Friday, April 5, 2013

The Crisis of the Confessional

As we move onto the Sacrament of Confession over at my weekly column at Catholic Lane, we start off by outlining the problem that faces the Church today when it comes to the sacrament of confession.

Expect at least 4 to 5 columns on this subject over the next month or two.


  1. [correcting a few typos, sorry]

    I've noticed this new push to get people to confession. On the one hand, of course, this is very good.

    But everyone I've read on this is ignoring why this new push won't work.

    Confession -- telling a priest your deepest secrets -- requires that the laity trust their priests.

    Priests seem to be assuming that the laity trust them.

    Even after the sexual abuse crisis and the shockingly poor response of the bishops.

    When I go to confession, I go to confess my sins and receive absolution. I'm not there for a therapy session.

    But last time I went, not only did I get a therapy session, but was asked very personal questions about my sex life.

    These questions stopped as soon as I told the priest that I was ONLY interested in women.

    A subsequent google search showed me that there have been many people who have been sexually propositioned in the confessional.

    One man told how his priest had blackmailed him. (He was known to the priest, and had confessed adultery. Subsequently, the priest blackmailed him.)

    Blackmail isn't unknown in the seminaries, either. What the young seminarian confesses can be held against him for years. This is one of the reasons so many priests were silent during the sexual abuse. The higher-ups "know things about you." Read about it in Goodbye Good Men, a book about what truly goes on the seminaries. (Lots of gay sex. With about a 50 percent chance that you are telling your secret sins to an active homosexual.)

    Confession, of course, is a beautiful sacrament. But holding to the idea that people are going to run back to tell priests their sins, and trust priests with this information, is to hide your mind from what is really out there in the laity.

    I had a very bad experience myself during my last confession, and I know I'm not the only one.

  2. Hello Joe,

    I went ahead and deleted your first one since the second one was updating some typos.

    First, allow me to offer my sincerest prayers for you having gone through such a thing.

    I would agree with you that interior reform of priests needs to happen. Yet in the meantime, let's not put off getting more people to the confessional amongst those priests who are solid good priests. Gotta make reform one person at a time.

    If you feel you were propositioned or anything of the sort, go to the bishop immediately. If need be go higher up the chain. Things will be kept confidential and discreet. I can only encourage you to do that.

  3. Kevin,

    Thank you for your prayer.

    My situation was one of discomfort with the sexual questions that were being asked of me. I was disturbed by the vibe I was receiving and can't complain of anything objective and definite in the priest's behavior - except for the fact that the confession was turning into a therapy session on the topic of sex with a man whom I suspected was gay. (And the focus of my confession was NOT on sexual sins, which made it even more odd.)

    But it was certainly possible that these questions were moving toward a sexual proposition.

    Look, I love the traditional mass. I grew up with the new mass and was born long after the changes of the Second Vatican Council, so it's not about nostalgia for me. The old mass is beautiful, and the new mass is hip and folksy and with lots of noise.

    But after saying that, sometimes your opinions change when reality hits you on the head.

    I was a catechist at a parish years ago. I always had some uneasy feelings about the pastor there, but I thought it was uncharitable to be judging him. Well, it turned out that this priest was one of the pedophiles.

    Like I said, when you're hit by reality, you tend to lose that naive, we-should-trust-priests feeling that Catholics have.

    For example, many traditionalists want to ban communion in the hand. Let me say that I understand all the reasons for this. But there is a practical reason why it shouldn't be banned.

    One reason I don't receive communion every week is this: I'm uncomfortable with the priest, who I suspect is gay, putting his fingers in my mouth. It's nothing against gay people per se, but receiving in this manner is an intimate act that requires the recipient to trust the man who is doing this. There is an ick factor that, I'm sorry, I often can't overcome. So sometimes I go to the New Mass to receive from a female extraordinary minister, just because she's probably a normal person.

    Consider the diocese of Miami. Under Bishop Favela, a report prepared by the laity was sent to the Vatican about the active sex lives of the priests there. It was estimated that 80% of the priests were gay. They had photos. Photos of priests on Sunday in the park, sitting in cars, and having gay pick-up sex. Do you want one of these men putting his hand in your mouth?

    I don't even ask for holy priests. I ask for normal ones.

    Another issue: celibacy. Again, the theory is great.

    But did you ever notice how many priests are unusually short? Did these men REALLY give up women? Or were they NEVER able to get a date? Have these very short men really made a sacrifice?

    Again, it's a question of reality versus theory. In theory, celibacy is great. But in reality, many of these men haven't given up women. Many of them are gay, and many of the others were never going to be very successful with women anyway. So, no sacrifice.

    In conclusion, the problem is one of trust. Once priests lose the trust of the laity, it isn't coming back.

    You write that the good priests should be identified, but what about Macial Maciel? He certainly seemed holy. And what about the families who invited priests into their homes, trusted them, and then had their sons abused?

    Reform should take these practical concerns into account. That's all I'm saying.

    Here are a few reforms:

    full screens in the confessional, so you can't see through them at all

    a policy of removing active homosexuals from ministry (why hasn't this been done in Miami? Because about 60% of the parishes would have to close. Well, maybe this needs to be done.)


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