The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Inside the Confessional: Are you honoring or angering God? (Guidance for Priests)

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Spiritual rebellion is an issue that has to be worked out between each soul and God. It is God who we are rebelling against when we blow off His convictions, and until we own up to that fact and sincerely repent in the privacy of our own souls, we aren’t going to get anywhere.

Now the whole confessional set up is a problem from the very beginning, because the Church is trying to make you a mediator for God when she orders you into that box. Despite what she says, this is not something which God Himself approves of. While there is certainly value in parishioners discussing things that are weighing on their consciences and asking their spiritual leaders for advice, you need to understand that the only way this process is going to benefit anyone is if God Himself gets involved. As a human being, you seem more accessible to the spiritually young, because they have not yet developed confidence in the access that they have to God themselves. As shepherds, we should be wanting to help the sheep gain that confidence as quickly as possible. We should not be doing anything to encourage dependency on human leaders, but rather we should be taking every opportunity to encourage the flock to seek guidance from God directly.

We are not authorized to act as God’s replacements. In the ideal world, the sheep would each rely on God directly and bypass us entirely. The best thing a shepherd can hear a sheep say is, “I don’t need you, because I’ve got God.” God calls us to perpetually drive the sheep towards Him and He gets mighty ticked at us when we start trying to exalt ourselves in His Presence. When you sit down in that confessional and encourage souls to confess their sins to you as if talking to you has some kind of great spiritual significance, are you teaching them the right things? You’re not God. You don’t have the authority to forgive sins, and it’s much too dangerous to encourage the sheep to blindly accept your assessment of their situation. You’re not perfect, and you’re not God, which is why you should be encouraging souls to cut out the middleman and take care of business with God directly.

Now God is gracious and He loves to work in a variety of ways. So is He going to give us words to pass on to the flock? Of course, but such words will come according to His schedule, not ours. When you sit down in that confessional, you’re planning to dispense immediate advice to everyone who comes to you. Well, what happens when you hit a wall and God does not give you any words to say? Do you just fall back on meaningless rituals or tell souls to start chanting prayers to beings other than God? As shepherds, we cannot afford to be so sloppy with the great responsibility God has given us. In the absence of clear, specific conviction from the Holy Spirit, you should be advising your parishioners to seek God’s guidance directly and encouraging them to have faith that He makes Himself ever available to them. You shouldn’t be putting words in His mouth that He has not authorized you to say.

We need to get real about this mess of bickering divisions which we call the Church. There is no perfect denomination. If you think you’ve found one, then you are either in denial, or you haven’t matured to the point that you can recognize how offensive some of your denomination’s practices are to God. There is only one perfect body of doctrines, and that is the absolute truth which God Himself downloads into the hearts of those who sincerely seek Him. By the time human beings get a hold of these truths and turn them into denominational policies, the truths are mangled beyond recognition. All of this means that you can’t just fall back on the rulebook you were handed in seminary. You answer to God. He is the Great King who outranks all other human supervisors that the Church has invented to try and keep you in line with her current agendas. Since God is the One you will be judged by, He is the One you must be seeking guidance from in each and every counseling situation. When a soul begins to unload their current concerns on you, you need to be seeking the guidance of God in the privacy of your own soul. He will either give you an answer for them or He won’t.

There are many reasons why God may choose not to speak through your personal lips in a given moment. Some souls are in the middle of faith training, and He wants them to be discouraged in all of their attempts to go through human mediators so that they will put more effort into seeking Him directly. Other souls already know exactly what He wants them to do, and they’re only coming to you because they’re stalling and looking for excuses to not obey. Still other souls are intentionally giving you a very false account of their situation in order to elicit sympathy from you, and God doesn’t want you getting sucked into their manipulative games. The point is that you can’t see what is going on between another soul and God. You are merely a limited human being who is biased by your own experiences in life and your own expectations. If you’re going to say anything that is truly useful, you can’t just go with your gut, you have to be listening to God.

THE SEAL OF THE CONFESSIONAL

Now all of that said, what happens when a penitent comes and unloads some burden on you that leaves you feeling extremely distressed? What if someone announces his intention to commit some heinous crime or shares information which makes you feel like an accessory to sin? Are you an accessory? Can you end up in trouble with God for not acting on certain kinds of information? It depends on the reason for your inaction. According to the Catholic Church, a priest is bound to secrecy no matter what. As one priest explained on a Catholic education site:

The sacramental seal is inviolable. Quoting Canon 983.1 of the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism states, “…It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (No. 2490). A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity. He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person’s confession or be bound by any oath he takes, e.g. as a witness in a court trial. A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action. A Decree from the Holy Office (Nov. 18, 1682) mandated that confessors are forbidden, even where there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make any use of the knowledge obtained in the confession that would “displease” the penitent or reveal his identity.

Well, we can invent as many laws as we want to, but is the Church God? Not hardly. Are you going to be answering to the Pope in eternity? No. Is God going to allow you to throw Canon 983.1 in His face when He’s asking why you blew off His order to pass on some information that a penitent gave to you? No, He’s not.

God is extremely touchy about the issue of humans trying to pull rank on Him. When you just kick up your heels and coast along with whatever the Church tells you to do, you are elevating mere mortals as your supreme authorities in life. Have you ever sincerely sought God’s opinion on the Code of Canon Law? Have you ever asked for His view on this business of papal infallibility?  Have you ever honestly sought God’s opinion on the veneration of Mary? You see, it’s very easy for us humans to get so tangled up in religious orders, rites, and rituals that we stop treating God like the Supreme Authority that He is. Here is where God retaliates by intentionally sticking you in some crisis where He is commanding you to go against the laws of the Church as a way of making you give serious thought as to where your loyalties are going to lie.

Now maybe God is alright with the idea of you upholding the sacramental seal. But He’s definitely not alright with you not honestly seeking His opinion on the subject. Honestly seeking God’s opinion means being receptive to Him giving us a positive or negative answer. Simply tossing up some prayer and then refusing to hear any answer but the one we want is hardly what it means to honor God.

On our site, we maintain a question and answer forum where souls can anonymously seek help on any topic. People are free to discuss any kind of issue with us without fear of legal ramifications because we have received specific instruction from God regarding how He wants us to handle various types of confessions. We’ve done our homework, and we have received the authorization we need to advise souls who are in the middle of immoral activities without trying to turn them in to legal authorities.  What about you? You don’t get to hide out behind some manmade canon. God is your Judge, and before you go making promises to people and keeping a bunch of secrets, you had better make sure that you have His Authorization to do so.

Your penitent does not get to dictate your actions in life. You are not some bovine who people can cattle prod in any direction that they find personally convenient. You are accountable to God for your actions, so you need to seriously seek His wisdom on how you are handling the whole confessional situation. Perhaps He will grant you His permission to uphold the seal of the confessional as the Church would like you to. But until you personally seek His feedback on the subject, you have no such authorization, and you are testing God’s patience by acting like the authorization of mere mortals is sufficient.

FURTHER READING:
Guidance for Priests: When to Break Your Vow of Celibacy
When to Change Denominations: Help for Pastors & Priests
Praying for Your Flock in a Way that Honors God (Guidance for Pastors & Priests)
Why You Must Come Before the Flock: Guidance for Pastors & Priests

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