Crisis of Confession Reflects Crisis of Confessors

Interview with Father Ivan Fucek, Theologian of the Apostolic Penitentiary

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2002 ( A theologian adviser to the Holy See confirmed that John Paul II decided to relaunch the sacrament of God´s forgiveness in the universal Church by writing the apostolic letter «Misericordia Dei» on his own initiative.

When presenting that document to the press May 2, Archbishop Julián Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts, said that the «crisis of confession is above all a crisis of confessors.»

To understand better the Holy Father´s concern about this matter, ZENIT interviewed Jesuit Father Ivan Fucek, theologian of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Church´s highest tribunal for questions of the «internal forum» (matters of conscience).

Q: In your opinion, what is the present state of the sacrament of God´s forgiveness?

Father Fucek: We are experiencing a crisis that is especially acute in some local Churches. Because of this, the Pope´s apostolic letter has special significance. It is a strong document, because it is a direct intervention of the Bishop of Rome. Now we must see how it is received by priests.

The letter, as such, does not offer any novelties from the doctrinal point of view, put it emphasizes and confirms what has already been clarified in many documents.

It stresses personal and individual confession, an integral confession, which means the remission of all grave, but also venial, sins. It is, implicitly, a call to priests, who must always be available to hear the faithful´s confession.

It is inconceivable that a priest is not available or has no time to hear confessions, because confession, together with the Eucharist, is the priest´s principal task. In the Apostolic Penitentiary, we teach confessors how to conduct themselves as fathers, friends, teachers, physicians of souls, and judges.

Q: What caused this crisis in the sacrament of confession?

Father Fucek: It is difficult to give an answer. It depends on many factors, although from my point of view, it is necessary to look at its origin.

It must be acknowledged that many priests have not prepared themselves sufficiently to administer the sacrament of penance, and they are not familiar with the implications related to moral theology and canon law.

Every year, during the Lenten period, the Apostolic Penitentiary offers a course for new priests. Seven years ago, when I began to work with the Penitentiary, there were 200 registered. In the last year, 500 took the course. Their number increases every year.

On one hand, it is a good sign, because it reflects a hunger to know better the sacrament of penance. On the other, it is a bad sign, because it reflects a lack of preparation. They have learnt little if anything in their faculties and seminaries.

Q: Confession and the Eucharist are two pillars of the Catholic faith, but it would seem that the secularized culture has tried to destroy them. Is this true?

Father Fucek: Vatican Council II stressed the importance of confession. However, following the council, secularization ensued and there was a confusion of terms.

In the name of a false ecumenism, some followed Protestantism, to the point that confession was virtually abolished in favor of «collective or general absolution.» The Holy Father´s apostolic letter explained that to equate «collective absolution» with the ordinary way of celebrating the sacrament of penance is a doctrinal error, a disciplinary abuse and a pastoral injury.

The sacrament of confession, penance or reconciliation, as it is also called, is an unmistakable sign of the Catholic Church.

In the Eucharist, there is the real presence of Christ, Jesus is present with his divinity and humanity, body and soul. In past years, some doubted the eucharistic presence and preferred to speak of a symbol, but these are sociological criteria that have nothing to do with the truths of the faith. This is an error that has passed from Protestantism to our Catholic communities.

This contamination of the doctrine has taken place at the same time as the process of playing down and canceling the sense of sin. The popes have spoken authoritatively on this issue since the time of Pius XII. Even more deleterious for the sacrament of confession is the desire to justify sins with sociological and psychological criteria.

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