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If only more people knew that they could find healing through Confession

World Youth Day reminded us that the sacrament can open the doors to new life

By on Monday, 22 August 2011

A priest hears a confession in Retiro park, Madrid, during World Youth Day (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

A priest hears a confession in Retiro park, Madrid, during World Youth Day (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

I was on holiday last week and blissfully out of touch with emails. My daughter kindly suggested that I could access them on her laptop, to which I instantly replied: “No thanks!” This means that I have been wading through them all on my return.

Two news items in particular have caught my eye: the first, reported in CF News, explained that during World Youth Day in Spain, between August 16-22, all priests had been given the special privilege by the Madrid archdiocese of granting absolution to people who confess to having had an abortion, “so that all the faithful who attend the celebrations of WYD can more easily access the fruits of divine grace, which opens the door to a new life for them”. According to Canon Law, individual priests would normally require special authorisation to do so.

The second item, from John Smeaton’s blog, drew attention to an article by Ruth Padawer in the New York Times magazine, about a woman aged 45, pregnant with twins after six years of fertility bills, injections, donor eggs and disappointment and 14 weeks into her pregnancy, who had chosen to abort one of her babies. “Reducing a pregnancy”, a euphemism for deciding to kill one of the twins, is apparently very common in pregnancies occurring as a result of IVF. The British Department of Health abortion statistics for 2010 reveal that last year there were 85 abortions which involved selective terminations; in 51 cases twins were “reduced” to one baby.

These items caught my eye because even though one might be on holiday and avoiding emails, you still cannot avoid the normal experiences of life which then lead to reflection on the human condition and the mystery of suffering. One evening we happened to watch a DVD: a Dutch film about a true story of twin girls being forcibly separated aged six when their parents died. One was adopted by a wealthy family and stayed in Holland; the other was fostered out to a poor farming couple in Germany and treated as a servant. The theme of the film was that the two girls’ missing relationship to each other remained the dominant theme of their lives; they yearned to be together and mourned the loss of their early closeness, unable to comprehend the cruel decision to separate them.

It made me reflect on the emotional burden that the surviving twin of a “selective termination” will carry throughout life, never to know the companionship of the sibling who shared an all-too-brief closeness in the womb. Do these mothers, who have made so many sacrifices to become pregnant in the first place, not think of the trauma their child will suffer when he or she discovers the abortion of their twin?

It also happened that I got into conversation with a fellow customer in a charity shop while on holiday. When she saw that I had my daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, with me, she told me that she had a daughter at home with the same condition, now aged 18; she also had severe behavioural problems which had caused the woman’s husband to have a breakdown. Aged 40 she had got pregnant again, this time with twins; one had miscarried and unable to face the thought of another child (her marriage by this time was on the rocks), she had chosen to abort the other. Clearly she much regretted this but felt she had no option: “What else could I have done?” she asked rhetorically.

Reading about the priests at WYD, and the great gift of the Sacrament of Confession, especially when the conscience is burdened with a grave sin, I thought again of this Welsh woman, the cross she had accepted and the cross she had refused. What could I have said to her by way of consolation, which would have “opened the door to a new life” for her?

  • crouchback

    I am very moved by this.

    I missed confession on Saturday, but managed to get confession before Mass yesterday. We might look on it as a bit of a routine, sometimes.  But the chance to open ourselves in this way can never be replicated in the “world”.

    All those people going for Therapy….hours on end talking about themselves….????

    If only they could know the two minutes in a confessional box. 

  • Anonymous

    Francis Phillips asks: “What could I have said to her by way of consolation, which would have “opened the door to a new life” for her?”

    Consolation?  New life for her?  What about some sympathy for the innocent victim whose life was so callously ended?  Let us not fudge the issue.  This woman has murdered her own child to suit her own ends.  She was not forced to murder her child.  That she found willing helpers acting within the law of the land is not the point either.

    Possibly she will find a priest who will offer her absolution for her crime, but the punishment she must undergo will surely see her confined to Purgatory until the end of time.

    Lest anyone hasten to accuse me of lack of charity, what I have spelled out here is the teaching of the Church: “Thou shalt not kill”.

    The best that Francis Phillips can do is to publicise this teaching, many though there are who would prefer to conveniently forget it, and to find solace in the number of abortions that may yet be forestalled as a result of the Church’s teaching being made more widely known.

  • Michael McManus

    Will you be joining her purgatory , As christ said any one who harms a child should be drownd in the depth of the sea, And catholics all over the world are supporting those who allowed children to be harmed

  • Anonymous

    I regret to say that I do not understand the commencement of your post, much though I have wrestled with it.

    I agree with you that those who harm a child should find themselves a millstone and drown themselves.  I refrained for charitable reasons from making that comment during my post even though it entered my head.

    And, yes, I expect to serve my time in Purgatory too, if only for being so slow to recognise the conciliar Church for the “banal confection” that it is (quotation originated by Cardinal Ratzinger).

  • Anonymous

    Did God design the human body?

  • Davidfsavage

    I think talking about a woman with a child with Downs, in a certain town, who has had an abortion - is a breach of confidence – especially writing about it in a national atricle. 
    So now everyone in that area will be thinking I think I know her… 
     maybe they dont but will draw false conclusions about somone else.

    sloppy writing ?  - lazy editing?  

    just taking the name of the town out would have surficed

  • Davidfsavage

    sloppy writing myself .
    .. somone – someone
     surficed – sufficed

  • Honeybadger

    I wish that the option of confessing behind a grille and not go face-to-face with a priest at confession would be made available once more across the board. 

    Personally, there is nothing more off-putting or nerve-wracking than sitting or kneeling face to face with a priest when confessing your sins! When I went to Lourdes on pilgrimage for the Jubilee in 2008, there was no choice available except to kneel face to face to make my confession. I came out feeling no better because the priest did not understand my anxiety in having no option. 

    I do go to confession to one church which has the choice… when I can make it to town, that is!

    crouchback is right about ‘Therapy’. It costs money and time is money. I prefer a priest to a therapist any day.

    Confession was famously called ‘The Medicine Box’ and I can see why.

    My priest friend thought I was joking when I said that the next time I go to confess my sins, I’ll wear a burqa…

  • Greenmantle

    I have learned to love confession as the time I can clear my conscience and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.    When our latest priest came to our parish he started out well but  within one month regular confessions had been abandoned and you have to ask to have your confession heard.  Result, no one goes to confession.  I said at a parish meeting, run by the usual set of busybodies every parish has, that our Bishop had asked for a return to regular devotions – result – no go, couldn’t possibly do that, Father said absolutely nothing.  It gets easier and easier to leave, we old fashioned Catholics know we won’t be missed. 

  • Michael McManus

    Was a simple question , Were will all catholics go who support people who allowed children to be harmed , And another were will the priests go who refused to have babies born dead buried in catholic churchs graveyards

  • guest

    It seems all people see is this lady’s sin, she aborted her child. But nobody cares about the terrible circumstances that lead her to it, this is a woman at the end of her tether and it seems did not have a relationship with Christ to guide her…I don’t believe Jesus judges as harshly as we do, he loves her and if she is lead to him, will heal her pain and forgive her. She doesn’t need condemnation, she has enough of her own. She clearly has serious mental health problems. If she had had this child, she would have then been judged just as harshly as a single mother, with another child needing help from services that are being cut.

  • Parasum

    Short answer to the question: “Yes – but…”

    Longer answer: through secondary causes, and analogically speaking, yes.  Human action on other creatures than ourselves is a very inadequate model for thinking about God’s action in creating. The only language we humans have for talking about God, is human language – and it too is inadequate for talking about the Infinite Reality Who is God: so we have to compensate, by using analogies, & bearing in mind that if we say “God designs the human body”, such phrases, *if pressed beyond a certain point*, become very misleading; because God, unlike man, is not limited in wisdom or power, & is not constrained by circumstances. This is very different from how human designers work – but there is similarity between human designing and God’s “designing” (so to call it); and the ability of humans to design is a reflection of their likeness to God. Human power to design is a reflection of God’s power – never the other way round.

    God is the “Creator of all things, visible and invisible” – the human body included. This does not get in the way of the sciences, because the Christian Faith (& the theology of creation that comes from it) is not a substitute for biology or the other sciences. They look at the same things – such as human evolution – from entirely unrelated POVs; even when they have the same subject matter – such as evolution – there is no contradiction between saying “God is the creator of all things” & saying “man came about through purely natural causes”: the question is one of fact: is there sufficient scientific evidence for scientific assertions of human evolution to be valid ? The answer in no way contradicts the Christian belief that “God is the creator of all things”, because God’s action is not on the same “level” as that of His creatures: so belief in Divine creation & belief in evolution or in abiogenesis for that matter are not like two trains thundering towards one another, certain to collide; for they are not related at all. They can no more collide than Thomas the Tank Engine can collide with a train at King’s Cross, because they belong to different “levels” of reality. And God is totally “other than” all created things, fictional or factual (Flying Spaghetti Monsters, Flying Teapots, & dragons in garages included) – this “otherness” than created things is God’s Holiness, His “apartness from” them, which is His Uniqueness; He, is not like anything – things can only be like Him, their Creator. Which is why human language is so inadequate in speaking of God.

  • Honeybadger

    We all mak mistalkrs…