Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Seal of the Confessional - Part 3

In this morning's Australian:
"It's not yet public, but we have heard from at least one priest who confessed to his confessor, and in that way reconciled his offending behaviour, which continued with his belief in God," Justice McClellan said.

Confession is not a rubber-stamp exercise. For absolution to be effective, the penitent has to have a firm purpose of amendment.

The confessor (the one who hears the confession) can urge counselling, police involvement, and other interventions for the person who has offended. The confessor can also withhold absolution from the person if he thinks there is no firm purpose of amendment, or until they have handed themselves over to the police or relevant authority.

It's THIS end of things that needs closer examination - not breaking the seal under force of law, but making sure that all confessors (those who hear confession) know what to do, in the event that someone confesses paedophiliac acts or any other crimes that can be dealt with by police. 

On a more serious note: You can't reconcile ongoing offending with belief in God. Eventually one of the two wins, in every human heart. It may be a long, slow process, but each day you are either moving closer to God, or further away from Him. It has nothing to do with how you feel, or what you think, or where you think you are. It's an objective spiritual reality.

So when the offending becomes more important and more real to you than your relationship with God, the prayers ease off, and the Mass-going eases off, and eventually both stop. You may be going through the motions - going to Mass, going to Confession, saying Mass if you're a priest - but your actual relationship with God has ended long before.

This is when you become shy around God, or embarrassed by things of religion, or you find yourself trying to convince others that you're still serious about the whole thing, even though you're not. You are in the situation described by C S Lewis as the man in financial difficulty who hates the very sight of a passbook.

People have spent their entire lives trying to reconcile their offending with belief in God. This is why there is such a vocal and enthusiastic group of nominal Catholics in Western countries who want every single element of Catholic teaching changed to suit their particular brand of offending.

Sin is sin. People sin. The difference is that a sinner realises it, goes to Confession, and takes steps in his or her life to change the things that are leading them to sin all the time. It's hit and miss, and it may not always work, and it may take a long time, but they are dedicated to the pursuit of holiness. They will keep trying, no matter what. They will try different strategies.

But someone who has decided that God is the problem - that 'the Church' is the problem - will try to change the Church to suit themselves. They solve the problem of their own offending by simply editing and editing until their offending is no longer wrong, but inevitable. It's just part of who they are. From there it turns into a human right, about which they can become very angry and demand justice.

This is why St John Paul II was so right to hit the 'fundamental option' on the head in Veritatis Splendor (section III). There isn't some 'good person' hiding inside everyone, who just occasionally makes bad choices. Instead, we are the consequence of our actions. The older I get, the more I realise the truth of the following:

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words; Be careful of your words for your words become your deeds; Be careful of your deeds, for your deeds become your habits; Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character;Be careful of your character for your character becomes your destiny.

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