Confession. Penance. Apostolic Penitentiary.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader had not weighed in on Robbo’s recent post concerning the appelation of the sacrament known as Confession, Penance, or Reconciliation. This is mainly because your Maximum Leader (in addition to being a bad man) has used all three appelations rather interchangably.

Well… In the serindipity that is the world sometimes… What should come across the AP news wire but this story: Vatican secret confession tribunal opens up. The article reads:

One of the Vatican’s most secrecy shrouded tribunals, which handles confessions of sins so grave only the pope can grant absolution, is giving the faithful a peek into its workings for the first time in its 830-year history.

The Vatican has long lamented that fewer and fewer Catholics are going to confession, the sacrament in which the faithful can receive forgiveness if they sincerely confess their sins to a priest.

To combat the decline, the so-called “tribunal of conscience” invited the public into the frescoed halls of its imposing 16th-century palazzo for a two-day conference that ended Wednesday.

The aim was to explain what the Apostolic Penitentiary actually does, and thereby encourage more of the faithful to go to confession, said Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, the tribunal’s No. 2 official.

“Even though it’s the oldest department of the Holy See, it’s very little known — specifically because by its nature it deals with secret things,” he said. “We want to relaunch the sacrament of penance.”

This was quite intriguing to your Maximum Leader as he’d never known such a tribunal existed. And he also never knew specifically that there were sins so grave that only the Pope could grant absolution. He had assumed that there were probably real “doozy” sins that required going to a Bishop. He supposes that at some level he might have assumed that there were sins so serious one would need to get in contact with Rome (at least) before granting absolution.

Well… The list of sins handled by the Apostolic Penitentiary was not at all what he thought. According to the AP piece they are: “defiling the Eucharist… priest breaking the seal of the confessional by revealing the nature of the sin and the person who sought penance, or a priest who has sex with someone and then offered forgiveness for the act.” Your Maximum Leader assumes that this is not a comprehensive list, but this short list includes three items that have actaully never entered into your Maximum Leader’s mind. (Because he isn’t a priest he’s never really contemplated the two; and it has never crossed his mind to defile the Eucharist.)

One wonders if the act of confession dealt with by the Apostolic Penitentiary actually ends with the penitant coming and confessing to the Pope personally. Your Maximum Leader would assume that it would have to be a face to face encounter. He doubts that the Pope would sit in a little confessional and open the screen to hear the confession.

This reminds your Maximum Leader of one time he went to confession. Many years ago he happened to be on the campus of Catholic U and walked into the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was during one of the times they offered Confession, so your Maximum Leader decided to make a confession. Up to this point in his life, he’d always gone into the little dark confessional and waited for the screen to open and get started. Well, there was some construction in the area where they normally have the confessionals. So he waited in a side chapel in front of a nondescript door. People would go in, and after a time would come out. When it was your Maximum Leader’s turn he walked in and found himself face to face with a priest sitting in a bright room with two chairs. There was a moment there when your Maximum Leader considered walking right out without opening his mouth. He was used to the dark. Used to the annonymity. Used to hiding what he was doing. But there was no hiding here. Bright light. Open chairs. Face to face (almost eye to eye) contact.

It was one of the most difficult things your Maximum Leader ever did; making his confession that day.

In retrospect it seemed the most fulfilling as well. There was something very comforting about seeing the priest and making a personal connection.

Carry on.

1 Comment »
Robbo said:

My very first confession was face to face, so it was doubly hard. Fortunately, it was with the least-scary priest in the parish. I’m not sure how I would have handled some of our more rigid ones - it’s hard enough talking to them through the little screen. (But well worth the discomfort, of course.)

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