Torture chamber confessionals nixed. Pope Francis: contrition, amendment? Instead: I think, therefore I am saved.

torture chamber

Torture chambers…

For the umpteenth time, on 30 April in Saint Peter’s Square, the Holy Father has again commanded priests in no uncertain terms not to make their confessionals into torture chambers and interrogation rooms. This was the lead story on 1 May 2016 in l’Osservatore Romano.

interrogation room

Interrogation rooms…

Since this has become one of the most frequent themes of the pontificate of Pope Francis, one would think that he actually thinks that all priests do make their confessionals into torture rooms and interrogation rooms. Since priests who make their confessionals into torture chambers and interrogation rooms belong immediately in the lowest reaches of hell, perhaps one might think in an unthinking way that the Holy Father ought to have mercy before that judgment is brought down upon them, to the effect that a new Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition be set up to discover which priests are so very lacking in mercy (all of them), so they might be brought by means of whatever it takes to understand what mercy is all about, with whatever it takes including torture and vicious interrogation. I mean, heaven and hell are for eternity, right? Whatever it takes is O.K., right? Remember, this bit about torture and interrogation really is a constant theme of Pope Francis. Is his constant attack on the priesthood, his constantly kicking priests in the face justified? Perhaps. In thinking about this not in an unthinking way, I think I’ve figured out what the Holy Father is thinking about this, whether he is doing that in a thinking or unthinking way I do not know. But, let’s think about this…

Methinks that this constant reference to the torture chambers and interrogation rooms of priests right around the world is meant to get priests to think about the quality of the conditions they lay on people prior to their reception of an absolution in confession. I think the Holy Father thinks that confessors right around the world think that any sign of repentance in and of itself brings in its wake also contrition and a purpose of amendment, and I think that that is what the Holy Father thinks is absolutely intolerable, as intolerable as any torture or vicious interrogation. I think that he’s not accusing anyone of wittingly going about torture and interrogation, only that he thinks that all priests have a totally insufficient theology regarding repentance, a theology which must be reformed, a theology which will not be reformed unless he makes all priests so angry that they will actually think about what he has to say. Clever. Again, let’s think about this.

The Holy Father does think, by the way, that a sign of repentance is a necessary condition for absolution in the confessional, enough to deny absolution if it is not there (as he told us Missionaries of Mercy on Shrove Tuesday 2016). This is from 30 May:

“Dio non si rassegna mai alla possibilità che una persona rimanga estranea al suo amore, a condizione però di trovare in lei qualche segno di pentimento per il male compiuto.” “God is never resigned to the possibility that a person remains foreign to His love, on the condition, however, to find in this person some sign of repentance for the evil done.”

I think the Holy Father thinks that this repentance does not at all necessarily have to bring in its wake contrition and a purpose of amendment, at least not right away, as repentance, for the Holy Father, is more about a process, a path, than an event. I think the Holy Father thinks that priests right around the world are oblivious to his understanding, blindly thinking, therefore, in his opinion, that repentance brings in its wake contrition and some purpose of amendment. This take on what Pope Francis thinks would be entirely consonant with Amoris laetitia in every way. Here’s my translation of more of that Saturday audience:

prodigal son

From l’Osservatore Romano

“May no one remain far from God because of obstacles put before them by men! And this goes also — and I say this underlining it — for confessors — it is valid for them –: please, do not put obstacles in front of people who want to reconcile themselves with God. The confessor must be a father! He takes the place of God the Father! The confessor must receive those who come to him to reconcile themselves with God and start them out on the path of this reconciliation that we are making [in other words a path of repentance merely in one’s mind but without the immediate contrition and purpose of amendment which would complete the path, those almost impossible conditions of the love which may perhaps come later (in Pope Francis’ mind)]. It is such a beautiful ministry: it is not a torture chamber nor an interrogation room. No. [Contrition? Amendment? Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Just be beautiful in your own mind, get absolution and to to Communion.]. He is the Father who receives and welcomes this person and pardons. Let us be reconciled with God! All of us! May this Holy Year be the favorable time to rediscover the need of tenderness and of the closeness of the Father [step one, which is what he thinks the prodigal son did when out with the pigs] so as to return to Him wholeheartedly [step two, the reversal of what actually happens in the parable of the prodigal son, who is instead found (but we will get to that in a future post, but note that this is the central mistake of Pope Francis)].” [In other words, this is all a repeat of footnote 351 in Amoris laetitia.]

True repentance without contrition and without some purpose of amendment is simply not possible. That would be a repentance which is not repentant at all. Or better, since repentance = rethinking (metanoia), such repentance without contrition and without some purpose of amendment would be no more than a mind game, that which is Promethean, neo-Pelagian, self-absorbed, self-referential, self-congratulatory. This is totally lacking in love, totally lacking in mercy. I think, therefore I am saved. It makes the sacraments a joke. It makes a joke of Christ’s faithful. It makes a joke of the priests who want to bring people into Christ’s love, not simply into some mind-game. Once entered into, how is it that one can extract someone out of such a mind-game? Is it not the same way that one might present at the very beginning of the “process”? Is it not all about Jesus and His love which is stronger than death? Yes. Repentance comes with contrition, an act of love, and purpose of amendment, an act of love. Repentance without contrition and purpose of amendment is not simply atrition, sorry for the loss of heaven and the pains of hell (which is good in and of itself and sufficient to bring one to confession and receive absolution if there is also a repentance with purpose of amendment). Instead, repentance without contrition and purpose of amendment is, again, simply a mind-game which has no respect for the one who would provide pardon. It makes one into the elder brother of the prodigal. It is self-righteous, loving only of self specifically apart from God.

Holy Father, I love you to pieces, but you are wrong. Why do you torture your priests and Christ’s faithful with that which is less than love? I’m sure you want a more profound theology about all this. I will provide that with a future post on the prodigal son. It will be sure to knock your black shoes off! Stay tuned.

[Original Italian for my translation above:] “Nessuno rimanga lontano da Dio a causa di ostacoli posti dagli uomini! E questo vale anche — e lo dico sottolineandolo — per i confessori — è valido per loro —: per favore, non mettere ostacoli alle persone che vogliono riconciliarsi con Dio. Il confessore deve essere un padre! È al posto di Dio Padre! Il confessore deve accogliere le persone che vengono da lui per riconciliarsi con Dio e aiutarle nel cammino di questa riconciliazione che stiamo facendo. È un ministero tanto bello: non è una sala di tortura né un interrogatorio, no, è il Padre che riceve e accoglie questa persona e perdona. Lasciamoci riconciliare con Dio! Tutti noi! Questo Anno Santo sia il tempo favorevole per riscoprire il bisogno della tenerezza e della vicinanza del Padre per ritornare a Lui con tutto il cuore.”



Filed under Amoris laetitia, Confession, Mercy, Missionaries of Mercy, Pope Francis, Synod on the Family, Year of Mercy

8 responses to “Torture chamber confessionals nixed. Pope Francis: contrition, amendment? Instead: I think, therefore I am saved.

  1. Fr Byers, I had to laugh when you wrote in one of your columns that it is said that Fr. Byers has never had an unpublished thought. (…or words to that effect,). I am glad for your published thoughts…I am printing and slowly reading/ re-reading your posts on the AL – because the exhortation really scandalized me, and I think you address the scandalizing parts squarely and head on.

    Regarding the Holy Father’s idea of repentance, it possible that the Holy Father is mixing up remorse for repentance? I ask this in light of the comments Pope Francis made regarding Judas, ….

    God bless

    • Father George David Byers

      Good question, geneticallycatholic

    • Father George David Byers

      The thing is, his repentance is a process precisely because it’s a mind game and NOT being cast to ones knees in reverence before Jesus and His wounds. The prodigal had a good remorse of attrition out with the pigs, far beyond the starting point of the Holy Father.

  2. Cathy

    Sometimes the only time I was catechized in certain areas of life, were through the questions of the priest in confession, especially in regards to sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion. I am eternally grateful for the kind priest’s “interrogation” in this regard. I am more tortured by the thought that this generation was experimented with in such a variety of ways that we were declared unworthy of profound and eternal truth and excused by ignorance. So many of us attended Catholic schools, I have to ask, was the ignorance the student’s intention?

    • Father George David Byers

      Straw men are, of course, just that. Some questions are good. Societal manipulation by way of messing with true religion is not good.

  3. Pam

    Father, you really put it right out there! I join others in my appreciation and gratitude for your courage and forthrightness. I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams being able to go to any priest I have had in the parishes I’ve attended, and talk to them in depth, freely and honestly about these things. I believe faithful Catholics almost feel like they are “hiding out” in their parishes, at least those like me who don’t have personal relationships with any priests and have only ever known them from afar, so to speak.

    I’ve been upset a few times when I went to a priest with something that wasn’t a run-of-the-mill problem. That wild young man we took in was baptized Catholic but that was the extent of it. Everything else he experienced growing up was just about demonic. I talked to a priest about him, because I was so afraid for his soul. He never offered to even see the young man. Instead he seemed to react as if there was something wrong with me. One day I took the young man and waited outside while he went into the confessional. The priest wouldn’t talk to him and said he couldn’t come to confession. He did encourage him to sign up for RCIA, which was going to start in about 9 months!! I just don’t get it sometimes.

  4. There are many priests so kind they can’t wrap their minds around other priests making confession “torture.” I used to think they were all that way, but later found some should be barred from the booth! As a disabled new widow, I experienced the worst: home alone with my grown son out most of the time, I mentioned at confession that I’d like to be active at church. The priest began yelling that my role as a woman was to “cook and clean floors AT HOME!” Through misguided gossip, he thought I wanted to sing (a former profession, but untrue). He didn’t let me explain that bone disease prevented “cooking and scrubbing floors.” When I respectfully tried to say he had me wrong, he screamed,”get OUT!” (several times)”We don’t NEED you!!”. My son went to him after he’d terrorized me to explain, and once outside the booth, he seemed calm. My son then asked if he could confess, whereupon the priest started yelling that he “was LATE!” And “NEVER ask me like that again!” (people in the church probably assumed that we were abortionists!!)

    After eight years at that parish, my son and I went to the pastor about what happened to us. He said he’d have “a talk with the priest,” but he never did. There are priests who: insist that someone probably has sexual sins (and asks them repeatedly), who don’t believe the penitent, and even who yell for reason of some personal problem (this priest finally left with an undisclosed illness).

    I don’t know the context Francis said this in, but for laity it is a soul crushing disaster when the only priest available for confession is one of the above. Could it be that Francis’ mistake is not mentioning the good confessors??

    • Father George David Byers

      I’m so very sorry you had to go through this…. Offer this for us priests, please.

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