Father Tony

Kevin Unrepentant

Filed By Father Tony | January 29, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay Catholics, gay sex, sin

The text of Kevin's letter and my response after the jump.

Hi Fr. Tony:

I'm a practicing catholic and have a question about confession. I go several times a year and always say the same thing: jerk off regularly, watch porn and have sex with guys a couple times a year. I feel like God is saying why do i confess the same thing over and over when the priest absolves it over and over! Should I continue to bring this up or let it go and confess more important stuff? Thanks for any insight you may have.


Dear Kevin,

I must say that actually hearing Confession is one of the few things I miss about the ministry I shed. Not because they were juicy, but because they were so humbling. To be entrusted with the secret grief of folks in search of salvation from pain or guilt or confusion was a responsibility of which no man is worthy. It forced me to be careful with every word I whispered.

When I was a cynical theology student in Rome, the rector of our college imported a seasoned pastor from the states to give us a sense of what parish work would be like. He knew that most of us who had been chosen for Rome could expect specialized work as academics, canon lawyers, diplomats or prelates. He wanted to be sure we knew what the real work was like in the trenches. One day, a dozen of us sat in a casual circle listening to that old bird talk about his forty years of hearing confessions. He talked about building on even the smallest grain of contrition in the heart of the penitent. Guessing that there must be some desire for forgiveness that had brought the person into the confessional, he kept hammering home the idea that we should never forget that they come to confession in order to get the forgiveness of God through the words of absolution.

He waved his hand at us and said "You are all just the tool. Doesn't matter what you say, just don't get in the way, and don't say no."

Well this seemed a little too hearts-and-flowers to me, so I spoke up thinking I could trick him into admitting that sometimes, people without contrition should be denied absolution and that it is not automatic.

"So are you saying that we should never deny absolution?"

Suddenly you could have heard a pin drop. He narrowed his eyes under bushy white brows as he gazed at me probably thinking this cocky punk thinks he's going to expose me as a liberal heretic, and then he said "That's right."

And I said "You mean to say that not once in all your forty years did you ever deny absolution, no matter what the sin or even if they said they didn't feel what they did was wrong and they'd do it again tomorrow?"

"Not once...Not. Once."

And Kevin, for the first time in my life, as I heard those words from that wise old goat of a pastor, I was overwhelmed with the realization that the power of God is in his continuous and unconditional and all-surrounding forgiveness. A forgiveness with no strings or grimaces of disapproval. With no stratification or metering. Everyone gets it one hundred percent. You just have to ask.

After that meeting, I could not talk for the rest of the day, but a week later, I crossed paths with the old goat and I just mumbled "Thanks." He laughed and slapped my back. He knew what he had instilled in me and he was proud of it and gloating. He knew I had gotten the message. He was right. I followed his example entirely during the years of my ministry, and I think I did some good for some people in the process.

So, to answer your question, Kevin. You can either repeat your paltry little sins for the nth time, or you could trot out your secret big'uns. It should not make any difference. It's all in the positioning. The penitent is supplicant to a God he loves but has wronged. The priest is the messenger, the agent and the postage stamp on that tired letter to Santa that you are afraid you're too old to be writing. Don't worry about it. But, be forewarned. Not all priests are as enlightened as I. As a teenager, I confessed having "touched myself impurely" (those were the absurd words we were told to use). The priest asked me how many times. I didn't think the number was significant, but he did. I think I said three times in the one week since my last confession. He slowly shook his head with disgust and tried to make me understand how filthy and degrading my actions were.

For a few seconds I was shocked by his words, and then I was entirely filled with anger. I left the confessional before that shithead was finished with his tirade and avoided confession entirely after that until the day after my ordination, when I was assisting Pope Paul VI at an outdoor papal mass in front of Saint Peter's. A man in the crowd called out for a priest to hear his confession before the Mass started. I was hurrying by with something gold and fancy in my hands and I wasn't supposed to stop, when I got tagged. He confessed in Italian before the assembled thousands of faithful pilgrims. I didn't understand a word he said. I gave him the absolution in Latin and then I shouted out to the crowd "Sono ordinato ieri! E stata la prima volta che io ho sentito un confessione!" ["I'm newly ordained and that was my very first confession!"] I bowed into the applause that rose up from the crowd, and I knew at that moment that nothing - and I mean absolutely nothing - that I would ever do in my life to come, no matter how dirty, filthy, vile, shocking, sleazy, wicked or depraved, would ever separate me from the forgiveness of God. If there is a heaven, I'll be there. And something tells me you will too.

A coda for our non-Catholic friends. You guys, if you're ever feeling bad about yourselves, ought to stop into a Catholic Church on a Saturday afternoon, and say your confession. You start by saying "Bless me Father for I have sinned, It has been XXX days (months, years, whatever. Make it up.) since my last confession." Then you say what's troubling you. Don't even tell the queen behind the curtain that you're not Catholic. It's none of her business. I guarantee you, you'll feel better, and it's free.

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God’s forgiveness is unswerving, unconditional, and absolute. We want so much to qualify and quantify our sins when it is all the same to God. I think it is in confession—wherever that may be—that we find our greatest connection to God. Such astonishing grace for us all, exactly as we are, unchanged. How can some accept it without sharing it? That is the greatest mystery to me.

The Great Mystery to me is how anyone with a cogent mind could believe that gobbledygook.

If the WAS a God, would he allow a Nazi sympathizer to be Pope?


*Still in stupor* Yes....keep flashing those gorgeous blue eyes.

And yes, being an atheist raised in a Catholic background, it is ritual and the emotional submission and security that I love most about it. Even if at the back of my head I highly doubt the virgin's existence, my mother's love for her poured unto me without much choice.

The Catholic Church has the potential to be such a beautiful place; unfortunately, those running the show keep getting in the way.

Dear Lucrece,
You said

The Catholic Church has the potential to be such a beautiful place; unfortunately, those running the show keep getting in the way.

and I could not agree with you more. The revolution is coming. This age of ridiculous religion is almost over.

Agreed - but they need not do. The church is so much bigger than the Vatican bureacrats. They keep getting in the way only because we let them. Unfortunately, too many Catholics seem to believe we have no choice but to shut up and obey. This is bullshit. The papacy has no authority without the consent of the rest of us, through the 'sensus fidelii'. We need to speak up more, wherever we can, calling out their nonsense.

And then we can concentrate on the good things at the real heart of the church.

Then you say what's troubling you. Don't even tell the queen behind the curtain that you're not Catholic. It's none of her business. I guarantee you, you'll feel better, and it's free.

did not know that one.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 30, 2009 8:37 AM

Fr Tony,

Even though I have gone in another direction I still remember my first confession. Sr. Rita primed the whole class of us. What could we have done at that age? This was 1963 and I was ten.

So we were told to say that we had impure thoughts, disrespected our parents, failed to be of help to someone when we could have... We were told to think about anything sinful we had done and to add that in as well. (like eating an extra cookie when mommie was not looking I suppose)

At age ten I was supposed to start thinking about how sinful I was. The "Original Sin" card was played and I was to be trumped. To create "goodness" in a person I think this is a backward way to start. The priest was friendly, but in a hurry as he knew he had 25 other kids to get out of the way. I cannot believe that it is not psychologically harmful to children to dwell on their innocent acts of growing up. I think rather they should see good examples of how to live and the pleasure one receives from helping others.

Oh, and I think it was ten Hail Marys.

More importantly I think this early indoctrination of the necessity of the "Catholic Way" to salvation is a power tool to control people via religion. I wish that I saw your way of this. Does the Church still march ten year olds in to this purgatory of self awareness of sinfulness rather than goodness? I hope that, at least, has changed.

Oh, the priest I confessed to was named Fr. Grace and he ran off with a nun :)

The Catholic church teaches that the age of reason(the age where children know when they have done something wrong) is 7- first reconciliation is generally done in second grade, because it is assumed that by that point every student would be at least seven. Students generally begin preparing for their first communion following their first confession.

I'm hoping that we now do a better job of preparing students than what you describe- we teach them of the love of Jesus, the forgiveness. We are well aware that second graders have little to confess, but they do know when they do something wrong. Rather than saddle them with guilt, we teach them about forgiveness and help them experience the love of God's sacramental grace.

Last night I was present when nearly 100 children made their first confession.. and the joy on their faces was indescribable!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 30, 2009 9:33 PM

Seven?, I must have been younger than I remembered. It probably varies with the child how much psychological damage is done, but I can remember being told to smile on cue and obediently doing so regardless of what I felt.

"Now everyone is going to see you!"

Good Little Sheep! Poor little innocents being told that they have sinned and Anglo Saxon Jesus will forgive them.

As a Gay priest once said to me: "Would you care for everlasting life with your dinner?"

Fr. Grace with the red hair? He'd be about 63 years old now, right?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | February 2, 2009 9:48 AM

I did the math, you may be right. How did you know him? :)

Very interesting. I think I'd find the attempt at confession too "out of bounds" for it to do any good. I have to be invested in my ritual to make it real for myself. I'd feel like a fraud.