Skip to comments.ASK FATHER: Marriage problem, bad confession experience train wreck
Posted on 04/29/2014 2:33:52 AM PDT by NYer
From a reader…
Dear Fr. Z,
I came upon your blog after a very disappointing encounter at church today and in a way, I was looking for some kind of comfort. Please bear with me as I attempt to express both thoughts and feelings.
I have not gone to confession in a long time, so long that I don’t even remember the last time I went. I have lost my way and today’s homily and the celebration of the Feast of the Divine Mercy made me realize that it was time for me to go to confession.
After gathering my courage, I waited in line for over 2 hours in the heat of the noonday sun only to be refused confession by the priest. Frustration. Disappointment. Anger. So many emotions and questions as to why the priest could be so cold even after I said that I have lost my way and that I want to reunite myself with Christ.
After I told him of my intentions, he asked if I was married (yes), if it was at a church (no), if my husband was catholic (no, which is why we were married by a pastor and not in a Roman Catholic church). After hearing my responses he said I was in grave, mortal sin since I wasn’t married in a church and refused to hear my confession but instead offered to pray for me.
It is hard for me to believe that our God would turn someone in my predicament away. I have heard and read the gospels and Jesus never turned anyone away. Does this mean I can never receive the Sacrament of Penance and shouldn’t bother taking communion until I force the man I love to convert to my religion and get married in a Roman Catholic Church? It sounds so contrived!
If the answer is yes then it’s probably time for me to seek a different religion, one that will accept me and my husband with open arms and show me the loving grace and forgiveness of our Father.
My husband has been going to church with me since we married in 2009 and as I walked away in near tears explaining to him what happened, he commented “and you wonder why a lot of Roman Catholics are leaving the church” and I walked in silence, I couldn’t even defend my own religion.
Im hurting Father Z, I want to repair my relationship with God through confession but what am I to do? Should I try a different parish? I feel more lost than when I started.
Please help me Father Z, Im hurting and so desperately want to reunite myself with our God :’(
In John 6, Jesus presents His followers with a difficult teaching: we must eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood in order to be saved. Many of his disciples, hearing this, said, This saying is hard, and who can hear it? They left Him.
I am sorry you had a bad experience, especially this past Sunday when the Church, according to the ordinary calendar, celebrated God’s mercy. It sounds as if the priest was less than helpful. As I remind people in my Tips for making a good confession, priests also have bad days. On a day when they are hearing many confessions, after having said a couple Masses, priests can get tired.
That said, while Father’s tone was unhelpful, what he said essentially is true. Someone who is living in an objective state that cannot be reconciled with Catholic teaching cannot receive the sacrament of reconciliation until and unless their objective state changes. Essentially, Father was giving you the truth. What is more pastoral than that? He could have stated it much better, however.
It would not have been helpful to you in any way had Father given you absolution and said, Go in peace. You would still be in that objective state of sin.
As the disciples learned, sometimes Jesus and His Church’s teachings are hard. The solution isnt to soften them. The solution is not to look for someone who twists Jesus teachings to suit our opinions. The solution is to change our lives to fit Christs and the Church’s guidance. That includes his tough words on the Eucharist, on marriage, on relationships, on suffering….
What Father probably should have, first, acknowledged that your return to the confessional was through a prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in your soul in ways that you might not be fully aware. It is good that you returned to confession. It took courage and strength to respond to what the Holy Spirit was asking, namely, to examine your life thoroughly and then lay out your sins before the priest and seek forgiveness. Father should have told you that, because of your marriage situation, you cant receive absolution today, but that hed be willing to meet with you later in the week (or, if he was a visiting priest, encouraged you to set up an appointment with the pastor) to look for a solution to your situation.
There may be a couple possible solutions, that would be best discussed face to face. Your husband would not need to convert to Catholicism in order to have your marriage celebrated in the Church, a dispensation or permission could be sought (and these are usually granted).
You are disappointed now. Do not be discouraged. The Holy Spirit who led you to the confessional in the first place does not give us discouragement. That’s what the Enemy prompts. God wants to right your relationship with the Church and with Himself. Anything that seems like an easy solution to a difficult situation probably wont resolve anything.
Were you to, as you say, go elsewhere and find a different religion, knowing that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded, what would you have solved? You would only be compounding your problems and endangering your soul. Should we seek out a religion that fits our lives, or should we instead seek out the religion that is true and change our lives to fit the truth?
After Christ’s gave his “hard teaching” in John 6, many disciples left Him. He asked those who remained, Will you also go away? St. Peter responded, Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. Embrace the truth, even when the truth hurts. The hurt is momentary and, in the long run, good for you. If the priest you encountered in the confessional was not helpful, seek another one who will help you to rectify your marriage situation and lead you back to regular reception of the Sacraments.
Before launching any attack on the Sacrament of Penance, please watch the following video that details the SCRIPTURAL basis of this sacrament. Thank you!
[Jesus] said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.
This is one of only two times in Scripture where we are told that God breathed on man, the other being in Genesis 2:7, when he gave man a living soul. It emphasizes how important the establishment of the sacrament of penance was.
She must have found an unusual priest. In my experience, they are more likely to tell you that there is no sin, or something like that.
A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
“...as I walked away in near tears explaining to him what happened, he commented and you wonder why a lot of Roman Catholics are leaving the church...”
The context of the priest’s comment would seem to warrant the opposite reply:
Before all the tolerance for wayward behavior ushered in with Vatican II the Catholic attendance was huge! Following Vatican II people have left in droves because the Mass began to look less and less like a Catholic exclusive sacrificial offering with the unique substantial presence of Christ and the clarity of right and wrong. Now it is nearly comparable to protestant services as there is today far less reverence and specificity in the rubrics of the Mass.
Gone are the educator and nursing and praying groups of religious sisters and brothers. Gone are the filled pews. Gone are the numerous priests and parishes of the 30s 40s and 50s and 60s. And the departures weren’t due to increased strictness!
In contast to what the priest was saying, people were previously attracted to the challenge which calls them miraculously beyond their human limitations.
Just the opposite, Father!!!
A broken and contrite heart He will not reject. It is Christ who makes us righteous and not our ‘good works’. Jesus first forgave the women accused as adulterous and then said go and sin no more. Repentance and then good works will follow so the priest had it backwards in my opinion—a little like the Pharisees of Jesus day but not as vicious.
The priest at our church always calls for repentance each sunday mass.
I think you read that wrong. That quote (”and you wonder why a lot of Roman Catholics are leaving the church) is from her husband not the priest who refused to hear her Confession.
I did a bit of a double take myself, I too initially thought her priest said that too.
The key word in Jesus statement is ‘The Holy Spirit’ who discerns truth from false.
The question is if the couple were not married in the catholic church (or any church) but are faithfully married is that a sin against God or just against church doctrine?
I don’t entirely understand FR. Z’s logic here myself. I was not aware that if one is married to a non-Catholic, and the marriage wasn’t celebrated, or concelebrated in a Catholic Church, one was living in a state of sin.
I was under the impression that such a marriage, while not sacramental, is still considered valid. Thus, while the Catholic spouse does not enjoy the Sacramental benefit of such a marriage, it’s still a marriage so to be living in such a state even as husband and wife is not a sin.
At least this was my understanding before reading this. I may do some more research on this, it doesn’t seem right to me that such a marriage isn’t recognized in some way by the Church. It is considered valid after all.
“It is Christ who makes us righteous and not our ‘good works’”
What does that have to do with this? No one said our good works make us righteous.
Jesus forgave the woman accused as adulterous and said go and sin no more. This woman was saying - I expect to keep on sinning, in response to the “go and sin no” more requirement this priets requested; in other words the priest in effect said, “please regulate your marriage to the proper sacramental status”. What then if the adulterous woman had responded to Jesus that she did not intend to change anything about her behavior? Jesus forgives her - if she changes.
Also please explain scripture: John 20:21-23. If it wasn’t necessary - why would Jesus specifically give the power to forgive sins to His earliest Bishops; the apostles? Jesus had concrete reasons for each and every one of His statements and actions; no instructions of Jesus are to be ignored.
“..doesn’t seem right to me that such a marriage isn’t recognized...”
I wondered too, however, I am giving the priest the benefit of the doubt that something about her marriage that she shared with the priest made it irregular; I am sure there are such circumstances.
back in the day when I married my Catholic spouse, to receive the required counseling of the priest on the marriage (which was NOT in a RC church and not attended by a priest) we had to agree that any kids would be raised Catholic- believe I even signed something to that effect
I don’t think my spouse has even been informed he should not take confession or communion because he is living in sin
Baptism in any Christian church is recognized by the Catholic church, and is also a sacrament
So I think “the church” is a bit contradictory on how it handled/s this marriage issue and this couple, and the woman’s husband’s remarks were right on
That is my understanding as well,. I don't have my book of Canon Law in front of me, so I will check it when I get home.
Good point, we don’t know her entire situation.
I may though still research the issue, as described. Again, it doesn’t seem right to me that Church teaching states a Catholic married to a non Catholic is living in sin with that person unless they get their marriage “blessed” by the Church. Yes, they aren’t receiving the Sacramental benefit of the marriage, but are they in a state of mortal sin?
The obvious question in my mind is, what about 2 Protestants who are married. Or 2 Jewish people. Are they living in sin, even though they are married?
Awesome, thanks. I look forward to your reply.
Having said that, if neither partner has a living ex-spouse, there are at least two ways to fix this woman's problem. Neither one requires her husband's conversion; one doesn't even require his cooperation.
I think it is called, when a Catholic marries outside of the Church, “defect of canonical form”, which is an automatic annullment granted.
So this means such people are indeed living in a state of sin, right?
What about two non-Catholics who are married?
Is this a case of “to whom much is given, much is required”?
The “canonical form” requirement only applies when a Catholic is involved. Two validly-baptized non-Catholics have a valid, sacramental marriage as long as they exchanged marital consent in some recognizable way.
It is considered valid. How do I know? A friend of mine married a man in a Christian ceremony (not Catholic). He ran off some years later. She was Catholic and met another Catholic. She had to go through an annulment for husband number 1 to marry husband number 2. Thus, if the Catholic Church sees a marriage as sacred when performed in a Christian church.. they see the marriage as sacred.