How To Absolve a Priest Offender

I’m not sure how to swallow this news bit from L’Osservatore Romano on Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, of the Apostolic Penitentiary. The bishop says, according to the CNS distillation:

(T)he confession (of a priest sex offender) can only have absolution as a consequence. It is not up to the confessor to make them public or to ask the penitent to incriminate himself in front of superiors. This is true because, on one hand, the sacramental seal remains inviolable and, on the other hand, one cannot provoke mistrust in the penitent. From the confessor, (the penitent) can only expect absolution, certainly not a sentence nor the order to confess his crime in public.

First, I understand that the nuance of an interview two times removed from the actual talk is sometimes difficult to discern.

That said, I don’t know that any reasonable person is demanding that sex offenders be outed by their confessors. Sure, a few politicians and activists: maybe. But cooler heads? No.

Yet, the traditional practice of the sacrament would have a confession, an act of satisfaction, and an absolution. I’m aware that the current practice reverses the order of the final two. Father Frank Pavone, in speaking of another grave sin, has some sound counsel that might apply:

Regarding a penance … it has to both be substantial and have a definite closure. Some priests, for example, ask the penitent to offer a week of special prayers, perhaps the Rosary or special periods of adoration, Scripture reading, or other forms of prayer. In such cases the penitent should be reminded that if she forgets the practice on a given day, this does not affect the forgiveness of her sin. Other priests advise that the penitent have masses offered for the child, by going to “a parish” (carefully not indicating that it should be the parish in which she is confessing) and requesting masses for a “special intention.”

I like Father Pavone’s approach here. I would think that, at minimum, a sex offender would be counselled to pray a novena. A priest should certainly be able to handle an extended retreat to explore the possibilities of atonement, restitution, and recovery.

However, unlike a person who has procured an abortion (or committed a similar grave sin like murder) a sex addict may have a deep and overpowering urge to persist in abusing others. Does the possibility that a penitent is an addict have any effect on how a confessor does or should administer absolution? How do confessors handle alcoholics or other addicts? It’s one thing to be pickling one’s liver or brain with chemical additives and creating a generation of co-dependents. But another matter entirely to be inflicting grave psychological harm on innocents … over and over again.

To say nothing of bishops …

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to How To Absolve a Priest Offender

  1. Adam Wood says:

    “I would think that, at minimum, a sex offender would be counselled to pray a novena.”

    I read that several times before I realized you weren’t being sarcastic. A novena, really?

    The “Act of Satisfaction” should be turning oneself in to the authorities. I understand the seal of confession. But ritual absolution should be withheld from those who abuse children until the penitent proves his intention to sin no more by deliberately and irrevocably removing himself from the temptation.

  2. crystal says:

    I do see the value of knowing that what you confess will be kept private but in cases where people are being harmed, as with child abuse, I find it hard to justify confidentiality.

  3. Todd says:

    Partially tongue-in-cheek, perhaps.

    Do you suppose confessors are giving these guys something as demanding as a real novena?

    I think we need form IV in the Roman rite: public penance with an extended period of contrition, something like a catechumenate.

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    Absolution should be refused until the offender meets with his bishop, reveals his “secrets” and the bishop then informs the legal authorities of the problem.

    These situations are not only sins against God but crimes against humanity. Only dealing with one aspect of it is why the church has little to no credibility in this matter — and getting less credibility on an almost daily basis.

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