Bless Me Father

The Confessional: Vetting Innocents for Abuse

Because my parents professed to be Catholic, I myself was sent to undergo indoctrination into the ritualistic beginnings of a young Catholic boy’s life. Grade One was confusing yet familiar territory: confusing because of the new rituals of being in a Catholic school, familiar because of dogma similar to that of our very own made-up childish allegiances during games of adventure – our team against their team, our values against theirs. Grade one taught us that OUR TEAM was righteous and all other teams were sinful. It made me question whether playing with my Protestant friends was OK with God.

And although mom was meticulous about our appearance and manners, Grade one saw us paraded each morning to the front of the class to inspect ears for wax and fingernails for grit prior to learning God’s world. Compliance was eagerly enforced by the inch with generous doses of the yard stick. Apparently, Jesus insisted that cleanliness was next to Godliness – a hard thing to reconcile against my own dad coming home from work soiled from his daily labourers’ efforts. Was his work sinful?

I met boys similar to myself at Catholic school, and aside from play at recess, swimming or the three R’s of childish school learning, we were soon prepared for the sacrament of Penance. We learned how to enter the spicy ambience of the darkened Confessional and wait for the partition to slide open. Behold the shadowy figure beyond. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”


It was forgiveness for the sins we’d committed up until we were seven or eight years old. . . what ever they might be. And although we didn’t really know of or even think of sin, we were about to experience the root of the source of much evil. Some survived, some succumbed, but some, like myself, sensed an offensive musky odour beneath it’s meaning and refused to get enthusiastic.  I did however get to see the results.


By age 8 we had all been summoned to the Confession where we were admonished without question of guilt for such nonsense as being late for supper or stealing sweets from the cupboard. Francis, Brian, Raymond, myself. It was a boring effort mostly. . . playtime lost.


Then, after a time, the interesting questions began. I cannot say what crimes my young friends were asked but I do remember the creepy nature of the questions posed to me because they were so suddenly off the topic of childhood as I knew it.


Did I have impure thoughts ? I didn’t know. I fumbled around what might be an acceptable answer, finally settling on the admission of guilt over thoughts of kissing a tiny, ginger-haired classmate named Carol. But this wouldn’t do.  Try harder.


Q: Did I ever have impure thoughts of sex, or nudity. ( I didn’t know)

Q: Had I ever seen my mother naked? (no)

Q: Had I ever seen naked men changing at the swimming pool. (yes)

Q: Aaaahhh ! Did I see their privates? (Yes) And if so, was I curious? (Yes, of course a seven- year-old is curious about a great hairy bush with an elephant’s trunk protruding from it.) 


Q: Ah ha ! So, you are curious about men’s privates? (Yes Father) You have impure thoughts? (Yes Father)


Q: Say ten ‘Our Father’s’ and ten ‘Hail Mary’s’ and inform your parents you are to come to serve penance to God as an Altar Boy.


Yes Father.


There were about a dozen of us all-told who answered the wrong questions the right way, and into altar-boy service we went.


I myself lasted but one visit as an altar boy because, out of disinterest I couldn’t read the bible with enough emotion. Not even after being slapped. But other -not all – classmates did well, and under the methods of child psychology referenced in the credits of this article, they graduated to helping the good priest in his services – and into helping themselves to the unlocked wine cabinet in the little Sacristy room behind the pulpit off the altar area. . . and other things.


By the next year, these altar-boy classmates – Francis, Brian, Raymond,  were attempting various forms of mental escape from myself and each other. And in later years they would come to avoid even their own families by what ever device they could find.  They took up smoking cigarettes by grade five, sniffing glue by grade six, and bringing liquor to school by grade seven. One even fought me – a former good friend, for no reason other than his anger. They became the true Lost Boys and the reasons became evident in later years.  They had been abused at the hands of some Good Father and they lashed outward in battle against their inner demons. None, to my current knowledge ever excelled – led the normal life of career, family, children.


So I ask you. Did the fateful moment in these boy’s lives come in the confessional? Was it there in the dimmed confessional and through a darkened screen that those probing questions about their early sexual curiosities marked them as vulnerable? Were they, as children, being pre-qualified as victims through, and by, the rite of Penance?


To my knowledge, and in my own experience, Catholic children must confess before they commune (first communion) at about age seven. And to reference our credited material, the church has maintained that the earlier a child is sent to penance, the easier it is to achieve control, conversion and true belief. They council that the frail psychology of a child is uniquely vulnerable to abstract fears and learned anxieties which can be later put to beneficial use for the good of the church.


Pre-adult confession is a ritualistic tool for mind control of many vulnerable young children. By instilling fears, corrupting morals, dictating ethics and steering the young conscience by penance and forgiveness, the Catholic Church disrespects children as people and subjects them to those advantages mature adults hold over the vulnerability any child may come to feel; a need to please persons of perceived authority . . . including submitting to, and holding scared, the truths about some clergy’s depraved sexual whims, ambitions and advances.


To assert the inherited possession of an Original Sin at childbirth is a disgrace.  To gain the complicity of loving parents is a sin in and of itself. To further assert power through the forgiveness of perceived or manufactured subsequent sins is an abomination.


Taken from: L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
25 May 1978, page 9, 1 June 1978, page 11

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The earlier the child is helped, in order to start him on his way and assist him in the formation of his Christian moral personality, the easier it will be to reach the goal. It is by walking that the paths to be taken are found.


Let it be added that the child has a frail psychology. He is, in fact, afraid of many things; he suffers fears and anxieties that are sometimes groundless; he is overcome by uncertainties that are often tormenting; he may often be in the grip of qualms, or think something is a sin which is not, etc. For all this, too, help to celebrate the sacrament of penance authentically, is a reality which is highly beneficial to the individual and therefore to the good of the Church.

Respect for the personality of the child, which is still in formation, will lead sacramental practice to consideration of his concrete possibilities, the originality of his stage of evolution, his real capacity for interiorization and integration, and the dynamism of his human and Christian development.

What it is important to keep in mind is precisely the unquestionable fact that the local community is called upon with all its forces to create the concrete conditions for the celebration . . . of the sacrament of Penance also for children. The ideal conditions are a goal at which to strive with might and main. If the effort to attain it is already going on, the community (among which the children’s parents must have an outstanding role) shows that it is already on its way to that progressing development . . . which makes up to a certain extent for the possible immaturity of the subject.

Here there would be indicated broad considerations of … a pedagogical and pastoral type in which we must keep in mind the necessity of knowledge of . . . the subjects, and of their psyche, with the different conditionings of environmental-family-scholastic type; etc. It will therefore be necessary to mobilize in the service of their Christian education all the educational factors available (family, school, catechesis, parish life, etc.) and integrate the sacraments as privileged moments in the span of the whole dynamic process of growth and development, so that there will be a real correspondence with the subject’s personal capacity. We must be certain of one thing: real religious possibilities exist at every age and in every subject; and the celebration of the sacrament of Penance is a propitious and unrepeatable opportunity which we must not let slip but must exploit from all points of view.

There the matter still stands, as far as Rome and the Church’s official teaching are concerned. In most sectors of the world, children are admitted to first Confession before they make their first Communion or, in any case, they are prepared for sacramental Confession around the age of seven. Enter authors Robert P. O’Neil and Michael A. Donovan, with The Question of Pre-adolescent Sin, Insight, Spring 1966.

Having bridged the gap between preadolescent reasonless thinking and inability to sin, the authors draw some startling conclusions.

“Lacking the ability to make truly moral judgments, preadolescent children are incapable of committing either mortal or venial sin. Hence there is no matter (basis) for the valid administration of the Sacrament of Penance.

“Those aspects of religious and moral training which include such concepts as sin, punishment, and Hell are psychologically harmful and theologically indefensible before twelve or thirteen years of age.”

Those who accept these premises also accept their conclusions, and not only to defer sacramental absolution. Since children are presumed not to sin before puberty, their parents and guides are warned against repressing such natural instincts as the sex drive by an appeal to divine justice. As the proponents of this new ethic see it, the whole gamut of Catholic religious education should be revamped.       SOURCE:

Any names used are fictitious.                                   

Maurice St. Jean, Editor


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