Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Confessional. Part 106.

Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke


If, nevertheless, the accomplice be revealed to the confessor, such revelation, in accordance with a very probable opinion, is not to be regarded as a grave sin; for according to the teaching of a number of theologians, whom St. Alphonsus approves and with whom St. Thomas seems to agree, it is not a gravely sinful defamation to reveal the sins of another to one or other trustworthy and upright man. Though many theologians declare this to be gravely sinful if done without reason, the opposite opinion is so well founded that it may be followed in practice as quite probable. But if it is at all probable, it is much more so when the sin of another is revealed to a priest who is bound to the most inviolable secrecy by the highest and holiest ties. Hence it follows that the revelation of the accomplice is certainly no sin when there is reasonable ground for it; such would be, for instance, if the confession made to a priest who knows the accomplice were useful or necessary to the penitent, supposing that no other confessor, to whom the accomplice is unknown, were available; furthermore, the penitent is not bound to seek another confessor unacquainted with the accomplice if the search involves great trouble or loss.

With these premises we approach the question: May a penitent, or ought he, confess a mortal sin which cannot be revealed without at the same time revealing the accomplice to the confessor, or may he omit the mention of that sin and so detract from the completeness of his confession?

The greater number of theologians and those of most weight teach that the revelation of the complex is not a reason excusing from an entire accusation, since it is no violation of the jus naturale which safeguards the reputation of another to reveal the secret sins of one's neighbor for good reasons to a prudent and upright man, and the law of charity only forbids defamation of one's neighbor without reason; in this case, however, there is a causa justa, and a very urgent reason, viz., the making of a perfect confession and the guidance of the conscience. The precept of making a sincere accusation is potioris juris than the precept of not defaming the neighbor, so that such defamation in face of the need of making a complete confession is to be regarded as of no account. Lugo rejects, as involving a petitio principii, the other argument advanced by the defenders of this view, namely, that the penitent is simply making use of his right to confess his sin, and that the accomplice by participating in the sin has surrendered his claim to his reputation so far as it is affected by the confession of the sins; he adduces another argument: that since the benefits resulting from confession are so immense that Christ has bound the penitent to endure the shame of revealing his own sins, it is a natural consequence that to obtain such benefits one may be allowed to reveal another's sin. The same is taught by St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, St. Antoninus, St. Bernard, Gerson, Cajetan, Henriquez,Suarez, Lugo, Laymann, Vasquez, Toletus, Reginald Lessius, Tamburini, Salmanticenses, Reuter. St. Alphonsus also holds this view. At the same time they teach that the penitent is bound, if he can manage it commode, to spare the reputation of his accomplice by going to a confessor to whom the accomplice is unknown; and St. Alphonsus expressly condemns the view that this is matter of counsel and not of precept. Thus the penitent is freed from the obligation of seeking out another confessor only (a) when there is danger of death or when the annual confession can no longer be put off; (fe) when the penitent by refraining from communion or from the celebration of Mass would be exposed to misinterpretation and shame; (c) when a penitent is in a state of mortal sin, and would be obliged to remain in that condition one or two days (per biduum into etiam per diem) till he could find another confessor; (d) when the complex may be presumed to have given up his claim to his good reputation, as in the case of .a brother who having sinned with his sister knows that she will not go to another confessor without her mother; (e) when a priest being accustomed to celebrate every day, and a lay person being accustomed to communicate daily, would find much difficulty in omitting these pious acts; (f) when a person finds great repugnance in revealing his or her state of soul to another confessor; (g) when otherwise the penitent would be deprived of a jubilee or other indulgence; (h) mothers or husbands may be excused when through a wish to have counsel or sympathy they reveal the sins of their children, etc., to a confessor who knows the latter, especially when they find it hard to approach another confessor; (i) when the seeking of another confessor involves a privation of consolation and peace for the penitent accustomed to a wise and helpful spiritual director. Hence it is evident that a penitent is rarely, if ever, obliged to seek another confessor under the given circumstances. 

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Confessional. Part 105.

Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke


3. When danger of scandal (periculum scandali) is to be feared either with respect to the priest or the penitent. Such a case might occur where the penitent is afraid of sinning by taking pleasure in thoughts against charity and especially against purity when examining his conscience; his duty then would be to avoid dwelling upon the number and circumstances even at the risk of making an incomplete confession, for the natural law of avoiding the danger of grave sin prevails over the positive law of making a complete confession. The same reason may be a motive to the confessor to be very prudent in questioning such penitents so as not to expose them to commit new offenses against God in the very Sacrament of reconciliation.

If a penitent have well-grounded fears of the confessor's weakness and that the latter will, if he hear a peccatum turpe, give way to bad thoughts or cause him to sin, he is bound to avoid such a confessor; if, however, in a case of necessity, he requires his help and cannot find another confessor hic et nunc, he may omit those sins of which the avowal would be dangerous.

A priest who knows that his weakness exposes him to great risks in hearing confessions must withdraw from the confessional if it be at all possible, unless there be good reasons to suppose that the fear arises from some unforeseen and exceptional incident ; in such a case the confessor must omit the questions which ordinarily would have to be put to secure the completeness of the accusation.

"Dangers of this kind are not to be lightly and unreasonably supposed, but only on solid grounds; and if it be a question of danger to the confessor, only after very unmistakable indications."

4. When a scrupulous penitent is always tortured with the thought that his previous confessions have not been valid and believes that his sins have never been properly confessed. Such penitents are to be forbidden to make detailed examination of conscience even though in consequence their confessions should fall short of the necessary completeness.

5. When there is danger of bodily harm {damnum corporale or periculum vitae). If, for instance, a long confession exposed the priest to danger of infection, even though by other precautions he might lessen the danger or perhaps quite reduce it, in order to avoid the risk he may allow the penitent to state quite briefly a few sins, thus contenting himself with an imperfect confession, and may then give absolution; moreover, if the penitent is so weak and exhausted by the illness as to be unable without grave harm, or great increase of suffering and weakening of his condition, to examine his conscience carefully and so make a perfect confession, the priest ought not to annoy him by questions, but rather try to awaken contrition and then give absolution even after an incomplete confession. 102

It was observed above (n. 4) that moral inability to make a complete confession can only be admitted when the confession cannot be put off and is urgent hic et nunc.

The confession may be regarded as urgent, 1, when the penitent is in danger of death; 2, when the precept of annual confession and communion is instant; 3, if the reception of holy communion or the celebration of Mass cannot be put off without confusion or scandal; and, 4, if otherwise the penitent could not again approach confession for a long period. Reuter and Lugo consider a delay of more than three days long enough for a man in mortal sin to regard the case as urgent; indeed one may consider the impotentia moralis as justified if a man were compelled to remain in mortal sin one or two days.

There is a special difficulty in solving the question whether a sin can or ought to be confessed which cannot be disclosed without damaging the reputation of the partner of the sin in the eyes of the confessor. Theologians do not agree in their opinions, but are all unanimous in teaching, 1, that a penitent is obliged to seek, if possible, another confessor to whom he can make a complete confession and to whom the accomplice is unknown, and in this way save his neighbor's reputation; and, 2, that it the sin which cannot be confessed without injury to the character of the accomplice is not necessary matter of confession, it ought not to be revealed unless the sin of the accomplice be only slight and the confession of that particular sin be of peculiar benefit to the penitent.