I’m sitting at my desk, drinking a beer and listening to Dishwalla (shut up), and feeling lost. It’s one month until Lent starts, and I’ve been thinking vaguely about what I’ll do for it, but something feels sort of unreal about it.
I’ve never felt as disconnected from the Church as I do now. Alienated, even. I’ve been wanting for a while to go to confession—I haven’t been since just before Christmas—but the brute fact is, I just don’t trust priests any more. After the revelations of the last three years, I feel completely betrayed, like they’ve made a fool of me; which they have, they did that to all of us. And I know perfectly well that in confession you’re speaking to Christ and receiving his forgiveness, but all the same, you’re receiving it through the priest, and how do you open yourself up to that when priests, both individually and as a class, have let you down? How do you steel yourself to take that risk again?
Child abuse. They hid child abuse. They kept abusers in positions of power over children. They promoted known abusers. They paid them lavish salaries and gave victims hush money and not only concealed the truth but lied to our faces about it. How the fuck do we ever trust priests and bishops again?
In perspective, my complaints about poor confessors are utterly trivial, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t contribute. In my most recent confession, I had to go to a priest whom I very much dislike: he’s made some really insulting remarks to me about my psychology and spirituality (not in the confessional), in response to my not liking a catechetical series he uses, and while I am not sure, I think he also called me a liar (in the confessional). But I went anyway, because I wanted to be able to commune on Christmas. I studiously avoided the word ‘gay’ in making my confession, because it’s impossible to use that word and not get a five-minute lecture from the priest about how your sexuality doesn’t define you (yeah, I get it, I’m a grown man, and your assumption that gay people are immature because they use that word is actually really demeaning and shallow, but whatever)—and still, still! when he recommended Courage to me and I said I wasn’t interested, still I got a lecture on not defining myself by my sexuality, when all I did was make a confession! On top of the general treachery of the clergy en masse, how am I supposed to subject myself to this repeated, petty refusal of almost every priest I know to just not make these condescending assumptions about me?
It’d be easy to say I just don’t want to confess my sins because I don’t want to give them up. Easy, and perfectly true. I have more than one possession which, in the interest of chastity, I really ought to just get rid of, full stop. I don’t, partly because the sins in question are fun and I don’t want to quit, partly out of worry that my resolve will fail (it will) and I’ll just spend additional money replacing them. Rationalization. It’s rarely difficult to find quite plausible reasons to go through with what you wanted to do anyway. I used to think I cared a lot about moral consistency, and, while I do care about honesty, I find I simply do not care about chastity. I tried to, and I just don’t. I don’t know where you go from there—except, maybe, asking God to make me care, which is terrifying to even think about. I spent twenty years as a Calvinist caring about every possible moral infraction as evidence that I didn’t really have faith in God and would be duly damned; the only way I can (currently) imagine wanting to be chaste is recollecting that, and I would literally eat glass to not go through those twenty years again.
And I am obviously very proud, and that doesn’t help. People don’t nurse grudges for months and years over having their ego wounded because they’re humble. A media-savvy priest whom I like and distrust once described the confessional as the place where ego goes to die, and he’s not wrong.
How do you get past accumulated personal hurt, thoroughly justified collective outrage, and the sheer mental and emotional exhaustion that both produce, long enough to make a good confession?