Beyond Crime & Punishment

Hearing confessions is a rather dangerous and lethal profession. It creates a kind of patience with sin that is often scandalous to outsiders. But confession is a very good thing about my Catholic tradition that might not be recognized in the midst of our shame about the pedophilia scandal.

Good confessional practice does not encourage you to read a situation in a forensic or argumentative context, and in fact quite the contrary. The whole purpose is healing and reconciliation. Ours is not "innocent until proven guilty" but actually "guilty and declared innocent." We start with the conviction and move therapeutically from there.

This wonderful pastoral practice is now to our severe disadvantage inside of the entirely different set of assumptions of the secular social order. This is a good reality check for us, but we Catholics (and all Christians) deserve to understand our own partly ignorant and partly vulnerable position in the world today. We have a very different agenda than the world. Some priests have surely been wolves among lambs, but we are also lambs in a very wolfish system of law and punishment. That is the world as it must be, exactly what Jesus promised us.

The confessor and the Christian judges evil in terms of its possibility for transformation and openness to grace; the dualistic secular mind knows only crime and punishment, quid pro quo—an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." We are grateful for a certain sense of social order that it gives us.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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