Most Catholics have stayed away from Confession for decades because the thought of it has made them feel small and unworthy. It’s not dissimilar to the dynamic of sexual abuse. It is part of what critics of the Church see as a power play that is designed to tighten the screws of the institution’s psychological grip on its faithful. But it needn’t be that way. Confession can offer a pathway to wholeness and growth.
Amidst the negative publicity the Sacrament of Confession received after last Friday’s release of the Child Abuse Royal Commission final report, one positive moment stood out for me.
It was the religious broadcaster Noel Debien making a personal allusion on Friday evening on ABCTV’s The Drum discussion panel. He ‘outed’ himself as a practising Catholic who goes to Confession.
He was suggesting that his practice of the faith, including Confession, was a means of enrichment in his life. That struck a chord with me and I felt that I too would like to go to Confession when the opportunity presents itself. But on my own terms.
I think that most Catholics have stayed away from Confession for decades because the thought of it has made them feel small and unworthy. Good on them.
It’s not dissimilar to the dynamic of sexual abuse, which made its victims feel small. It is part of what critics of the Church see as a power play that is designed to tighten the screws of the institution’s psychological grip on its faithful.
But it needn’t be the Church at its worst. Confession can offer a pathway to wholeness and growth. ‘I can and want to be a better person.’ Who does not have that aspiration in their life?
The good news is that ethical and moral virtue is within our grasp.
I felt this yesterday during a phone call with a friend who is a spiritual mentor in another context of my life. We were discussing the Royal Commission report and Confession and my sense of how cathartic it can be when done right.
As if to demonstrate my point, I mentioned some of my actions from last week that I wasn’t particularly proud of. I manifest them to him and owned them. Then, right on cue, I felt I’d taken a step up the ladder towards virtue nirvana. I’d become more whole as a person.
I questioned why the Church cannot seem to give us that experience.
After Vatican II, it was on the right track when it renamed Confession the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’. It was as if it was offering us our own personal truth and reconciliation commission. The kind of thing they have when they want to right wrongs and make a fresh start in countries where there have been human rights abuses.
Then came the pullback of the John Paul II and Benedict XVI papacies. It reverted to Confession and the rhetoric once again implied the play in which the Church and its officials make us feel small and that this is somehow for our own good. They killed it.
Michael Mullins is a former editor of Eureka Street and CathNews who now blogs at michaelmullins.org