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.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Confessional. Part 104.

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


V. A moral impossibility exists, as before remarked, when great harm ensuing to the penitent or to the confessor or to some third person is to be feared from the completeness of the confession ; the harm to be feared must preponderate over the material integrity of the confession.

Therefore exception is made to the demand of integrity (completeness) in confession: —

1. When there is risk of infamy (periculum infamice), if the penitent is exposed to lose the esteem he is held in not only by the confessor but also by others. This may happen in various ways, particularly if the penitent is so placed that a perfect confession would be overheard by others, or if the time required for a complete confession were so long that it would give rise to unfavorable suspicions. Such a case is most likely to happen when others know that the penitent has been in the habit of confessing, and the latter, on account of those confessions being invalid, is obliged to repeat them, while the time for a communion which he cannot postpone without exciting comment, is quite close.

A sick man, for instance, has confessed and is about to receive the viaticum; he reveals to the priest that he has made several sacrilegious confessions. To repeat these in full would excite suspicions on the part of the bystanders who thought that he was prepared to receive holy communion.

Or, to use another illustration, on the occasion of some solemn and public communion in common one of the communicants goes to the priest a short time before communion and reveals that he has made a sacrilegious confession; since there is no time to repeat it, it is enough if he makes an act of sorrow, mentions the sacrilegious confession and perhaps one or two of his other sins; he must then be absolved and later, of course, make a full confession.

Or, a priest is already at the altar, about to offer the holy sacrifice, but remembers that he has mortal sins on his soul not yet confessed; he makes a short act of contrition and confesses his sins to an assisting priest who is standing close by him; the latter will then give absolution secretly. Outside the case of necessity where a priest must celebrate Mass or a person is to receive communion, the penitent is in nowise excused from making a full confession on the ground that others, noticing the length of time spent in the confessional, should suspect him of being guilty of many grave sins.

2. When there is danger of breach of the seal of confession (periculum Icesionis sigilli), as when, which is a very rare case, it should be foreseen that the confessor would break the seal, or in the case where a confessor could not reveal his own sins without at the same time revealing the sins of his penitent and so breaking the seal.

The first case, i.e. where the confessor breaks the seal — without, of course, intending to do so — might happen when the priest speaks so loud that he can be overheard by those in the neighbourhood, and in spite of representations still fails to subdue his voice, either because he is deaf, or because his zeal runs away with him, or because he is afflicted with some defect of voice which prevents him talking in a lower tone. This would be only an indirect breach of the seal, certainly not to be sanctioned but rather to be severely blamed as wrong and sinful. If, then, the confessor speaks too loud, and continues to do so even after the penitent has reminded him of the fault, the latter is justified in keeping back part of his confession so that the confessor may not in the course of his questions reveal to the bystanders the sins confessed.

If, however, the penitent has an exaggerated dread that his confessor may break the seal by making revelations outside the confessional, he is not justified in withholding his confession in full, for he imagines a sin so horrible that the suspicion of it could only be entertained in the case of heretics. This holds true at least as far as a direct breach of the seal is concerned. A penitent could hardly ever be dispensed from a full confession on account of such a fear, and if he were to reveal to another confessor that such a motive had prompted him to keep back some of his sins, the confessor could not receive this as an excuse without further inquiry.

On the other hand, the danger of a breach of the seal on the part of a priest who confesses the sins he has incurred in hearing confessions is not beyond the bounds of possibility; in this case he must pass over in silence those sins which would involve such a risk."