RP 10: The Pastoral Confessor

mary-the-penitent.jpgThis section details the “pastoral” expectations of the confessor. The first requirements are “constant study” and “fervent prayer.”

10. a. In order that he may fulfill his ministry properly and faithfully, understand the disorders of souls and apply the appropriate remedies to them, and act as a wise judge, the confessor must acquire the needed knowledge and prudence by constant study under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium and especially by praying fervently to God. For the discernment of spirits is indeed a deep knowledge of God’s working in the human heart, a gift of the Spirit, and an effect of charity. [See Phil 1:9-10.]

Even more than the presidency at the Eucharist, this discernment has struck me as the most awe-some of the gifts of the ordained priest. I notice also the definition of this spiritual gift of discernment includes the “effect of charity.” Any confessors out there willing to elaborate on how they see this?

Other aspects of the ministry include an openness:

b. The confessor should always show himself to be ready and willing to hear the confessions of the faithful whenever they reasonably request this. [See SCDF, Pastoral Norms for General Absolution, 16 June 1972, Norm XII.]

… and a function that strikes me as not only “paternal” but prophetic:

c. By receiving repentant sinners and leading them to the light of the truth, the confessor fulfills a paternal function: he reveals the heart of the Father and reflects the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. He should keep in mind that he has been entrusted with the ministry of Christ, who accomplished the saving work of human redemption by mercy and by his power is present in the sacraments. [See Sacrosanctum Concilium 7.]

… and a guardian of an important gift:

d. Conscious that he has come to know the secrets of another’s conscience only because he is God’s minister, the confessor is bound by the obligation of preserving the seal of confession absolutely unbroken.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to RP 10: The Pastoral Confessor

  1. FrMichael says:

    Scatter shot of responses:

    Regarding charity, in some of the darker moments of my priesthood, when I was tempted to succumb to mortal sin, it helped my conscience to remember that mortal sin wasn’t going to only affect myself, but my parishioners.

    I also find that the ability to discern is helped after I have made a confession myself.

    The knowledge and prudence part, informed by the magisterium and prayer, is key. Lots of basic moral theology teaching going on in the confessional, trying to get people to understand the moral implications of their behavior and decisions and appropriate remedies for sin and temptation to sin.

    Willingness to hear confession: parish confessions “by appointment only” anathema sit!

    The seal of confession isn’t as hard as one might think: most priests I know quickly forget what they have heard in the confessional. I definitely take that to be a gift from God.

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