On Confession

John Cornwall at The Tablet has a piece up describing “trends” but also some personal experiences, first and second-hand, of the Sacrament of Penance. A few bits I had not considered before, including this co-incidence of sex abuse and the lowering of the age of First Eucharist, and therefore Penance:

Strong and widespread evidence has emerged of a link between early confession and clerical sexual abuse. The lowered age of confession from 13 to seven coincides, according to meta-analyses (see Marie Keenan’s Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church, Oxford University Press, 2011), with the age group of most affected victims. Pius X’s initiative resulted in the frequent exposure of Catholic children to priests untrained in child psychology and pedagogy, in circumstances of unsupervised intimacy. It is perhaps significant that the rise in sexual attacks, which started in the late 1950s through to the 1980s, coincides with not only the explosion of sexual permissiveness of that era, but the tendency for priests to hear confessions outside of the confessional box – in sacristies, parlours and priests’ quarters.

That “strong and widespread evidence,” I’d like to see something of that. I hope it’s something more than blaming the Beatles for Vatican II.

(You readers know I’m a skeptic on the so-called “rise” in attacks in the 50’s. We obviously have no statistics on dead victims and predators. The bell curve of the people we’ve talked to is always going to start somewhere, if we only ask those living as of a certain date. We can never know for sure if there was a slow rise in sexual predation through the first half of the 20th century. That might point to a causation, but it’s likely just one of many.)

I think we can settle that some approaches to rejuvenating the sacrament have failed.

Knocking form III out of the picture hasn’t “forced” people into form I. Form II seems a constant over the years. And for Catholic school students, it may be an interesting part of the problem. School kids can’t be coerced into form I, and the only opportunity many of them experience is form II in an elementary or high school format. Getting into the teen and young adult years, the retreat or pilgrimage experience seems dominant. We have at least a full generation of Catholics who are formed in Reconciliation as second graders, then experience the sacrament in group forms as they mature. But there is little to no follow-up formation in the examination of conscience.

Another interesting insight was that reference to “priests untrained in child psychology and pedagogy.” Six to ten years of hurry-up reconciliation conducted perhaps by amateurs. And even if those retreats and youth events are well-attended, that high is not likely to be found in a Saturday afternoon church where the pastor may have a homily, a wedding, and possibly other concerns.

The author is seeking input on a book. What would you tell him?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Ministry, Rite of Penance, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Confession

  1. John McGrath says:

    At first the Catholic church was effective in resisting Hitler, organizing, for instance, against euthanasia. Then Hitler threatened to put priests on trail for child sex abuse. I used to think the Nazis were making up these charges. Now I am not so sure. At any rate, the church became far more silent after these threats were made.

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