The Catholic Church in Resistance

The tradition is represented as noble, the confiding link between confessor and penitent, a bridge never to be broken, even under pain of death.  Taken that way, the confessional is brandished as the Catholic Church’s great weapon against the wiles and predations of secular power.  The State shall have no say where the priest’s confidence is concerned, for all may go to him to seek amends.  “The sacramental seal,” goes the relevant code of canon law, “is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for the confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Those points certainly have merits, even if these seem a touch faded after the sex abuse imbroglio the Church has found itself in.  Confession, which functions as a barometric reading of Catholic guilt, has developed its own succour and relish, an ecosystem of ritual and understanding resistant to the prying of the criminal law.  Not merely does its ironclad protection provide a dispensation from the laws of the land in certain troubling cases; the confession, in effect, serves as an economy of ordered guilt, reassurance for the next binge of sin. To remove it, or at the very least heavily qualify it, would be an unsettling challenge to a distinct Weltanschauung.

The process effectively permits all – including erring priests – to engage the process from either side of the grille. Historically, the process also imperilled children.  Pope Pius X, in…

Read more