The Sacrament of Penance in Need of 'Reform'?

Confession in need of reform?
Thanks to Protect the Pope for alerting us to the astonishing comments by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor made in a letter to author John Cornwell. Reported by The Tablet...

‘Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor believes that Confession is in need of significant reform and should be discussed at a special synod on the sacraments.

The Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster has called for “proper reform to the sacrament” and says Confession has not received “serious reflection by any authoritative people within the Church” despite declining numbers of Catholics making use of the sacrament.'
 The remarks come in a private letter to the Cambridge academic and author John Cornwell, who is campaigning for a ban on childhood Confession and who sent the cardinal a new book he has written on the sacrament.
Mr Cornwell, who says he was the victim as a boy of sexual solicitation by a confessor, has written an open letter to Pope Francis calling for a ban.
 A spokeswoman for the cardinal stressed that he was not endorsing an end to childhood Confession, had not read Mr Cornwell’s book when he replied to the author, and in no way associated himself with the letter to the Pope.

The spokeswoman told The Tablet the issue should be discussed by bishops from around the world. “The cardinal believes that Confession could be considered as a topic for an Episcopal Synod on Sacramental Life. [He] thinks there needs to be much serious reflection in the Church as to why people are not going to Confession and what would encourage them to return to the Sacrament.”

Right. Well, we can all agree that the Church might reflect seriously, at the Synod on Sacramental Life, on the urgent need to promote the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession, that enables we Catholics to 'reform' our lives by this glorious Sacrament of healing and forgiveness as the Lord Jesus, by His free gift, crowns those who are contrite and make a firm purpose of amendment, with mercy and reconciliation with God and strength in the spiritual warfare in which we Catholics are all engaged.

However, quite what 'proper reform of the Sacrament' in this age, in which prelates of the Church promote a form of light, or even counterfeit Catholicism, would look like is the stuff of nightmares. May God grace those in authority in Holy Mother Church to meditate and reflect seriously on this great gift from Christ to His Church, but also to protect this Sacrament from any human interference that may harm it under the guise of 'reform'. As a Catholic Cardinal, there was no higher authority in the United Kingdom during his time at Westminster.

As Deacon Nick has suggested, if the guidance of Holy Tradition, as well as Blessed Pope John Paul II on promoting this Sacrament of mercy and grace was generally unheeded by this prelate during his reign at Westminster, by a retired prelate who is said to be privileged enough to have the ear of His Holiness Pope Francis, then perhaps he himself might reflect seriously on who may take some share of the blame if the Church continues to see 'declining numbers of Catholics making use of the sacrament.'

Comments

Ttony said…
Is it just coincidence that when the Pope says something clear and absolutely completely in line with what the Church has always said (such as about Confession), up pops a Cardinal (however emeritus) to cloud the waters?
Savonarola said…
There seem to be two alternatives: (1) carry on as at present with most Catholics staying away from confession, as they have done for decades despite all the promotion and exhortations; (2) consider how the sacrament can be re-presented in ways that will draw them back - reform if you will, as the Cardinal proposed. If we are serious about this and think it important, surely (2) is really the only possibility.
Jacobi said…
Yes,Confession must be re-assessed, particularly in the light of the post-Vatican II practise of near universal reception of Holy Communion at every Mass.

St Pius X's exhortation on frequent reception was not a permission to receive - regardless.

On the contrary, conditions for reception remain. One must be in a State of Grace, free from Mortal Sin, otherwise pleasing to God, and have observed the current stipulated fast. Reception out of routine, or vain glory, or for seeking human respect is forbidden.

Now that would appear to disqualify an awful lot of people at your average Sunday Mass such as casual occasional attendees at Sunday Mass, contraceptors, abortionists, co-habitors, those with anger in their hearts, the glutinous, the avaricious, the envious and so on, not to mention those who don't really believe in the Real Presence!.

The answer is regular individual Confession, as specified by the Church, for all who have reached the age of reason. The Confessionals in our churches should be crowded before Mass and priests should make this clear from the pulpits, or whatever they use, in frequent sermons, dealing specifically with this subject.

Maybe then the reception rate will fall back somewhat, perhaps to the circa 30 – 40% it used to be, before the concept of sin was allowed to fade in the post-Vatican II Catholic mind.
Lynda said…
The Caedinal is being mischievous. He knows the authority is fulsome and clear; what's needed is the bishops and priests to carry out their solemn duty to teach, govern and sanctify in respect of the necessity of confessing ones sins, that one may not receive in a state of mortal sin and that one is damned without absolution of mortal sin.
viterbo said…
if they had kept the confessional in the church with confession before mass (more than once a week), there is no way there could be impropriety, no need to feel ogled at by the priest, and no fear of having to bother looking away from the priests expression or care about his hrumphs. turning confession into psychophession is what killed the golden egg laying goose. what confession needs is restoration. I know some priests in some places felt that before VII people would take too long - so why didn't they just tell people in homilies to be less indulgent?
Nicolas Bellord said…
Is not confession meeting a priest who is standing in for Christ and administering HIS mercy and absolution? I like to kneel and to be anonymous. I do not want to be invited to sit as if I was there for a chat. The other day I came out of confession wondering whether in all the verbiage he had actually remembered to pronounce the words of absolution. Further I think they need to toughen up on penances!
Nicolas Bellord said…
Jacobi: I like honey on my toast at breakfast; I usually get it on my fingers and end up glutinous. Do I need to confess it or do I wait until the point when it becomes gluttonous?
Marie Bessford said…
The practice and discipline of confession / penance during the history of the church has not been static. Individual confession is a predominately monastic tradition which was introduced to the wider church by irish missionaries around the Trent era.

Viterbo - there were many abuses by clergy during confession before Vatican 2. Just read the Cloyne / Murphy reports to see the number of priests who admit making sexual advances to minors during confession.
Jacobi said…
@ Nicolas

Depends. If you feel you are glutinous and have to go to Confession just because you have honey on your fingers at breakfast, you are in a bad way. Case of extreme scruples I would think, and not much hope for you. Sad really, that’s not what it’s about, you know!

Mark you, if you are say, 5ft 5 ins, and weigh 35 stns, there is a reasonable chance you might, all things being equal, possibly, just possibly, be glutinous.
Note how conditional, and non-judgemental I have been!!

In that case you might well mention this through the grill along with all your other sins, next time.

Oh dear is that me being judgemental again? Must make a note for my next Confession.


ps : just had a thought. What about trying the old “fast from midnight”, of my youth. That should solve the problem, and if I remember correctly, you really do then enjoy your breakfast!
jaykay said…
Marie Bessford: I think your history is a bit mixed up, to put it mildly. The Irish Church was in no position to be sending missionaries anywhere "around the Trent era". The traffic was rather in the other direction, for very obvious historical reasons. Also, individual confession is actually a very ancient practice.

The Cloyne and Murphy Reports in fact reveal only about 3 cases each of actual abuse in the confessional - hardly the "many abuses" you allege. And might I add that of course those Reports refer only to Ireland, a small proportion of the universal Church.
Savonarola said…
Telling people they should make a confession, preaching about mortal sin and being damned if not absolved, setting severe penances - how is any of this going to make a difference now? The people of the Church have voted with their feet in rejecting confession as usually presented to them. We will have to do a lot better if we want to bring them back - and frankly making jokes about what sin may be makes it sound as if we are not really serious. As MB pointed out, the practice of confession has changed a lot over time - why should it not change again? If we are honest and open about things, can we not trust in God to help us forward?
Celia said…
The Church does indeed need to consider why people aren't going to Confession and what would encourage them to return'.
They aren't going because they see no need to. They don't consider themselves particularly sinful and if they do feel a little guilty about something, well a quick word with God sorts it. (This sort of comment is commonplace in my parish). Really, of course, in this as in many other instances, a lot of people calling themselves Catholic have in fact become protestant- the fruits of ecumenism, I suppose.
It doesn't help when priests like my parish priest hold 'penitential rites' in Advent and Lent and tell people they can be absolved from their sins without individual confession and of course without any need for boring old penance, if they come up for a blessing during the service.
How to reverse this? Well, good catechesis by faithful priests. It's not impossible, it'll just take a few generations to undo the damage of the last 40+ years.
Nicolas Bellord said…
Jacobi: My apologies for being facetious - glutinous just made me laugh - and I hope it did not detract from your serious comment on confession which I thought was excellent!

I have the impression that in Ambrosden Avenue they think we are all going to heaven regardless, which is nice of them but I fear it is not to be relied upon.
The Bones said…
Sav

With respect, I'm not sure many Bishops have taught about Hell, damnation, etc since the 70s, or some time around then.

So, if people 'voted with their feet', you have to ask why.
Savonarola said…
I fear that people stopped believed in the reality of hell and damnation a long time ago - at least as these were traditionally presented, so I can't see that repeating the old ideas now is going to make any difference. If we are not going to rethink our approach to confession, we can only expect to see people continue to stay away.
The Bones said…
Can you not see the possible link between the Bishops not teaching and people walking away?
Nicolas Bellord said…
Savonorola: You write: "Telling people they should make a confession, preaching about mortal sin and being damned if not absolved, setting severe penances - how is any of this going to make a difference now?"

Do you not believe that if you commit a mortal and do not repent you will go to hell?
Savonarola said…
Bones, it depends what sort of teaching is given. People walked away because they stopped believing in the traditional ideas of damnation and devils pitching souls into everlasting hellfire - for mortal sins like missing mass on Sunday. The trouble is that we have not come up with any more developed understanding of sin and damnation that takes their reality seriously, but in terms that people can relate to. So talk of sin and damnation simply makes them think of the old picture that everybody has given up. This is why saying we need more catechesis, more exhortations, more encouragement to confess is pointless. The question is what sort of catechesis, what sort of understanding will make people respond today.
Jacobi said…
@ Sav

The sad thing is that many, probably a majority, have stopped believing in hell and damnation. In fact they have probably stopped believing in sin, (which, incidentally, makes Christ nothing but a deluded, misguided, albeit harmless, religious nutter).

This means they are in a state of heresy, which if obstinately held, means excommunication, i.e., they are not Catholics. (CCC and CE)

In my humble opinion, it is not their fault. The fault lies with bishops, priests and lay officials such as RE teachers who over the past 50 years have not taught the Catholic Faith. When, for instance, did you last hear a priest even mention the word “Confession” from a pulpit.

Now, we will all sooner or later have to stand before Christ and give an account, including, I understand, bishops, priests, etc.

So the answer is to start teaching Catholicism again to the, as Benedict XVI has predicted, much smaller remaining Church!
Nicolas Bellord said…
Savonorola: So what is this " developed understanding of sin and damnation that takes their reality seriously, but in terms that people can relate to"?

Surely people have given up on the old ideas sin and hell because they are:

a. No longer taught

b. Contradicted by progressive clerics.
Savonarola said…
I don't think people have stopped believing in sin and damnation, but the way they understand these things may not be the same as it used to be in previous ages. Frankly I do not know how understanding needs to develop, though one can look to Church documents and teaching for help with this. All I am saying is that the old style preaching (you will go to hell if you commit mortal sin etc.) did not stop people giving up the practice of confession, so there can be no reason to believe that it would encourage them back now. As they say, it looks as if "thinking outside the box" is what is now needed.
Marie Bessford said…
jeykey - You mis-represent the facts. There are, as I say, many examples of abuse (including inappropriate touch and grooming, alongside sexual acts) committed within the confessional or in other places under the guise of confession. The Cloyne Report alone has more than the three you suggest. Such patterns have also been replicated in studies of other local church areas and institutions throughout the world.
Savonarola said…
Mr. Bellord, you asked me, Do you not believe that if you commit a mortal sin and do not repent you will go to hell? You will need to define your terms. I recall both previous Popes (Benedict and John Paul) at different times saying that heaven is not to be thought of as a place, a physical location, nor is hell. So if hell is not a place, what is it and how can we understand going to hell?
Most people I would imagine think that hell is the place with devils and eternal fire which God may condemn you to as punishment for your sins. Is this what you believe it to be, and if not what do you mean? If you define it precisely, then I will be able to answer your question.
It seems clear that most people no longer believe in the reality of the traditional picture, but have not received through the Church any more sophisticated idea of sin and damnation, so if we expect them to come back to confession we will need a new approach. This is what the Cardinal was suggesting.
The Bones said…
Sav

Bishops haven't taught about Hell, mortal sin and damnation for ages.

People no longer go to Confession.

Quite possibly people no longer go to Confession because they hear nothing of the need for it from Bishops, as the chief Sacrament through which Christ's mercy SAVES souls.

Whether people believe in Hell or not is not the point. They need to be told the truths about Heaven, Hell, salvation and damnation by the Bishops appointed by Christ to teach.

What part of this is so hard to understand?

Savonarola said…
Bones, you are just doing it again. People knew full well what the truths about sin and salvation as taught by the Church over the centuries were. They stopped believing in them since probably about the beginning of the 20th century or earlier, not because they no longer believed there was such a thing as sin but because of the way the truths were presented. We still not do have a cogent re-presentation of these truths, so talk about damnation only conjures up the old picture of demons and pits of eternal hellfire which nobody takes seriously any more. Let us hear how you will present these truths in a way that will convince. Just telling people what they should believe and what they should do is not working!
Nicolas Bellord said…
Savonorola: You said 'All I am saying is that the old style preaching (you will go to hell if you commit mortal sin etc.) did not stop people giving up the practice of confession, so there can be no reason to believe that it would encourage them back now. As they say, it looks as if "thinking outside the box" is what is now needed.'

When I was young I heard such preaching and it persuaded me of the necessity of frequent confession. That was pre VII. Unfortunately that kind of preaching stopped and doubt was cast on whether certain sins were sins and indeed on the whole idea of mortal sin. There then came the idea of communal absolution when you did not have to confess your sins individually. Now going to confession is an embarrassing business confessing one's sordid failures so why bother when you are not sure that you have sinned or that grave sins actually matter? Rather wait until there is a general absolution and you are saved the embarrassment. That is what happened in my experience.

You are then left in a limbo of uncertainty, doubt and guilt. You do not get the grace of confession and the real joy you can experience when you have unloaded yourself and are absolved to make a fresh start.
The Bones said…
The Bishops stopped teaching it and now they say, 'why does nobody come?'

Start teaching it and the people might come.

What is so difficult for you to understand?

Confession needs no reform. Bishops need only state the truth. If people don't like it, at least they can say, 'We tried'.
viterbo said…
I would go to confession more frequently if i knew what was gonna happen next, but when the priest changes or you are stuck in a new parish with that dreaded psychofusion room - it's just too much. if i go on a confession strike I guess it will be like the mortal sin of envy, taking poison and expecting your enemy to croak.

Savon'; serious - internet confession - over the phone confession (I'm sure the Greeks do this); remote - viewing confession? how many priests can do 'out of body'? but then we would have people suing the diocese for auric impropriety.

Skype-confession it is.
Nicolas Bellord said…
Come off it Savonorola; you know perfectly well that no-one can define the exact nature of heaven and/or hell. We have what Jesus Christ has told us in the New Testament and what there is in the Apocalypse. Whether all this is an accurate description or metaphorical we cannot know and it is idle to speculate. We also have visions of Hell given to various saints including the children at Fatima. I would guess that these things are beyond our limited imaginations anyway. All one can be certain of is that Heaven will be extremely pleasant and Hell extremely unpleasant. They may just be states but the fact that on the Last Day we get our physical bodies back in a glorified form suggests that Heaven may have some resemblance to our Earth.

But where does this get us? Do you accept that eventually we will all end up in or other of these states?
Savonarola said…
Bones, why is it so difficult for you to understand that this is not about teaching or not teaching? It is the sort of teaching that is given that matters, and you have not said what sort of teaching you think would work, nor have any of the others who have responded. Simply telling people you should go to confession is not working. When it is said it is is ignored, for the reasons I've already suggested. If you cannot understand this, there is no more I can say.
jaykay said…
Marie Bessford: No, I'm not misrepresenting the facts... as you presented them. You mentioned nothing about "under the guise of confession" in your first post anyway. The claim you make is unsubstantiated. The evidence you cite viz. the Cloyne and Murphy reports, does not in fact back it up. The Cloyne Report deals with 19 specific clerics, and in only three of those cases was abuse in the confessional - or even "under the guise of confession - involved. And they do not, except in the case of one unsubstantiated one ("Paul") refer to the period before Vatican 2.

I think it is extremely doubtful that abuse in confession was ever a large part of the whole deplorable abuse scenario worldwide.
jaykay said…
Marie Bessford: No, I'm not misrepresenting the facts... as you presented them. You mentioned nothing about "under the guise of confession" in your first post anyway. The claim you make is unsubstantiated. The evidence you cite viz. the Cloyne and Murphy reports, does not in fact back it up. The Cloyne Report deals with 19 specific clerics, and in only three of those cases was abuse in the confessional - or even "under the guise of confession - involved. And they do not, except in the case of one unsubstantiated one ("Paul") refer to the period before Vatican 2.

I think it is extremely doubtful that abuse in confession was ever a large part of the whole deplorable abuse scenario worldwide.