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.
Christians begin worship with an invitation to confess their sins. This might seem rather grim, but in fact it represents a gloriously counter-cultural testimony to the “admit nothing” world.
Read the post ABC’s Religion and Ethics here.
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.
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.”
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.
In the Huffington Post:
Jonathan Smith drove from Columbus, Ohio, to New York City with a burden on his conscience so heavy that he unloaded on the first Catholic priest he saw: “Someone is dead, and I feel really bad about it.”
According to the New York Post, the priest in the midtown Manhattan Catholic Church of St. Francis of Assis quickly called the police, who then took a formal confession from Smith: “I killed my girlfriend in Columbus, Ohio.”
- Visit the New York Post to read the more about Jonathan Smith’s murder confession.
WSNY radio reported on July 23 that murder charges were filed against Smith in connection with death of his girlfriend, Darlene Hart, whose beaten body was found in his burning home on July 14.
The priest who heard the initial confession clarified to the New York Post that Smith was not giving formal religious confession, which would have prohibited the priest from sharing any information.
Instead, the priest explained, Jonathan Smith was telling the priest with a desire to turn himself in.
The prospect of government forcing priests to report what was said in confession is the sign of a “police state mentality”, says a priest and law professor.
Hundreds of years of Catholic tradition in the confessional could be overturned by Victoria’s inquiry into child sex abuse.
Priests would be ordered to reveal crimes told to them in private confessions under one proposal before the inquiry.
But priests say they will resist being forced to reveal secrets of the confessional.
Priest and law professor Father Frank Brennan said the move would be a restriction on religious freedom.
“If a parliamentary inquiry were to recommend a law by parliament saying that priests were forced to disclose anything revealed to them in the sacrament of confession I think that would be a serious interference with the right of religious freedom,” Father Brennan said today.
“Indeed it would be a very sad day if we moved to a police state mentality, it’s almost of Russian dimensions to suggest Catholic priests would have to reveal to state authorities what went on under the seal of the confessional.
“I am one of the priests who, if such a law were enacted, would disobey it and if need be I would go to jail.”
Father Brennan said disclosures to priests in the confessional were different to those made to doctors or counsellors, or even when a priest was acting in a counsellor role.
“If it were in the sacred realm of the sacrament of confession which in Catholic theology is akin to the penitent being in conversation with God, where the priest is simply an agent, then definitely the state has no role of interference in that.”
Father Brennan said he expected police would have other more important leads when investigating crime than what was said in the confessional.
“They probably don’t have much of an idea about what people confess in confessions anyway, I think most of it, if not all of it would be of no interest to police.”
A parliamentary committee also will look at radical new laws that would see bishops face criminal charges for the misconduct of their priests.
Founder and coordinator of Melbourne Victims Collective, Helen Last, welcomed the proposal.
“I think it’s great, I think it’s very important,” Ms Last said today.
The Melbourne Collective works with survivors of clergy and/or religious abuse and Ms Last said she had recently spoken with a survivor of alleged abuse by a Catholic priest who had reported it in confessions over a 10-year period.
“She spoke to them, while the abuse was happening, in the confessional … many of the priests just told her to stay away from him, one priest fell asleep while she was telling him and others basically said ‘go away and change your behaviour’,” Ms Last said.
“Priests need to be mandated to report from within the confessional and without the confessional and they urgently need to be trained about appropriately referring victims.”
Submissions are being accepted for the inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious groups.
Ms Last said the collective was working with 100 people to help them complete submissions.
The inquiry was set up by the Baillieu Government in April.
The inquiry is being conducted by State Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee, chaired by Liberal MP Georgie Crozier, with Labor MP Frank McGuire as deputy.
A guide released by the committee asks those making submissions to consider whether mandatory reporting rules should be imposed on the confessional.
“Should the sacrament of the Catholic confessional remain sacrosanct in these circumstances?” the paper says.
It also asks whether tough new laws should be imposed on the church hierarchy.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne declined to comment on the guide, saying it do not want to pre-empt the work of the inquiry.
“The Catholic Church will co-operate with the inquiry,” archdiocese spokesman James O’Farrell said.
But the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, has previously said the confessional must remain sacrosanct.
In Ireland, where similar laws have been introduced, priests have vowed to defy the orders, which could see them jailed for up to 10 years.
The Reverend Father John Walshe, chairman of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, said the confessional was not a place of counselling.
“The universal response of priests to any attempt to demand they pass on information they have received in the confessional will be absolutely negative,” said Fr Walshe, parish priest of St Patrick’s, Mentone.
“Priests have in the past history of the church been martyred for refusing to break the seal of the confessional andI believe that priests today would continue to do the same.”
A spokesman for the Baillieu Government said the committee had sought submissions on a wide range of issues.
The sex abuse inquiry is due to present its report to State Parliament by April.
Australia’s cardinal George Pell has been approached for comment.
The Austrian Times:
A teenage vandal felt so guilty after trashing a church that he went to confession in the church before turning himself into police in Katsdorf, Upper Austria.
The 17-year-old went to the priest on Sunday morning to confess that he and a friend had broke into the church the night before and vandalised the church, breaking windows and smashing furniture and holy symbols.
After confessing to the priest, the 17-year-old and his accomplice turned themselves in to the police.
The pair claim they completely flipped out after getting into a row with guests in a pub.
They went to the church and in their rage kicked over the old baptism font, which was built in 1645 and then damaged some of the benches.
They also destroyed some of the wall surrounding the church and took some of the stones and threw them through the church windows breaking thirteen windows.