The Misuse of the Confessional by a Catholic blogger

In the article Whose Money Is It, Anyway? (3 June 2016), Kevin T. DiCamillo describes the plight of a retired elderly priest, with declining mental acuity, whose life savings are in dispute. Who should inherit this money, after he passes? DiCamillo doesn’t reach a conclusion on that question; he simply discusses the situation.

My take: it is sinful for the parties in question to wrangle over this priest’s estate even before he passes away. Whether party A is the rightful recipient, or party B, in either case they both sin by striving to obtain this money.

[Luke]
{12:13} And someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
{12:14} But he said to him, “Man, who has appointed me as judge or arbitrator over you?”
{12:15} So he said to them: “Be cautious and wary of all avarice. For a person’s life is not found in the abundance of the things that he possesses.”

But my main concern in writing this post it to point out a grave sin committed against the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“Due to Fr. Maj’s early signs of dementia, he had not been allowed to say Holy Mass at the Infant Jesus Shrine, as he was wont to forget the prayers…. So I went to see for myself. Since I knew Fr. Maj could no longer say Mass I asked if he could hear my confession…. Still, he seemed to follow what I was saying and was able to grant absolution more or less according to the formula. Yet to tell the truth, he wasn’t completely “all there” and as soon as I was done with The Sacrament of Penance, Fr. Maj began to complain to me (a man he had never met before) that he was not allowed to say Mass — this upset him very, very much — and asked me to pray for him.”

DiCamillo tells us in his article that he went to Confession with this priest, despite his “early signs of dementia”, so as to see for himself what the priest’s mental state might be. He then reports on that state to his readers in the article, including the priest’s signs of declining mental acuity while giving him the Sacrament. And he reported to his readers on his private conversion with the priest after Confession.

In my opinion, DiCamillo is describing his own grave sin against this priest and against the Sacrament of Penance. It is a sacrilege to receive Confession from a priest because you wish to evaluate his mental state and report on it in an article. As DiCamillo admits, he had never met this priest before. So then, why did he seek out this particular confessor? He knew in advance that the priest had such a significant decline in mental health that he could not say Mass. Yet he chose this priest to hear a Confession, not for the sake of obtaining forgiveness from God, but for the sake of his online writing about the priest.

This misuse of the Sacrament of Confession — obtained for us by Christ’s death on the Cross in order to save sinners from Hell — as a way to intrude into this priest’s life and report publicly on his private medical condition, is a sacrilege against the Sacrament, a grave sin against this priest’s privacy and medical confidentiality, and a reprehensible mistreatment of a person who has declining mental acuity. I’m not certain if such an attempted confession, as publicly described by the penitent, meets the conditions for a valid Confession. The penitent must intend to do what the Church does in this Sacrament. And what the Church does is to forgive the sin of persons who are contrite. If the intention of the penitent is to evaluate the priest and report on his mental state, the question at least is raised as to whether the Sacrament was valid.

In any case, it is the sin of detraction for DiCamillo to report publicly that this priest has had such a decline in mental health that his administration of the Sacrament of Confession was lacking, specifically, to say that “he wasn’t completely ‘all there’ ” and to say that he gave absolution only “more or less” according to the correct formula. DiCamillo is not a mental health professional, and he did not have the permission of this priest to evaluate and disclose his condition.

I’ve read many Catholic blog posts by many different authors. Usually, I find nothing wrong with most of these posts. But occasionally a Catholic blogger sins in the very content of his post. I wonder what motivates a Catholic author to behave this way, to disregard, in some cases, the moral law, or in other cases, the required beliefs of the Church. My readers know that I speak out against errors on faith and morals in public assertions by some of my fellow Catholics. But I wonder why so few readers object when a Catholic sins, in one way or another, publicly on the internet. It is as if people think that the internet is a morality-free zone.

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I ask my readers to pray for Fr. Maj, a faithful retired priest who is suffering in various ways in his life right now.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to The Misuse of the Confessional by a Catholic blogger

  1. missy681 says:

    I hope you will write to the blogger and inform his conscience. He may not be aware that he committed it sacrilege.

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