02 April 2010

Politics in the confessional

Q:  Father, I recently went to confession and told my pastor about harboring uncharitable thoughts about a prominent politician.  I told him that these thoughts had become more frequent since Congress passed health care reform.  My pastor spent about five minutes of our time in the confessional trying to convince me that the reforms were good.  It was a political speech not spiritual counsel.  I left feeling manipulated.  Did my pastor abuse the sacrament by taking time to try and change my mind about a political issue?  How do I approach him about my feelings on this?  He is often combative when criticized face-to-face, so I'm reluctant to confront him that way.

A:  Yes, he did abuse the sacrament.  Regardless of what your pastor might think about ObamaCare, using time in the confessional to push an overtly political agenda is tantamount to abuse of the sacrament.  I would say the same thing if your pastor tried to convince you that ObamaCare is a bad thing.  The sacrament of reconciliation is about the confession of sins, repentance, penance, and absolution.  There is no time or place in the Box for being politically harangued by a priest.  

If you are afraid of talking to him face-to-face, I would suggest a hand-written letter telling him how you perceived his behavior in the Box.  Don't accuse or belittle; don't argue or quote canon law; don't cite popes or councils.  A priest who abuses the sacraments for his own agenda will not respond well to anyone quoting authoritative texts.  Just tell him in plain language how his speech made you feel.  If you are up to, offer to meet with him to discuss the matter.  And request in the letter that he acknowledge your concerns in writing.  Make a copy of your letter before sending it.  Why a copy?  If he continues to use the confessional as a political soapbox it might be necessary to contact the bishop.  You need a paper trail.  Don't go to the bishop without contacting your pastor first.  Give him a chance to explain himself.  He might feel awful about the whole thing and apologize.  If you jump straight to the bishop, your pastor might become defensive and angry.  Also, if you have to contact the bishop, keep in mind:  dealing with problems coming out of the confessional is tough b/c of the seal.  Don't expect a dramatic resolution.  If nothing is done at all, find another confessor.

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  1. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Advice to Q: find another parish.

  2. Margaret10:53 PM

    Isn't any discussion of this, much less with the bishop, going to immediately get very dicey because of the seal??

  3. Margaret, penitents can discuss what's said in the confessional. Priests are bound by the seal.

  4. In the interest of charity, I think we should consider the possibility that the priest was attempting to fulfill his role to provide practical advice for avoiding future sin. One practical step toward avoiding future sins of harboring uncharitable thoughts about politicians is to see the good their work can do instead of just focusing on the bad.

    I don't say this to defend the priest's political views, as I believe this health care bill will cause a lot of problems and is disastrous for the plight of the unborn. But focusing on the good that this bill will do instead of the evil would definitely help avoid committing this sin in the future.

  5. Were a penitent to tell me this, I believe I would try to push aside the policy, and simply remind the penitent that we are still called to pray for our civic leaders, whether we like them or not, or even whether they persecute us or not. And I advise that there is a "righteous anger" versus a wrathful anger, and that they need to be careful not to cross the line, and to pray for the good of the politician and that God would draw both the politician's and the penitents heart closer to His own.

    I'm pretty such hypothetical advice would apply both side sides of the aisle. :)