Chapter 25 of Unholy Silence by Father Kevin Lee

Posted on September 15, 2016

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CHAPTER 25 – CONFESSIONAL SECRETS
Confessional anecdotes abound. I reckon any priest could tell you the most amazing
tales they have heard in the confessional, which no Hollywood script writer would even be
willing to invent. Priests reading this chapter would probably know even more ‘exciting’
stories than the ones I am about to share with you, but the scrupulosity of their obligation to
the ‘Seal of Confession’ would not permit them to divulge them, and indeed there are many
that I am also tempted to reveal, but cannot due to the Seal of Confession.
When we were being taught in the seminary about this sacrament of Reconciliation, we
were told in the most severe of terms that the most awful thing a priest could do was to
reveal the sins told to him by a penitent in confession. He then gave us an instruction that I
have not quite strictly kept:
“Never talk about a confession, not even in the most general of terms. You never know
when you might let an insignificant detail slip that will reveal the identity of a penitent, to
your eternal regret”.
He then went on to tell this story:
A priest was invited to a meal with some of his parishioners. After dinner the women
moved to the kitchen to do the washing up and the priest continued chatting with the men.
The topic of confession came up.
“You must have some amazing stories to tell about confession, Father” one younger
fellow suggested hoping to hear an interesting story from his pastor.
The priest who had imbibed a few more wines than usual was enjoying the attention of
the group.
“Yes, so many interesting stories are told,” he said, not giving much away.
“Tell us Father, what is the most bizarre thing anyone has confessed to you?” the young
man probed the inebriated priest.
“You know, there was one story,” the priest started in an alcohol affected, stumbling
way, “The very day I was ordained this young and attractive woman came up to me and the
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oil was not even dry on my handsliii and she asked me to hear her confession. I ushered her
into the confessional booth that I had never even been into myself. She began to tell me this
incredible account of an affair she had been having with her sister’s husband. I was not
prepared for it and had no idea what I should say to counsel her …”.
Right at that moment the women returned from the kitchen and were seating themselves
back at the table.
“What are you men talking about?” one bright eyed woman asked.
“Father John is just telling us about confession” her husband informed her.
Before he could resume his story the woman blurted out, “I remember I was the very
first person who went to you for confession Father. It was on your ordination day. And you
told me you had never been in the box before then.”
Of course none of the men let on what had been said, but it was the most awkward
silence that followed and the priest soon left that house.
The priest who told us this exemplary story said “and I never was able to visit that home
ever again. You see,” he said, “I was that priest. And I never even speak about confession –
even in general terms – again. And I suggest that you never do either” he said with the
gravity that comes from experience and age in ministry.
I do believe sincerely in the logic behind his endorsement of sacramental secrecy.
Misuse of the Seal of Confession to Indemnify Against
Prosecution
The seal of confession does potentially become a method of preventing yourself from
prosecution. I will explain with two examples from my recent past. As you may recall,
earlier in this book when I went to confession to a priest in a place I was not known and
after giving me some practical advice as how to “avoid the occasion of sin” the priest
absolved me. He then proceeded to request if I could hear his confession. We switched seats
and I put on his stole. He then said, “Your Confessionliv made me remember a sin I don’t
think I have confessed. I was visiting a parish family that I know very well and one of the
little girls sat on my lap. While the family were all in the room, distracted by the TV I was
penetrating the girl with my finger. I don’t think I have ever confessed that.”
I was stunned cold and almost shook at his horrible revelation. “How old was the girl?” I
asked as if it made any difference.
In a most disturbingly unaffected voice the priest said, “She couldn’t be more than
nine”.
What do you say to an elderly priest in those circumstances? I know what I thought of
saying, but I didn’t bring myself to enunciate them. But here I was confronted by a
paedophile and the seal of confession was like his legal immunity from prosecution.
I could not tell anyone. By telling me ‘in Confession’ he had effectively silenced me.
The reciprocal Seal of Confession that occurs, when one priest hears another priest’s
confession, is also the mechanism by which disclosures of child-abuse and paedophilia is
maintained in secrecy within the church. When one priest confesses his sins to another, he
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knows only too well that if he breaks the Seal of Confession, that that priest may well
reciprocally break their vows and reveal what they know about that other priest’s sins too.
This is one way that offenders are able to safely continue their crimes without detection.
The legal immunity from prosecution that the seal gives, also became an issue in writing
this book. One priest, whose abuse of children I have featured in this book, asked me to
hear his confession. Not realizing at the time that I was being “set-up”, I was happy to
accommodate the wishes of a fellow priest. On hearing his confession, which I realized was
not a real confession, but was in fact a very clever ploy to “buy” himself confessional
immunity, via the cloak of silence the Seal of Confession gives.
It’s not without considerable thought and prayer that I eventually arrived at the decision
that in these cases I will not entertain the thought of granting the Seal of Confession. The
Seal of Confession is for those who are genuinely repentant, not for those just trying to
manipulate the system for their own benefit, and to enable paedophiles to continue their
offending. I cannot collude with such an agenda. It is the past collusion of priests in
situations such as this, which has enabled child abuse within the Catholic Church to
continue decade after decade.
My hope and prayer is that other honourable priests will read this book and also make a
stand against child abuse, and take a similar stand themselves. If we unite in this, we will be
a force to be reckoned with in the church.
When I spoke about this experience ‘hypothetically’ a few months later with some
priests at a Deanery lunch, I suggested that I felt compromised by not being able to do
anything to help that child or prevent the priest from making further attacks on unknown
numbers of children. In reply, they quoted the teaching we received in the seminary.
“There isn’t a thing you can do about it. What you hear in confession must remain as if
you don’t even know it,” one priest smugly reiterated.
Another situation arose where I felt it necessary to technically ‘break the seal’.
Although this man never actually told me this ‘in the Confessional’, in a conversation
which followed a personal counselling session a man told me he had a ‘sex addiction’.
Frank (not his real name) described how he satisfied his urges by touching women who
don’t even know they are being used to satiate his lustful desires.
His methodology appeared quite innocent. As he spoke to them Frank would hold onto
the woman’s arm as high up and close to her breast as he could, and as he released it, he
would rub his hand against her breast. Somehow this pleasured him and although most of
his victims didn’t notice it, some did, and mentioned it to me.
I did have cause to warn him once when a lady complained that he was making advances
to her and at one point he told her, “I like you. We have a common bond, you and I”.
He said it in such an out-of-character sleaziness that caused her to smile.
“You think I am joking don’t you?” he grinned with malice in his usually innocent eyes.
Something about what he said made her skin creep, so she spoke to me about him just in
case I was not aware.
This is where I think I departed from the strict letter of the “ecclesiastical law”.
I told her, “You should be careful not to be alone with him. He has a problem”.
A few priests told me I did the wrong thing in warning the woman. I don’t believe I did
anything malicious or harmful to anyone. I know the greater goal was the protection of
innocent women from the unwelcome advances of a man who appears to use his voluntary
role within the community as an opportunity to abuse the unsuspecting.
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Priests encounter many emotionally vulnerable people coming to their churches and they
need to be aware that not everyone who ‘goes to church’ has a pure intention for doing so.
The Church provides a good deal of smokescreens for sexual deviates and those who
lack the self-esteem to make healthy and normal attachments. I did not want to appear to be
cooperating in this deception by allowing people to be abused by this pervert.
Misconduct in a Confession
Another instruction I received in my training that I held in high regard is “Never ask
questions or do anything resembling an interrogation of the penitent in Confession”. There
are many priests who have caused people so much more pain by suggesting sins to them.
One young girl’s mother told me her daughter was horrified by a priest who, at the end
of her confession asked her, “Do you touch yourself?”
The girl had just begun high school and was twelve years of age.
When I confronted the priest and suggested he must be a ‘sicko’ to ask little girls
whether they touch themselves, he attempted to defend himself by saying that, “Many
young girls don’t realise it’s a sin to masturbate”.
“And what gives you the right to tell them?” I demanded with impious disrespect for an
older priest.
“Well I think it is our role as priests to inform young people of their need to protect their
purity since their parents and schools are negligent when it comes to educating them in
morality,” he added in total conviction that his motives were pure.
Now the school that this girl attended had been informed about this particular priest’s
intrusive interrogations in the confessional and tried to prevent him from having access to
the Catholic girl’s High School. But the parish priest insisted that it was his responsibility to
make Sacramental Confession available to the girls in his parish.
Eventually the Principal of the school successfully defended their right to preclude him
from forcing the girls to attend Confession, on the grounds that it was a regional High
School and not directly under his jurisdiction. However, the school was really only able to
preclude the priest on a technicality, not for his outrageous and chilling statements towards
this child.
Schools need to be able to preclude priests who have demonstrated questionable
behaviour towards children, but it’s almost impossible for these schools to do so, as the
Catholic Church has built in so many systems, canon laws and cultural dictums, that enable
paedophiles to function freely and almost without restraint within its ranks.
In the case of this priest, when he went on to complain about his exclusion from the
school to other self-righteous Catholics, rather than admit his practice of interrogation was
more the point of issue for the school, he implied that the school did not like him
encouraging the girls to go to Confession.
I personally found the practice of listening to hour after hour of confessional divulgences
highly distasteful. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe the sacrament provides a
very valid form of reconciliation between God and sinful humanity, and it also gives many
needy people access to free counselling and spiritual guidance. One Catholic psychologist
even admitted to me that if more people availed themselves of the free confessional
opportunities, readily accessible in every parish, their helping industry could potentially go
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out of business. But what I found most objectionable was the preoccupation that so many
people have with confessing every miniscule sexual thought, or act, which they believed
was outside the true marriage boundaries rigidly laid down by the teaching authority of the
Holy Roman Catholic Church.
The Absurdity of Celibates Hearing Confessions of a Sexual
Nature
Now I am about to stray into an area where most priests would fear to tread. Confession
has always been a taboo subject as I have alluded to already, with the threat of immediate
excommunication hanging over the head of any priest who would dare to talk about what
goes on in that claustrophobia inducing dark box. But let me justify why I want to speak
about it. I am convinced that many of the psychological problems of priests were caused by
the repeated intensity of the experience of having to sit for hours in that enclosed space and
listen to people confessing the most unimaginable sexual deviancies as well as their most
trivial faults.
Imagine a young man, newly ordained, with no sexual experience at all, trying to
sublimate his own sexual urges against his own healthy biological drives, having to then
listen to grandmothers confessing to masturbation, old men describing their inabilities to
satisfy their lustful desires with their wives then resorting to pornography or deviate acts
with their pets. How does the Church expect virginal young priests to cope with the young
women who find them so naively attractive that they attempt to ‘turn them on’ with
descriptions of their own sexual practices with their partners? It’s no wonder so many
priests fail in their attempts at lifelong celibacy, as although they try to keep sexual thoughts
clear from their mind, they are in a no-win situation, as they have repeated daily exposure to
sexualized language through hearing so many confessions of a sexual nature.
This process of hearing these repeated deviant sexual disclosures only serves to desensitize
many priests to what are normal and healthy sexual practices, and what is not. It’s
also highly likely that many priests return to their presbyteries, ruminating in sexual
fantasies, and getting off vicariously on the sexual exploits detailed to them in the
confessional box.
Letting the Budgie Out of the Cage
In my first appointment as a priest aged only twenty-nine, I had to endure at least thirty
minutes of confessions each day. These daily half hours of listening to contrite penitents
admit their failings were on the whole quite edifying and humbling.
But there were also a significant number of ‘nutters’. These are the men and women so
scrupulous in cleansing their consciences of guilt that they believed that what they thought
about whilst watching TV, or dreamt about while asleep could possibly lead to their eternal
damnation.
These were the people who daily harangued me with the details of their sexual thoughts
and actions which they felt I needed to know the intricacies of in order to absolve
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themselves.
Most of the time I avoided the temptation of wanting to look at the person so as not to
keep a mental image in my mind of the sexual activities they were confessing to. You need
to remember I was still a virgin and had no sexual experience at all, so this was all quite
disturbing for me.
I used to shudder as certain people entered the confessional room. Some I never saw so
I have no idea what they looked like but I grew to recognise their footsteps as they
approached the room. There were many whose confessional secrets I wish I had never
heard. The mental images of what they told me still remain etched in my mind whenever I
see them on the streets or in a church. I try to remove them from my memory, but it’s
impossible to forget some of the more peculiar events that they described.
I have one confessional recollection that has added mirth to many a boring dinner
conversation. Not long after I was ordained and assigned to the Cathedral parish of
Parramatta, I was given the responsibility of hearing confessions and celebrating weekday
Masses. The confessions were largely made by people working in the Parramatta business
district who wanted to tell their sins to a priest whom they didn’t know, or more correctly, to
a priest who didn’t know them.
One particularly warm summer day I could hear the junior boys from the neighbouring
Marist Brothers School running around and playing handball loudly outside the windows of
the bright but airless room where we heard Confessions.
I was anticipating a busy crowd this day judging by the queue of people sitting outside
the doors when I made my entrance. I was impatient to get them through as quickly as
possible so that no one missed out, but no one entered for at least two minutes.
Finally I opened the door and said with an unusual degree of impatience, “Is anyone
coming in? I’m not here waiting for a haircut”.
The first to enter was a woman in her fifties who dawdled in, closed the door and sat in the
chair opposite me. As soon as I acknowledged her presence with a nod of welcome, I
lowered my eyes.
“I was giving you some time to get yourself settled,” she explained her tardy entrance as
she smoothed out her blue polyester dress and joined her hands reverently on her lap.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been a day since my last confession. You’re the
new priest aren’t you?” she said, interrupting herself.
Keeping my eyes lowered as if in contemplation I nodded.
“Welcome to Parramatta Father Kevin,” she said and I looked up to see her smile.
“Thank you,” I smiled back, pleased that she knew my name and enjoying the formality
of my new title. “Now, what would you like to confess?”
I urged her to continue promptly as I knew I had a steady queue of people waiting to
make their own confession in the thirty minutes allotted before the midday Mass.
“Well Father, I am single and I live alone. But I have a pet. A male budgie that I call
Andy. It’s awfully lonely Father, living alone … (and she went on to tell me a rather sad
story of why she lives alone that I will skip in order to avoid identifying her any further).
Well I have to tell you Father, I really am very fond of Andy.”
“And who is Andy?” I interrupted her, confused at the sudden mention of a man I
thought I had not yet heard about.
“I told you already. He is my budgie” she said almost angrily, indignant that I had not
been paying close attention.
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“Oh ok, sorry I forgot,” I said apologetically.
“Well as I was saying, I am very fond of Andy and in fact, I enjoy him in a kind of
sexual way” she said with a strange laugh.
“Ok, Ok” I repeated, still confused but not wanting to know any more.
“Yes I find myself getting quite aroused whenever he lands on my finger. I generally
come home from work in the afternoon around five and he has been caged up all day. And I
feel sorry for him and I want him to have a fly around to stretch his wings. And when he
lands on my finger, I get dreadfully aroused and I need to, um, I, well, I touch myself”.
“Oh OK.” I said with total embarrassment across my face. I didn’t know where to look
or what to do.
“Is that a terrible sin Father?” she said honestly.
“Well it depends” I said, not wanting to continue to think about her admission.
“Father John said it’s not that bad but I feel it is. I know it’s wrong and I still do it. I tell
myself that if I just leave Andy in his cage, I won’t end up masturbating.”
“OK” I said. I usually said ‘OK’ during confessions rather than nodding or saying “Yes”
or “Good” or any other form of endorsement of what someone had just confided.
“So you agree it’s a terrible sin Father? Letting the budgie out of the cage.”
“Well it’s not sinful in itself is it? Letting the budgie, Andy” I said remembering to use
his name, “out of his cage. I mean, you really only felt sorry for him being confined all day
in a small space. Your real motive for letting him out is so that he can have a little fly around
your house”.
“It’s not a house Father, I live in a unit”, she corrected me, “and I know that’s what I
told you but maybe the real motive I let Andy out of his cage is so that he will land on my
finger and then I will get all aroused and have an opportunity to touch myself again.”
She had a look of self-deprecating disappointment on her face that made me feel great
sadness for her.
What kind of religion convinces a poor lonely woman that enjoying a pleasurable feeling
of a little bird landing on her finger is ultimately contributing to her to damnation?
I did my best in the short amount of time I had, to attempt to convince her that I agreed
with Father John that it’s not worth upsetting herself about. But no amount of justification
from me was going to change her scrupulous mind. She knew it was sinful and she ought to
avoid it. She believed the sin starts when she began the process of freeing Andy from his
cage.
This poor woman frequently attended my confessional and constantly confessed to being
plagued with the temptation to let Andy fly onto her finger.
After a long period of confessing the same infraction of her strict moral code, she would
merely sit down and say, “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been one day since my
last confession and these are my sins. I let the budgie out of the cage again.”
This became her euphemism which previously only she and I would have understood,
but for my close friends whom I have confided this story, “letting the budgie out of the
cage” is our pseudonym for masturbation. Not that we talk about that topic much!
I really believe that anyone else listening to the types of sexual anecdotes that some
women and men enjoyed repeatedly telling me would have led many a celibate to
experience lustful thoughts himself.
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General Absolution
Fortunately there were not that many nutty people who regularly assailed me with
demands for confessions after I left the Parramatta Cathedral’s confessional express
checkout.
Many mature aged Catholics have had distressing experiences of individual confession
with strangely inquisitive priests, and have subsequently decided to abandon the practise of
confession altogether. For a time, apart from the elderly and migrants, few people were
going to confession at all.
Using the expression coined by cynical priests, “the bottom has fallen out of the
market.”
Previous generations of Catholics had it drilled into them during their religion lessons
that it was a mortal sin to receive Holy Communion on Sunday without making a prior
confession. That meant confessing every week.
To remedy this trend priests began implementing the special case exemption of ‘General
absolution’. This was a variation of the use of two of the available three Rites of
Reconciliation melded together to create an experience termed ‘Communal Reconciliation’.
As a result of this increasing phenomenon, gradually people no longer felt compelled to
go to confession every week but instead stockpiled their sins to have them magically
removed just prior to Christmas or Easter during these Communal Rites of General
Absolution.
In this newer, more popular Rite, no one had to confess all their sins, and the priests
didn’t have to listen to them. Everyone was happy except the Vatican and the scrupulous
Catholics.
Murder in the Confessional Box
One of the questions I am commonly asked, and perhaps you are wanting to ask is,
“What do you say to a person who confesses to having killed someone?”
Apart from abortions, which are technically murders, few priests will ever have a person
confessing to having murdered anyone. But I did.
Once I was called to a psychiatric hospital in our parish area to ‘hear a confession’ for a
man who had been calling out for a priest. When I entered the ward I was informed the man
I wanted was in Closed Obs’ (which I assumed was for short for close observation).
The Indian nurse who spoke to me said, “You will be OK Father. Although he is a drug
addict and suicidal he is also a religious man who respects priests, so I shouldn’t be too
concerned for your safety”.
“Oh, has he been violent?” I asked.
“Extremely. That’s why he is in this section. He’s an I.V. drug user and suffers from bipolar
disorder. We have to keep a close eye on him. He is also very fragile and has
attempted suicide, but you should be alright with him because as I said, he requested to
speak to a priest” the nurse attempted to reassure me.
I hadn’t even given a thought to my safety before she had said that. Now I was nervous
about the remote possibility that he might hurt me. I cautiously entered the room and as
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soon as I identified him I was attentive to keep my eyes on him.
“Hi there, did you ask to speak to a priest?” I said as kindly as possible.
“Hello Father,” the man said and he stood politely when he saw me. His glazed green
eyes were slightly closed, the result of anti-depressant drugs he had been medicated with.
“Are you a Catholic?” I enquired to clarify that he was specifically wanting our
denomination. Sometimes when people ask to speak with a priest they are actually looking
for an Anglican minister.
“Yes, I was an altar boy” he asked opening his eyes slightly wider. “Do you know Father
N****?”
“No, but I have heard of him,” I admitted, recalling the priest he named but suspecting
that he was currently serving time in prison for sexual abuse of children. “Was he your
parish priest?” I asked.
“Yes I was his altar server”, he told me without emotion.
I immediately wondered whether his fragile emotional state was related to past sexual
abuse by his parish priest, but for some reason I was more concerned to get out of the
hospital ward than discover his past. Besides, I justified myself, he is here for the
professionals to get to the root of his problems, my responsibility was to only hear his
confession.
“What would you like to confess? Can I sit down?” I asked pointing to the chair that I
asked to sit on.
“Yes sure Father” he said as he sat himself on one of the other chairs in the room.
“I have murdered someone Father”, he blurted without any of the introductory formality
of a regular confession.
Knowing him to be a mental patient, I was not too hasty to believe him.
“Have you?” I said sarcastically.
He told me that for a long time he had heard voices that prompted him to kill cats, and
the voices were recently insisting for him to kill a person. One day while standing on a
crowded inner city station as a train approached the platform he said the voice told him to
push a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase into the path of the oncoming train.
“Witnesses testified that they saw the man jump,” he said as spontaneous tears came to
his eyes.
I was still struggling with whether to believe him or not, but the real show of emotion
made it easier to accept he may be telling the truth. At least he believed he had killed
someone.
“So what made you want to confess that today?” I asked after recognising that this
‘murder’ had happened some months back.
“I have been wrestling with my conscience for a long time. I want his family to know
that he didn’t jump deliberately. Maybe they are still wondering what was worrying him so
much that he would kill himself. I feel mostly bad for them. They need to know the truth. I
killed him, he didn’t jump!” he said with obvious emotion in his voice.
What advice did I give? Since I am not permitted to reveal what another soul has
confided, I urged him to show his contrition. I told him that if he was sincerely sorry for
what he had done, he needs to inform his counsellor or psychologist (who, unbeknownst to
him, is obliged to reveal his guilt).
I don’t know if he ever did. I don’t even know if the ‘murder’ ever really happened or
was just a figment of his inventive mind, but if he had in fact killed someone, that family
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deserved to know that their relative did not commit suicide that day.
Other Unusual Confessions
The only other useful piece of advice I had been given about confession was from Father
Peter Blayney, the canon lawyer who said “Always go to the toilet before you start, even if
you don’t need to go, because once you start and until you finish, you can never get out”.
There is a story of dubious veracity which tells of a priest who, during a long session on
a Holy Thursday took the opportunity to dash off to the men’s room while there was a break
in the penitential flow. He left both screen doors in the adjacent booths open so that the
people would know he was not there.
One man soon arrived and seeing the priest was absent went into the left side and
waited. Within a short time another man arrived and unwittingly went into the right side box
and began to make his confession:
“Bless me Father I have sinned. It has been about 10 years since my last confession and
I accuse myself of …” After he had said all he wanted to say he concluded “For these and
all the sins of my past life I am truly sorry and ask forgiveness from God and penance and
absolution from you please Father.”
Hearing no response he repeated the last line and then asked “Father?”
The man who had arrived first said, “He’s not here”.
“Where is he?” the other penitent asked.
“Well, if he has heard what I heard, he has probably gone to the police!”
Of course, as everyone who is Catholic will tell you, a priest cannot tell the police – not
even murder or child sexual assault – anything that a person has confessed. We are
encouraged to tell the penitent that if he or she is truly contrite they should present
themselves to the police if they have committed a murder or a counsellor if it is a case of
sexual assault against a child. The counsellor is then permitted to inform the police.
Early on in my priesthood when I was particularly convinced about the goodness of
humanity, I did once have a man confess to having sexually ‘interfered’ with his young
daughter and I nearly became physically ill. I did ask him to see a professional counsellor
and prayed to God that he would. I feel some sense of guilt now that if he did not seek
professional help and continued to assault his daughter, I may have been an accessory after
the fact by my wilful silence and simply by doing nothing.
One other confession story that sticks in my mind (although I have heard innumerable
confessions, most would be totally unmemorable) is the following.
It was when I was assistant priest at the Cathedral in Parramatta. It was a warm Saturday
afternoon and the usual crowd had come to confess their regular sins (I am only assuming
this because I try not to look at the people kneeling waiting to go to confession to avoid prejudging
people).
A younger woman was about the second or third ‘customer’ and started with a barrage
of criticisms of her husband, explaining how abusive he was to her.
I interrupted her by saying, “This is supposed to be your confession. Let your husband
confess his own sins!”
She replied angrily, “Oh he never admits to any of this. Besides when he does confess,
he pretends not to understand English. I am sure he never tells priests that he rapes his
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wife”.
I was shocked at her revelation and I began to take a more pastorally sensitive approach
to her.
“He rapes you!”
“Well, forcing me to have sex with him without love being involved is rape in my
books!” She then went on to comment, “Anyway, you’re pretty young to be lecturing people
about their lives anyway. How old are you?”
Surprised by her confronting challenge to my right to reconcile people to God I
explained that I don’t ‘lecture people’, nor do I interrogate them as she had me.
After a suitable amount of calming down had happened, I absolved her and promised to
pray for her and her husband.
“Well, he’ll be the next after me so make sure he confesses to these things, and even if
he sounds like he doesn’t understand you, he understands every word. Don’t be fooled by
his innocent sounding voice”, she boomed.
She walked out and the next person immediately walked in and closed the door. I could
not make out any face from behind the curtain veils but a broken English voice began to
pray:
“Blessa me Fartha, I hava sinned. Um … I umm not always say my prayers at the nighttime.
Ima sometimes am dreenkin too much of tha beer and not so good husband to my wife
and sometimes I am heettin the children a little too much. Thatsa all I can remember for this
time Fartha.”
Prompted by the memory of the wife’s request I asked him for further clarification of
what he meant by “not so good a husband”.
“Well, you see Fartha I am sometimes talking cranky to the wife and sometimes I say
the bad words, in my language only Fartha.”
“That’s all you do then?” I probed.
“Yes Fartha,” he said hesitantly.
“You don’t do anything unkind to your wife?” I suggested.
“What do you mean by that Fartha?” he replied with obvious nervousness in his voice.
“Well, you wouldn’t be doing anything sexually wrong with your wife”.
His voice suddenly sounded less self-assured and trembled slightly.
“Sometimes I am having sex with another woman Fartha and I think my wife, she knows
about this and she accuses me of this and I get angry and shout at her. But, um, I am sorry
Fartha, I forgot to tell you this before!” he sobbed.
“That’s a very serious thing, to withhold your sins in confession you know. You must
make an effort now to make up this infidelity to your wife with some act of kindness and
ask her forgiveness for the cruelty you have shown her,” I said sternly.
“Yes, Fartha, I will Fartha, but how do you know these things Fartha?” he said with a
whimpering voice. He must have thought I was the Cure of Arslv, reading his soul.
“Don’t you worry about how I know, just don’t think that you can be making incomplete
confessions in the future. God often prompts his priests so that they can give good advice to
the penitents” I said almost lecturing the repentant sobbing man.
I gave him an adequate penance and after he said an Act of Contrition in his own
language, and still weeping he left the confessional.
The door opened again and immediately, the woman whose face I had not seen earlier
stuck her head around the corner and said, “Sorry Father, my husband won’t come to
159
confession today. He thinks I have been telling you his sins and he refuses to go. What do I
do?”
I was stunned. Who was that previous man that I had put the fear of God into? He has
probably raced home and told all his friends “Don’t go to confession to that priest at
Parramatta! He can read your soul!”

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