Confession: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t – Rajesh Singh

Confession Booth

Rajesh SinghThe question that needs to be asked, is: Will priests who have abandoned the path of God and indulged in crimes as heinous as rape and blackmail, also get away if they “confess”? – Rajesh Singh

The Church in India, recently hit by a series of sex scandals, has had a tough enough task in damage control. The last thing it would have wanted is a challenge to its age-old conventions that have become an intrinsic part of the Christian faith. And so, when the National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson demanded that the practice of “confession” should be abolished, the Church naturally took offense. And not just the Church, even prominent members of the Christian faith, including a Union Minister, strongly objected to the demand.

The NCW, in its report submitted to the Union Home Ministry on two sex scandals that surfaced in June, involving Christian clergy, recommended that “confessions” by women to males priests be brought to an end. The specific trigger for the recommendation was the revelation by a victim, who said that three priests of the Orthodox Church had sexually abused her by using her confessional statement, in which she spoke of a pre-marital relationship she had had with a fourth priest. The NCW chief said that “women cannot share their private life with priests”.

Interestingly, social activist Swami Agnivesh has backed the demand. He said: “It is absurd that a practice meant to absolve people of their sins is used to push them deeper and deeper into degradation.” But he added that the NCW must be consistent in other similar matters involving religious leaders of other faiths. He stated, “Given the political clout of the Church in Kerala, it is imperative that this task (of probing the sex scandals) be entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation.”

Expectedly, the Catholic Church has condemned the NCW demand. President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), Cardinal Oswald Gracias, said he was “shocked” by the recommendation, and added that the demand “betrays a total lack of understanding of nature, meaning, sanctity and importance of this sacrament for our people….”

Also expectedly, a debate has ensued over whether the “confession of sins” by the faithful to a priest—in secret—to receive absolution, is an inalienable part of the Christian faith, or is the practice an invention of the Church. It is a matter of record that confessing one’s sins is a mandate from Jesus Christ. Based on the writing of Early Fathers, it can be said that the Church recognized the authority and power of apostolic successors to absolve the sinful of his or her sins in case a confession is made. But those confessions were of a public nature. However, “private confession” is a relatively new concept, and it became universally known and practiced from the seventh century onwards. And given the privacy involved, it always had the potential to be misused.

Also, the manner in which these “confessions’ evolved—from public to private, and assuming the form of a sacrament—is certainly the Church’s doing. The Catholic Church, as well as a few other orders, recognize confession as one of the seven sacraments—the six others being Baptism, Holy Communion (Eucharist), Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick. Confession is categorized as Penance and Reconciliation (Confession). Many Protestant denominations believe in two sacraments—Eucharist and Baptism, whereas the Lutheran Church, while having these two, also includes Confession (and Absolution) as its third sacrament. But there are also some, though very few in number, who simply don’t believe in sacraments as essential to the faith, but consider them as “reminders” of good conduct and “commendable practices”.

As the word “sacrament” indicates, it denotes the meaning of “sacred”, having derived from sacramentum, which in turn comes from the Latin sacro (meaning hallow) and sacer (holy). Perhaps foreseeing that someday, somebody from the faith could challenge the sacraments as not given by Christ, Canon One in the documents codified in the Council of Trent (1545-1563), stated: “If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or that they are more, or less, than seven to wit … or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.” With this unambiguous warning delivered, there wasn’t really a chance that any Christian faithful, of the Orthodox or the Catholic Churches, would dare to question even private confessions as un-Christ-like.

The crux of the argument in favor of continuing with the practice of private confessions is that such a confession of serious sins is essential for a person once he or she has been baptized. In the present context, the question that needs to be asked, is: Will priests who have abandoned the path of God and indulged in crimes as heinous as rape and blackmail, also get away if they “confess”? Or are they above “confession”? As we have seen so far, not one among those who stand accused has admitted to the crime. Thankfully, the law of the land could not be less bothered whether they confessed in the sacramental sense or not; the law of the land will take its own legal course. – PGurus, 1 August 2018

» Rajesh Singh is a Delhi-based senior political commentator and public affairs analyst.

Syrian Orthodox Priests

Confessional Details


2 Responses

  1. Philip Wilson the Archbishop of Adelaide

    Australian archbishop accused of abuse cover-up resigns – Philip Pullella – Reuters – Vatican City – 30 July 2018

    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson, the most senior cleric found guilty of concealing child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, has resigned, the Vatican said on Monday.

    Wilson, 67, the archbishop of Adelaide, was convicted in May of failing to disclose to police abuse by a priest, Father James Fletcher, after being told about it in 1976 by two victims, one of them an altar boy who told him inside the confessional..

    His resignation, which he had earlier refused to submit, comes as a new wave of sexual abuse allegations have hit the highest echelons of the Church around the world, further tarnishing its image and creating the greatest crisis of Francis’ pontificate, now in its sixth year.

    It came two days after the Vatican announced that the pope had stripped Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC, of his rank as cardinal and ordered him to live in seclusion. McCarrick has been accused of sexual abuse of minors and adult seminarians decades ago.

    Francis is also fighting an image crisis in Chile, where a growing abuse scandal has enveloped the Church since all 34 of the country’s bishops offered to resign.

    Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who this month urged the pope to sack Wilson, said he welcomed the decision to quit, which “belatedly recognises the many calls, including my own, for him to resign”.

    “There is no more important responsibility for community and Church leaders than the protection of children,” he said in a statement.

    Wilson, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted in May of covering up abuse by Fletcher in the 1970s. Fletcher was found guilty in 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse and died in jail in 2006 after a stroke.

    Wilson, who is free on bail, is to face court again on Aug. 11, for a ruling on whether he will be imprisoned or allowed to serve his one-year sentence in home detention.

    Wilson had earlier refused to resign, saying he would wait until his appeals process for the conviction was finished.

    He said in a statement he hoped his decision would be a “catalyst to heal pain and distress” in the Archdiocese of Adelaide.

    “I must end this and therefore have decided that my resignation is the only appropriate step to take in the circumstances,” Wilson said.


  2. Corruption in the Indian Church

    To answer the question posed by the article’s author, yes, you can be sure that the priests have confessed, done some Hail Marys as penance, and are back on the job. They could not say Mass or accept the Blessed Sacrament (consecrated bread and wine) if they had not confessed.

    However they have not publicly admitted their guilt and Catholic and Orthodox media are blaming the victim for the scandal.

    The confessional has always been used by corrupt priests to make sexual liaisons within their congregations. Little boys are asked in detail if they masterbate—which is a sin in Christianity—and when they admit that they do, the priest consoles them by admitting that he does too and, of course, suggests that they now can now happily sin together.

    It is because Christianity promised converts the automatic forgiveness of sin, that the Church easily attracted all the most dubious rabble of the Roman Empire into its ranks in its early years.

    It seems this is still true.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: