Frontline Confessions

Get Religion:

Hearing the confessions of soldiers shortly before they go into combat is one of the most important and symbolic duties performed by priests who serve as military chaplains representing Christianity’s ancient churches.

After all, the soldiers are going into harm’s way and there is no way to know if they will return. In a way, the priest knows that he could be hearing the penitent’s  final confession — turning this encounter into a kind of Last Rites for a person who is not sick unto death, but may be moments from death.

This brings me to the first photo — pictured above — in a remarkable online slideshow produced, using photos from a number of different news sources, by the foreign-affairs desk at The Washington Post.

This particular photo is from Getty Images. There is no way for me to know what kind of information was attached to this photo that could have been used by the copy-editor or editors who produced this feature. There is no way to know if the photographer had any way to talk to the specific priest or this penitent to obtain more information about what was happening in this dramatic scene.

As readers can see above, the photo caption reads:

A man kneels before an Orthodox priest in an area separating police and anti-government protesters near Dynamo Stadium on Jan. 25, 2014, in Kiev.

This is, I guess, a literal statement about what the photographer saw.

However, for the hundreds or perhaps even thousands of Ukrainians at the scene, that is not what was taking place.

The priest in this picture has placed his stole over the man’s head and is reading prayers. This is what happens at the end of the rite of confession, which under ideal conditions would take place in a sanctuary with the penitent facing an icon, often the icon known as Christ Pantocrator. The penitent is confessing his or her sins to Christ, with the priest hearing this confession representing the church.

Is there another circumstance in which a priest would place his stole over the head of a kneeling believer and then say prayers? There may be, but not one that I know of as an Eastern Orthodox layman. The same was true for my priest, to whom I took this question over the weekend.

Would it have been more dramatic to say that this believer, in the midst of territory that was turning into a war zone in downtown Kiev, felt the need to say his confession?

I would say so.

Is he confessing his sins because of something he has just done? There is no way to know that.

Is he confessing his sins because he believes he is about to be placed in a situation resembling combat, a setting in which his life will almost certainly be at risk? I would say that this is the safest interpretation of the information contained in this photo…

Read on here.




Priest Invents Confession Tool for the Deaf

The Deacon’s Bench:

A retired Filipino priest based in Phoenix, Arizona has invented a computer-based confession tool that would facilitate confession for hearing-impaired penitents.

Fr. Romuald P. Zantua, DS, formerly of Daet diocese and founder of a religious community called Disciples of Hope has created a technology-based confession device that will make the valued sacrament of reconciliation easily available to hundreds of thousands of people with hearing problems.

The confessional tool—also called the St. Damien Confession Box—consists of two laptop computers running on special software and connected exclusively for penitent and priest to type on and send their messages to each other. Both laptops can only function for the particular intent it was created and not for other purposes.

Priests who are not skilled in sign language will be able to communicate with deaf people using the chat function through a secured setup of two connected computers with American Sign Language (ASL) instructions and videos, according to Zantua.

He said this particular invention will boost the practice of confession and may usher people with special needs to the Catholic Church’s gradual adoption of new technology in the modern world.

The device is composed of two computers running on special software that appears on both computer screens which contains written instructions as well as sign language video instructions and audio.

The software is hack-proof, according to Zantua, since the device doesn’t allow a third party to connect and other network connectivity are all disabled, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Zantua, who also previously served as executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Seminaries, said the computer setup was designed to instantly run a chat program where a priest and the penitent can exchange written messages on their screens.

Both penitent and priest will only have to write their messages by typing and pressing the appropriate buttons to a sequence following normal church practice, he said.

Continue reading.  



The Miracle of Technology

Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal:

Here I will tell a story that I suppose is rather personal but what the heck, today’s not a bad day for the personal. Yesterday I went to St. Patrick’s for confession and mass, to start the year off on the right foot. Walking through the cathedral—it was jammed with tourists taking pictures of statues and architecture and also, and with some startling excitement, of the regular New Yorkers in the pews taking part in the noon mass—I remembered something I experienced there last summer, at confession.

I add here that I like going to confession; I always find it quenching or refreshing or inspiring. Usually I go at my local church. But sometimes if I’m walking by St. Pat’s and it’s confession time I’ll go right in, because the great thing about St. Pat’s is that in terms of priests you never know what you’ll get—a gruff old Irishman from Boston, a mystic from the Philippines, a young intellectual just out of seminary in Rome. Once I think I heard, through the screen, the jolly voice of New York’s cardinal. But whoever I get always seems to say something I need to hear.

Anyway, last summer I’m at St Patrick’s on a weekday afternoon and I go to the confessional area and stand on line. In the confessionals at St. Pat’s you kneel in a small, darkened booth and speak through a screen. You can sort of see the shadow of the priest on the other side.

The door opens and I enter and kneel. I outline my sins as I see them, share whatever confusion or turmoil or happiness I’m feeling. Then I was silent, waiting to see what bubbled up. What bubbled up was a persistent problem that was spiritual at its core. We talked about it, and then the priest—American accent, perhaps early middle age—said, “You wouldn’t struggle with this if you understand how fully God loves you.”

There was silence for a moment, and then I said, “Actually, Father, I always have trouble with that one.”

Here I thought the priest would gently explain how wrong I was to doubt. Instead he said, “Oh, we all do! All of us have trouble with that.”

I said, “Even you?”

“Yes, priests too, the love of God is something we all have trouble comprehending and believing.”

This struck me with force.

And then suddenly in the silence, through the screen, I saw a light. It grew and glowed in the darkness, it moved. A miracle? I cleared my throat.

“Father, did you just open up an iPad?”

Yes, he said, and we started to laugh. He keeps particular readings there that might be helpful with certain specific questions. He’d like me to read some verses when I get home.

I’m sorry, I said, I don’t have a pen and paper, I may not remember what you say. Wait—I’ve got my BlackBerry. “Tell me chapters and verse and I’ll email them to myself.”

And so he scrolled down and called out readings—the letters of St. Peter the fisherman, of St Paul—and I thumbed away sending emails to myself.

It was so modern and wonderful. Genius technology enters the confessional in a great cathedral in 2012.

“And God saw the light, and it was good.”


Australian Cardinal: Confessional Seal is Inviolable, Even in Abuse Cases

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, has said that while the Church will cooperate with a federal commission investigating child abuse, priests will not break the seal of confession.

Someone who confesses sins involving abuse will not be reported to police by his confessor, the cardinal said. He explained that while an admission made outside the confessional would be reported, “the seal of confession is inviolable.”

Cardinal Pell said that if a priest is aware that someone has been guilty of abuse, “the priest should refuse to hear the confession.”

The cardinal said that he welcomed the federal investigation because it will “clear the air” and “separate fact from fiction” regarding the Church’s response to sex-abuse complaints. He has said that media reports have portrayed the Church’s role unfairly.