CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Confession-The First Step in Mental Enslavement

 In spite of her protestations that she is the only divinely founded Church, that she is holy, that she can and does produce holiness in her members, the Roman Catholic Church has failed in the past to hold aloft the banner of morality.  And in our time she continues to harbor more criminals and sinners than other churches, more even than among people who renounce all religion.

Some of the reasons for this remarkable phenomenon have been outlined-venial sins, penal laws and the Churches unnatural and futile handling of sex.

Another significant explanation for much of Roman Catholic lawlessness lies in the structure of Catholicism.  Its code of behavior is built upon ritual and superstition rather than upon true religion, reasoned ethics, self-education and self-control. -

The most important ritual for the control and rehabilitation of the behavior of Roman Catholics is the ceremony of Confession, also called the Sacrament of Penance.  It is the epitome of superstition in the Church's centuries-old bag of magic tricks and amulets.

For the ritual of confession is a superstition, a word that Webster defines as follows:

 An irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature or God proceeding from ignorance, unreasoning fear of the unknown or mysterious, morbid scrupulosity, a belief in magic or chance or the like, misdirected or unenlightened religion or interpretation of nature; . . . any belief, conception, act or practice resulting from such a state of mind ... a fixed irrational idea ... a notion maintained in spite of evidence to the contrary.

It is unfortunate for devout Catholics that this definition applies so exactly to what all of us were taught to be a sacrament established by Christ Himself for the complete cleansing of souls fouled by sin and their restoration to a "state of grace."

The first confession, followed by the first communion, is one of the most awesome and most sacred events in the growth of a Roman Catholic child, second only to baptism and administration of last rites.  Children "make" their first communion-the "receiving" of Christ in the Eucharist under the form of bread-usually in the second grade, at about the age of seven.  This is a festive event.  The little girls wear beautiful dresses and flowing veils.  The little boys have white trousers, white shirts and new shoes.  For days before, they practice genuflection, walking in precision to the altar, putting out their tongues to receive the holy wafer, and returning to their pews with folded hands and downcast eyes that proclaim their innocent sanctity.

 But before the child's first communion he must make his first confession.  My experience was typical of that of the average Catholic child.  I was seven years old.  We were drilled in the classroom on the procedure of examining our consciences, of reciting the formula, and for hours in the classroom we practiced aloud the "act of contrition": "O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee.  I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell .

On the Friday afternoon before our first communion, the black-veiled nuns marched us two by two into the church and herded us into the pews nearest the confessionals.

The building itself was awesomely big to a little child.  The architectural style, if any, was German-American Romanesque.  Heavily darkened stained-glass windows transformed California sunshine into gloomy half-darkness.  In those windows were the gaudily colored scenes of heaven, saints and angels floating, frozen, with wooden expressions, looking at God.  The nuns had told us that those people were very happy and that we could get up there, too, after we died, if we had no mortal sins on our souls-especially sins of impurity.  To me, heaven meant getting into that window even though those people did not look very happy.  Marbles and mumbly-pegs seemed much more fun.

Our Mother Mary was in a window, too, and was also standing on a post in the church holding the baby Jesus.  St. Joseph was in a corner, also holding Jesus.  So was St. Anthony and he bad Jesus, too.  Lots of people seemed to like Jesus.  The sisters said I should like Jesus, too.

The ceiling was some forty feet high and the central altar seemed miles away, even though it was only a quarter of a block.  When we knelt we could hardly see over the tops of the pews.

As we waited our turn, the nuns behind us made us continue to examine our consciences by rapping the knuckles of any of us who became restless or mischievous.

When my turn came, I pushed aside the heavy red velvet curtain and stepped inside the blackness.  It was so dark I had to feel for the kneeling bench.  Petrified, I waited for the sound of the priest's little sliding door and began the form, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession . . ." I confessed the peccadilloes of a seven-year-old and thought myself a great sinner.  The priest gave me an admonition always to be a good boy and a penance to perform (a few Hail Mary’s) and I felt much relieved.

I cannot recall whether my fear produced any physical reaction on that occasion.  But later, as a priest hearing youngsters' first confessions, I can recall many occasions when the babes were so frightened by the size of the church, the darkness of the confessional and their own sinfulness that they became incontinent.  Then I would step outside, and signal the nearest nun, who rebuked the child and called someone to clean up the confessional.

We went to confession every month on the Thursday before the first Friday.  This is done in practically every Catholic school in America .  An alleged revelation of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary promised final repentance and salvation to every Catholic who had ever received communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month.  Wholesale reception of communion on these days has become a Catholic tradition.  It helps establish the habit of frequent confession and thus of submission to the priesthood.

The familiarity of going to confession at least once a month did not lessen my fear of it.  The priest was supposed to question me regarding sins I might have omitted and then admonish me to try never to do such things again.  The most frequent questions were, "Did you do anything nasty or have any bad thoughts or actions since your last confession?" and "Have you missed Mass on Sunday?"

I had been raised in a strict Catholic home, so these questions of the priest were very confusing.  I knew what lying and stealing were, but the priest never asked about them.  Furthermore, my lying was generally to my mother and my stealing concerned food, particularly fruit from neighbors' trees, although our backyard trees bore fruit equally good.  But since such sins were merely venial, I did not have to confess them.

But "nastiness" and "adultery" and "sex' were very mysterious.  I knew that they were wrong, but I didn't know what they were.  For the first three or four years that priests in the confessional asked me if I had had bad thoughts or done "nasty" things, I had no concept whatever of the functions of sex and only the vaguest notions of the physical differences between men and women.  I knew absolutely nothing of the origin of human babies.  I thought that adultery was looking at my own body, wanting to see the body of a little girl, or urinating where I should not.  Through years of association with Catholics and years of hearing confessions, I learned that my confused ignorance was shared by many others.

When priests know their penitents are married, they are supposed to ask if they practice birth control-and threaten to withhold absolution from those who do not promise to give up this most evil vice.  If there is a hint of adultery or other sexual aberration, they are supposed to ask about the frequency and details that might compound the sin or make it a sacrilege.

Whatever the cause, the classroom's teaching on the filthiness, nastiness and sinfulness of everything sexual is re-emphasized where it is much more effective-in the sacred and secret darkness of the confessional.

In lecturing across the country I have found non-Catholics extremely interested in the ceremony of confession.  They want to know if Catholics really tell all, if Catholics really believe that a priest can forgive sins, and if the priest sincerely believes that he has the power to forgive them.

It rarely occurs to them, however, nor to most Catholics, that this ceremony is not merely a soul-washing ritual but is an adjunct of the parochial school system.  It is so much a part of that system that the confessional might well be called another classroom-the private classroom for individual instruction.

The Catholic priests in their function of hearing confessions might be called the police force of the hierarchy.  They are watching at the "grass roots" over the morals of the faithful.  The weakness of the Catholic position regarding stealing, lying and regard for civil law rests not only in theological classrooms.  A "celibate" priest, when hearing confessions, does not think them nearly as important nor as interesting as masturbation, fornication or adultery.

 Not only lay Catholics but even the clergy believes that priests have the actual power to forgive sins-not merely to state that God has forgiven them.  The wording of the form of absolution is: "Deinde ego to absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti' (Finally, I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost).  The reason for the word "deinde" or "finally" in the ritual is that other "absolutions" precede that of the sins themselves.  They are: "Dominus noster Jesus Christus to absolvat: et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab onmi vinculo, excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti, in quantum possum, et tu indiges," followed by deinde, etc., as above.  These words mean: "May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by his authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) and interdict in so far as I am able and you are in need of it," and finally, above.

The bulk of Catholic priests, regardless of any divine or ecclesiastical authority conferred upon them, are psychologically unequipped to cope with many of the personal problems they meet in the confessional.  Most of these problems pertain to sex, because the clergy in the confessional usually does not focus attention on anything besides sex, except attendance at Mass on Sunday.

An ex-Catholic psychiatrist sent me this observation: "Confessional.  Healthy young people submitting their problems to men who are trying hard themselves to remain psychologically emasculate.  Two to four (five) presumably anonymous minutes of conference when confessor makes judgments regarding right and wrong and assigns penance."

 Priests are only too prone to join the proponents of socialized medicine who condemn those doctors of medicine who see a hundred and fifty patients a day.  They call the medicos money-mad, shunting sick people through their offices at ten dollars a head, curing nothing, but soothing the gullible with a smile and a shot of penicillin.

These same priests on a busy Saturday evening will "hear" a hundred confessions or more of people far more sick of soul than the others of body, and shunt them out with less true benefit than the doctor holds in his syringe.

I know-I did it for fifteen years.

The priest, in learning how to hear confessions, studies the guilt of sin rather than the cause and cure of human misbehavior.  His primary function is to compute the degree of sin and its complexities so that he can determine an appropriate punishment and then forgive the sin.  I-le makes the sinner promise to amend his life in the Act of Contrition which is routinely recited while absolution is given.  He makes some penitents cease their sins by refusing to give them absolution unless (in some dioceses) they pull their children out of public schools, or sever an illicit sexual relationship or quit the practice of birth control.  My experience has been that in the face of these ultimatums, the penitent usually stops going to confession.

Priests are not taught, for instance, how to advise married couples to cope with the frustrations of physical or psychic sexual maladjustments which can so easily wreck marriages or make them a foretaste of bell.  They know only to say, "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder." Hence, the couple must stay together because the Catholic Church prohibits divorce.

Priests who in the pulpit or in the confessional expound so learnedly of marriage know nothing of the subject.

 Clandestine sexual affairs, which any intelligent and observant Catholic must admit to be not uncommon among the clergy, are no substitute for the actual experience of marriage so necessary for one to be able to advise others about it.

Equally important in the plan of Roman Catholic control of men's intimate personal lives is the opportunity the confessional gives of having the priest ask, "Have you missed Mass on Sunday?" If so, the priest instills the concept that missing Mass even once is a mortal sin, as punishable by hellfire as adultery or murder.  There are unknown thousands, perhaps millions of Catholics who, because of this constant nagging in the confessional while they were younger, will attend Mass regularly, even though they are routinely drunk, enjoying a sexual affair or practicing birth control regularly.  The attendance at Mass with as generous a donation as they can afford is their expiation for the sins of their nature.

Once they are at Mass, however, the indoctrination machine can work on them.  They hear the sermons.  They see the multitudinous Catholic pamphlets.  They buy the local diocesan weekly journal and perhaps that most biased, divisive and anti-Protestant paper, Our Sunday Visitor.  Among the young and their elders, through the help of the confessional, Roman Catholic "education" goes on.

Those who go to confession are usually sincere (albeit sometimes frightened) Catholics who want their sins forgiven and the average priest thinks he has the formula for doing so.  There are kindly and mellowed priests whose advice can help people in many problems that they can understand from their own adolescence and adult lives.

 They can help children and parents be reconciled.  They can hammer at the danger and the seeming easiness of stealing.  They can strengthen the faltering steps of their parishioners who are losing the argument with John Barleycorn by proving to them that the only way to quit drinking is to quit drinking.  Perhaps they can cite their own experiences in this regard.

Some of the Catholic psychiatrists, I queried pointed to the confessional as the poor man s psychiatric couch.  This can be true, but only in the sense that any experienced sympathetic counselor, be he doctor, minister or priest, can sometimes untangle the scrambled web of earnest people's lives, when the problems are not too complex.

The first indictment of the confessional is that it is a man-made fraud and superstition.

The following historical details are taken principally from the writings of Henry Charles Lea, particularly from

the very heavily documented three-volume work, A History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church.  Before forming a final opinion, before condemning my viewpoint or falling back on a routine of refutation by denunciation, one should go to a public library and look up the works of Henry Charles Lea.'

Every shocking statement is annotated, and the overwhelming numbers of references are to the original sources.  Very many are in the original Latin, so that any average priest should be able to read them.  The authors Lea quotes are familiar to every priest-Origen, Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine , St. Ambrose, St. Cyprian, St. Barnabas, St. Polycarp, Dionysius of Corinth, St. John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Venerable Bede, St. Thomas

 Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Peter Lombard, St. Alphonsus, Liguori, Alexander Hales, to name only a few; the Didache and a host of popes and regional and ecumenical councils.  As I have mentioned earlier, the 17,000 volumes of Lea's source material are in the University of Pennsylvania library.

 This is the story as told by Lea.

Private confession to a priest and the claim of the priestly power to forgive sin were not required in the early Church.  Public confession as in the "Confiteor" of the Mass or as conducted in many Protestant churches was usual.

 Among the primitive Christians the practice of acknowledging sins was regarded as a wholesome exercise, contributory to their pardon and leading to self-restraint.  The term exomologesis, by which confession is designated in the New Testament, came to signify in time the whole act of confession to God, with prostration and humiliation, whereby repentance was excited through which his wrath might be appeased.                     9

 in the primitive Church this confession to God was the only form enjoined.  According to St. Clement of Rome , the Lord requires nothing of any man save confession to Him....

That up to the early portion of the third century, hearing the confessions of penitents formed no recognized part of sacerdotal functions is clearly shown by the Canons of Hippolytus, in which the duties of all orders of the clergy are minutely detailed and the only allusion to confession is to that made by the catechumen to the bishop before baptism....

We have already seen that Origen ridiculed the idea that the power of the keys had been transmitted from St. Peter, and we have further evidence that this private consultation with a physician of the soul had in it nothing capable of remitting sin or of obtaining absolution, but that it was merely a wholesome practice recommended by preachers and that the only confession as yet recognized by the Church was in public before the congregation.'

 Throughout the first thousand years the custom gradually developed of voluntary private confession to priests.  However, the purpose was for personal advice and consolation, not a requirement of forgiveness.  Even in monasteries, private confession was not enforced.

 Perhaps the most convincing evidence of the slender importance attached to auricular confession at this period is its neglect by the monastic orders.... From the earliest organization of monarchism, they adapted to themselves the existing custom of public confession in the congregation, which was represented by daily or weekly chapters in which the brethren assembled and were expected to confess their faults or to be accused, when immediate punishment, usually scourging, would be inflicted, consisting, in the eleventh century, according to St. Peter Damiani, usually of from twenty to forty stripes for each fault confessed.  There was nothing in the slightest degree sacramental about this, but it sufficed.3

 The custom of public confession of sins and failings in monasteries has persisted even up to our time.  The following is from the Rule of the Franciscan Order: "Let the Chapter of Faults take place every Friday.  In it external faults and daily negligence’s shall be acknowledged and the superiors shall admonish the friars on the observance of the Rule, the Constitutions, the Statutes, and the Ordination, and shall commend the benefactors to the prayers of all." (The Rule and General Constitutions of the Friars Minor, Page 41.)

The practice of the famous Cluny monastery bears out the same lack of requirement of private confession:

 The Cluniac Order was a rigid reform of the Benedictine.  We possess a very complete account of the discipline of the mother-house of Cluny , about the year 1080, including details as to the semi-annual bathing of the monks, their stated times of blood-letting, and how the novices were drilled to bend their necks without curving their backs.  We are told all the signs that were used to replace the voice, so that the holy silence of the monastery might not be broken even to express the wants of human nature.  The daily chapters for confession and accusation were duly held, but so little confidence was felt in the candor of the brethren that discipline and morals were maintained by officials known as circatores-spies or detectives, who had entrance everywhere and who were always moving around to observe and report offenses.  Yet the only prescription of auricular confession was that the novice when received confessed all the sins committed in secular life, and the monk when dying confessed again as a preparation for extreme unction.  Some half a century later, in the new statutes which Peter the Venerable introduced in the Cluniac Rule there is still no allusion to ConfeSSion.4

 The semi-annual baths remind me of my own days as a monk at St. Mary's in Phoenix .  In spite of the complete absence of air-conditioning and the inevitable perspiration and odor of the heavy woolen robes, one monk, Brother Fritz, refused to bathe more than twice a year -Christmas and Easter.  One day it dawned on him that there is no mention in the New Testament of St. Paul ever taking a bath.  Brother Fritz refused to bathe from that day on.

Auricular personal private confession became a law of the Church by the Lateran council in 1216.' The council of Trent declared it a dogma of the Church in 1551:

 If anyone says that in the Catholic Church penance is not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ the Lord for reconciling the faithful of God as often as they fall into sin after baptism, let him be anathema."

 This evolution of confession as a sacrament demonstrates the speciousness of the claim that the dogmas of the Church do not change or that its popes and councils are infallible.

 Another interesting historical point is the backward reasoning by the theologians about confession.  They wanted the doctrine; therefore it had to be true.  And it fell upon the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, the of all time in the Roman Catholic Church, greatest thinker

 to develop a theory to justify the confessional.  

Apparently Aquinas was the first who boldly declared confession to be of divine law; as he has no gospel text to quote he argues that it cannot be of human law because it is a matter of faith; faith and the sacraments are beyond human reason and therefore they must be of divine law, which is virtually to assume that, as we cannot understand it, it must be of divine command though no such divine command is recorded.  The authority, if not the reasoning, of Aquinas gave a standing in the schools to this view and we find it accepted by many succeeding writers.  The Scotists reached the same conclusion by a somewhat different line of argument: the Church, they said, would not have imposed so heavy a burden on her children except by divine command and that as there is no trace of any canon prescribing it, prior to the Lateran council of 1216, it could not have been a mere human precept.  Chancellor Gerson makes no pretence that it is of divine origin save that the Decalogue commands us to honor our parents and as Mother Church has commanded it we must honor her by obedience.'

 Lea details, with continuous documentation, the confusion that prevailed throughout the centuries as this enslavement of the human mind evolved.

 Even when private confession was enforced, it was not considered a sacrament.  False writings were circulated, attempting to carry the obligation of confession back to St. Augustine .' The concept of the power of absolution was so vague that some theologians advised people to confess the same sins to many priests so they could be forgiven sooner?  For many centuries the priest was thought to have only the power of intercession, not forgiveness.  There was also confusion as to who should hear 9the confession." Usually it was a priest, but this was not universally believed.

 It is true that the Penitential of Theodore claims it for them, but the claim shows that the people were accustomed to apply even to women for penance, and that an exclusive sacerdotal privilege was a matter which required to be asserted.  A passage from the Venerable Bede has been largely quoted in support of this claim, in which he says that the lighter and daily sins can be confessed to one another and be redeemed by prayers, while the graver ones should be revealed to the priest, but we have already seen that by these graver sins he means only heresy, Judaism, infidelity and schism, leaving a large field for mutual confession between laymen.  Even confession to women was by no means unknown.  In the seventh century, St. Donatus of Besancon drew up a Rule for the nuns of Joussan in which be prescribed confession to the abbess several times daily, but after the establishment of the sacrament of penitence this was considered irregular, and when Innocent III learned that in Spain Cistercian abbesses were in the habit of hearing confessions of the sisters he promptly forbade it.:"-

 As might readily be expected, an important element in the development of confession as a universal practice was-money!

Medieval Church authorities claimed that fees could not be charged by priests for hearing confessions but voluntary offerings could be accepted.  This is identical with the present practice regarding Mass "stipends." The Mass is not charged for, but if the voluntary offering is not forthcoming, the Mass is not recited and the soul simply keeps on burning in purgatory.

 That the priesthood of the period did not observe the distinction and for the most part withheld their services when their cupidity was not satisfied is manifested by a very curious passage in an Ordo of the period, in which a poor sinner, when invited to confess, protests that he is unable to pay for the service and that the priests will only oppress and persecute him for his poverty.  It was difficult to repress this, as is seen from the frequent injunctions to exact nothing but to take whatever may be offered, yet an offering was expected and was customary, forming part of the recognized revenue of the churches, divided monthly between the priests and the superior and known as confessiones tricenari-w.

It was reserved for Innocent III to give legality to the custom.  The subject was somewhat delicate, for the demand of payment for the sacraments was undoubted simony, and yet without compulsion these so-called voluntary payments were liable to be not forthcoming.  Innocent, however, accomplished the feat of facing both ways in a decree reciting that frequent complaints reach the Holy See that money is exacted for the sacraments and that fictitious difficulties are raised if the priestly greed is not satisfied, while, on the other hand, there are laymen inspired with heretical views who seek under the guise of scruples to infringe on the laudable custom which the piety of the faithful has introduced.  Therefore depraved exactions are prohibited and pious customs are to be observed; the sacraments must be freely conferred, but the bishops shall coerce those who endeavor to change a laudable CUStOM.12

 The concept that has plagued so many of the faithful that sexual thoughts are mortal sins appears only in the Middle Ages, and the present Roman Catholic doctrine of mortal and venial sin likewise evolved only gradually.  The medieval authority, Venerable Bede, said that the only sins to be confessed to priests are heresy, infidelity (to the Church) and Judaism, for God himself corrects and cures our other vices within us."

Historically, it can be seen, the foundation upon which a great part of Roman Catholic morality is built is one of weakness.  Sociologically, an aspect of this problem that demands investigation is that, with a large segment of the faithful, the ritual of confession makes sin, not more. difficult, but much more easy.

If the authors of the False Decretals, Pope Innocent III in the Lateran council and the bishops in the council of Trent, invented and made a sacrament out of confession for the purpose of deterring the faithful from sin, their scheme certainly backfired.

There are some Catholics who derive the strangest solace from confession.  One doctor wrote to me about a Catholic woman who felt close to God while pregnant -no matter by whom.  She had five illegitimate children and constant miscarriages.  Confession always adjusted her back to God and erased any guilt of promiscuity.  The most acute sufferers in her case were her parents.

The psychiatric clinical director of one of the nation's largest city health departments wrote:

 I think an interesting study, among many that you could possibly do, would be the effect of confession and absolution upon the guilt and anxiety that a psychiatrist ordinarily works with.  I think particularly of one case I had who had been illegally pregnant four times as an attempt to partially work out a depression.  Each time when she became pregnant she would go to confession and lose all the anxiety and guilt that she had (by going to confession plus going home to her mother and inflicting subtle punishment on her mother in that way).  This patient was impossible to do anything with because there was no motivation.  AU the anxiety bad been relieved by confession.

 Catholics become quite ludicrous in their condescending condemnations of futile superstitious rites in other and especially ancient primitive religions that are used in seeking the forgiveness of sins.  They condemn the ancient Jewish ritual of the religious leader calling the people's sins down on the head of a goat and then driving him out in the desert to die.  They sneer at the Moslems who atone for their waywardness by their pilgrimage to Mecca .

They ridicule the Hindus who in repeated holy years again and again wash themselves in the Ganges to be cleansed of their crimes and sins.

But Roman Catholics are just as superstitious and do the identical thing.  Catholic children and adults are for many years taught that the mere absolution of a priest forgives crime or sin, and in time they actually believe it. This method of mental indoctrination is the forerunner

of Hitler's "big lie" and the Communist slogan of "the people's democracy" that hides a dictatorial regime.

The secrecy, the darkness and the anonymity of the confessional and the repetition of the ceremony over-come the shame and make repetition of the crime easier.

 As long as they are healthy and reasonably assured of living till they can confess, many Catholics can and do sin with impunity.  Hell has lost its fury and death has lost its sting.

One sentence by Lea summarizes the role of the confessional:

 Through the instrumentality of the confessional, the sodality and the indulgence, its matchless organization (that is, the Chureb's) is thus enabled to concentrate in the Vatican a power greater than has ever before been wielded by human hands .14