Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
To conclude with a few practical questions: —
1. How must the confessor deal with a penitent who thinks he has only very slight contrition? He must first of all not be too hasty in deciding that this penitent is indisposed and without the necessary contrition; there are men whose hearts are so hard and inaccessible to sensible impressions that it is only with difficulty and at rare intervals that they are moved to a sensible sorrow, and such are easily inclined to think that they have not the proper dispositions. The confessor must remember that the feeling of sorrow is not at all required, but that a real grief over the past life and an earnest desire to amend are sufficient; he must satisfy himself that these dispositions are present and cannot demand more. He may, moreover, reasonably assume the presence of these dispositions in the penitent if the latter be willing to listen to warning and instruction, if he has at any time really endeavoured to amend, if he is ready to perform the penance imposed, and to carry out other prescriptions of a like nature.
2. When with regard to former confessions the priest wishes to ascertain whether the penitent has had real sorrow, the following points may serve as indications: —
(a) If the penitent has made use of the means suggested to him for overcoming the sin.
(6) If he has avoided at least the proximate occasions of sin.
(c) If the number of sins has become less.
(d) If the penitent is convinced that he had real sorrow and purpose of amendment; for it is a first principle in the Sacrament of Penance that the penitent's word is to be taken, since he is there his own accuser and witness.
The priest must act here with great prudence so as not to frighten away the penitent, and at the same time not to indulge in an indiscreet leniency by which he would himself commit sin and involve both the penitent and himself in ruin.
3. It is not easy for the confessor to discover when the penitent has not real contrition; the following directions, which Cardinal Denoff in his pastoral brought to the notice of all the confessors of his diocese, may be of use: —
(a) If the penitent approaches with a proud bearing as though despising the minister of Christ.
(b) If he answers with impatience and anger the questions which the confessor is bound to put.
(c) If in the course of his confession he constantly makes excuses and accuses others more than himself.
(d) If he mentions the gravest sins as though they were ordinary occurrences.
(e) If it is evident that he is trying to conceal a mortal sin which the confessor in the course of his examination has detected.
(f) If he refuses to accept a penance proportioned to the number and gravity of his sins, and given with all consideration for his circumstances.
(g) If he is unwilling to employ the necessary means to reform.
(h) If, finally, he belongs to the number of those unhappy sinners who seek ignorant or easy-going confessors, with a view of getting absolution only, without any intention of reforming.
4. If the priest has to deal with an obstinate sinner, he must discreetly unite mildness and severity, but above all pray to God for him, since every good gift comes from the Father of light. He may picture to him God's great mercy and the love of Jesus to give him courage; or he may try to soften the hardness of his heart by reminding him of God's justice (cf. S. Alph. Praxis Confessar. cp. I).