Friday, 10 March 2017

The Confessional. Part 89.

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

I. A sin need not be confessed when there is no positive reason to suspect its existence or gravity, or when there is positive ground against believing its existence or gravity, even where there is a solid reason on the other side. In other words, a sin negatively doubtful from both points of view, or positively doubtful from both points of view, or negatively doubtful on the side affirming guilt is not necessary matter of confession; but a sin positively doubtful on the side affirming guilt and only negatively doubtful on the side denying guilt, must be confessed.

With the exception of a few rigorists, theologians are unanimous in teaching that a sin positively doubtful from both sides need not be confessed; for if there is a dubium facti which establishes the obligation of a law, liberty is in possession, i.e. there is no obligation. But in our case the fact of the sin is doubtful, thus we are not obliged to confess it. Moreover, when the existence of a law is doubtful we are not bound by it; but the law of confessing doubtful sins is uncertain; hence we are not bound by it.

If, however, a man in danger of death doubted whether he had committed a grievous sin, knowing that he had never been to confession since that doubtful act, he would be obliged, in order to avoid the risk of damnation, not indeed to confess that sin, but either to receive the Sacrament of Penance, in which he confesses other sins, that thus he might receive at least indirect absolution if his doubtful sins were really mortal, or he should at least make an act of perfect contrition. In such a case the act of perfect contrition sine voto confitendi would be sufficient, since no obligation binds him to confess the peccata dubia. So much for sins which are positively doubtful on both sides.

If, however, a very strong argument affirms our guilt with only very slight reason to deny it, we are obliged, according to the unanimous teaching of theologians, to confess those doubtful sins, for in such a case the conviction of our innocence does not rest on solid grounds. Of course our guilt is not conclusively proved; but in these things where evidence is often wanting we must be led by principles of sound moral certainty, even when they are unfavorable to us, since confession is not only a burden, but a Sacrament, and as such a means for greater sanctification. In this case one cannot argue that in dubio facti (and this undoubtedly exists) the opposing arguments cancel one another, as might two opposing witnesses; for this only takes place when the two arguments are of the same kind and quite similar, as in the case of two opposing eye-witnesses, when it is certain that one of the two is mistaken and neither can be believed since it is not known where the mistake lies. It is quite different, however, when the opposing reasons are of distinct classes and unlike, as in the case of two witnesses who do not recount what they themselves have seen, but bear witness to various conjectures pro and con; then they both deserve reasonable attention, since the conjectures on either side rest on different motives.