If a priest reveals what he’s heard in confession, will he go to hell?
I’ve read that a priest who violates the seal of confession suffers automatic excommunication which only the Holy See can remove. So, I would guess that a priest who reveals what he hears in confession is, at the least, in danger of hell.
That’s a serious question, for the simple reason that, in this anti-Catholic climate, we’re going to see more and more attempts to coerce priests to break the seal of confession. That would be a great triumph for Satan, since it would destroy the confidence of Catholics and break what has always been a powerful bond between them and their Church.
Catholics know that whatever they do, they can be forgiven by God. All Christians know this. But Catholics have the benefit of being able to actually confess their sins out loud and hear the words of absolution, applied directly to them. It does not matter what the sin is, they can do this in the confessional.
They also receive incredibly healing graces in this sacrament.
There is something about the cleansing power of the Sacrament of Confession that can make people who would not otherwise be able to approach communion feel worthy to do so. Confession heals, in and of itself. The sinner does not have to wonder if they’ve had the right attitude or if they’ve really been saved. All they have to do is confess and mean it. They can then draw a line under those bad things and walk out of that confessional, safe and secure in God’s grace.
All this is based on two things: The fact that Christ uses the priest for a conduit of His grace in this sacrament, and the fact that Catholics can trust that whatever they say in that confessional ends there.
I don’t know how priests deal with this burden, but I can say from my years of listening to non-sacramental confessions from thousands of constituents that God probably gives them the grace of forgetfulness. I know that I never remember the things my constituents have told me unless I need to in order to do something for them. I don’t mean I forget, exactly. I just mean that those things are not, ever, in my thoughts.
When I see the person the next time, I don’t think about or even remember what they’ve told me. It doesn’t stay in my thoughts at all. But if I need to remember for a legitimate reason, I do. I believe that is a grace that God bestows on office holders, an anointing, if you will, that allows them to keep the secrets their constituents share with them. From what I’ve seen, elected officials, no matter what rubes they may be in other ways, are very, very good at not talking about their constituents’ private matters.
I am guessing that priests experience something similar. If God gave me this grace, as an elected official, I can’t imagine why He wouldn’t give something like it to His priests who hear confessions.
That’s a good thing, because priests are more and more going to be the objects of assaults of various types in the courts. The underlying reason is that the devil is pretty much running the show in a large segment of Western society, and the devil hates priests.
If Satan can break a priest, if he can use a priest to his ends, the damage he can do to those of us in the pews is enormous. The single best way to wound the Body of Christ is to turn His ministers into weapons against the Church and the people of God.
If Satan can break the seal of the confessional, then he will, in one swoop, destroy the sacrament that bestows God’s cleansing healing on scarred and hurting souls. Of course, he can’t destroy the forgiveness and mercy of Christ. Jesus is perfectly capable of reaching into people directly. I have experienced this myself. But he can destroy the safe, reliable source of healing and forgiveness that is the sacrament of confession.
I think that’s the real reason behind the attacks on the confessional through the courts that crop up from time to time. I would guess that every priest knows that he can be drug through protracted court battles aimed at trying to get him to divulge something someone said to him in confession.
It happened a few years ago in Oregon when a prosecutor secretly taped a jailhouse confession and tried to use it in court. It’s happening in Louisiana right now as part of a civil lawsuit.
Father Jeff Bayhi is stuck between the Louisiana Supreme Court, a girl and her family who are suing for money, and going to hell.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana recently ruled that Father Bayhi must testify in court about the particulars of a confession that he may have heard in 2008. A girl, who was 14 at the time, says she confessed to him that she was being abused by a relative who is now dead. The girl’s parents are now suing Father Bayhi and the Diocese of Baton Rouge for failure to report the abuse.
This particular case has all the lightning rods in place: Priest. Sexual abuse of a minor. Failure to report.
The trouble, of course, is that the failure to report — assuming that the allegations that the girl made this confession are true — is that the lightning rods aren’t aligned the way they usually are. This isn’t about a bishop who failed to report an abusing priest. It is about a priest who — I repeat: if the confession took place as the girl claims — did not break the seal of confession.
The priest sex abuse scandal has given these particular lightning rods such drawing power that just putting the words out there in a row elicits all sorts of rage, disgust and dismissal. Priest. Sexual abuse of a minor. Failure to report. That’s a litany (if you will excuse the word) of betrayal that has been seared into the minds of everyone who hears it.
However, the Confessional is inviolate. Father Bayhi can not testify.
I can tell you that every time God has given me a chance to suffer for Him, I didn’t want it. I am not the stuff martyrs are made of. I’ve been kicked around quite a bit for my faith, and I’ve wailed and moaned and been angry about every single bit of it.
So, my heart goes out to Father Bayhi. He’s been given the awful gift of suffering for Christ. I can only imagine how terrifying and miserable all this is for him.
My grandmother used to talk about being “stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Father Bayhi is literally stuck between the devil and Jesus. The two things he’s got going for him are that he knows absolutely what he must do, and he’s not alone. Every faithful Catholic, everywhere, will stand behind him.
Will Father Bayhi have to go to jail? I doubt it. At some point, saner courts will probably prevail. But that’s not a sure thing. Not in today’s world.
When the New York Times can keep running ads openly attacking the Church in a manner that I can only describe as religious bigotry, and when large portions of the media are willing to publish vitriolic and categorically bigoted attacks on prominent Catholics for being Catholics, then anything is possible.
Father Bayhi and all our priests need our prayers. We need to stick together and stand up for one another.
It’s a bitter pill for Catholics, watching the videos of Archbishop Carlson’s testimony.
I understand and share the emotions it raises.
But we do not serve ourselves or our Church by pretending that it ain’t so. We’ve got to face this because it is reality. It doesn’t change in any way the simple fact that Jesus said “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
What it changes is the blind notion that many Catholics have — that we all want to have — that our religious leaders are sinless Christ figures themselves.
They’re just people, just like us. They are conduits of the graces of the sacraments. God can and does reach through them and into us when we go to them for support and help in our troubles.
But the miracle in that is all on God, not on them. They don’t create the miracle, they don’t control the grace. I know from personal experience that God can reach out and touch anyone, anytime. I believe that all that’s needed on our parts is a willing heart. All we have to do to receive God’s healing grace is say yes to it.
Why, then, a priesthood? If God can reach directly into us Himself then why do we need priests who are conduits of grace?
Because the priesthood is God’s instrument for bestowing this grace in an understandable, predictable and accessible way. I think that the emotionalism that is sometimes exhibited in some churches is an attempt to re-create that first transforming moment of grace when they originally said yes. It is an attempt to touch God and feel it again by using our own emotions to elevate ourselves to that level.
The Eucharist gives us that healing moment of grace, that experience of touching God, of feeling Christ, without any effort on our part. All we have to do is say yes and partake. It is the same with confession. Confession bestows healing grace. So much so that there have been times, including long periods when I was feeling especially challenged, that I went to confession every week, even though my sins were not so grave, because I needed that encounter with Christ, that healing grace that confession gives.
Sacramental confession strengthens us in an almost unfelt way. The more often we go to confession, the stronger we are in resisting evil. In fact, my experience has been that if I confess something on a regular basis, I stop wanting to do it. It takes a bit of time, but that’s what happens.
These graces, as well as the graces of the other sacraments, flow through the priest in a way that is simple for those of us who receive it. We don’t have to understand theology. We don’t have to work ourselves into an emotional high. All we have to do is say yes and accept the grace that is freely given to us.
The crowning moment of grace is always the Eucharist, which is direct contact with Christ. So far as I’m concerned — and I’m not a theologian, so this applies only to me and my understanding — the Church is the Eucharist. And we are the eucharist. Because the Eucharist is Christ. The priesthood exists to bestow grace. Priests are conduits of grace, and it does not matter what kind of hooligan they are personally, the graces of the sacraments flow through them to us, regardless.
Which brings me back to Archbishop Carlson. I wouldn’t call him a hooligan. In fact, I’m not sure how to label him. I don’t want to label him and his faults. It is enough for me that this is the situation in which we find ourselves, him and us. Because at this point, that’s what it’s about: Him and us.
Not, Jesus and us, or even the Church and us. But poor, messed up Archbishop Carlson and us. We don’t have to decide what to do about Archbishop Carlson. What we are tasked with is determining how we are going to relate to our dear Church in the light of the obvious fact that our leaders are ordinary people.
They can be cowards. Just like us.
They can be craven. Just like us.
They can lie, cheat, steal and run away when they get in trouble. Just like us.
They can gossip and betray confidences, hold grudges and be spiteful. Just like us.
They are not Christ.
What they are is men who have consented to be the conduits of grace to Christ’s Church, which is us. There is a moment when heaven comes to earth and the Eucharist becomes His Body, His blood, in which the divine flows through them.
The fact that a few of them become callous about this and begin to devalue it and even start thinking that it is all about them and not Jesus, does not change the impact it has on us. The Eucharist is still real, even if the priest is a messed-up welter of confusion and sin.
Archbishop Carlson reveals himself to be a lawyered-up citizen who ducks and covers under oath in an act of self defense. I have no idea why he didn’t do the obvious thing and exercise his right to take the Fifth Amendment. It would have been far less damaging to his credibility than this performance.
You can find the full text of his deposition here. Many of the salient comments are highlighted to make them easy to find.
There really isn’t any point in trying to find an “out” for Archbishop Carlson in this. The deposition speaks for itself. Besides, it’s not our job to judge Archbishop Carlson. Our job is the much tougher one of working out how to be a faithful Catholic in a world of fallen leaders, including our leaders in the Church.
How do we follow these men when they are so nothing special as this deposition reveals them to be? Not, mind you, worse than us. Most of us would duck and cover in a deposition like this one, just like the Archbishop. Any of us who have brains would get the best legal counsel we could and do exactly what that attorney told us to do.
Archbishop Carlson doesn’t reveal himself to be a fiend in this deposition. He reveals himself to be no better than the rest of us.
Which brings us back to the task that faces us. We are fallen people, served by a priesthood that is composed entirely of fallen people, living in a fallen world.
Yet we serve a risen Savior, Who is God Incarnate. We are called to be “perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
But we can’t do it. We. Can. Not. Do. It. We don’t get through a single day without at least one and usually many sins of one sort or another.
We want heroes who will give us the illusion of the possibility of human perfection. But human perfection is always just that; an illusion.
To put it bluntly, we are all — priest and parishioner alike — down here in the pits together. As Jesus said, “There is none good except God.”
So how do we solve this conundrum of answering a call to be “perfect” while we are certain that there is “none good” among humankind?
We solve it by getting up every morning and giving our day to Jesus and His Mother. We solve it by availing ourselves of the certain graces of the sacraments. We solve it by forgiving each other and sustaining one another in our weakness.
How does this apply to the Archbishop Carlsons in our clerical leadership? More to the point, how does it apply to us and our response to the Archbishop Carlsons in our leadership?
My answer — and this is just me, talking about me — is that we need to cherish these men and help them as we can. At the same time, we need to stop pretending that they are anything other than fallen human beings. When they stand behind that altar and lift up the host, they are conduits of God’s grace. When they come down from behind the altar and scald us with a fit of rage or lie in a deposition, they are just people, wallowing around in the pit of failed good intentions along with the rest of us.
This is difficult for Catholics. It’s difficult for me. I am still working out how to deal with wounds inflicted by clergy. Some days I don’t do so well with it. Protestants can just dismiss their clergy as fallen people and be done with it. But Catholics are part of a hierarchical Church whose entire governance is built on the administration of these fallen men.
How do we, as Catholics, remain faithful when we see by their actions that we must be judicious about how and when we follow our clergy?
This is a tough one. It’s not always or even mostly about big public dilemmas like Archbishop Carlson’s dipping and dodging deposition. It is usually more personal, and because of that, far more damaging to us as Christians and Catholics.
How do we, say, disregard things a priest or spiritual director says to us in a fit of rage? How do we decide what to believe and what not to believe about the things they say to us? How do we overcome the sense of betrayal when a priest gossips about our deepest hurts? These are more the kinds of things that most Catholics must overcome in their walk of faith. The big public falls from grace seem easy to me compared to those much deeper personal dilemmas. How do we live together as Catholics in this fallen world?
These are hard questions with no easy answers. I’m going to leave it open for discussion and see what the rest of you think. In the meantime, take a look at Archbishop Carlson’s deposition. It’s clearly not a case of dementia or anything like it. He’s dipping and dodging and doing it quite well. Just like us.
Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.
According to the folks at the History Channel, NatGeo and other purveyors of revisionist Christianity, Judas Iscariot was a well-meaning, misunderstood victim of his own good intentions.
Every year at this time, we are treated to shows that expose us to experts we’ve never heard of before expounding on how Judas didn’t really mean it. He was, they tell us with remarkable certainty, just trying to provoke Jesus into defending Himself and starting a revolution. Judas wanted a warrior messiah who would throw off the Roman yoke and return Israel to the glory days of Kings David and Solomon, they say.
Instead, he got this gentle healer and teacher who refused, as Scripture tells us, to bruise a reed.
So, Judas took things into his own hands. He set Jesus up with the intention of having Him throw off his attackers like Samson slaying the Philistines. What he got instead was a crucified Lord and guilt that destroyed him.
It’s difficult, 2,000 years later, to determine Judas’ intentions. Whatever he intended to happen, his failure of faith doomed him in the end.
Notice, I do not say that his betrayal of our Lord doomed him. I don’t say it, because that didn’t do it.
Peter betrayed Jesus, as did all the Apostles except John. Peter suffered the ignominy of denying that he even knew Jesus. He denied Jesus repeatedly, and then, at the critical moment, when he was actively cursing Jesus, he turned and saw his Master looking at him while he did it.
That black night was such a welter of misery and betrayal. It was, as Jesus said, Satan’s hour.
There is such poignance to the things Jesus said during this time. The hurt echoes in the statement, Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?
Think about it for a moment. Judas knew Him. He had traveled with Him, ate with Him, followed, listened and been near Him for years. He’d seen the miracles, experienced the love. Then, whatever his motives, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. And he did it with a kiss.
Jesus’ sadness, not for Himself, but for Judas, reverberates down the centuries. Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?
But it wasn’t the kiss the doomed Judas. It wasn’t the thirty pieces of silver or the betrayal. It was Judas’ lack of faith.
In the final analysis, the thing that separates Judas and Peter is faith.
Is it faith, or is it weakness to turn to God with our sins and confess them to the depths of their utter blackness? Is it faith or is it brokenness that makes us throw ourselves on His mercy and seek forgiveness we know we do not deserve and can never earn?
It is lack of faith, or is it pride that keeps others from admitting their crimes against God? What causes one person to seal themselves inside their sinfulness and die there, while another reaches out like they were drowning and grasps the nail-scarred hand?
I think all these things are factors to differing degrees with different people. But in Judas’ case, it was most likely a lack of faith. Judas had no pride when he went to the priests and threw the money at them. “I have betrayed an innocent man,” he said.
He had no problem admitting the truth of what he had done. He just didn’t admit it to the right person. The priests, now that they had their prey, no longer found Judas useful. “What is that to us,” they replied to his anguished admission. “See to it yourself.”
One might ask what kind of priests these really were who would turn away a sin-sick man so coldly. But such a question would be redundant. They were corrupt priests who had plotted, bribed and bullied their way to the execution of an innocent man in order to preserve their delicately balanced position of power in occupied Israel.
Did they know this innocent man was God? I don’t think so. After all, Jesus, when He prayed for them, said they know not what they do.
But they did know He was innocent. They did know the lies, bribes and political maneuvering they had committed to bring about His death. They knew what they had done, and they were, as Jesus described them earlier in His ministry, indifferent with great hardness of heart.
Judas confessed his sin. But he confessed it to the wrong person. He went to corrupt priests who told him to “see to it” himself.
Peter, after enduring what must have been unbearable grief and shame, took his sin to Christ.
Judas could and would have been forgiven. All he had to do was humble himself and ask for it of the Man he had betrayed.
The lesson in all this for us is not so much that we should never betray a friend — although that is certainly a worthwhile lesson to learn. The lesson is that, no matter what we have done, we can find forgiveness in the merciful heart of Jesus.
No matter what we have done. No matter how many times we have done it. No matter how horrible or trivial it is. We are sinners. And we need the forgiveness of the only One who has the right to forgive. We need tthe forgiveness of the Living Christ.
Confession is not a way of sidestepping this forgiveness, it is a conduit of its grace. The priest does not and cannot forgive us. He does not and cannot confer newness of life on us. Those things come only from Christ Jesus.
Confession is a simple and accessible way to meet the Risen Lord. it is contact with Christ through the graces of the Church.
However, the healing comes from one place only, and that is the Heart of Our Lord. Even though we should all go to confession, we should never wait to take our sins to Jesus.
If you have sinned — and we all have — turn to Him immediately and ask forgiveness. Then, go to confession when it’s available to you.
Then, Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, Scripture tells us.
Simon, Satan has asked to have you, that he may sift you like wheat, Jesus warned Peter.
Satan had his day with both these men. One of them emerged stronger, the rock on which Christ would build His Church.
The other went out and hanged himself.
They both repented of their sins, and grieved them deeply. The difference is who they asked for forgiveness.
Pope Francis has set aside this coming Friday as “24 hours for the Lord.”
He is hoping that local parishes will offer special opportunities for prayer and the sacrament of confession. I’m going to try to take advantage of this call for prayer and reconciliation as best I can. Hopefully, many Public Catholic readers will do the same.
We are living in times where our faith is challenged and attacked by the larger culture. If we are going to stand for Christ and not fail, we need to pray and keep ourselves spiritually clean.
From Catholic News Agency:
.- During his Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis announced that March 29-30 would be “24 hours for the Lord,” during which people can find special opportunities for prayer and the sacrament of confession.
“Next Friday and Saturday we will live a special moment of penance, called ‘24 hours for the Lord.’ It will begin with a (liturgical) Celebration in the Basilica of St. Peter’s (on) Friday afternoon, then in the evening and night some churches in the center of Rome will be open for prayer and confessions,” he explained to the crowds in St. Peter’s square on March 23.
“It will be – we could call it - a celebration of forgiveness, which will happen also in many dioceses and parishes of of the world.”
The Holy Father then noted that “the forgiveness that the Lord gives us” should make us “celebrate like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who when the son returned home, had a party, forgetting all his sins.”
How to do Lent in the fast lane?
More to the point, how to do Lent when I’m catching myself running in circles?
This time of year is uber busy, fragmented and exhausting for Oklahoma House Members. How do I find time to pray more than Now I lay me and Bless us oh Lord?
What of the disciplines of fasting, alms and deep examination of conscience? Does all that go by the board when I’m stuck eating whatever is put in front of me and almost never get a moment alone?
I’m certain that I’m not the only person who finds themselves caught in a whirlpool of busyness during these days of Lent. That is, after all, our modern curse.
We are overwhelmed by a tsunami of too much: Too much stuff, too many activities and far too many people competing for our attention.
“Doing” Lent under those circumstances can easily reduce itself down to its lowest common denominator. Tuna sandwich for lunch on Fridays? Check. Grilled cheese for lunch on Ash Wednesday? Check. Confession, whether you need it or not? Check and check. And, oh yes, keep your sticky little fingers out of the candy dish at work.
Here we are, dealing with the fulcrum of history; the moment at which everything changed. We are considering the point at which the hopelessness of vanity, vanity all is vanity before Calvary was transformed into the birth of life everlasting after Calvary. Everything turns on that hilltop with the three crosses 2,000 years ago.
Lent is designed to take us there. It is meant to bring us to our knees before the foot of the cross where we can be born again.
But when you’re being drug by the runaway horse of overwhelming busyness that is our modern life, how do you do more than the minimum? How do you find the space, the quiet, the time to hear that still small voice?
I’ve dealt with this for years and to be honest, I’ve never found a fully satisfactory answer for it. Doing the minimum isn’t so minimum when it’s all you can manage. There is an element of faithfulness involved in those tuna sandwiches and skipped candy.
The trouble with doing the minimum is that it leaves you basically the same as you were before you did it. You don’t necessarily slide back spiritually the way you would if you didn’t try at all, but you won’t grow in Christ by doing the minimum. The minimum leaves you spiritually fed, but at a bare sustenance level.
Doing the minimum is just a step above not doing at all. It’s easy to slide from the minimum to less than the minimum and a deteriorating faith walk that leaves you half Christian.
How does anyone grow spiritually while living the lives we do, where emotional fracturing and distancing from faith seem built into the structure of it?
My advice, which is the advice of a woman whose Lenten practices are mostly a matter of minimums sandwiched into busyness, is to do at least the minimum, no matter what. Even if it means eating really substandard food like a spoonful of banquet carrots with a spoonful of banquet mashed potatoes with some kind of something that’s supposed to be gravy for lunch, do the minimum. Do it even if you can’t for the life of you remember your sins and have to search your memory while you’re standing in line outside the confessional.
I have a completely personal theology for doing the minimum that I call “God supplies the lacks.” What I mean by that is that I trust that if I don’t remember to confess every sin, or even my most important sins, God, Who knows everything about me, will supply the lacks and forgive me my forgetfulness, He supplies the lacks in my confession. God supplies the lacks. I don’t have anything but my own faith to base that on, but I believe it to a profound level.
I am not talking about deliberate refusal to do what you should when you have the opportunity to do it. I mean when you’re grinding metal in your life, God will supply the lacks to see you through it spiritually intact. All you have to do is your part, by which I mean those minimums offered up with the knowledge that the minimum is not really enough to keep you spiritually healthy for the long haul and a firm intention to do more and do better when you can.
This leads me to the “when you can” part of that. If your life is like Marine Corp boot camp 52 weeks out of every year, you really need to re-think your way of living. Otherwise, you’re going to be talking to God face to face a lot sooner than you expect. No one can use themselves up without breaking stride for their whole span of days.
You have to take time outs. It is essential to your sanity, health and purpose as a human being. For a workaholic, time out requires discipline. It is just as difficult for someone who is inured to a life of constant stimulation and overwork to take a pause as it is for a couch potato to get up and get moving. They are two sides of the same self-destructive coin.
Obeying the commandment to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” is your best friend in this. I didn’t know this a year ago. I didn’t even know it six months ago. I had one of those spoing! moments of insight that occasionally come along. I realized that I had been breaking one of the commandments without realizing the significance of what I was doing.
It’s not easy for someone like me to quit working for one full day each week. But I have found it to be my new best friend. I recommend it for anyone and everyone as a bare minimum of Christian living. It not only rests your mind; it opens your heart to God. I was surprised by the effect this simple act of obedience had on my closeness with Christ. If your job requires you to work on Sunday and you can’t get out of it, my advice is take your sabbath rest on another day. Do not cheat yourself of this great gift of the Sabbath.
Sunday rest is another bare minimum of Christian followership. But if you add it to the bare minimums of fasting, confession, weekly eucharist, you will find that they combine to lift you out of the basement Christian walk of maintenance spirituality and into a gentle curve of Christian growth.
Doing Lent in the fast lane is often about doing the minimum. The minimum will starve you spiritually over the long haul. But if you do it with love of Christ, you will be able to make up for it at other times.
That’s how I get through it. I do the minimum, and whatever else I can in addition to that minimum. And I trust God to supply the lacks.