Is Compulsory Auricular Confession an Affront to Human Dignity and a Challenge to the Universal and Inalienable Fundamental Right to Privacy?
“Kakka Churdichu” (vomited a crow) they shout to the world attention about an incident of vomiting in which they happened to see a ‘black spot’. It all started with the teaching of Jesus to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others” which any illiterate can do easily. But the church which took over the affairs of the church after Constantine, to govern, not serve, both the illiterates and educated, brought rules and regulations, finally ‘Anathama’ compliance of all faithful through Diktats. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
That said, the catch or venom, in the tail in the teaching is, not in that part of the prayer addressed directly to the Father: ‘Father forgive us our trespasses’ but in “as we forgive others”. Any one convinced of it will do it, it is more than proof, that he/she is fully and truly contrite and convinced, and will never repeat the mistake again but will ascend to Jesus’ expectation: “When you have done this to my little ones, you have done it to me.”
99% not contrite or convinced
This second part does not take place in the case of 99% of those who make regular confessions, and it is not going to take place in foreseeable future either, in spite of the Church’s Diktat to make Auricular Confession the sole key to open the doors of heaven and enter. What is to be made compulsory by Ex-cathedra definition, is forgiving your neighbour, not confession to a priest. So the present ritualistic, external practice without (Metanoia) mental change is not going to help any change for the better the quality and character of the confessing faithful. So the present practice is an exercise in futility, is our humble opinion. Please think it over and do what you are convinced of, not what we suggest.
We are not suggesting to readers to swallow all that Pamplanil tells by way of opinion, but to concentrate on and study the string of facts, he puts up for your independent study and analysis. Contra factum non est argumentum, there is no case against facts. And against your studied conviction, your conscience commanding and demanding you to act in one direction, there is no authority on earth, not even the Pope to say “No”.
We have all erred
Should we now go into analysing all the subheads in Pamplanil’s article? It will make the sermon more than the text. We have all erred, but where? At the premise, the starting point. From a wrong premise suited to our liking, any absurd conclusions can be drawn! Who therefore, is the one we are supposed to follow: the church, its ecumenical councils, its self appointed bishops, the Pope himself? None of these but JESUS, the carpenter boy, who lived and died at 33, who emptied himself to the life of a slave, a SERVANT of the last, least and lost, as a mendicant preacher of the GOOD WORD, a homeless for the homeless.
Classless, clashless, casteless
To do that we all have to live the life of the CATTLE CLASS, which is classless, clashless and casteless and therefore having perfect equality of brothers and sisters. In the Cattle Class, the competition is a race to take the last place, not the FIRST, because, the last, the one who humbles himself alone, will become FIRST, in God’s Kingdom, if there is such a place, in heaven or on earth.
Please come forward and demolish, all what we said above, or Pamplanil says below, because we could be wrong, never infallible. Building a paradise here below, which we see and live in, or in a dreamt up heaven, is your choice and ours. Here below, it is to be a joint venture. We want to learn from you, correcting any of our mistakes, and sharing with you, what we believe to be true and honest. james kottoor, editor ccv.
Read below to see what our columnist Pamplanil has to say!
The hot potato for many including the media is the topic of mandatory auricular confession enjoined upon the followers of Roman Catholicism and some Orthodox Churches.
The recommendation of the National Commission of Women (NCW) to ban the practice has thrown a heavy stone at a hornet’s nest. Many ferocious wasps in the form of Orthodox Christians, are flying around mighty disturbed with tendency to inflict painful stings to all and sundry.
What is attempted below is a bird’s eye view of the history of confession.
“Confess therefore your sins to one another : pray for one another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of just man availeth much” (James 5:16)
The modern version of the same verse in the New Jerusalem Bible, Catholic version: “So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another to be cured; the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully” (James 5:16).
Both versions enjoin upon confession of sins to each other among lay members of the church and not auricular confession (essentially audible) to a priests.
One may search in vain in the Bible for any word supporting the doctrine of compulsory auricular confession. It is equally impossible to find authorisation or general practice of compulsory confession to a priest or to any one else during the first 1000 years of Christianity. Auricular confession was not advocated by Augustine — the inventor of Original Sin – Basil, Origen, Tertullian, Jerome, Chrysostam or Athanasius. All these Church Fathers lived and died without bothering to confess. No one other than God was thought to be worthy to hear confession or to grant forgiveness.
Clement of Rome: “The Lord of all things, brethren, is in need of naught, neither requireth he, anything of any one, except to confess unto him. For the elect, David saith, I will confess unto the Lord and that shall please him more…” (First Clement, 52)
John Chrysostom: “We do not request you to confess your sins to any of your fellowmen, but only to God. You need no witness of your confession. Secretly acknowledge your sins and let God alone hear you” (De Peanitentia 4: 901)
Basil: “I have not come before the world to make confession with my lips. But I close my eyes, and confess my sins in the secret of my heart. Before thee, O God I pour out my sighs, and thou alone art the witness” (Commentary on Psalm, 37)
Augustine: “What have I to do with men that they should hear my confessions, as if they were able to heal my infirmities. The human race is very curious to know another person’s life but very lazy to correct it” (Confessions Ch.3)
Hence confession is to be to God; not to any priest.
A Catholic work agrees that in the early church “there was no private sacramental penance as we know it now” (The New Dictionary of Theology 833).
In today’s Catholicism, a person who has committed a mortal sin and fails to confess it to a priest, is forbidden from receiving the Eucharist under the pain of eternal punishment. But there were occasions in the past that in one day as many as 60,000 people received communion without confession to a priest but not considered having committed mortal sin.
Pathologist J. N. D. Jelly states that “in spite of the ingenious argument of certain scholars, there are still no signs of a sacrament of private penance (i.e. confession to a priest followed by absolution and the imposition of penance) such as Catholic Christendom knows today”. (Early Christian Doctrines, Harper Collins 1978:216).
Church history shows that private confession was stopped in the East around 400 C. E. In the Latin Church in the 8th century confession to a superior at least once a year was recommended. In the 9th century, the classification of sins made up by Gregory, the Great in the 6th century, was incorporated into the penitential system of Catholicism. This made private confession to a priest acceptable.
Notwithstanding, there was no general agreement upon the necessity of sacerdotal confession. In the 12th century, for example the (Peter) Aberlardian school rejected its necessity, while the Victorine school insisted upon it. It was not until the Fourth Lateran council of 1215, that penance officially became obligatory and a sacrament (Alister McGrath, Justitia Dei, A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2005, 117-121).
“At the close of the twelfth century a complete change was made in doctrine of penance…The first elements added by the medieval system were that confession to the priest and absolution by the priest are necessary for pardon. Peter the Lombard did not make mediation of the priest as required, but declared that confession to God was sufficient. In his time (12th century) he says there was no agreement on three aspects of penance. The opinions handed down from the fathers, he asserts, were diverse, if not antagonistic” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 5, 573-4).
The Catholic scholar Eamon Duffy in his book “Saints and Sinners” has pointed out to broad changes veering to pagan religions of the Roman Empire that occurred in the Roman Catholic Church during the third and fourth centuries. The worldliness of the Roman Church: the popes,the bishops had converged to the ways of paganism. Since the mid-third century there had been growing assimilation of secular culture by the Christian religion. With the “Imperial” adoption of Christianity this process had accelerated.
Roman Catholicism is not any unique standalone religion. It has borrowed heavily from the Egyptian cult of Isis and the Greco-Roman cult of Dionysius as well as Mithraism with its roots in Persia. The cult of Mithraism was in vogue in the Roman Empire at the time Constantine, as political expediency, adopted Christianity as the state-favoured religion. The vile butcher from Spain, Emperor Theodosius banned all religions, at the pain of death and banishment, other than Christianity, the sole State religion from the Empire. Ironically within a short time, the Christian religion reverted to the beliefs and practices of paganism to attract more members to it.
“Mithraism was the most popular religion in the Empire in the 1st through the 4th among the Romans, especially the Roman soldiers.
One of the key features of Mithraism was the sacrificial meal, which involved eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a bull. Mithras the god of Mithraism was believed to be “present” in the flesh and blood of the bull, and when consumed, granted salvation to those who partook of the sacrificial meal, (the eating of one’s god). Mithraism had also seven “sacraments” making similarities between it and Roman Catholicism to be ignored” observes one Christian commentator.
Church leaders, after Constantine, found it easy to substitute the sacrificial meal of Mithraism by the concept of the Lord’s Supper/ Christian communion. The Church seemed to have veered mysticism in the Lord’s Supper rejecting the biblical concept of a simple and worshipful remembrance of Christ’s death/and shedding of blood. The sacrificial consumption of Jesus Christ, now known as the Catholic Mass/Eucharist; was a tragic compromise in order to make Catholic Church attractive to the Roman followers of paganism.
If one studies the history of Rome, one can clearly notice perfect resemblance between the priests of the Pope and those of Bacchus: with reference to the vows of celibacy, secret auricular confession, celebration of “sacred mysteries” and most of all, the unmentionable moral corruption of the two systems of religion.
It was Pope Innocent III who introduced self accusing auricular confession as means to ferret out information on suspected heretics during the reign of Inquisition in the late nineties of the 12th century.
Made mandatory in 1215
The Fourth Lateran Council convened by Innocent III in C. E. 1215, mandated compulsory private auricular confession to the parish priest in the Latin Roman Catholic Church and insisted that people should confess and seek absolution from a priest at least once a year. If they did not obey this command they were pronounced guilty of mortal sin and damned to eternity in hell.
Council of Trent – Anathema
The Council of Trent in the 16th century made the “infallible” declaration that confession dates back to Christ and the Apostles. It says “If anyone denies that sacramental confession was instituted by divine law or is necessary to salvation; or says that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Catholic Church has always observed from the beginning, and still observe, is at variance from the institution and and command of Christ, and is a human institution; let him be ANATHEMA”.
So medieval Catholicism purportedly had the “power” to change the penance into a doctrine unknown in the early centuries. Yet the Council of Trent had the effrontery to call this concoction of men in the couldron of delusion a “divine law….observed from the beginning”. Such deceit!
History of Christianity unequivocally shows that the four assertions by the Council of Trent in C. E. 1551 are patently false and misleading. The Catholic Church’s attempt to find even a nebulous mention of the sacrament of penance in the New Testament has not been of any avail. The writings of the early church fathers indicate that such a practice was unknown in their time.
Historian and Cambridge University Fellow John Cornwell (who left a siminary because of solicitation by his confessor) points out that confessors were taught to quiz church members rather than merely listen to them. The single most and the greatest obsession was the topic of masturbation, a sin judged more serious than incest, adultery or rape of a virgin. “The theory of its evils was based on the idea that the sperm contained humunculi”: to spill human seed was therefore tantamount to homicide”.
Prior to the invention of the enclosed confessional booth, the priest sat on a chair with the penitent at his feet, enabling the confessor to touch the penitent. By 1576, a written report lamented the “great abomination” of priests attempting to satiate their sexual appetite during confessions.
Enter the confessional booth a.k.a. the dark box a piece of furniture designed by Cardinal Charles Borromeo, with a grille and curtain to separate the penitent. The box was meant to end the scandal of sexual solicitation but tragically it only increased the instances. The Borromeo box with all its physical barriers still allowed for whispered pillow talk in the dark, the woman penitent’s soft voice and emotion saturated warm breath close to the confessor’s ear. Many married women, suffering from domestic and marital frustrations, became addicted to the atmosphere of crepuscular intimacy.
Confession “is a system of control over Catholics. This is what happens when a religion is more concerned with its public image than addressing the evil meted out to its adherents”.
Culture of Secrecy, Solicitation
On March 16, 1962, the Congregation of the Holy Office issued a document “Crimen Solicitanis (approved by John XXIII). It was sent to all bishops world wide; yet they were strangely told to maintain strict confidentiality about the document; it was never allowed to be reproduced. Most bishops were not even aware of its existence. This as Fr. Thomas Doyal O. P. observes, exhibits Catholicism’s “culture of secrecy, clericalism and institutional self preservation.”
With the advent of private confession of sins, came the abuse known as “solicitation of sex in the act if sacramental confession”. Unscrupulous priests began to use the intimacy of confession as an opportunity to seduce the penitent into some form of sexual contact. This is particularly heinous because it take advantage of a person when he or she is most vulnerable and susceptible to priestly power (Thomas Doyal O. P.–“Crimen Solicitionis” promulgated by the Vatican March 2010).
Right to privacy
For many sensitive persons undertaking Auricular confession is an affront to their individual autonomy and human dignity and a naked invasion to their right to privacy. The ordeal of kneeling before another individual, and out of compulsion bare his/her innermost thoughts and deeds, with sense of shame, contrition and trepidation may be demeaning and unbearable. The harm that is done by this nefarious practice well may outstrip the good that the exercise is supposed to confer. Added to all the evils, is the cynical sexual exploitation of vulnerable children and women by confessors, an act reported to be widely rampant.
The attitude of the Church and some elements of Roman Catholicism may belong to a gaggle of prostitutes extolling the virtues of chastity and moral high ground. May be the time has come to separate grains from the chaff.