Thursday, June 16, 2011

Priests Giving Bad Advice - How Serious Is It?

As mentioned on here elsewhere, there are certain sins which, due to their especially grave nature, are reserved to Rome such that a priest alone is not able to administer absolution. These sins would include, among others, the desecration of the Eucharist, abuse of a minor by a priest, breaking the seal of confession, etc.

One of the oddest sins on the list can be phrased something to this effect: "The sin of a priest soliciting sexual activity from the confessional." Basically, if a priest solicits sex from the confessional he can't go to another priest for absolution - it must be handled by Rome itself.

Canon lawyer Ed Peters recently had a very fascinating post, however, that shows that this sin also has always also been about priests who in any way encourage unchaste sexual activity, even if the activity is not with the priest himself.

Basically what this means is that if a priest were to encourage adultery, pornography, masturbation, contraception, etc. for a penitent, then that priest would be guilty of a sin that another priest can not give absolution for.

A priest soliciting sex from a penitent is rare and obviously scandalous. MUCH more frequent, however, are the cases of priests who offer sexual advice which is nothing short of encouraging sexual sin.

Peters makes the case that only those offenses involving the priest himself should be reserved to Rome, but that other violations of the command ought to be reserved to the diocesan level at least.

You can read Dr. Peter's post here.

Pray for our priests that they may be kept free from these types of grave sins.


  1. Interesting title to the blog. It seems to apply to you a lot. If we are to truly live like Jesus we need to be more accepting of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, immigration status, religion, or race. The church has an important part to play but it can not dictate to the rest of the country. Seperation of Church and state allows all people to be able to have the same rights. Not to long ago Catholics were persecuted in this country so I would hope that all Catholics would stand up for persecuted groups. I was blessed to go to St. Thomas Aguanis. We have an accpeting community that more resembles Christ than your conservative exclusives rants. Please try to be more humble and respectful of others. If you don't like things like gay marriage that is your perogotive. But in this country we can't discrimiate. This is the Civil Rights issue of our time and the church is on the wrong side.

  2. Dear Ed,
    I kinda always thought that part of being Catholic meant following the teachings of the Catholic Church. Don't be upset when Fr. John preaches the teachings of the church you claim to follow.

  3. His teachings don't resemble what I heard growing up in my Catholic Church. I believe that a belief in the sacraments, going to mass, and treating everyone how you would like to be treated makes me a Catholic. Catholics are free to disagree with priests as priest are human and capable of error. It bothers me that a lot of the newer priests in the diocese are so conservative. There are many great priest who do not try and talk down to their parishes and claim to know better than them.
    Jesus was about acceptance and he was not about established hiearchies.

  4. Ed,
    It has nothing to do with being conservative. What Fr. John is preaching regarding things like gay marriage, etc, are the teachings of the Catholic Church. Open your Catechism and it's all right there. A priest's job is to help to get us to Heaven. I would rather have a priest who "talks down to me" by correcting my sinful ways than a touchy-feely "liberal" priest who just wants to make me smile in the pew all while I go on living a sinful life. Just before becoming pope, Cardinal Ratzinger preached about the evils of relativism. The "I'm ok with my beliefs and you're okay with your beliefs" is not the Truth. Some things are right and some things are wrong. It is our Christian duty (specifically Catholic duty) to "admonish the sinner."

    I am sure that Fr. John could easily take less heat by just going with popular culture and being "liberal," but he's preaching the teachings of the faith you purport to believe in as laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    God bless.

  5. We will have to agree to disagree. I feel no such obligation to do exactly what a priest says when I morally disagree with him. My broader point is that we have seperation of church and state. Denying homosexuals their full rights is not okay. Religious beliefs can not be forced on people that don't believe them. That goes on in Iran. You can pray for people and not like what they do but you can't deny them their rights. Allowing other people to express their belief in a creator in a different way then me is also a good thing. Most of the you have to be Catholic to get to heaven stuff was obviously added to the bible by men as a power grab. These rules don't jive with the how Jesus treated people.

  6. Ed,
    The teachings that I talk about on here are not my personal beliefs they are the beliefs of the Catholic Church.

    My question is this: what do you and your friends at your parish use to decide when the Catholic Church is wrong?

  7. Dear Fr Hollowell,

    I hope you read comments of less recent posts, as I just ran across this commentary of yours, and need advice on a matter related to this topic. I am not in your state, but as I said, this topic struck a chord w/ me based on a recent experience.

    I just moved to CA and attended confession in a nearby parish that is new to me.

    I have been married 20 yrs, and early in our marriage, my husband and I used contraception. I confessed this many years ago and received absolution. Recently, I was reading about making a good confession, and examining my conscience again. I read about the seriousness of receiving the Eucharist unworthily, and those who do not, (such as those contracepting), are committing grave sin. I realized my sin, doing this numerous times in the past. Though, I had confessed the contraception use, I did not confess receiving Christ in the Eucharist unworthily. At the first opportunity possible, I went to confess this sin.

    The priest I saw is a retired priest in residence @ the parish. I was at first suprised when he asked me why I thought it was a sin to use contraception. I thought maybe he was trying to have me clarify the gravity of the act, for my own understanding. I was floored when he went on to challenge this teaching in the church-saying it is a misguided teaching. He shared about the commissions that been established in the 60s by Pope John the XXIII and Pope Paul VI to study this matter. ( I was familar w/ these) He told me Pope Paul VI went against the "majority" panel who had suggested the church allow artificial contraception in certain circumstances. I realize the Pope disecerned that the truth resided in the Minory View and his Encyclical "Humanae Vitae" was the result.

    I hold fast to the teachings of our church and told the priest I didn't agree w/ him, though I am not well spoken, and being caught by suprise, stuttered and stammered. He went on to "counsel" me saying he hoped I did not accept all teaching blindly and without thought... He expressed his views about Popes he doesn't like. He said he hoped he was making me uncomfortable He did finally, give absolution at the end, though he earlier indicated, that it wasn't needed for "some" of what I shared." I left there feeling rather shaken by the experience.

    My husband and I had decided to join another parish in our area, before this occurence. I chose to make my confession at this particular parish (that was not our own)because the time scheduled for reconciliation worked best with our family schedule.

    Father Holloway, I am clear that this priest was very wrong, but did not realize the severity of his counsel until I read your post. I assumed other long standing members of the parish, and probably his bishop, are familiar with his "liberal" beliefs as he has been a priest a long time, and is now retired. I would feel very uncomfortable doing so, but believe I may have a responsibility to share what happened. Would you please give me your pastoral advice? I appreciate your help.

  8. I'd take this to your Bishop with a concern that this priest is committing a sin which is especially grievous.

  9. Thank-you Father for your advice and swift response. I will contact the Bishop's office, either directly, or ask the priest who oversees the parish where I went to confession help me to get in touch with him.

  10. Dear Fr. John,
    Your post has clearly done some good, but it is not entierly accurate. It is true that solicitation in the confessional to sin against the sixth commandment with the priest himself is one of the grave offences reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), but this only comes into play in the external forum. That is to say, the CDF directs any judicial or administrative process in such a case. However, in the internal forum of the confessional this sin may be absolved in the ordinary way, and the penitent would not be obliged to denounce himself further to the church authorities. The offence carries no "automatic" (latae sententiae) penalty, but a penalty is to be imposed after due process (canon 1387).
    Perhaps you have conflated the sin of solicitation in the confessional with the sin of a priest who attempts to absolve his own sexual partner. The latter carries an automatic excommunication reserved to the Holy See, and cannot be absolved without recourse to the Apostolic Penitentiary. This offence too is reserved to the CDF, but "with due regard for the competence of the Apostolic Penitentiary". In other words, the CDF has competence if it comes to a judicial or extra-judicial process, but the Apostolic Penitentiary deals with the matter in so far as it remains within the internal forum of confession. Again, having received penance and absolution from a duly authorised confessor, the penitent priest would not be bound to go and denounce himself to his superiors. That would encroach too nearly on the seal of confession.
    Perhaps the matter could be clarified by a comparison with the sin of desecrating the Eucharist, which also carries an automatic excommunication. This offence, too, is reserved to the CDF when a person is charged with it in the external forum. As a confessional matter, however, it is dealt with by the Apostolic Penitentiary, who can grant any confessor the faculty to absolve the sin and pardon the censure, assuming the penitent shows the appropriate dispositions.
    - Just came accross your blog while researching something else and thought I'd make those observations,