Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Necessity of Confession and Its Seal

Any Catholic reading the report of Australia’s Royal Commission of Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse must be appalled by the multiple instances of child abuse in ecclesial institutions perpetrated by priests, religious, and laity, women as well as men. That similar abuses occurred in other churches and religions in no way excuses the Catholic Church from culpability for so long ignoring or even covering up such abuses. The offense is especially grave for those pledged by vows to testify to Christ’s transcendence of earthly fulfillment and to serve Him in the least of His brethren; for Catholics place a greater trust in them. One easily understands the cry for justice on behalf of the victims, most of whom were entrusted to the Church’s care precisely because their relations with their families were strained or non-existent. The most vulnerable were abused when most in need of help. The Royal Commission rightly insisted on institutional changes to prevent such abuse from continuing in the future. Most of its recommendations the Australian bishops accepted. Other recommendations they referred to Rome, but on one point unanimously they refused to change the Church’s practice: the seal of confession. Countless priests have announced that they will not obey any law requiring a breaking of the seal. To understand their adamant determination, some reflections on the role of confession and its seal can be helpful. For abolishing the seal would acerbate, rather than alleviate, the problem. continued

Thursday, 19 July 2018

The Confessional. Part 116.

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


2. Of the great usefulness of general confession, popes, saintly bishops, founders of orders, and the great doctors of the Church all speak in most unmistakable terms. The learned Benedict XIV, in his instructions on the preparation of the faithful for a fruitful celebration of the Jubilee, directs priests who give the missions to impress on the people again and again the great profit of general confession. They are to urge them to penance, and to instruct them how to receive the Sacrament validly and profitably. they are to proclaim that it is absolutely necessary to repeat former bad confessions, and they should take all possible pains to excite to a general confession even those who do not feel any necessitv for repeating their sins again. "For if it is not necessary to mention again our former sins, we regard such repetition as very profitable on account of the confusion connected with such avowal, which is an important part of penance, as our predecessor, Benedict XI, teaches in this Decretal Inter Cunctas" He also appeals to St. Charles Borromeo, who in his Monita ad Confessarios proclaims the usefulness of general confession and recommends it. "Confessors," says the saint, "ought, with due regard to persons, times, and places, urge their penitents to make a general confession, that thus by a thorough examination of their lives they may turn to God with greater peace of mind and repair all faults which have been committed in former confessions." As another witness for the usefulness of this practice, Benedict XIV adduces St. Francis of Sales who, in many places in his works, insists strongly on the practice. Thus he writes to a widow concerning her father: The counsels which I give him I reduce to two points: the first one is that he should institute a careful examination of his whole life with a view to making a general confession and performing a corresponding penance, — this is a means which no sensible man will despise in presence of death; the other is that he should continually endeavor to wean his mind from the vanities of the world. Benedict then refers to the rules which St. Vincent de Paul gave to his mission-priests, in which he exhorts them to encourage general confessions. In the life of the holy founder it is recorded what great fruits were reaped from the general confessions which were made during the missions held by those priests.

The advantages of general confession are thus briefly enumerated by St. Ignatius in his Book of the Exercises: (1) We gain greater fruit and merit on account of the deeper contrition with which we approach the Sacrament; (2) we are better able to realize the malice of sins committed; (3) we are in better dispositions for receiving holy communion, and we are more disposed to shun sin. Moreover, the Directorium of the Exercises, a work composed by a member of the Society of Jesus and edited by the General Claudius Aquaviva, adds the following observation : If the general confession offered no other advantage, the following fact would sufficiently recommend it; experience proves that men for the most part go to confession either without proper examination, or without the required contrition, or with but a weak purpose of amendment; the general confession comes in most opportunely to give peace of mind, to remove scruples, which sooner or later, or at least at the hour of death, come to torture the soul and expose it to the danger of losing eternal salvation.

Segneri also very earnestly recommends general confession. It is a very safe and useful plan to examine one's life thoroughly at least once, and to set it right by a general confession, and to keep up the practice at fixed intervals of a year, or even oftener, of making a general confession beginning from the last. The advantage of this practice is that, seeing all our faults and sins at a glance, we are filled with greater confusion and sorrow and are impelled to be more humble; besides the fear of God's justice will grow in us when we see our sins, past and present, hanging like a great mountain over us, so that we are compelled to cry out with Esdras — "Our sins are grown up even unto heaven." (Esdr. ix. 6.) And who does not see how difficult it is without such a confession to obtain that most priceless of blessings, peace of mind, at least if the frequent relapses into sin are due to a want of preparation? Oh, how many confessions are thought to be valid and are not so in reality!

Finally, the words of St. Alphonsus deserve a place here: "I advise every one who has not yet done so to confess all the sins which he has ever committed in his life, and I advise not only those who have made sacrilegious confessions by concealing mortal sins, or whose confessions have been invalid through want of previous examination of conscience or of true contrition, but those also who are anxious to begin a new life; for this purpose a general confession is very useful."