Saturday, December 6, 2008

Confession: How the other half (or more) lives

A sad memo from a pastor to his parish on the Second Sunday of Advent. How many other parishes are like this? I'm guessing 12, and I pray that I am right.

Pastor’s 2 Cents: From: Fr. Jim DeBruycker

It has always been my policy to follow the penance, reconciliation, confession Rite as it is practiced in a particular parish. Some celebrated with private individual confessions, communal penance with individual confession and absolution or communal penance with general absolution, as it was celebrated here at St. Joan of Arc.

Last Lent, at the request of Archbishop Flynn, we returned to private confession. Archbishop Nienstedt sent a letter to all of the priests this Advent reminding them this is the norm of the Church and of our solemn promise of obedience to the bishop. I have never had a letter from a bishop reminding me of my promises, so I and Fr. Cassidy are taking this seriously. The Advent service will be a communal service with individual confessions following.

I, of course, have mixed feelings. Like most of the clergy, I knew general absolution was supposed to be an extraordinary event, but the people, as you well know, voted with their feet. Once general absolution was introduced at a local parish, the surrounding parishes lost attendance at their Penance celebrations until most pastors were forced to adapt or lose their parishioners. Some celebrated this with a new understanding of sin as hurting the community, with reconciliation to be celebrated in community, while others felt it was a symbol of the collapse of a sense of personal sin, guilt and responsibility. I think there is merit to both arguments.

My own experience of the sacrament was never positive. I never felt forgiveness, only humiliation at the hands of an old bully. It took me years, and a separation from the Catholic Church for a while, to understand there was a loving God and not some disconnected condemning voice of an old man. I know this is not a universal experience and some people had a loving compassionate experience. I did not , and many others did not.

One of my critiques of my Church is the discounting of the experience of the faithful. I would challenge my Church, as we once again stress this celebration of individual confession, to listen to the people. If bullying, emotional abuse or worse are reported, we respond quickly. The old Church recognized good spiritual direction and good confessors as a particular charism which not all priests shared equally.

Some of my most moving spiritual moments, as well as frustrating moments, in priesthood have taken place in the Sacrament of Penance. It can be a place of great healing or dissolution, and each priest in his heart must look at his
motives and make a commitment as great as any physician and say, first of all, “ I will do no harm.”

Cathy of Alex, a former parishioner at St Joan's, has a good comment at her blog, Recovering Dissident Catholic.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

I just posted on this

I couldn't help myself. I'm terribly upset.

Terry Nelson said...

I'm torn on this, I do not think Father is actually caving in to dissent but is candidly expressing some of the very real frustrations a priest encounters in contemporary parishes. You need to remember Fr. went through seminary when it was pretty liberal. Unfortunately his empathy with his parishoners and penitents may be a little too subjective.

His personal experience of the sacrament may be entirely different than that of his parishoners - each confession is an individual encounter with Jesus Christ, confessing our serious sins in number and kind can be difficult. If the minister of the sacrament is not sensitive to the penitent, he does indeed do harm.

In my past I have been yelled at, growled at, mocked, riduculed, refused absolution, but I never stayed away - I needed Jesus to absolve me from my sins through the ministry of his priest, no matter how I was treated. If this seems unreasonable, one only has to consider how Jesus was treated by the elders and priests of the temple. We are certainly no better than Jesus. Anyway - I digress.

Obviously Fr. recognizes that many people do not buy into this and want general absolution. So many of my nominal Catholic friends will only do that much. Yet they wouldn't, or couldn't if the pastors did not provide it. In our archdiocese it is now forbidden. The people need to be re-catechised - no matter how much they rebel. Listening to the voice of the faithful - popular opinion - doesn't work in this case - it is not a legitamate argument. Primarily because the voices are pretty much unfaithful.

If a person has difficulty with one on one confession, perhaps the problem is not with how the sacrament is administered, but rather with a sense of shame the penitent feels in confessing, and that is understandable to some degree. However their fear, pride, denial, shame - whatever it is, may be the very obstacle to truth, humility, and perfect contrition. That said, avoiding individual confession also keeps them from obtaining any counsel, admonition, or encouragement the minister may give to help them amend their lives. Confession is more than just the forgiveness of sins, it is also very much about amendment of life. The priest fails if he does not teach this and shepherd his flock along these lines.

Of course, if a priest is not a good director, it is perfectly alright if he simply administers the sacrament, without admonition perhaps, but giving a penance to do, and give absolution. The sacrament is not meant to be psychological counselling, but is for the forgiveness of sin, the increase of grace, and amendment of life.

Although I have gone to priests who take the role of psychiatrist, or who have told me about their own sins in order to empathize with me - these priests, though well-meaning, can do just as much harm as the priest who growls - "You're goin' to hell if you do that again!"

Anyway - It appears Father is confusing empathy with compassion and mercy - let's pray he stays the course and continues to do the right thing while he figures all of this out.

It is easy for us to forget how tough it is to be a priest, no matter if he is a weak one or a strong one. We need to pray for them and pray for more of them.

Again, I apologize for such a long comment - I hate it when people do this.

Unknown said...

I think your comment was exactly the perfect length, Terry.

As you know, I debated publishing this letter from Fr. DeBruycker or whether or not I should identify him or the parish. I don't like washing the Church's dirty linen in public --- unless a better good can come out of it.

And you touched on the better good in that many priests are in similar situations as is Father DeBruycker.

Times have changed. It used to be that a pastor was pretty much an absolute ruler in his parish and the pewsitters pretty much had to take what he gave them.

But the post Vatican II Church attempts to give laypeople more of a say in the running of their parish.

But they didn't train its pastors on how to develop a relationship with their congregation so that the community can be improved using the strengths of all.

Pastors pretty much work unsupervised and unless the congregation complains to the archbishop, they get no support or feedback from the chancery.

In St. Joan's case, strong, able, innovative (and dissident) pastors were able for many years to steer the parish liturgy and mission in directions not authorized by Rome. Many things they did, particularly in the "peace and justice ministries" were wonderful. Many weren't. The congregation grew to love their unique parish.

So when new pastors get assigned who might want to steer the parish back in the proper manner, the laity by threats of departure and by votes of parish councils regularly put up roadblocks to anything that an orthodox pastor might want to do.

I don't envy Father DeBruycker in his job. I give him credit for following the current leadership of the chancery. But no doubt he created some of his own problems.

I will pray for him and the parish and all other similar parishes (and there are more than a few) in the archdiocese.

Anonymous said...

he is honest --he is a good priest--don't be holier than thou

Unknown said...


If you have enough confidence in your opinion to give us your real name, I might consider your request.

As I mentioned in my reply to Terry, I'm not crazy about exposing the Church's problems.

But if the problems are common, and they are in this case, otherwise Archbishop Nienstedt would not have made such a forthright statement, then I think laypeople and blog readers should be informed.

I did consider posting without the name of the church and the pastor.

Brother Ass said...

Fr. D is being nothing but candid. I have known him for many years and have gone to him for confession all those years. He still says Mass every Friday morning at St.Olaf's downtown and I am grateful for his continued presence there.

He didn't ask for his current assignment, he was assigned.

He is not being dissident, he, as he says in his letter, is following the direction of the bishop and celebrating the sacrament as required.

He is just expressing his honest struggles. Of course, he didn't receive great formation at our St. Paul Seminary, the Berkely of the Midwest.

Unknown said...

Brother Ass:

You do realize that the fault lies mostly with people who are dead and with the Parish Council and team leaders of St. Joan of Arc, don't you.

I have nothing but sympathy for Father DeBruycker. I pray for him daily (and the other pastors of similar parishes). He also did a good job at St. Leonard of Port Maurice. So it is not his theology, it is the people that he has to work with.

I have nothing but respect for the peace and justice ministries of St. Joan's.

What I don't understand is why the people on the Joanie's Council have no respect for the Pope and the Magisterium?