Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 29: “Whose Sins You Shall Forgive” Part 6: Training Good Confessors

Are you curious? How do seminaries train confessors? It seems as secretive as the seal of confession itself. Unlike counseling, it is wholly inappropriate for any kind of direct monitoring. Fabricating encounters of confessing sin strikes me as akin to handing out sugar wafers and grape juice to young kids at Mass. This is serious matter, sacramentally speaking.

All this fund of human gifts, Christian virtues and pastoral capabilities has to be worked for and is only acquired with effort. Every priest must be trained for the ministry of sacramental penance from his years in the seminary, not only through the study of dogmatic, moral, spiritual and pastoral theology (which are simply parts of a whole), but also through the study of the human sciences, training in dialogue and especially in how to deal with people in the pastoral context.

Theology, of course, is a given. Pastoral counseling begins to lean into studying psychology and sociology. We know that the author of this document was well-trained in the human sciences. Two very important sentences:

He must then be guided and looked after in his first activities. He must always ensure his own improvement and updating by means of permanent study.

Easy to write. Difficult to implement. I’ve known priests, even very good ones, who resist most attempts at continuing formation. The notion that an adult should be a “permanent” student in her or his discipline isn’t a welcome thought universally. I suppose this document would be a good year-long focus for a cadre of diocesan priests, not to mention the treatments on mercy penned in 1980 and 2016.

What a wealth of grace, true life and spiritual radiation would be poured out on the church if every priest were careful never to miss through negligence or various excuses the appointment with the faithful in the confessional and if he were even more careful never to go to it unprepared or lacking the necessary human qualities and spiritual and pastoral preparation!

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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