Repost (because now all sorts of states in these USA are pushing for making the fact of the Seal of Confession a felony offense). ///
There is no worst case scenario.
If you are repentant, you will be forgiven.
- Does repentance mean that you don’t want to sin? Look, we all want to sin, right? But that doesn’t mean that we have to sin.
- Does repentance mean that you have to feel repentant? No! We can feel weak and tempted and useless, but that doesn’t mean we are not repentant, or that we are rejecting the grace given to us. It just means we feel whatever way. That’s a cross to carry by command of the Lord!
- Does repentance mean that we have to be absolutely certain that we will never sin again? No, not at all. We have to make a firm purpose of amendment, to change our ways for the better, that we will try with the grace of God. But we don’t know. We may fail.
- Does repentance mean that I should change the circumstances in my life that necessarily bring me to sin? Well, yes. For instance, if you are an enforcer for the local druggies or for a hit-man for feces-for-brains mafia types, yes, you gotta get out of that kind of situation.
Famous for being a troublemaker even while in Rome and perhaps especially because I was in Rome, I was asked over lunch by the head attorney-liaison between the Italian Military and the Holy See to do some anti-mafia work in the territory of the Sacra Corona Unita, an organization of break-away mafiosi who were trying to be as bad as the ‘Ndrangheta but ended up more like the Cammora. He said that he would have me installed in a parish [I’d like to know who the bishop is…] and I would just go about normal priestly activities like, you know, hearing confessions. That was it. I was instantly aware of his disregard for all that is sacred. So, now I wanted to trap him. I’m all for working against the mafia, but not at the cost of sacrilege. I just had to shove it in his face, you know, for the sake of mercy. And for the sake of mercy, I can be somewhat merciless, as it were.
“So,” said I, “just like, you know, hearing confessions?”
“That’s it,” he said.
“Ah well, but what if there’s a murder in town?” I asked.
“A murder?” he inquired, becoming nervous.
“Let’s say that a murder takes place in that little town, as usual,” I said, “about a hundred yards or so from the little parish church you would arrange for me, close enough for me to hear the gun go off, but far enough away so that people had time to look out their windows and see who was running into the church.”
“Running into the church?” he said inquisitively, looking like he’s been caught out.
“Yes, running as fast as he can,” I continued, “hunting down the priest, that is, me, so as to go to confession.”
“Then go ahead and hear his confession,” encouraged my military friend, smiling broadly and sitting back in his chair.
“Ah, but say I actually wanted to help him?” I asked.
“Help him?” asked my attorney-liaison, helplessly.
“Yes, what if I told him that in order for him to be prepared to receive the graces of the absolution fruitfully, he would have to get his kids, then his wife, then leave town with nothing, abandoning all bank accounts, everything, running away and never returning, and then going say, I don’t know, to some small parish church far away, going to confession there?”
“Well, he might not like it,” he responded.
“He wouldn’t like it all,” I agreed, a little aggressively, “because he’s using confession just to shut the mouth of the priest with the seal of confession, because you know as well as I that anything that happens in a little town in Puglia ends up sooner than later being repeated to the priest a hundred times, and he’ll think that because he’s got in first, the priest won’t be able to say anything. And he knows the priest is the only one who would be brave enough or stupid enough to bring the matter up to someone like you if it wasn’t under the seal of confession, right?”
“I agree. He’s not going to like it,” repeated my interlocutor, agitated.
“That’s right, and I’m not going to give him absolution because if I did, with his wife and kids still there, and with him still in the local mafia, he would just kill again. You can’t get out of the mafia because you say you all of a sudden have conscience problems because you went to confession to the local priest. You have to disappear. So,” I now asked, turning the tables altogether, “what’s he going to do with me?”
“He’s going to shoot you on the spot,” he said, despairing, “because he will think that you are then not obliged by the seal of confession, and he thinks he will not be able to keep you silent.”
“But maybe that’s O.K., since you will have gotten what you want and I will have served the country.” I said this ever so very humbly, meekly… in a spirit of self-sacrifice, as if I was nevertheless considering his offer.
“What do you mean?” he said, on edge, but taken by my suddenly soft tone of voice.
“Well, you know,” I responded, playing the proud-to-know-secret-stuff-sycophant, “the FBI in New York was caught out twice for placing micro-transmitters in the confessionals in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.”
“Of course,” he said, doing his best to fake scrupulosity with his eyes cast down and to the side, “we have to get special permission when doing special operations.” He then looked up at me to see if his explanation was sufficient, though knowing that he’s never met someone better at interrogations than himself.
“No, I won’t do it. I won’t betray the grace of Christ,” I said, staring hard into his soul. He had failed. Yet another priest, predictably, was going to be faithful to the seal of Confession no matter the cost.
Here’s what any good priest thinks about breaking the seal of confession. Go to 2:58:08-2:58:35, just 28 seconds. I give it to you in Spanish because the voice-emotion is rather well acted. This was also in Puglia.
Here’s the deal: The seal of confession, as it is called, is an absolute. Torture me all you want. You’re not getting me to break the seal. Christ payed to forgive those sins with His blood, and that must not be mocked. The anti-mafioso military guy and the fairy tale mafia murderer were both wrong about the seal, by the way. Just because the intention was to commit a sacrilege doesn’t mean the seal isn’t there. I’ve seen bigger miracles in confession than going from sacrilege to absolution, though that’s pretty grand as well. And even if the priest would be killed off as in the story, that witness to Christ even for this most impossible sinner is something which can bring even such as him to true repentance. Really.
Stay tuned to get the flip-side of this: Year of Mercy Confession: worst case scenario. Part 2 – When NOT to refuse an absolution
© 2023 Fr George David Byers
3 responses to “Year of Mercy Confession: worst case scenario. Part 1 – When to refuse an absolution”
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Thank you for being so bold. I have had a less dramatic problem with my pending divorce, now pending for 5 years. I spoke out against judicial misconduct and was actually successful in getting my judge removed from my case. It was scary, but I knew that I was acting also for the good of other women who were also under the thumbs of these biased, dishonest judges. Reading your blog lets me know that I did the right thing also for Christ. Thank you for speaking out and not being too afraid to do so.
“Does repentance mean that you have to feel repentant? No! We can feel weak and tempted and useless, but that doesn’t mean we are not repentant, or that we are rejecting the grace given to us. It just means we feel whatever way. That’s a cross to carry by command of the Lord!”
What a great mercy to hear those words, Father! Whenever I catch myself committing a venial sin (and possibly worse!), I quickly make an act of contrition. Some days I an so “venial” that I say to the Lord “Why, O Lord am I throwing away the grace you so freely give me?” Or sometimes I say “Forgive me Lord for wasting your Grace!”
Now, thanks to these words of Mercy, I shall humbly say “Thank you Lord for this cross to bear, Jesus I trust in You.”