Monday, June 13, 2005

Pedophilia and the Confessional

Terry Mattingly published an interesting article which was in the newspapers last Saturday and made the internet this morning. Mattingly cites the latest bombshell by Father Donald "Gay Subculture in the Seminaries" Cozzens, who described how homosexual seminarians sometimes confess their inclinations as a sin and effectively check seminary rectors who might otherwise pursue the question of whether they are at risk for becoming future sexual abusers.

You see: canon law states that not only is anything revealed within the confessional a secret to be kept exclusively between the penitent, the priest, and the Lord; but the person who hears the confession is not permitted to take any action whatsoever based on secrets revealed in the confessional.

For the moment, I will ignore the question of why seminary rectors can't be a lot more proactive by questioning all seminarians thoroughly or by looking at other danger signs besides what a seminarian might admit during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The fact is, people do sometimes try to use the confessional to relieve themselves of guilt for crimes commited which they have no real intention of giving up themselves or their sinful practices.

I recall reading a Time Magazine article some years ago in which an incarcerated priest convicted of sexual abuse described how he would travel to other dioceses to confess his crimes sacramentally in the knowledge that the priest to whom he confessed would not reveal what he had done to the authorities. As a result, the sacrament of confession becomes not a means of grace, but a facilitator for sexual dysfunction and crime.

In the old days-- I mean the really old days, I recall tales of Irish priests in northern Europe carrying guides to penance designed exclusively to break converted barbarians of their old, homicidal habits. For instance, a confessed murder might incur an automatic penance of ten years of fasting, sack-cloth and ashes, before the penitent could return to the sacraments and consider himself a candidate once more for salvation.

Penances since the days of Visigoths and Vikings have become far less stringent-- usually nominal in nature-- and automatic penances no longer are practiced. Further (someone correct me if I am wrong) a penitent seeking absolution can actually reject an assigned penance and ask for a milder one if he believes he is being asked to do something too difficult.

But I wonder if such practices, so trusting in the efficacy of true repentance in each sinner, is effective given the issue of sexual abuse and the priesthood. I wonder if the time has not come for a required penance of surrender to civil authorities might not be called for by penitents who confess sins such as-- say-- illegal drug smuggling and distribution, organized crime involvement, murder, or sexual abuse?

Modernity has brought with it a new form of barbarism. Should the Church respond to barbarism as did the Irish priests of old who helped tame Europe in that continent's darkest hour?