" comes in to play I suppose.

The overall principle is that we believe that the Church does have the authority to credibly and authentically teach what it has received from Christ and that it also provides the means for us to live that out through the sacraments and our participation. For our part, we do our best to live those out.

But I think that confession has been so poorly garbled and managed and handled that the issue is not so much people lacking a sense of sin (although that might be part) but the sacramental form needs some reform. My understanding is that in the Eastern church you can get spiritual counsel from anyone, lay, religious, and that confession is simply the formal absolution. But the process of growing in holiness is through dialogue with trusted and reliable people around issues that are deeply personal and difficult.

And let's face it, frequently those issues are sexual in nature although we skirt around those in public discussion like these as we are afraid of playing to traditional Catholic stereotypes. But even secular therapists are aware that at least some issues are in this area.


"challenge" might not have been the best word choice.

I was thinking more along the lines of telling the confessor, prior to his giving the absolution, "Father, I have another confession to make: What you have told me, what has happened here, how it all went, it didn't help at all. I feel nothing different."

Otherwise, I'm right there with you in that I don't really know what to make of this sacrament either. I still do believe it's an important part of our life of faith as Catholics, and therefore, worth struggling with.



George D and all --

Yes, the "mechanics" of Confession needs to be overhauled and the catechesis, but I think that most of all the whole concepts of sin and of conscience need to be looked at more fully.  They are more complex than simply doing what is objectively wrong and then saying one did it to a priest.  There is so much more to it than that.  Which brings us the subject of grace, a topic we haven't even touched on here.  I mean the sacrament as an added source of sacramental grace, of spiritual strength for the future.  I suspect some here might have no idea what that is.

The complexity of the sujbect is why I brought up great novels -- it's because they can teach us what conscience and Confession and what mercy and forgiveness really involve.  The greatest novelist in that regard is probably Dostoievsky whose psychological understanding of the subject is unparalelled. Imagine having him for a confessor!  And, note, he was an Orthodox Catholic (hated the RCC, actually).  Yes, the Orthodox get the laity involved in examination of conscience, which is a great idea IF the laity understands the subject well.  For one thing, the priests can't possibly understand all the people in his parish as well as their friends and neighbors and co-workers do.   The Orthdox just might have a lot to teach us about Confession.  I woner if the ecumentical talks between us  get eround to that.

But just improving what people think Confession is would be a great step forward. I read just yesterday a post by Fr. Longenecker, a conservative priest over at Patheos, about Confession.  The comments were heart-breaking == any number of people have really grotesque concepts about the subject.  See: Did you receive absolution or not?  I'm not sure Fr. L. himself has a very clear notion of what is involved in the process.  He didn't really answer the question.



Twelve-step programs offer an interesting perspective that I think applies to confession as well.

Step 4 is the "fearless and searching moral inventory", Step 5 is sharing this inventory with another human being.   The accountability and responsibility for self involved in sharing it with another person is an important part of the recovery process.  Another AA slogan: "We're only as sick as our secrets."

Jim H, --

Hmm.  Very interesting.  Does AA view alcoholism as something the alcoholic is responsible for?   Or partly responsible for?  (Complexity, complexity.)  And this brings up the question of the inter-relations among our sinful inclinations -- how they play off each other.  (Extremely complex.  That's why we need stories an novels -- to learn about such things.)

Once more I have to repeat my recommendation] of the Buddhist meditative practice called "naming" or "noting" -- the one in which one concentrates on the psychological events that come and go in conscisoussness.  Among the frequently appearing kinds of mental events are desiring, feeling, imagining, remembering, choosing plus any number of other kinds of mental events that can be part of moral experience.  The practice trains one to see oneself as one actually exists, as one does in real life, in our actual inter-actions with the world.  The practice teaches us better understand our own motives and choices, but it also sometimes reveals some good things about ourselves.  At any rate, it teaches us to see ourselves more accurately, which is sometimes very difficult when examining one's conscience and the experience of temptation and choice.

Many here are comparing psychotherapy to confession. I find this a good comparison for many reasons. Having been the provider on both side I may bring something extra to the table. On of the most troubling aspect about therapist and priests is too many of them take a superior position. As if they are above it all and can do what they want. They also tend to be dictatorial and too many times absolutely controlling. There are many psychological groups which are just as controlling as religious orders. Where the leaders demand to control every apsect of a person's life. Whether it is who to date or marry or what employment to seek. In the extremes sexual liberties are taken. So this is a factor to consider in this discussion. 

As far as the relationship of pedophiles to confession, Cornwall points out how the change by Pius X changing the age to 7 opened the door for priests to prey on children.

The concept of a priest "washing a person clean" has led pedophiles to continue unabated because of the recourse to confession. As with many there was no firm purpose of amendment. 

Well, that didn't take long. I was wondering how long it would take for someone to bring up the issue of pedophilia.


Maria, Do you want to discuss the issue or ridicule bringing it up?



Further you might have seen it before if you had read my post on

March 30, 2014 - 12:08pm


It's one thing to say "He died for our sins" and another to say "He atoned for our sins" and still another to say He was "sacrificed" for our sins .  The first is basically ambiguous because the word "for" has many specific meanings.  On the other hand "atoned" and "was sacrificed" convey the notion that He suffered in our place and His Father said, "That's enough -- I'll take your suffering in place of the guilty ones'".  It seems to me that an adult has reason to be more than miffed if that is not the intended meaning of the catechism.  If the concept meant is more subtlle than that, the the catechism should say so or find some other, unambiguous terminology.

Which brings me back to my hobby-horse.  The official RCC is too often willing to say one thing and mean another.  When oh when will it start talking like an adult to adults with adult vocabulaires and understandings?

I was not ridiculing but actually, lamenting the fact that things have become such, through no fault of our own, mind you, that we can no longer have any meaningful discussion about our faith without having that tragic problem brought up. 

So yes, I do want to discuss the issue about the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, about its meaning, value and implications as it relates to God's love, grace and mercy. But no, in this thread, I do not want to discuss the issue of pedophilia, sex abuse or how the Church is failing to address the issue properly.








The Eucharist as a sacrament of forgiveness.

Edward Vacek has an interesting take on good people, sin confession... especially the last two paragraphs



"Most fundamentally, all of us good people neglect in greater and lesser ways the basic relationship of our lives, namely, our relation to God. We need confession in order to make clear to ourselves that we forget God. If we find ourselves feeling no need to receive this sacrament, we can be fairly sure that this apathy is due to our lack of a vibrant, compelling love for God. If a spirited relationship of love for God were burning in our hearts, we would never be content to just forget the past and do better next time. Indeed, if we were in a love affair with God, we might be inclined to go to confession at least two to three times a week.

Psychologists have rightly taught us how important it is to think positive thoughts about ourselves and our deeds. But if that is all we do, we live in denial. Confession is an opportunity, a gift from God, for us to admit that we are also sinners. The prior knowledge that God will forgive us frees us to be honest. The subsequent experience of God’s forgiveness frees us to live honestly."

It is fascinating that secular sites like TALKING POINTS MEMO and HUFFINGTON POST made such a "big deal" of Pope Francis approaching the confessional...  What is the witness value of this for ordinary Catholics who have "written off" this encounter with Jesus?   And it is an encounter with Jesus is it not - at least that is what this sacrament is purported to be, is it not?




Wow, it's hard to count all the assumptions made in that article.  Tkae just this biy ...

"We need confession in order to make clear to ourselves that we forget God. If we find ourselves feeling no need to receive this sacrament, we can be fairly sure that this apathy is due to our lack of a vibrant, compelling love for God. If a spirited relationship of love for God were burning in our hearts, we would never be content to just forget the past and do better next time. Indeed, if we were in a love affair with God, we might be inclined to go to confession at least two to three times a week."

"We forget God" .... Speak for yourself.

"If we find ourselves feeling no need to receive this sacrament, we can be fairly sure that this apathy is due to our lack of a vibrant, compelling love for God." ... You can rate people's love for God based on the participation in a Catholic ritual?

"If a spirited relationship of love for God were burning in our hearts, we would never be content to just forget the past and do better next time." .... People don't go to confession for many reasons, but a desire to 'forget the past' is probably not among them.

There was a time in my life when I "went to confession" two or three times a week. It was hell.

"And I'm always grateful for the extra push to do my Easter duty."

Mollie, my understanding of the Easter Duty is that we are obliged to receive Holy Communion during the Easte Season.  Obviously, only if we are aware of  serious sin, must we go to confession.

I agree with Crystal here (see comment @ 5:36). I think the issues are much more complex. I also think approaches to reconciliation vary with respect to the role of the priest, the role of the community, and the emphasis on the individual in the mystery of sin and grace.

Here's a stab at arranging different positions on a scale:

1. Church has nothing to do with mediating forgiveness; the relationship between the sinner and God is direct and immediate. The only role for the Church is to preach about sin and grace, but this is done principally as an appeal to the sovereign individual.

2. Church is not necessary for mediating forgiveness, the relationship between sinner and God is direct and immediate, but if the Church can provide a helping ministry such as counseling under the heading of the sacrament, that has some utility in addition to preaching. Again the individual is sovereign, but will accept human help, although it might be better supplied by those with degrees in counseling, etc.

3. The Church mediates forgiveness through the community and its ritual actions, but the priest's role has varied historically, and can take a variety of forms under the heading of sin and forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Individuals are regarded as part of larger communities, and there is a strong place for communal repentence.

4. The Church mediates forgiveness through the community, and the priest has a necessary role. A variety of ministries, such as spiritual direction, counseling, mentors, small communities express the support of the whole community for repentance and healing of the wounds of sin, but at key moments the priest brings that more organic experience into focus and completes it ritually. Developing a communal sense of sin and grace is a necessary component of reconciliation.

5. The priest is the primary agent of forgiveness, and his ministry is not only necessary but pre-eminent. The community may or may not support it by a variety of activities, but their support mostly takes the form of preparing people to go to him. The accent here is on the priest as the possessor of powers. There is little place for a communal dimension.

6. The priest is not only the primary agent, but the only agent of the forgiveness which comes from God. He mediates God's forgiveness to individuals in the only way that matters, through individual confession and absolution. A focus on anything else is a distraction and potentially damaging to souls. Any talk of social sin or communal repentence is considered false and also dangerous.

Does this help to clarify? For what it is worth, I don't think any of these positions entail a lack of love for God.

Helen @ 6:41pm

This has long, unfortunately not in my childhood and adolescense, been my understanding also.

Anyone who has observed my  posts can see that I have advocated giving Francis a chance to do something about the sex abuse crisis in the church. Also I hold that the mercy of God should permeate our thoughts. Jesus said: "Mercy over sacrifice."


However, any discussion of auricular confession cannot fail to acknowledge the outsized abuse that has occurred in the position of priest as Confessor. Not to mention the designation of neophytes newly ordained being thrust into this practice. 


"According to my interviews and the letters I received from respondents, as well as official reports in many countries, abusive relationships between cleric and child have almost invariably begun as a continuation of the sacrament of confession." 


Cornwell, John (2014-03-04). The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (pp. 175-176). Basic Books. Kindle Edition. 

I like the scale Rita and I think this is a useful springboard for discussion and practice. I grew up with a very strong # 5 paradigm and remember the actual confessionals as a boy. 

But as I have matured and seen shifts, I think that #4 sums it up more aptly.

We used to have general absolution up here during Lent. There was a penitential service with music, readings, reflections, and general absolution was given and I thought this was a good option and moving service that involved a lot of people. It was later discouraged and it has now fallen out of use and I think that is a loss.

The only thing I would add is that individual people have to own their own actions. Psalm 51 (including and especially the back story!), for example, is a good one. And Palestrina's Miserere drives it home.

Of course the risks of sex abuse must always be present in the back of our minds so that confession is in an environment that does not lend itself to abuse. Not all countries take that into account, but the US seem to be doing fine in that respect, from what little I have seen. 


@Ann:  You asked " Does AA view alcoholism as something the alcoholic is responsible for? Or partly responsible for?"

It depends on what you mean by "is responsible for":  that can connote many things, from "causality"/"blame" to "ownership of the situation and dealing with it".   My understanding of 12-step programs takes the latter interpretation;  addicts must accept the reality that they are addicts and are solely responsible for their (ongoing/lifetime) recovery.  Equally important is that we cannot recover in isolation;  recovery is only possible via reliance on a higher power and community with fellow addicts who are working the program of recovery.

I just want to voice my gratitude: that this topic has drawn some infrequent and new commenters; and particularly for Rita's interventions and comments.  Crystal, your report that you had to go to confession prior to your baptism made me SCREAM! :-)

The best (IMHO) would be a combination of #2 and #3, but it would be better to change the wording of #3 to: The Church can mediate forgiveness through the community and its ritual actions when that is desired by the penitent.

That is pretty much the approach taken by the Episcopalians as far as private confession goes. They often conclude their descriptions of private  auricular confession to a priest with this:

  All can, some should, none must.

One prayer in the Catholic ritual that I find to be almost heretical are the words of absolution spoken by the priest - "Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is too much emphasis on the priest in this.  The wording states that the priest saying the words absolves the person, not that God absolves the person.  One could assume that the priest is the one doing the absolving instead of simply pronouncing that God has done so.  In the Episcopal church, the emphasis is on God

In the Anglican tradition, confession and absolution is usually a component part of corporate worship, particularly at services of the Holy Eucharist. The form involves an exhortation to repentance by the priest, a period of silent prayer during which believers may inwardly confess their sins, a form of general confession said together by all present and the pronouncement of general absolution by the priest, often accompanied by the sign of the cross. (Wikipedia)

The Episcopal liturgy at the church where I spend most Sundays these days does follow the form described in Wiki - it includes general community confession in every mass, along with a period of silence for the members of the community to confess inwardly, and a general absolution.  The wording of the prayers emphasize God and not the priest. (from Rite I of the Book of Common Prayer - the more "formal" language)

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.

Holy Eucharist I     331


Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy
hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with
hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him, have mercy
upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm
and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you
everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.





I really miss the Confiteor in the old Mass.  What were they thinking of when they removed it? OK, so the Mass itself isn't Confession, but that's no reason to separate them.  I suspect they thought it just took too much time.  Anybody know why they did it?

I really miss the Confiteor in the old Mass.  What were they thinking of when they removed it? OK, so the Mass itself isn't Confession, but that's no reason to separate the two.  I suspect the liturgists thought it took too much time.  Anybody know why they did it?

Ann - it's still there, and in fact, with the new translation, we're once again beating our breast and saying, "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."  (or is it "grievious fault"?  That seems to be how a lot of people say it around here :-)).  It may just be that, for whatever reason, your parish never uses this option - there are three different options for the penitential rite.


Rita - I'm choosing #4 as sort of the midpoint between 3 and 5 :-)

Jim P, perhaps Ann should count her blessings. She may not have the confiteor, but maybe she also doesn't have breast-beating!    When I go to a Catholic church these days, I am almost appalled at how some of the old stuff has crept back in - bells that violently shatter the quiet and distract from prayer and reflection on the eucharist, breast-beating  and focus on guilt, guilt, guilt, with the words you cite. Etc.  I have read in The Tablet that the UK bishops are asking that the changes force-fed on the English speaking world a couple of years ago be made optional and a return to the previous translations be again permitted. The 1950s should be left to rest in peace. 

As I have mentioned several times, I have been spending most Sundays in Episcopal pews for quite some time now (still waiting for Francis on a few critical issues before I decide on whether to become a "revert" - I can never be Catholic again unless a few things change that haven't yet changed, but the direction is positive at least) and am increasingly impressed with the beauty of the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.  It is a perfect balance between the traditional and the contemporary.   In the Creed, Jesus still came for "us" and not just for "us men", the priest is one with the congregation - we instead of I, etc.

Breast-beating is a pretty well established ritual gesture, and it seems to me that more stuff like that would make for a richer ritual experience. Jews beat the breast during the Amidah and elsewhere. I have observed that Catholics like to make fun of liturgical dance, perhaps because of the particular forms it takes (and perhaps because white middle class Americans are embarrassed by dancing in general), but it seems to me that the absence of dancing means the absence of what has otherwise been a pretty ubiquitous ritual act. Obsviously, breast-beating isn't dancing, but moving is moving, and moving means a lot.

I have no problem with liturgical dance - but I refuse to "beat my breast"!    Too many negative associations from my childhood in the pre-Vat II church associated with that one.

Thanks to everybody who put in a word about the typology I tried out above.

To put my own cards on the table, I'd place myself at #4, which is also where most of the liturgical reformers at Vatican II (and their progeny in Catholic church circles) would place.

#1 and 2 have both been expressed or alluded to here by Crystal and Anne C. I'd add that churches influenced by Calvin or Zwingli would definitely claim #1. (Lutherans still have auricular confession on the books, as it were, but it is not used at all frequently nor is it a sacrament, so perhaps deserves it's own number... 1.5 perhaps?) #2 is really a composite of modern psychological-utilitarian readings of the sacraments and the theological position of #1.

Bill Mazzella's comment is a fine articulation of #3. This position represents the most liberal reading of modern reform directions, but does not owe anything really to the claims of the classic Protestant theological position at #1.

As George D. observed, most of us who grew up Catholic have a lot of familiarity with model #5. Popes John Paul II and Benedict, and I'm afraid Pope Francis as well, fall at #5, too, as did so many of the bishops at Vatican II that the antepreparatory commission didn't want to go there at all. JPII is an interesting case, because on the heels of Vatican II he approved quite a number of texts that support #4, and even furthered that theology in his own way. When push came to shove, however, clearly he was deeply uncomfortable with the implications of #4, and anxious to reaffirm the more familiar role of the priest and the individual sinner that the #5 description recognizes.

Traditionalists and those who remain suspicious of Vatican II have generally articulated the approach of #6. 

What is very interesting to me is how much the presupposition of individualism is shared between #1 and #6. Despite the fact that forgiveness is "mediated" in #6 and #5, it is as completely about the state of the individual soul before God as is #1 and #2. In other words, despite the most hostile opposition, they are talking about the same thing.

This makes sense historically, in that the Protestant reformation responded to the existing Catholic assumptions about penance which traditionalists of course are keen to maintain. The counter-reformation took up the same issues with a vengeance, and bore down on them, including the invention of the "box" (how individual can you get) and frequent confession as the way to holiness.

More importantly, however, I think it also shows the power of ressourcement to actually open up the questions from a different direction, productive of fresh theological insights and possible ways out of the impasse created by the conflicts of the sixteenth century. #3 and 4 in different ways represent a development that changes the landscape, istm, in some fascinating ways.

Here's an article about Confession from Christianity Today -- on why it's a good thing.  About the need for a priest and giving absolution --  here are some texts that support the practice:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

" He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

"So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, I ALSO SEND YOU." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. IF YOU FORGIVE THE SINS OF ANY, THEIR SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN; IF YOU RETAIN THE SINS OF ANY, THEY HAVE BEEN RETAINED." (John 20:21-23, NASB)"


Here's another reason that the author recommends.  I think she's right, about me anyway:

"Also, there is the gain in self-knowledge: most of [us] have never really faced the facts about ourselves until we uttered them aloud in plain words, calling a spade a spade.  I certainly feel I have profited enormously by the practice."


And here's yet another reason from Scripture:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

Nothing like a Protestant for finding Scriptural support :-)

Why Pope Francis is Right About Confession

Here's an article about Confession from Christianity Today -- on why it's a good thing.  About the need for a priest and giving absolution --  here are some texts that support the practice:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

" He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

"So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, I ALSO SEND YOU." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. IF YOU FORGIVE THE SINS OF ANY, THEIR SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN; IF YOU RETAIN THE SINS OF ANY, THEY HAVE BEEN RETAINED." (John 20:21-23, NASB)"


Here's another reason that the author recommends.  I think she's right, about me anyway:

"Also, there is the gain in self-knowledge: most of [us] have never really faced the facts about ourselves until we uttered them aloud in plain words, calling a spade a spade.  I certainly feel I have profited enormously by the practice."


And here's yet another reason from Scripture:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

Nothing like a Protestant for finding Scriptural support :-)

Why Pope Francis is Right About Confession

Thanks, Ann! Interesting comment thread too.

Ann, as I recall, Jesus said similar things to the disciples (not just the twelve) - about binding and loosing etc..  I don't think Jesus meant that his followers should confess the way "confession " is done now, but was advising his followers on how to handle problems and disputes - the "priests" were not called in unless all else failed.  (And they weren't "priests" either, as I recall, simply community leaders).  I would possible "go to confession" if there were women priests - married women priests.  But I have never found a male priest to whom I would feel comfortable discussing my sins, weaknesses, and failures.  I can understand that Francis - a male celibate - probably feels quite comfortable "confessing" to another male celibate.  As a woman, and I speak only for myself, the entire practice of confessing to a male celibate is so highly uncomfortable (and usually useless as far as gaining insight and guidance), that it is simply not something I am willing to do anymore.  I have a close friend who knows me very well, for all of my adult life, to whom I go when I need to "confess" and gain insight and understanding and guidance. She makes me look at myself honestly. She knows me, and so she can quickly see if I am hiding something or not being honest with myself. A strange priest in a confessional would not be able to discern this.   I know there are other women who feel the same way I do and so stopped going to "confession" to a priest once they realized that it was within their power to make this decision - no more push from outside (parents, pastors, nuns, etc).  As adults,  one should seek out the person who is best able to give honest insights and guidance, and call a space a spade when needed.  That requires a lot of trust in the "confessor" and most male priests are relative or perfect strangers to those in the confessional. 

Some see this ritual as a way to obtain some kind of high octane grace - they somehow think that grace comes in grades, like gasoline. Sacramental grace to them is somehow more high powered than God's "ordinary" grace. But God's grace does not come in superior and inferior forms. It's all grace.

p.s. One should note that the author of the article in Christianity Today, while agreeing that the practice of talking about one's sins to another Christian can be helpful,  does not say or imply that this person must be a member of the clergy, which is pretty much what Crystal and I have also said.  She emphasizes the truth that it is God alone who forgives.

Anne C. -

Umm, no, God isn't the only one who forgives.  He's the only one who always forgives.  And  confessing to others, especially a representative of the whole assembly, has an advantage that simple confessions within ourselves to God doesn't have -- it reinforces or knowledge that others are affected by our sins, and so it's reasonable that they should be aware of our repentance.  Consider the photo of Francis kneeling before a priest in Confession.  That was so noteworthy the picture went round the world.  What I'm saying is that Confesion also has ritualistic aspects that are valuable, and to be seen going to Confession publicly and kneeling before the priest is itself part of our confession to the assembly.   


Ann, very few people go to confession with the cameras watching. Most prefer not to be seen, actually, and many choose to go to a parish not their own precisely because they want to be anonymous.  Confessing to a priest does nothing to have "the assembly" become aware of one's repentance, unless the entire "assembly" is monitoring who is in the confession line every week.

Some people believe that unless they confess to a priest , God does not forgive them.  God forgives, not the priest.

If someone wants to confess publicly, they should go to whomever may have been harmed by their sins, not to a "representative" of thousands or a billion people whom they don't even know. They should ask forgiveness from God AND from those whom they have harmed..  It's a whole lot easier to get rid of a bad conscience by confessing to a priest in secrecy  than to actually go to someone harmed by your sins and ask forgiveness.  In some ways, confession to a priest can be used as a cop-out.   




Jeanne L. =

Many of us would prefer not to go to Confession at all, but that is no reason not to go.  I don't agree that standing in a confessional line says nothing about a person's willing to admit his/her sins.  Why else are people standing there?  There's no question of the whole Church keeping track of who goes to Confession.  It is simply a matter of admitting publicly "I am a sinner and know it so well that I'm willing to show it by standing in line to confess my sins to a representative of Christ".  I don't know anybody who believes that only priests can forgive -- that's nonsense, but, yes, some people have been taught nonsense.

About apologizing to those we've harmed.  Good idea.  Maybe that should be made part of all or at least most penances.  Yes, penance is still appropriate for sinners.

I think, as I've said before, that the whole concept of sin needs to be re-thought, and that, I'm sure, would imply re-thinking Confession as well.  There are so many different theological and psychological issues involved in both topics.

Ann O, it has been a busy weekend, and I don't know if you're still following this conversation..  I have slowly realized that I am really very Protestant in my beliefs - at least Anglican Protestant.  Anglicanism is called the via media and I think it is an accurate description.  As far as standing in line to confess to a priest goes, since everyone knows that everyone is a sinner, it seems a bit redundant to have to stand in a confession line simply to admit publicly that one is a sinner!  I suspect everyone knows I am a sinner, starting with myself!   I very much agree with the Anglican approach taken to confession to a priest, which I think I mentioned earlier - All may, some should, none must. 

I was curious about the Orthodox after finding an article by a Russian Orthodox priest lauding Francis' public confession, even while he assured his readers that he knows that Francis is still, regrettably, in error as far as theology goes.  Only the Orthodox have the "true church".  Sound familiar?  One of my closest friends is Greek Orthodox and I knew from years of close friendship and many discussions of religion that going to confession is not an ordinary practice in her church.  She is extremely devout, but has never gone to confession to a priest in her life and does not know any Orthodox (Greek) who have.   There is also a Russian Orthodox church near my home, so out of curiosity, I googled their website - the pastor there recommends  private confession with a priest monthly.  So maybe the Russian Orthodox are more oriented to private confession than are the Greeks?  I had thought that if anyone would push confession to a priest as hard as the Catholic church it would be the Orthodox, but apparently it depends on the particular ethnic affiliation of any given Orthodox parish.

I have slowly come to realize during my sabbatical in Episcopal pews on Sunday that my "head" is Anglican.  The more I have studied Anglicanism (and the Episcopal church), the more convinced I am intellectually that their understanding of, and approach to, dogma, doctrine and sacraments makes more sense to me than does that of the Roman Catholic church, and avoids most of the traps that lie in the Roman Catholic approach (if Rome would be willing to admit that there is no such thing as "infallible" teaching, the Catholic church would be in much better shape!).   However, my heart is still stubbornly Catholic, which is why I have not formally converted to the Episcopal church and still read Catholic publications and websites.  There is incredible brilliance, depth and breadth in so much Catholic teaching and so much to admire in the lives of so many Catholics throughout history.  But I also have reached the conclusion that Anglicanism seems to have held on to what is best and truest while letting go of  the questionable - they are humble enough to not need to be "infallible" and to trust in giving  freedom for their members.   I hope someday to free myself of the final ties to the Catholic church because I simply cannot accept all that the Catholic church teaches, including the notion that it is necessary to confess to a priest instead of directly to God.  Those who find it helpful should go, and those who do not, should not worry about it.

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