Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Pressure on the seal of confession I imagine this confession start somewhere in Queensland: "Father forgive me for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession. I'm a serial sexual abuser of children." The abuser may well have chosen to confess sins in number, but if he did not confess he was a serial abuser, he has not confessed in "kind." He has deluded himself: not unlike a promiscuous and scrupulous Catholic who might go to confession after each sexual encounter. His understanding of the sacrament, however colored by the denial of a sex addict, is infantile. For that reason alone, he has no business being a priest. On the mercy front, I would also wonder about his state of grace, since he has deluded himself, if not his confessors, into thinking his sin consists solely of isolated acts of abuse. The question I raise is this: With thirty priests giving 1500-some "magical" absolutions over 22 years, I might question the confessors (at least one of them?) for not pointing out to their friend that his persistence in grave sin was a separate concern apart from particular acts of sex abuse. The bishop of Rockhampton himself said that the sacrament offers the confessor and penitent an opportunity to discern going to the authorities or making some appropriate act of satisfaction. 1500 opportunities lost? With the sacrament of penance being handled in such a matter, it might be pointed out there's not much seal to break in these cases. But I do think that any such law passed to suspend penitent anonymity is doomed to fail. Nearly all priests I know value the sacrament so much they would be willing to go to jail for it. I would support them in resisting such an unjust law. But I would also urge them to adopt better practices. We don't need absolute lists of sins with particular penances, but with such silly magical notions trotting about, it couldn't help to suggest that perhaps serial sex abusers need to confess the whole sin, and that confessors should consider withholding absolution in cases in which the sorrow for sin has been colored by addictive denial. And lastly, perhaps this might encourage us to revisit the traditional vs the innovative order of the sacrament of penance. More on that later.