As you have probably guessed, I come from Ireland. The Irish can make a joke out of anything. It's not that they don't take important things seriously; it's just that their humor often helps them deal with sometimes unpalatable truths. When I thought of speaking to you today about the curse of the Confessional, I remembered a story. Mrs. Mulgrew went into the Confessional and was about to start when she detected that the man behind the screen was not be her usual priest. "You're not Father O'Rourke. What are you doing here?" she said. "No," the man replied, "I am the furniture polisher." "And where is Father O'Rourke?" asked Mrs. Mulgrew. "I don't know, "replied the furniture polisher, "but if he has heard anything like the stories that I have been listening to, he has probably gone for the police!"
As usual, behind the humor there is a very serious point. North America's most famous convert to Christianity from the Roman Catholic priesthood was Charles Chiniquy, a French Canadian who led a community to Illinois. Chiniquy's conversion is an amazing story, as is his subsequent mission to expose the anti-Christianity of the Roman Catholic system. In one of his most devastating critiques, Chiniquy wrote a book that swept the Christian world in his day. He titled it, The Priest, the Woman and the Confessional and in it he charged that the Roman priesthood was guilty of widespread abuse and immorality. Now remember that was back in the 19th century, before the almost daily exposure of the immorality and deviancy of thousands of Roman Catholic priests.
By its nature, the Confessional lends itself to abuse. Rome demands that her faithful make confession of grave sins (mortal sins, she terms them) to a priest at least once a year. She calls for a much more frequent confession and exhorts her people to confess their venial or lesser sins as well. This intrusion of the priest into the private lives and even thoughts of men and women has produced an almost endless catalog of abuse. It is corrupting both to the priest and the person confessing. And it is entirely without New Testament warrant. Christians do not need a priest to hear them as they make their confession to God. To be sure, they should confess their faults one to another and at times the things they confess in secret to the Lord will have to be confessed to offended parties or even to the police. But all this is a far cry from Rome's ritualized Confessional where a priest hears confession, doles out what Rome terms "temporal punishment" and then pronounces pardon: "I forgive you."
It is all wrong. The priest is a usurper of Christ's office-Christ is the only priest over the people of God who are all priests unto God. Pardon is not purchased or merited by doing penance or bearing temporal punishment. And no false priest has the power to forgive sin if you meet the conditions he has set for your penance. The Bible way is far better: "If we confess our sins [to God], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).