Questions from the interviewer
Since God has the gift of penetrating the conscience, then what is confession for?
For two reasons. Firstly, we are not angels and some things we need to systematize, to express, to name. Naming alone orders the conscience, promotes reflection, helps in the light of responsibility to see what we did, or intended to do. Secondly, the psychological aspect is not to be underestimated. Expressing what we have within us gives us confidence that since it was named, it did not enter a vacuum, but was heard by someone, and specifically: was heard by God. These are the two most important reasons for the existence of aural confession. I would like to add a third. We firmly believe these words in the sacrament: “I absolve you from your sins” (but it is not I, Jan Kaczkowski, but God, because I do this “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”), in this unobtrusive sign of the cross and prayer there is an extraordinary power, which grants us freedom.
What effect does confession have on the priest? Do these stories build up, when a person accuses himself, and screws up, when he sees a person has failed?
If the confessor is professional and mature, then he is able to maintain a distance. Therefore, there is joy when he sees that a person is able to amaze him with their nobility of spirit. There is pain too. The greatest pain is if you accompany a person over a long time and now it seems he has given up the fight, or immediately before your eyes can’t manage to get over the first obstacle and is shattered.
Have you refused anyone absolution?
I have never refused anyone absolution. However, it happens that for objective reasons I delay absolution to a later date.
When you tell someone that you are delaying it to a later date does it mean that some condition is not fulfilled so as obtain it?
Not fulfilling the requirements for a valid and lawful absolution, that is they either did not regret their sin, or did not resolve to improve, or a combination of them and remain stubborn. When I ask aren’t they remorseful for sin and the reply comes back: “No, I’m not”, then – no matter the weight of the sin – I must delay granting absolution.
Even if the sin was minor (venial)?
Even if it was venial.
And do venial sins need to be confessed?
You should confess venial sins, because if you never confess anything, then they multiply in the conscience and open the way to serious sins.
What about the situation, when someone does not acknowledge as a sin that which according to the Church is a sin?
This is a complicated teaching we have to accept, that a conscience invincibly in error still functions. The Church says it is a sin, everyone says it is a sin, and you say in your conscience and you feel that: “No, this is not a sin”. If you are diligent in finding out from every possible source the details of this sin and are still firmly convinced this is not a sin, then you should follow your, even though mistaken, conscience. Because if you don’t, you are sinning. Whenever we violate our conscience, we sin.
Sin has to be conscious, voluntary and concern serious matter. The judgement of what is a serious matter and what is not poses difficulties.
Undoubtedly weighing up sin is a problem. I remember from college days a professor of Church History who made fun of us moral theologians: “So what then? Are you going to now weigh and measure sin?”.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church this issue is touched upon. A grave sin is the breaking of the commandments of God or the Church in a serious matter with full will and awareness that it is a sin, and in addition a grave sin.
It is most difficult to identify use of the full will.
If we exercise our conscience it becomes more and more effective. The muscle of conscience has to be worked so as to be strong. Truly we are able to identify what sort of act is voluntary. If I argue with my parents and fire off some malicious words with intention to hurt them, it means I have committed a grave sin. However, if I was arguing, even though I had lost control of my emotions, and my conscience pricked me saying “Stop!”, then I think it can be considered as a venial sin. And if in addition in this moment I stepped back and apologised, then even more so.
Questions from the public
“What if in the confessional the priest either by mistake or because he was tired and nodded off and wakes up and not wanting to offend me, he absolves me, though he should not have, or gives an inappropriate penance? Is he a priest fit or not to grant absolution?”
The worthiness of the minister has no connection with the validity of the sacrament. We believe that even if the priest sitting in the confessional is an unbelieving priest but does what the Church teaches, then the absolution is valid and proper. I don’t quite understand what is in the gentleman’s mind when he writes “inappropriate penance”. And so, if the priest in the confessional drops off, then maybe it’s worth asking if he wants a coffee.
“In carrying out aural confession, performing the examination of conscience, are we not practicing the height of pride, making ourselves God? Isn’t it more fitting that my Church would ask for a pledge to systemically reflect on our own sinfulness and absolving only with conscientious participation in an on-going reflection, instead of confession?”
You dream of an absolute objectivism, and put forward the demand for continuous reflection on one’s sinfulness, which will always be subjective. Of course, I realize that making a confession of sins is also somewhat subjective, but it meets the objective assessment of the one who sits on the other side.
“My wife for a good couple of years has stopped going to confession. She always receives Communion at Mass and there’s no inkling of remorse.”
I would be very cautious in the face of such a lax conscience, that is, one which stretches and allows in virtually every sin. At some point, on the day of our death and judgement, you may find that not all the sins that were ignored were venial sins. I caution against excessive leniency in relation to our own faults.
An internet user who submitted a question about not finding a confessor who would absolve the sin of abortion, probably believed that there was no release for her. She writes: “Is such a person actually sentenced only to hell? Because during my second attempt at confession I heard that I would fry in hell. I thought this sentence is only confirmed in suicide”.
Damnation is a possible fate for any person. Of course, not the Magisterium, nor a confessor, and least of all I, will express a reason for damnation, because in the Church there has not been, is not and will never be such a practice. You could also imagine for yourself the situation in which a person is however damned, but not for the reason of his own most serious sin, only for another still different reason. At the same time – and I am talking honestly about this – in the case described, without remorse for the sin, confession and a sacramental valid absolution, I would be concerned about my eternal fate. Without doubt you have to eliminate thoughts of suicide, because suicide with the full use of the will, with forethought and accomplished, raises ethical doubts.
And if thoughts of suicide stem from feelings of terrible hopelessness? A person can experience authentic remorse for sins, but everyone around him squelches hope.
But not God. Remember the sins against the mercy of God, which cannot be forgiven? One of them is the belief that my sins are so great that even God cannot forgive them.
This particular person who committed abortion, however has one problem with this, in that she has not yet met a priest who would recover her hope.
It happens that the confessor doesn’t put them themselves to the trouble of seeing on the other side of grill a person, and not an event.
Who forgives the guilt of someone who jumps from the tenth floor?
Well maybe, as he’s falling, before he hits the ground, he makes a perfect act of contrition? It is probable. Besides that, if someone had the habit of some daily prayer, then I am convinced, that because of it, the Lord God – knowing that this person during their whole life wanted to be with Him – takes him to Himself.
Does an act of contrition: “I did wrong” or “Lord, I wasn’t strong enough”, suffice in such an extreme situation?
We do not limit God in His mercy. He is wiser than all our speculations. When he reads our theological books, He has a good laugh.