RIGHT OF REPLY: Savile's sins are not the Church's

The fool, who attempts to know the mind of a man and how he lives with his crime or sin, is on a hiding to nothing, especially when the sinner is dead

Savile's sins have nothing to do with the Church, says Father Gosnell
Rev Fr Charles Gosnell CF
On 30 October 2012 11:36

I was surprised and deeply saddened by Mr. Bracey-Gibbon’s recent piece on Jimmy Savile, the Roman Catholic Church and the sacrament of Reconcilliation.

The fool, who attempts to know the mind of a man and how he lives with his crime or sin, is on a hiding to nothing, especially when the sinner is dead.

It is also a statement of complete contempt for humanity, that one would put oneself in God’s place and say that one knows what a man’s mind and heart have written on it.

In all reality, Savile, (if he is guilty) like many predatory sex offenders, would not have seen his acts as a crime: they were his right, and as long as the girls liked it, so what, he may well have thought. I have heard that spoken from the mouths of several murderous rapists and child abusers in my days. It would make my skin crawl in utter abhorrence.

Now to the meat of the matter: the guilt by association levelled at the Church; that in some way his seeking absolution in the sacrament would allow him to continue, even legitimatise his perfidious acts. In a word; Crap!

When a penitent comes to the sacrament they must first and foremost be contrite, or at least know by attrition that they have committed a sin and accomplished a full examination of conscience. Then there is the confession. It is the penitent’s duty to confess: the priest cannot pull or extract the sin; they can discuss motive and intention.

But the days of asking how many times you did "it" are gone for the more important "why"?

Next, there is the penance, the paying back as it were for your sins; and the absolution. These though, are only efficacious or have meaning if the penitent is truly desirous of forgiveness and sorry for their sins.

More importantly, the priest can only absolve what he hears. If Savile spoke in couched terms, as his generation do -- “I had impure thoughts”; “I succumbed to temptations of the flesh”; “I had sex outside marriage” -- then that’s all the priest hears. There is no more to go on. But, more importantly, who said Savile went to confession and who said he confessed those sins? We will never know? No, we won’t, ever. 

As for the labelling by association of the church as some sort ring of complicit silent hoods who didn’t report priests accused by families and victims, we move into a whole area of human weakness that runs to the core of our society, our families and in the places we work.

Bishops did not act; they were weak. Parents did not act; they were scared. And why, you ask? What family, business, or organisation wants people to know that there are some truly screwed up and criminal elements to it?

No one wants to air their dirty laundry for the world to see: families hide all sorts of secrets of abuse, addiction and violence; the police, the government and social workers, the NHS all have something to hide, and yes the Church has tried to hide her shame too; lots of little directors (bishops) not telling anyone, not talking to each other (and they don’t have to either), not bringing up the real issues. Why? Because they were weak, scared, and stupid.

The church is sinful. It is made up of sinners desperate for a reprieve, a moment of grace. Many of us try and try again to perfect ourselves, using Christ as our guide, the saints for inspiration, hoping the Holy Spirit will lead us to pastures new. But, day in day out, it doesn’t happen.

We wake, pick up our crosses and carry on. Confession is not nice. It’s not meant to be. It's hard work (hearing them as well), facing our darker selves, bringing our humiliations before Christ in the other Christ of the priest.

Where are we supposed to go for a reprieve? We can’t go to the therapist, as there is no true patient-doctor confidentiality. There are no places to express our worst self. The confessional is the last place, a bastion of silence; to say I have sinned, and to face the consequences if we have the courage.

As for breaking the seal of the confession; never! I will not give up what has been committed to me; a burden in some cases that has left me in fear of my life, but also in one case where I chased the taunting jibes of a so called penitent from the confessional and gave him a sound kicking. Mea Culpa!

As for a “circle Jerk” of priests confessing the sin of hearing a sinners confession; you fool, you blissfully ignorant fool!

The words are never said again. The sins of another are never carried on; they die with the priest. Priests have heard the confessions of murderers, bigots, abusers, fornicators and many more, but the sinner is paying unto God what belongs to God. The priest must direct the sinner to a correct penance, even if that means saying, there will be no absolution until you give yourself up. It is then up to the sinner to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

It is all too easy to lay our insecurities and anger at someone else’s door, which is a very human way of wanting to give up or hand over responsibility for our own actions and thoughts. But isn’t that now symptomatic of our society; "it’s not my fault". Don’t we all try and find a way to justify our sins, whether it's murder, rape, abuse, theft, embezzlement, fraud or just plain old lying?

 Father Charles Gosnell is a serving chaplain in HM Forces

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