Tag Archives: confession
Seven is too young for the fixed rules of confession Published on 18 February 2014 Colette Douglas Home
Every Saturday morning there were pews of us, row after row of wriggling children.
We shuffled along shiny wooden benches, first in one direction then the other as we approached what John Cornwall has called “The Dark Box” in his new book of the same name. It’s better known as the confessional.
Catholic children were introduced to sin at the age of five. By six, we could differentiate a venial sin from a mortal one. A white lie was venial. Were we to die with its mark on our soul, we would go to purgatory where we would burn but only for a short time. A mortal sin would, however, condemn us to the fires in hell for all eternity.
That was a lot for a small child to cope with when it was drilled into me that missing mass on Sunday was a mortal sin. What would happen if I was sick one Sunday or if my parents took me on holiday? They might have said it was fine but I knew it wasn’t.
Oh, the terror then of crossing the road in case a car ran me down before I had the chance to confess. The writer Frank O’Connor immortalised his First Confession in a short story of that title. Aged seven, he’d contemplated murdering his bare-foot, shame-making grandmother and was “scared to death of confession”.
His terror abated when the priest confided: “Between ourselves, there’s a lot of people I’d like to do the same to, but I’d never have the nerve.”
I never met a father confessor with such a sense of humour. It’s hardly surprising, considering what the priests had to endure. What torment it must have been to sit hour after hour while hundreds of small children poured out their piffling misdemeanours.
What was it all about? Why were small children set on this path? Why make us feel bad so young? Why bring such negativity into our lives when we were barely out of junior infants?
After our first confession, truly carefree childhood was over. And the crazy thing is that the practice still goes on. Look at the furore the Scottish Government’s plan for a named person for each child has generated. Imagine sending your children off weekly to spill out their list of sins. A named adult pales into insignificance in comparison with this incursion on family life.
The children are no longer seen in a confessional box, though I would prefer its uncomfortable anonymity to the cosier face-to-face arrangements that replaced it.
In The Dark Box, John Cornwall, a writer on Catholicism, reveals that the regime I grew up in was introduced only in 1910 by a Pope called Pius X. Until then, confession was annual and didn’t start younger than at 12 to 14-years-old.
Making it weekly from the age of seven was an experiment that predated any real understanding of child development. We can but wonder what effects have trickled through the generations.
That said, I don’t entirely regret that it happened to me. There are upsides.
Who, in this confessional age, can doubt that we all get something out of dumping the bad stuff and being forgiven? To tell all and to receive absolution is very powerful.
At seven-years-old, the tales of heaven and hell and angels and devils and the notion of a soul that was Persil-white on Saturday and grimy-grey by Wednesday was grist to the imagination. Life is never dull when eternal hell-fire nips at your heels.
Don’t take my word for it. Read Joyce, Waugh, Toibin and Edna O’Brien. Though he came to Catholicism later, read Graham Greene too.
Growing up, as our lives became more complicated, there was comfort to be had. We could go into any church anywhere and anonymously tell all, knowing that within minutes we could walk out with a clean slate.
Remorse was necessary as well as a determination not to repeat the offence. These are not high hurdles when your conscience is troubled. I thought it was a clever psychological tool. And yet it was my generation that abandoned it in droves.
When the sexual mores of the congregation parted company with Roman Catholic teaching, confession in the European church collapsed. Cornwall reports that in America only 2% of Catholics attend it.
Meanwhile, turn on daytime television and confession is to the fore. People spare us nothing about their intimate lives. Open any magazine and there is a page of personal admissions and moral conundrums in search of answers.
We shouldn’t be surprised. John Cornwall’s book reveals that the practice of publicly confessing major wrong-doing in order to seek forgiveness and gain readmission to the community goes back to the early Christians and beyond into Jewish tradition. Prayer, penitence and charity were the route back to the fold.
So have Catholics made an error in abandoning confession in such large numbers over the years? I think not, not if the reason for their absence is that they no longer respect the Church’s rules on, for instance, sexual morality. If people don’t believe they have behaved sinfully, what would be the point in confessing?
At present, we are all more likely to turn to therapy for the peace of mind we seek.
For most people discontentment is not a matter of feeling guilty about their behaviour. It is more that we are puzzled about why we do what we do. We wonder why, when we are so fortunate in the world’s terms, contentment eludes us.
We go in search of explanation and understanding. We go in search of a better understanding of ourselves. It is, in the West at least, a more individualistic journey.
And yet there is an appetite for something larger, a shared faith and sense of belonging. It was evident in the millions of young people in South America who turned up to see the new Pope say mass.
He seems to bring a new ethos and different approach. Time will tell if it lasts. There have been many changes since I was a child, yet one tradition persists.
Seven is still considered to be the age of reason. It still marks the age at which Catholic children make their first confession and yet we know now that it isn’t good to give children such fixed rules so young.
We also know, sadly, about the incidences of child abuse that have dragged the church into disrepute. It was, John Cornwall writes in his book, the private access of the confessional that offered an opportunity to abusers. It was an opportunity to spot the vulnerable ones.
I find it strange to look back at a system that I was taught to believe was set in stone by God himself only to discover it was an initiative by a man, albeit a Pope. That same Pope Pius X also banned orchestral music and forbade women to sing in choirs.
He closeted trainee priests without newspapers or books or even lay teachers. He cut them off from family and contact with women.
And we wonder where it all went wrong.
Danny had worked in a timber yard for five years and all that time he’d been stealing the wood and selling it. At last his conscience began to bother him and he went to confession to repent.
He told the priest. “Father, it’s five years since my last confession, and I’ve been stealing wood from the timber yard all that time.”
“I understand my son,” says the priest. “Can you make a Novena?”
Dan said, “Father, if you have the plans, I’ve got the timber!”
A guy goes inside the confessional and says, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
“What did you do, my son?” asked the priest.
“Yesterday, I was walking along the beach at night, and I decided to explore a cave near the shore. When turned on my flashlight, I witnessed two men having sex.”
“Oh, so you were the jerk with the flashlight.”
Maurice (“Mo”) Johnston, former Celtic FC player, hit the headlines in July 1989, when he opted not to return to Celtic and instead joined Graeme Souness‘s Rangers. From the early 20th century onwards, Catholics had not been knowingly signed by the club, nor employed in other prominent roles as an ‘unwritten rule’ Johnston was “their first major Roman Catholic signing”. He was the highest-profile Catholic to sign for the club since the World War I era, though other Catholics had signed for Rangers before.
The move angered both Celtic and Rangers supporters. Some Rangers fans burned scarves and threatened to hand in season tickets over the signing while Celtic fans referred to Johnston as Judas. Rangers’ kit men protested by making Johnston arrange his own kit ]
However, he won over a lot of Rangers fans in November 1989 when he scored an injury time winner for Rangers against former club and bitter rivals Celtic.
When he arrived at Ibrox, Souness sat Mo down and said that in his first competitive game for his new club, he would put him on during the first half and they’d see how things went.
Graeme said to him, “We can always pull you off at half time.
Opened eyed, Mo replied, “Thanks, Gaffer – that’s brilliant; at Watford we only got a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit!”
Mo had his doubts and a few weeks later went to Confession.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have signed,” he blurted out.
“As a penance,” replied the Priest, “You must go to that desolate and God-forsaken place: Larkhall…….
“…. there you will attend the Loyal Lodge of the Sons of William and sing ‘The Sash'”
“But, I dinnae ken it!” protested Mo.
“That’s all right, my son, Donald Findlay will be there and he knows it of pat”
“Yes, my son, Pakki Bonnar” (Celtic goalkeeper).
(Bill) Struth! I’d be better joining an atheist church – are there any near here?!!”
Catholics who played for Rangers:
Willie “Doc” Kivlichan 1906 – 1907
Colin Mainds 1906 – 1907
Tom Murray 1907 – 1908
Pat Lafferty 1886
Johnny Jackson 1917
James Tutty 1899 – 1900
Tom Dunbar 1891 – 1892
Joe Donnachie 1914 – 1918
Hugh O’Neill 1976
Don Kichenbrand 1955 – 1956 (whom it was not known he was a Catholic when he signed)
Laurie Blyth played 1951-52 again signed by ‘accident’ and was released once his religion was known.
John Spencer played 1987-1992, 13 appearances, John Clare
Charles McCafferty (Never made a first team appearance)
George (or Gorg) Banciewicz
Bob “Dancer” Dunn
Closer scrutiny however would reveal the true nature of some of these names was not of a footballing background, but was of a scholastic nature.
It would appear that many of the names that appear on this list are former teachers of St Aloysius College!
This from a comment posted on the Scotsman Site: –
“William at 72, your list of Catholic Rangers players is certainly impressively long. Obviously the very idea of a sectarian signing policy was a vile slur.
However, I notice that a large number of these Rangers players’ names bear a striking similarity to those of the teaching staff working at St Aloysius College in the late 1970s and early 1980s. To wit:
Charles McCafferty or “Weed” as we knew him – Latin master at St Al’s. Liked the Aeneid and Caesar’s Gallic War. I didn’t. Rumour had it that he had been on Celtic’s books at one point.
Daniel (Dan) Divers – also Latin master at St Al’s, as were Chris Houston (Sweaty, RIP) and Bob (Bob) Cleary. So that’s the entire Latin department from my time at St Al’s. What a great back four they’d have made. Badminton was more Sweaty’s speed, I think.
John – or rather, Father – Manners was before my time, but I believe he was a Jesuit man and that his nickname was Toad.
George Banciewizc was a somewhat psychotic maths teacher, fond of hurling the wooden blackboard duster at the inattentive. Truly terrifying man and too scary for a nickname.
Terry Sloan was a fellow pupil who I sat beside in 4th year chemistry. Played bass in a very bad sub-Stranglers band called Underground Hero.
Brian Grubb was the useless and slightly thuggish physics teacher who was fired for moonlighting as a minicab driver. No need for a nickname with a surname likes that.
Edward Devlin was the useful but slightly scary physics teacher. Nickname was “Ernie” after the v dull motorbike daredevil cartoon of the same name.
Andy Casey was a rather dapper geography teacher who apparently had some connection with Clyde FC. Had a worrying attachment to colour pencils.
Tom (Butch) Cassidy was a Canadian redhead who succeeded Andy Casey as head of geography after Andy became burser in 1980. Trained to be a priest at Maynooth, but apparently couldn’t hack it. Not a great teacher, but a good guy.
The fact that most of these teachers are actually grouped together by the subjects they taught tells me, William, that you have been hoaxed – and quite imaginatively. Who would have thought that these thoroughly Fenian pedagogues from the most Catholic school in Scotland led a double life as Rangers’ non-sectarian alibi? God, you think you know people.
Unfortunately, all of this casts doubt on the veracity of most of the rest of your names, and thoroughly undermines your point, does it not?”
Donald Findlay QC – In May 1999 he was accused of sectarianism, after being filmed singing The Sash at a private party organised by a Rangers Supporters Club, following the Scottish Cup Final in which Rangers beat Celtic 1-0. For his role in this event, Findlay resigned from the board
Bill Struth – one of the best managers in Rangers history
An Irishman goes into the confessional box after years of being away from the Church. There’s a fully equipped bar with Guinness on tap. On the other wall is a dazzling array of the finest cigars and chocolates.
Then the priest comes in. “Father, forgive me, for it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to confession,” says our man. “But I must first admit that the confessional box is much more inviting than it used to be.”
“Get out,” says the priest. “This is my side.”