A Florida priest catches hell for questioning middle-schoolers during confession. Father Waters is taking a confrontational tack here. I’m not sure he’s on solid ground liturgically or socially.
On the other hand, we are talking about 7th and 8th grade students at a Catholic school. Old enough to work the system, to get a rise out of adults, to engage in stupid behavior, then to hide behind their parents’ minivans and snicker while the adults bicker. It’s all great entertainment: Punks 1, Priest 0.
So what are clergy to do in the super-charged sex climate both within and outside of the Church? This is one prime situation for trotting out Rite of Penance, form II. A homily addresses the Scriptural basis for sexual self-respect and honor, and does so publicly, in full hearing of adults and everybody. I’ve heard pastors address public issues during these form II homilies: respect for property, bullying, peer pressure, and the like.
It’s also been the practice in my parishes to have the student body subdivided by grade level, so age-appropriate issues can be addressed very easily. Older kids have vital issues: sex, conformity, loyalty, lying as do younger kids: getting along with siblings and peers, adult authority issues, inclusion, and the like.
Aside from the homily, the rite provides for a public examination of conscience. I used to take input from the older students at the Catholic schools I served in composing these. So yes, there is the undercurrent of sexuality running through the lives of young adolescents. I’d say that the liturgy is the better locus for an examination of conscience, not the actual confession of sins. Mention sins as directly (even sex) as appropriate, reinforce with the root problem: lack of self-esteem (or whatever it may be), and do so in a prayerful, communal setting.
That said, I know there’s a long tradition of incorporating spiritual direction into the rite. That’s better left for form I, when the penitent and confessor can engage in a healthy and appropriate dialogue. And its probably better left for adults. Intentionally immature people rarely benefit from spiritual direction.
If the point is to make adolescents aware of sexual sins, then this is the role first, of parents, and second, their catechists. Liturgy makes for a very poor last gasp stance on sex, or any other Big Issue of the Day. Let the liturgy do what it intends and what it does best. Confessors would do well not to fall into punky adolescent traps. If Fr Waters is a bit obsessed with sex, you can bet that the bullies of his cathedral’s school are well aware of it, and have scored a big one on this.
That, of course, is another sin. But does this priest want to go there?