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.
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:
“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.”