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July 08, 2011


Ex-Gay Nutter

Two things: as a simple, ignorant, common lay man, I find general absolution unsatisfying. I've never experienced it, nor have I any desire to. I like personal confession to a priest. Is it hard? At times yes, I dread it. But the medicine is good for the soul. General absolution is a cop-out. It has its place - in the trenches or on a sinking vessel, but not for everyday purposes. It is a cop-out, it requires very little from the 'penitent', and you needn't be bothered worrying about sin or any thing like that. Just turn up and get hosed down in a very passive and uninvolved fashion. Secondly, the rejection of confession is linked, imho, to the rejection of HV. People rejected the teaching so they wouldn't be bothered confessing to a priest.

Anyhow, the Church teaching on this matter is perfectly clear.

Fr Gabriel Burke

I have seen all three rites used in Ireland, I have also seen a decline in people attending all three rites.
I cannot pinpoint any one thing that I could say, that is the reason. I think in general there is a lack of a sense of sin. The objection I hear most often is why bother telling your sins to a priest I can go straight to God.
Another reason I think is the question what is a sin.People tend to look at it subjectively rather than objectively. If I don't feel I have committed a sin then I haven't. feelings has become the new barometer.

Spirit of Vatican II

The warm welcome given to general absolution by the people and their bishops in Switzerland would seem to allay these concerns. In any case, general absolution is not contributing to the abolition of private confession but could well revive it, by recreating a culture of penance and reconciliation in the Church at large. The model of confession created by the Irish monks and canonized at Trent is not the only way of enacting this sacrament.


Many do not believe in sin anymore. They believe they are entitled to do as they please. So they think they have nothing to confess. And as if that was not bad enough, I think many priests do not believe in sin either.

It is very hard to confess to a priest that does not believe that sin is real. It wears you down. I would say that many a penitent has been driven away from confession by apathetic clergy!


The main reason is because people no longer believe in (or even understand) the concept of *mortal sin*. In pre-conciliar times people were taught that one had to be in a state of grace to achieve salvation and to receive Holy Communion worthily. To die in a state of mortal sin was to assure the damnation of your soul and to receive Holy Communion in such a state was considered an objective mortal sin. That was quite an incentive in itself! Of course that all went out the window after Vatican II; most priests today are probably universalists anyway. (It's a sad but true fact that Free Presbyterian ministers generally know far more about Catholic doctrine than most Catholic priests do.) Frequent confession was much rarer in the 19th century; the promotion of frequent Communion by St Pius X had the corresponding effect of dramatically increasing the incidence of confession.

IINM, frequent confession is still quite rare in the Orthodox Church, especially in the traditionally Orthodox countries (Russia, Serbia and Greece).

Tom in U City

"the infantilization characteristic of the decadent way the sacrament was celebrated"

Joe, could you spell this out a bit more or offer a link that gets into this?

"infantilization" brings to my mind the patronizing clericalism of the decade before Vatican II.

I do not have a good frame of reference for judging whether the ways Penance was "celebrated" in the Counter-Reformation/Tridentine era was decadent. My memory of sacramental development has a millennial lacuna between public penances and Celtic monasticism.

Tom in U City

I do not think I have previously used "Counter-Reformation/Tridentine era" previously.

After posting the comment with that term, it occurred to me that the words might be more insightful than I intended.

It seems to me that many wanting to reform the reform of the liturgy, and to deconstruct Vatican II in general, often speak of strengthening "Catholic identity". I hear this as a reactionary response to Ecumenism.

Is it possible that these people are unable to identify themselves as Christians first and Catholics second? That they can only recognize Catholicism in contrast to Protestantism?

Spirit of Vatican II

I remember some Dominican saying that "masturbation is an immature act, and forcing people to confess it compounds the immaturity." Another priest said, "I am tired of people apologizing for living."


Tom in U City.
The patronising clerilcalism of pre conciliar times is still very much alive and well today. V2 did little to change that, just feminsed and sterilised the liturgy.
As for confession, I hate going, but always feel better after I have been. Those one size fits all services are a joke.


A Protestant, John Piper, said the following:

''If you are fighting sin, you are alive. Take heart. But if sin holds sway unopposed, you are dead no matter how lively this sin makes you feel.''

I don't think there is anything 'alive' about masturbation. It is a sin and it is disordered and is really a habit of a sad, lonely person. That's just how it is.

I don't see masturbation can be seen as the high water mark for a life well lived.

Jack B

In the sea-going years of my youth, it was not unusual to receive general absolution before Mass on a sandy beach or smelly pier somewhere. The alternative was nothing, so it was very important to me to do it seriously. At the time, it felt as if there was more burden on me to do it carefully there than in mumbling to a deaf monsignor in a confessional back home. Standing beside others trying to do the same added to the impact. The oddity of a sworn celibate advising me on the reality of sexuality didn't come up.

If there is to be hope of retaining confession as a sacrament, the role of general absolution - when, where, how, why - ought to be addressed with care and awareness rather than summarily dismissed as apparently has happened in Toowoomba and Switzerland.

Spirit of Vatican II

Pete, the comment about "apologizing for living" was not in reference to masturbation specifically; I do not know what the concrete referent would have been but the remark will ring a bell with all priests. As to masturbation, if your characterization of it is correct, does this not confirm the Dominican's remark -- adding confession of the act as grievously sinful only continues the sad and lonely habit.

Spirit of Vatican II

Jack B., an interesting testimony. General Absolution is part of the Church's liturgy and is an honored part, despite the merely negative way in which the current Code of Canon Law chose to present it. There is NO opposition between the different forms of the rite of Penance, and Tiggy's contempt for General Absolution unwittingly denies the reality of one of the Church's Sacraments.


Hate to be politically incorrect....but who wants to confess to a pedophile?

Greg Burke

I always found the first rite difficult. I used to love the third rite as we used it in a religious community in Australia. Then, later, in parishes we had the second rite... much less interest over time.

Of course, now most people don't go to reconciliation (or mass for that matter). But the people who do go to mass generally all go to communion, I believe they hold, when they think about it, that communion itself is the usual sacrament of forgiveness. The post communion prayers often enough say as much. The early church had the same idea about communion and forgiveness. Those whose public sins broke ecclesial communion were excluded from the assembly.

The other thing that has affected my own practice has been to read the gospels and see the importance for sinners of dining with Jesus. By eating with him they became his friends and were changed. They did not need to repent before they were welcome at his table. This generous hospitality was transforming. The hospitable table of Jesus seems Catholic to me. My own experience over time has been that the Eucharist transforms us.

Tom in U City

I suspect that the former popularity of regular and frequent confession was connected to
1. the desire for regular and frequent communion

2. preaching and catechesis which emphasized that one sinned further if one received communion in a state of sin without clearly specifying that such meant a state of mortal sin.

3. preaching and catechesis which left the impression that it was easy to commit mortal sin.

Once preaching and catechesis clarified that mortal sin only occurred under very unusual and specific conditions and that venial sin, while common, was not an impediment to communion, then people chose not to go through what seems like the needlessly humiliating and unsympathetic way most priests actually administered the Sacrament of Penance, even though it need not be a humiliating, unsympathetic, nor patronizing experience.

Spirit of Vatican II

"Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come" -- this is the disposition in which sinners come to the Eucharist today, and it seems to me a Christian, evangelical disposition.

Rory Connor

From an article in the Belfast Telegraph today "Priests Told to Reveal Information"

Priests will not be excused for withholding information about alleged child abuse even if it is given to them during the holy sacrament of confession, Justice Minster Alan Shatter has said.

In an unprecedented display of tough action against the Catholic Church in Ireland, new laws are to be brought in by autumn which could see clerics and others imprisoned for up to five years if they do not volunteer information about suspected paedophilia.

Mr Shatter has warned doctors will also be expected to abandon the age-old Hippocratic oath - the traditional code of ethical medical practice - of sworn confidentiality with patients, if it relates to sexual abuse.

The legislation will leave "no grey legal areas" around the investigation and prosecution of anybody who conceals or fails to report to gardai sexual offences against children or vulnerable adults, said the Justice Minister.

Asked if this included the likes of priests hearing confessions and doctors talking with patients, Mr Shatter said the law will apply to everyone and that the internal rules of any organisation - faith or otherwise - did not matter. He said the move was about what the state expected of every individual and organisation involved in child protection. ......

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the report heralded the end of voluntary compliance over child protection measures and that all organisations - religious, sporting, educational or medical - will be treated the same in the state's eyes.

"There will be no exceptions, no exemptions," she said.

Spirit of Vatican II

Rory, we are in for an age of witchhunts right across society. Not proven wrongdoing, but allegations, suspicions, perceptions will suffice to ruin a person's life. Priests and doctors will be forced to be snitches for this draconian scheme, in contempt for oaths of secrecy whose necessity has always been understood in these professions.


Clergy should never EVER violate the seal of confession. What happens if the gardaí ask priests for information they received in the confessional? Under these new laws they will be legally obliged to comply (although they certainly shouldn't). Priests who refuse to do so will be put in jail. Perhaps even those who merely state their intention to uphold the confessional seal will be arrested. This is a deeply worrying development for religious freedom.

It must be a nightmare to be a priest in Ireland these days. Vocations are next to nil and will decline even further as a result of this. More clergy will leave the priesthood. The Church in Ireland is a car-crash.

Spirit of Vatican II

shane, I doubt if the new laws will pass, even in a time of moral panic. But the reason they will not pass is unfortunately not any hereditary respect for the confessional seal. Rather, people will realize that the witch hunt concentrated with such force on the clergy will be extended to all ranks of society; the least indiscretion, such as kissing an 18 yo on the forehead, will expose you to ruin; and in many cases totally groundless allegations will be enough to ruin you. Moreover, the rage now directed at bishops will be extended to all non-reporters -- school authorities, hospital authorities, supermarket supervisors etc.


General absolution (and other practices designed to discourage individual confession) seems more about freeing priests from the burden of parasitical penitents than it is in actually sacramentalizing a process of conversion. Over the past 20 years, I've seen FAR too much behavior on the part of priests that makes it clear hearing confessions is at least a burden on them and often distasteful.

The confession hours in parishes in and near my city, 7 miles north of downtown Boston, are almost always busy. And this is an area were weddings, by contrast, are way down.

PS: Fr O'Leary: how often do you hear confessions?

Spirit of Vatican II

I do not have a parish responsibility obliging me to hear confessions regularly, though I have occasionally helped out.
Hearing confessions can be an edifying experience and the words of absolution undoubtedly carry great power.

You are quite right that confession has become very unpopular with priests.John Paul II knew this back in 1978 and refers to it in his remarks on Confession.

Now with the promised new legislation in Ireland making it obligatory on priests to report any information they glean in the Confessional about child abuse, I think priests will boycott the confessional altogether. Hearing confession could earn you a 5-year jail sentence.

Rory Connor

I am pleased to see that this issue is NOT turning in to a classic Liberal vs Conservative conflict with "liberals" supporting State control of the Church! However there is an element of this. There was a feminist theologian with a foreign name on RTE news this morning who said that (A) It's not very important anyway; (B) The Church has changed Canon Law in the past and (C) Doctor/patient confidentiality can be breached in certain circumstances.

I would be very interested to hear Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's views on this matter. He is a great media favourite and treats accused clergy as guilty until proven innocent. Almost his first act as Archbishop in May 2004 was to give an interview to the Irish equivalent of Maria Monk - a lady who claims to be a Magdalene Survivor but was never in a Magdalene institution. (The 19th century Maria Monk was not a nun as she claimed or even a Catholic - but oddly enough she had been in a Magdalene institution!) This lady then used the interview for propaganda purposes. It will be interesting to see if Martin can finally bring himself to defend the Church in what is a clear case of State thuggery.


"Hearing confession could earn you a 5-year jail sentence."

Indeed. As a commenter on another blog observed: "The only times this law would be invoked would be when a paedophile who has been caught for other reasons tells the police that he confessed his crime to a named priest. That would be an excellent way of getting a priest - any priest who ever hears confession - into trouble. The priest wouldn't be able to deny it even if it were false.

As you say, if willing to break the seal no priest would be able to take useful advantage of confession. No one would confess it under those conditions. How is that supposed to help?"


I have to say that, historically, when the seal of confession has been breached by civil law, priests have been brave enough to ignore the civil law, still hear confessions, and take what consequences as the civil arm dare administer. Even in some totalitarian countries, the civil arm's bark was worse than it's ultimate bite at times.

And, now I remember something from canon law that probably solves the situation in Ireland: In canon law, both the priest and the penitent have the fundamental option for anonymity - if either wants it, it must be done anonymously. I suspect that is how confessions will henceforth be heard in Ireland. Without the identity of the penitent being known to the confessor, the law is a nullity.

The real question is, do priests in Ireland believe in the seal in these circumstances (I know that it does not make it any less canonically binding, but it does offer an important clue here)?

Rory Connor

I would not be surprised if the prosecution colluded with a prisoner - keen to get a reduced sentence - in order to entrap a priest (any priest). However the following is also possible. The State creates a law that makes it a criminal offense for a "responsible person" (read bishop) to tell a subordinate not to pass on information about child abuse. In the USA, bishops have been denounced for "interfering in politics", complete with threats to have tax-exempt status removed, because they stated the Church's position on abortion or gay marriage. It would not be a huge step to criminalise a bishop for emphasising that the seal of the confessional cannot be breached. In Ireland, hysteria about child abuse has reached such a pitch that anything is possible.


Rory, I fear you may be right. Some of the rhetoric being used in the media is so dangerously ignorant and exaggerated that it's hard to know what will happen. Even (effective) proscription is a possibility, however remote.

Spirit of Vatican II

At last the Irish priests are beginning to answer back -- still ineffectually and too late, but better that than nothing. See http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2011/07/brendan-hoban-on-the-debate-over-the-seal-of-confession/



In your commentary over there, you selectively misrepresent the Cloyne report on Magee, and I wonder why you feel a need to do so. You've taken a pretty benign view of sexual contact shy of intercourse in your commentary on this site before, and it smacks of discredited fads of thought that once rationalized such behavior.

Anyway, what the report alleges is that Magee embraced his target, tightly, for a full minute, and then inquired if that "felt good". Magee kissed his target on the forehead, and told his target he loved him and dreamed about him. The target was nearly or just 18 - it's not clear that he was an adult or not. The target initially understood Magee's behavior as paternal - and this is part of a well-trod pattern of predators choosing naive targets and employing equivocal initial steps as part of the grooming process, so that, eventually, targets feel responsible for seducing their predators. And careful clerical predators will nowadays start grooming prey on the cusp of adulthood so that, by the time they "do it", they can rationalize their predation away.

This is more than just a hug. Way more. It's not intercourse, to be sure, but it has all the earmarks of classic grooming behavior by a predator.

The fact that you treat this so dismissively is disturbing. You seem more eager to rationalize behaviors of fellow clerics than really grapple with them.

Btw, I think there is hysteria, too. But, we're not addicts here, and not locked into Black-and-White thinking patterns of addicts, so that we can't deal with complexity. Had Magee's grooming of his prey been known anyone else at the time, it should have set off alarm bells, big time.

Spirit of Vatican II

Lots of interpretation there Percy. I suggest that if anyone hired detectives to investigate their own families, including themselves, they would be surprised how much suspicious behavior would come out in the wash. The diocese of Cloyne has had its dirty linen washed in public; my point would be that it is not so startlingly dirty as we had been led to believe. The Anglican diocese of Chichester has had exactly the same problems, without giving rise to the venom and rage that fill our newspapers, rage chiefly fueled by projection of fantasies of rape and sodomy onto the clumsy or grubby fumblings of a few rural clerics. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-14143721



That scene, as described in the report, is pretty damn creepy to any dispassionate observer who's familiar with grooming patterns, without a lot of added interpretation.

My gay and lesbian friends, to a person, would consider what Magee did quite creepy, and that's being charitable. They are all about helping younger folk maintain firm boundaries with older folk, especially those in positions of power and/or influence over them. We've all learned, the hard way, how insidiously charming people in "caregiving" roles (teachers, doctors, nurses, counselors, priests, nuns, et cet.) can easily use the objects of their caregiving for egoistic ends.

Spirit of Vatican II

I see no evidence that the bishop was making a pass at the young man. Here is my take: an old gay man asks a young straight man, whom he is rather enamored of, to share a comforting hug ("does it feel good" could mean -- I know a young straight man like you may not feel uncomfortable to hold an old man). There is no evidence whatever that the bishop was looking for anything more from the young man.

I agree that in today's university and church it has become a firing offense to touch any parishioner or student or younger colleague affectionately. The bishop should have buried his feelings.

Rory Connor

If you want to check out something creepy, see the following article "I'm 14, I'm gay & I want a boyfriend" in which "Fourteen year old Lee tells Peter Tatchell about first sex, boyfriends, coming out, paedophilia, and why an age of consent of 16 won't help under-age gays like him."

It begins: "Lee is 14. He's been having sex with boys since the age of eight, and with men since he was 12." Tatchell sees nothing creepy about that nor apparently does a liberal media that obsesses about Bishop Magee kissing a 17 and a half year old youth on the forehead.



It's way way creepy for an old gay man in a position of influence and power to make extended tight embrace of a 17/18 year old kid, tell him you love him, and that you dream about him, et cet. That's not merely an "affectionate" "touch".

It's called grooming. It's not necessarily a jailing offense, but it is definitely alarm bells territory about more to come.

And one who does it is a creep.

That you cannot see that, but rationalize it as merely imprudent in today's environment, is disturbing.

Rory Connor

Apart from the hysteria about Bishop Magee kissing a 17 and a half year old youth on the forehead, the following are also worthy of note - from an Irish Times article "The accused: What the report says about 18 priests":

In 2003 a resident of a nursing home wrote to the Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell, to say he had been abused as a boy in Cloyne by a priest. Msgr O’Callaghan interviewed the man, who couldn’t remember the name of the priest.

The commission says Msgr O’Callaghan should have made a greater effort to find the name of the priest or at least the parish where the abuse is alleged to have taken place.

The man has since died.

In 2002 Philip, who was in his 70s, wrote to Bishop Magee to say he had been abused by Fr Kelven when he was about 12. Philip had become a priest but left in 1970 and got married. Bishop Magee wrote to Philip but nothing more was done. The commission says no procedures were put in place.

With reference to the first, suppose this man in a nursing home had told a Garda Superintendent that he had been abused in his childhood by a priest whose name he could not remember in a parish which he could also not remember. Would the Superintendent have assigned Gardai to investigate the allegation? Do the Gardai in the Cloyne area have nothing better to do with their time?

Spirit of Vatican II

Yes, Rory, the Irish Times summary shows clearly the idiocy of the report and what appears, despite some blunders, as the common sense and Christian virtues of Msgr O'Callaghan.

Again, I say that if the bp wanted sex with the boy he would have tried another technique or chosen another boy. I read this as simply foolish affectionateness. Was it worth millions of dollars, years of inquiry, oodles of media attention, to focus so much on so slight an incident, when, as everyone knows, children are suffering all sorts of real abuse and neglect in Ireland today?



You are still mired in rationalization.

Spirit of Vatican II

No, Percy, I just do not think currently fashionable dogmas such as mandatory reporting, zero tolerance, and the entire concoction of a special pedophile-psychology is totally rational. The real rationalists are those who think they have found a simple explanation and quick fix.

If the Cloyne authorities failed to remove from contact with children abusive priests who were a real threat to children, that indeed is a serious matter. Perhaps someone could sift out material concerning this from the 400 page report.

Spirit of Vatican II

Traditionalists should greet in the proposed new legislation (overriding the seal of the confessional) an opportunity to revive an ancient Catholic practice. Since their humiliating defeat in the affair of the Venetian Interdict at the beginning of the 17th century, the Vatican have been loath to use this spiritual weapon. In the case of Ireland, they should impose a limited interdict, denying individual confession in the territory of the Republic. Since the rite of General Absolution is a sufficient replacement, this interdict would not have the downside of imperiling souls.

Fr Gabriel Burke

There is no need to place any interdict. No priest in Ireland will break the seal.This new law has had a one side effect it has united all priests in Ireland no matter what shade of theology we are. I was heartened to hear members of the ACPi come out in defence of the seal.
The Irish Supreme court have always protected the seal so I think constitutionally it would be difficult to pass. I think also the European Court of Human Rights would find against the Government. I think the law itself would be totally unenforceable.

Spirit of Vatican II

I am glad to hear that, Fr Burke.

Rory Connor

It is good to see that the latest threat from the Government has brought together Catholics of all shades of opinion (not to mention Kevin Myers!) to stand up against State thuggery. I have an article on my website about a string of apologies by female religious congregations (mainly the Sisters of Mercy) to false accusers that started in 1996 and continued almost to the present day.

On one occasion the Sisters paid £20,000 to parents who accused a nun of being responsible for the death of their daughter decades before. The parents then told the media that the nun had used a hot poker to burn holes in the baby's legs.

I was told that there had been a dispute within the Congregation with liberals favouring the issue of apologies and conservatives opposing the idea. Nowadays the two parties in the Church seem to be able to agree on this Seal of Confession issue at least. I am afraid it is far too late!


Does anyone else sense an unpleasant aura of 1930s Spain/1870s Prussia about modern Ireland today?

Gene O'Grady

We had an incident here (Oregon) where an overzealous district attorney used a hidden tape machine to get a copy of a confession of an inmate to a priest and tried to use it as evidence against the inmate. The support for the priest and criticism of the district attorney (and this is a fairly law and order place) from a wide range of religious groups and even non-religious people of good sense was heartening. It seems that the seal of confession is one of those things about Catholicism that still gets respect, perhaps a baffled respect, from the general population.

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