Are we under a moral obligation to obey our confessors?


#1

I asked an apologist about this, but they haven’t got back yet. It’s very important to me:

My friend is wondering if obeying a confessor is always the right thing to do. Is there some sort of official document or Church teaching that says we are under a moral obligation to obey our priests/confessors? What if what the priest says contradicts conscience? What if there is reason to believe that the priest is not in total conformity with the Catechism? Please bear in mind that my friend is very scrupulous, and these are the questions that come to her mind; therefore, she feels like she cannot trust her confessors when they say something she thinks is wrong. If you could point me to official Church teaching (or something from the Pope) stating that people (and especially scrupulous people) are under a moral obligation to obey their priests, it would be IMMENSELY appreciated.

Thank you!


#2

As an unofficial answer I would say that as long as the confessor’s instructions are not specifically inherently immoral or against Church teaching, you are bound to obey them in the sense that you are normatively bound to obey your priest.

Scott


#3

[quote=Scott Waddell]As an unofficial answer I would say that as long as the confessor’s instructions are not specifically inherently immoral or against Church teaching, you are bound to obey them in the sense that you are normatively bound to obey your priest.

Scott
[/quote]

Dear Scott,

Thank you for replying :slight_smile: My thinking is along the same lines. Unfortunately, for someone who is scrupulous, if she cannot be assured that this is official Church teaching, she won’t necessarily be able to believe it…


#4

[quote=Alterum]Dear Scott,

Thank you for replying :slight_smile: My thinking is along the same lines. Unfortunately, for someone who is scrupulous, if she cannot be assured that this is official Church teaching, she won’t necessarily be able to believe it…
[/quote]

Perhaps you could use Church teaching in your explanation. It would take some reading in Ott’s Fundamentals. But basically, even if a priest has erroneous views or is a downright dissenter, as long as he has the intention to perform the sacrament and sticks to the valid form and matter, it works independently of the priests disposition because the absolution comes from God, not the priest. Of course the priest will be in grave trouble when he meets the Maker, but that trouble generally can’t be passed to her.

Scott


#5

Yes, she must obey her confessor. And she must obey her confessor even if she thinks her confessor is wrong. A person who is scupulous is unable to form a correct judgement as to what is right and wrong.

Being scupulous is a wide road to hell. This is because being scrupulous leads to many sins.


#6

[quote=Chris Jacobsen]Being scupulous is a wide road to hell. This is because being scrupulous leads to many sins.
[/quote]

Such as?


#7

Now you have my curiosity stirred. What is it specifically that she is questioning? What is it that makes her think that she knows more than the confessor? Can you state any examples so this isn’t the blind leading the blind?

I don’t know by your use of the word scrupulous whether you mean that she is very careful and meticulous, or she suffers from scrupulosity. If it is the latter, then by all means she needs to follow the directions of the confessor, as her scrupulosity is an impediment to a correct decision. She would be suffereing from an overly active (and incorrect) consicience, and so appealing to her conscience is of no merit. Scrupulosity finds sin where there is no sin at all, and if it is not a form of mental illness, it comes close enough.

Can you say more?


#8

[quote=Scullinius]Such as?
[/quote]

Despairing of God’s mercy.
Usurping God’s role as supreme judge.
Disobeying God’s authoritative representatives on earth.

Scott


#9

[quote=otm]Now you have my curiosity stirred. What is it specifically that she is questioning? What is it that makes her think that she knows more than the confessor? Can you state any examples so this isn’t the blind leading the blind?

I don’t know by your use of the word scrupulous whether you mean that she is very careful and meticulous, or she suffers from scrupulosity. If it is the latter, then by all means she needs to follow the directions of the confessor, as her scrupulosity is an impediment to a correct decision. She would be suffereing from an overly active (and incorrect) consicience, and so appealing to her conscience is of no merit. Scrupulosity finds sin where there is no sin at all, and if it is not a form of mental illness, it comes close enough.

Can you say more?
[/quote]

Dear otm,

She is scrupulous. An example: She stole when she was younger. The priest told her to donate to charity to make restitution. She read the Catechism and believes it would be a sin not to go back to the many stores from which she stole fairly trivial things and pay them back. Unfortunately, she feels so overwhelmed by this that it can paralyze her. Another example: She told someone several years ago that she’d call him about something. She worried for quite some time, upon remembering this in the present, that she was under a moral obligation to call him. Another one: She made a promise to God not to do something (which most people would regard as trivial); she asked her priest if she’s in mortal sin by not keeping it, but he said it wasn’t binding, and not to worry. Needless to say, she still worries.

Do you have any suggestions? As you know, scrupulosity can lead to depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, and debilitation.


#10

[quote=Alterum]Dear otm,

She is scrupulous. An example: She stole when she was younger. The priest told her to donate to charity to make restitution. She read the Catechism and believes it would be a sin not to go back to the many stores from which she stole fairly trivial things and pay them back. Unfortunately, she feels so overwhelmed by this that it can paralyze her. Another example: She told someone several years ago that she’d call him about something. She worried for quite some time, upon remembering this in the present, that she was under a moral obligation to call him. Another one: She made a promise to God not to do something (which most people would regard as trivial); she asked her priest if she’s in mortal sin by not keeping it, but he said it wasn’t binding, and not to worry. Needless to say, she still worries.

Do you have any suggestions? As you know, scrupulosity can lead to depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, and debilitation.
[/quote]

Yes, I have a suggestion and I make it in all seriousness. Call the diocese first, and see if there is a priest who is also apsychiatrist (they are rare, but I suspect there’s a few around). If there is none of that qualification see if you can locate a Catholic psychiatrist. Your friend needs serious help, and it soundls like it is well beyond the capabilities of the average parish priest.

and I may be overextending; it is possible that a psychologist, properly trained, could also deal with her problems; and you might have more luck finding a priest psychologist than a pries psychiatrist.

Scrupulosity can be very debilitating, and often can walk all too closely to despair (as well as depression). she needs profesional help. From what you say, she is incapable of determining whether or not the priest confessor is right or wrong; in fact, she is more likely to think him wrong than he is to be wrong.

And don’t ask me how to make the horse drink when you wrangle them to the water.

It might also be interesting to find out if she has symptoms of kleptomania, as you mentioned theft in a way that sounds as if that might also be a problem.

She is reading the Catechims through the lenses of a mental illness or ment al aberration, and cannot distinguish what is required of her morally, for example, on the issue of restitution. The Catechism is not written as an exhaustive, end-all be-all answer book to every last permutation of any question about the Church. on such an issue as restitution, the comments are much more in the nature of general comments, not exclusive comments, and it is well within the power of the confessor to fashion an appropriate penance/restitution requirement.

By the way, I would not say “she is scrupulous”, but rather, “she suffers from scrupulosity”.


#11

Hi. I’m the person being discussed, thanks for responding. http://forum.catholic.com/images/smilies/smile.gif

I’ve seen a psychiatrist and psychologists about my problems. (This was before I came to believe in God, and the problem was in the form of anxiety, obsessive tendencies, depression etc.) Unfortunately they did little to help, and in fact I was put on medication that made the situation worse. I am now much better as regards general anxiety, depression, etc. However, scrupulosity is a problem that seems to come up whenever I really, really want to follow God.

Every time I resolve to follow God and do His will, I start feeling overwhelmed with all these things I need to do. Sometimes it feels like doing God’s will is impossible because it would require me to do very, very difficult things, which by the way I would do if I knew exactly what to do, but I find I am never sure. (To add to the problem, I don’t handle stress very well at all.)

I think things would get much better if I had access to a person I could trust and who could answer my questions. I want to be able to trust a priest, but I worry because for example I know there are priests who say that birth control is okay. How do I know that the priest I’m trusting won’t tell me that sinful things aren’t really sins? I figured I could just read and trust the Catechism because I thought that it had the infallible authority of the Catholic Church. Does it?

I feel like I can’t trust something/someone unless they are under that “infallibility” umbrella. What if they’re wrong?

Sometimes I find that if I ask many people about the same thing and they all give the same answer, then I can relax. But in some cases they give different answers. For example, with restitution four people were asked. Two said that making restitution to charity would be okay. One said I needed to give it back to the stores. The fourth said that either was okay. I feel very compelled to give it back to the stores, because it doesn’t seem like it would be just to give it to the poor. But this would require me to get a job, earn the money (which my parents would want me to save for college), and then go to all the different stores and get their addressed and send them the money. (I am not a kleptomaniac, I stole from stores a long time ago when I was a stupid and very immoral teenager.)

What about promises and lying? Do I need to correct all the lies I’ve ever told?

What about confidence? Do I need to repair the reputation of everyone I ever said bad things about? When I go to confession, is it appropriate to bring up other’s faults (if they’re sort of involved in the sin I’m confessing), or is this a sin in itself?

What if the priest I confess to doesn’t believe that a sin is a sin, is the confession still valid?

Is it okay to play a computer game where you are God and have people praying to you?

I would love to have all these questions answered by someone who has some authority! The apologists on this board are probably very tired of my questions.

This is such a big problem. I feel like I can’t have any peace.

I would really love to never be srupulous anymore, but I find that I just can’t stop. I want to be one of those people who feel at peace because of their faith!!!


#12

QUOTE]Being scupulous is a wide road to hell. This is because being scrupulous leads to many sins.

Ahh, what a comforting bit of poppycock! Please stay away from people who suffer from scrupulosity. You are the last person they need to hear from. :mad:


#13

[quote=Hermione]Hi. I’m the person being discussed, thanks for responding. http://forum.catholic.com/images/smilies/smile.gif

I think things would get much better if I had access to a person I could trust and who could answer my questions. I want to be able to trust a priest, but I worry because for example I know there are priests who say that birth control is okay. How do I know that the priest I’m trusting won’t tell me that sinful things aren’t really sins? I figured I could just read and trust the Catechism because I thought that it had the infallible authority of the Catholic Church. Does it?

I feel like I can’t trust something/someone unless they are under that “infallibility” umbrella. What if they’re wrong?

Sometimes I find that if I ask many people about the same thing and they all give the same answer, then I can relax. But in some cases they give different answers. For example, with restitution four people were asked. Two said that making restitution to charity would be okay. One said I needed to give it back to the stores. The fourth said that either was okay. I feel very compelled to give it back to the stores, because it doesn’t seem like it would be just to give it to the poor. But this would require me to get a job, earn the money (which my parents would want me to save for college), and then go to all the different stores and get their addressed and send them the money. (I am not a kleptomaniac, I stole from stores a long time ago when I was a stupid and very immoral teenager.)

What about promises and lying? Do I need to correct all the lies I’ve ever told?

What about confidence? Do I need to repair the reputation of everyone I ever said bad things about? When I go to confession, is it appropriate to bring up other’s faults (if they’re sort of involved in the sin I’m confessing), or is this a sin in itself?

What if the priest I confess to doesn’t believe that a sin is a sin, is the confession still valid?

Is it okay to play a computer game where you are God and have people praying to you?

I would love to have all these questions answered by someone who has some authority! The apologists on this board are probably very tired of my questions.

This is such a big problem. I feel like I can’t have any peace.

I would really love to never be srupulous anymore, but I find that I just can’t stop. I want to be one of those people who feel at peace because of their faith!!!
[/quote]

Some of the issues you have may have to do with your understanding of who God is, what the term(or name) God means, and a clearer understanding of what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and His Church. Some, I suspect, will still need the work of a competent, understanding psychiatrist and/or psychologist, and your cooperation and patience.

To begin with, you need to understand what sin really is, and then you need to understand what forgiveness really is. In part, you appear to be overly sensitive to issues of sinfulness (and the word obsessive comes to mind). But part of what is all under this is an understanding of who God really is.

Please note that I do not suggest a laize-faire approach to sin, or any sloppy thinking. But God is not playing an unlitmate game of “Gotcha!” either. Coupled with all of this is a certain amount of common sense, and a willingness to rely on conscience; although if you suffer from scurpulosity, the latter is going to be at best a difficult task, as the scrupulosity skews the conscience.

To answer one minor question: There is a story of a very saintly confessor, who was dealing with someone who had a problem with gossip. He gave her the penance of going up to the top of the bell tower and emptying a pillowcase, and then going down and collecting all the feathers. Her response was that the task was impossible. He then told her that gossiping was like spilling out the feathers; it was impossible to retrieve the damage her gossip did.

You do not have the responsibilty of going back and trying to make amends for what you may have said about someone if for no other reason that that it is an impossible task, and God does not expect the impossible. Neither do confessors. And your fussing about the penance or restitution that the confessor gives you is understandable given your condition, but it also flies in the face of the authority the Church has given the confessor to shape the penance or restitution, and that authority comes from God. And God knew what He was doing when He agve that authority.

I will PM or email you about the rest of your questions. It may not be until tomorrow evening.

otm


#14

She should obey her confessor, even if she has mixed feelings about his advice. If it is off, it’s on his conscience, not hers. This is common advice given to people who suffer from scrupulosity.

I’d also suggest Fr. Santa’s Understanding Scrupulosity, a book he compiled from his group, Scrupulous Anonymous.

They can be reached at:

mission.liguori.org/newsletters/scrupanon.htm

God Bless,

Rich


#15

Ten Cmmandments for the Scrupulous

**1. You shall not repeat a sin in confession when it has been confessed in a previous confession, even when there is a doubt that it was confessed or a doubt that it was confessed in a sufficiently adequate and complete way.
[font=Verdana]Almost every scrupulous person experiences anxiety and doubt about past sins. Older people have a natural tendency to reflect back on their younger years, and in doing so, often remember something that triggers a doubt. More often than not, such a doubt has to do with impure thoughts, desires, or actions. As a result of the combination of remembering and doubting, it is not unusual that the scrupulous person then experiences great anxiety and is robbed of a sense of peace. This is why this first commandment is so very important: Do not go back over past sins and do not repeat the confession of them! Such an exercise is not at all helpful and must be resisted.

**2. You shall not confess doubtful sins in confession, but only sins that are clear and certain. **

Of all of the correspondence that I receive, I would say that this issue is the one that occurs most often. “What does a person do if they are not sure that they committed a sin?” For this reason, this is a very important commandment to remember because it clearly states the truth: Doubtful sins don’t count! There is no need to confess something that does not clearly and certainly exist. In fact, it is harmful to one’s self to confess that which is doubtful. Again, such a practice is not at all helpful and must be resisted.

Now I can almost hear some of you saying, “I am not sure if I doubt that I sinned or if I am just trying to fool myself to believe that I am doubting that I sinned.” This thought in itself demonstrates that you are in fact doubting and so, therefore, the commandment comes into play: You shall not confess doubtful sins.

**3. You shall not repeat your penance after confession or any of the words of your penance because you feel or think that you had distractions or may not have said the words properly. **

The temptation to repeat prayers is a constant one for the scrupulous. You may feel that you need to repeat them, again and again, until you “get them right.” Unfortunately, such perfectionism is never satisfied, and so you will remain in a constant state of anxiety and fear. This situation becomes all the more distressing because many times the scrupulous person will argue that, because they feel anxious or fearful, that must be a sign that they did not correctly perform their penance. “If I did it right I would be peaceful.”

This commandment is, therefore, very important because it is the only solution to the dilemma in which you find yourself. Father Miller is right: Do not repeat your penance.

4. You shall not worry about breaking your fast before receiving communion, unless you actually put food and drink in your mouth and swallow it in the same way that a person does when eating a meal.

Much of the anxiety that is present in reference to breaking your fast before communion centers around extraneous matters. It is helpful to remember that lipstick is not food. Snowflakes are not food. You cannot break you fast unless you deliberately choose to eat in the same way that you would choose to eat a meal or a snack. The commandment clearly suggests that no hesitations are allowed regarding accidental swallowing of things that are not considered food.
**[/font]


#16

5. You shall not hesitate to look at any crucifix or at any statue in church or at home or anywhere else because you may get bad thoughts in your mind and imagination. If such thoughts occur, they carry no sin whatever.

Although this commandment deals with a situation that is not necessarily a problem for all scrupulous persons, it is nevertheless a real burden for some. If you try to avoid the problem by not looking, the problem will tend to become more severe. It is a much better choice to meet the problem head on. Thoughts and imaginations that occur in this situation are simply not sinful. One should try and confront fear, not give in to it.

6. You shall not consider yourself guilty of bad thoughts, desires, or feelings, unless you can honestly swear before the all-truthful God that you remember clearly and certainly consenting to them.

This is a very important commandment. The whole area of impure thoughts and desires causes scrupulous people much anxiety. Unfortunately, scrupulous persons often believe that the very appearance of thoughts or desires in their thoughts or imagination means that they have committed a sin. This is most certainly not the case. In fact, it is humanly impossible for us to have absolute control over our interior faculties. Such thoughts and images are going to happen, whether we like them or not.

Because we simply do not have absolute control over our interior faculties, the emphasis of the commandment is on clear and certain consent. Only a free consent, that is clear and certain, constitutes a sin. You can not accidentally or involuntarily be guilty of sin.

**7. You shall not disobey your confessor when he tells you never to make another general confession of past sins already confessed. **

It is not unusual for the scrupulous person to desire to make “just one more general confession.” The desire to do so is prompted by a wish for inner peace and calm. However, the exact opposite is more often than not a result. The anxiety generated by the process of examination and preparation, the actual confession, and then the review of the confession, produces no inner peace or calm. There always has to be “just one more.”

The wisdom of this commandment is found in two simple words: No more! If the scrupulous person will follow the advice of their confessor on this matter, they will have a chance of finding peace. Otherwise, there is only turmoil, anxiety, and stress.

**8. You shall believe and act accordingly, so that whenever you are in doubt as to whether or not you are obliged to do or not to do something, you can take it for certain that you are not obligated. **

This commandment underlines the basic moral principle that doubtful laws or obligations do not bind the scrupulous conscience. The great saint, and our patron, Saint Alphonsus Liguori teaches: “When there exists in a scrupulous person the habitual will not to offend God, it is certain that he or she acts in doubt and there is no sin…”

I find it very reassuring to read the words of Saint Alphonsus in reference to this matter. It is good to know that the teaching of our very wise patron and model, a saint whom you might recall also suffered greatly from scrupulosity, is so clear and straightforward. “There is no sin,” are the words we need to hear and recall as often as necessary.

**9. If, before you perform or omit an act, you are doubtful whether or not it is sinful for you, you shall assume as certain that it is not sinful and shall proceed to act without any dread of sin whatever. **

This commandment is also supported by Saint Alphonsus. In his advice to confessors he says, “Scrupulous persons tend to fear that everything they do is sinful. The confessor should command them to act without restraint and overcome their anxiety. He should tell them that their first obligation is to conquer their scruples. They should act against their groundless fears. The confessor may command the scrupulous to conquer their anxiety and disregard it by freely doing whatever it tells them not to do. The confessor may assure the penitent the he or she need never confess such a thing.”

**10. You shall put your total trust in Jesus Christ, knowing that he loves you as only God can love, and that he will never allow you to lose your soul. **


#17

[quote=otm]Some of the issues you have may have to do with your understanding of who God is, what the term(or name) God means, and a clearer understanding of what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and His Church. Some, I suspect, will still need the work of a competent, understanding psychiatrist and/or psychologist, and your cooperation and patience.

To begin with, you need to understand what sin really is, and then you need to understand what forgiveness really is. In part, you appear to be overly sensitive to issues of sinfulness (and the word obsessive comes to mind). But part of what is all under this is an understanding of who God really is.

Please note that I do not suggest a laize-faire approach to sin, or any sloppy thinking. But God is not playing an unlitmate game of “Gotcha!” either. Coupled with all of this is a certain amount of common sense, and a willingness to rely on conscience; although if you suffer from scurpulosity, the latter is going to be at best a difficult task, as the scrupulosity skews the conscience.

To answer one minor question: There is a story of a very saintly confessor, who was dealing with someone who had a problem with gossip. He gave her the penance of going up to the top of the bell tower and emptying a pillowcase, and then going down and collecting all the feathers. Her response was that the task was impossible. He then told her that gossiping was like spilling out the feathers; it was impossible to retrieve the damage her gossip did.

You do not have the responsibilty of going back and trying to make amends for what you may have said about someone if for no other reason that that it is an impossible task, and God does not expect the impossible. Neither do confessors. And your fussing about the penance or restitution that the confessor gives you is understandable given your condition, but it also flies in the face of the authority the Church has given the confessor to shape the penance or restitution, and that authority comes from God. And God knew what He was doing when He agve that authority.

I will PM or email you about the rest of your questions. It may not be until tomorrow evening.

otm
[/quote]

Thank you very much for responding! :slight_smile:

I do want to obey my confesssor. However, I’m presently in RCIA so technically I have not confessed my sins yet. (I will be doing so in a month.) Should I do what the priest I asked for advice told me? Or should I wait until I confess, and then do what the priest I formally confess to says?

Now I am worried that unless I obey the advice of the RCIA priest (didn’t officially confess to him) that I’ll go to hell!!! :crying:


#18

[quote=Hermione]Thank you very much for responding! :slight_smile:

I do want to obey my confesssor. However, I’m presently in RCIA so technically I have not confessed my sins yet. (I will be doing so in a month.) Should I do what the priest I asked for advice told me? Or should I wait until I confess, and then do what the priest I formally confess to says?

Now I am worried that unless I obey the advice of the RCIA priest (didn’t officially confess to him) that I’ll go to hell!!! :crying:
[/quote]

Have you been baptised, and does the Catholic Church recognize your baptism? Then, as part of the RCIA process, you will (or should be) directed to make your first Reconcilliation prior to entering the Church on Holy Saturday Night.

As far as restitution, I would suggest that it would be perfectly fine to follow what the priest told you (since, as I understand it, you were not in a Sacramental setting, but something akin to a counseling sesion) prior to going to Reconcilitation. Then, when you go to Reconcilitaition, you should tell him (shortly) what your sin(s) was/were; what you were advised to do, and that you did it.

One goes to hell when one chooses to go to hell. If something is judged by the Church as a serious sin (e.g. murder, adultery), one does not have the option of doing those acts and saying “God, I am doing this but I don’t really mean it, and I really mean to stay in good relationship with you”. On the other hand, God is not a rule giver who sends us to hell on a mere whim or a less than completely loving response to Him. Jesus refers to the Father as “Abba”, which is the equivalent of “Papa”, and our relationship should be that of a child with a loving father. If Papa says we are not to play in the street, he means that; it is not negotiable. But if we took a toy away from our baby sister, while that is wrong and Papa is going to punish us, he is not going to pack our bags and take us to the orphanage. Does that make sense?


#19

hermione: I left a PM; hope it helps.


#20

dear hermione,

despite other diagnoses of scrupulousity and whatnot, it seems to me that you need to come to a more practical understanding of your relationship with God. your misunderstandings are not allowing your faith to mature.

your relationship with God is through the sacraments. it is not the sacraments themselves. in your prayer life, try to distinguish between the acts that are pleasing to God and God Himself. you approach Him with your heart, that is where He encounters you. the actions that you take in response to that encounter, going to confession, doing penance, etc. are a bodily expression of the desires of your heart. they do not have to be perfect, they just have to be genuine. by your own actions, you express to yourself what God already knows. you don’t have to prove anything to Him.

a relationship deepens over time. you have to trust that the Holy Spirit is supporting today in ways He will build upon tomorrow. while at a later time, you may be able to more completely receive His love, He does not ask more of you today than you are capable of. remember that our Father knows and loves you as you are. He is ready and able to use who and what you are to lift you above and beyond sin. who you are now is who He is saving, not someone that you could have been, or someone that you want to be. if you hold on to attitudes that distance you from Him or His Church, you will not become the person that He wants you to be. if your interior life doesn’t have an element of peace, that is a sign that you need to move your heart closer to Him. it is not a sign that you need to perform some action in the world. we approach the sacraments as a response to His urging, not in order to get God to like us more. He calls us to Penance because he wants to forgive us, not because we want to be forgiven. St. John stresses the fact that God loves us first. He gives, we recieve.

i promise you that if you re-examine your desire to know God and start by offering Him the very depth of your being in both prayer and service, you will begin to manage the situations you have written about much better. this is because you will become accustomed to the guidence of the Holy Spirit. because you are devoted to trusting Him, you will be more able to trust others and know when to question their opinions. doing what God prompts you to do today has nothing to do with what He will ask you to do tomorrow, nor with what you failed to do yesterday.

i highly recommend that you read the works of St. John of the Cross. he speaks directly to the heart of Christ’s beloved and his words will help you reshape your understanding. also remember that the Holy Spirit does not only speak in the silence of your heart, but also through the voices and actions of people whom He loves and trusts. Jesus sent Him into the world and into you to give you peace.

continued below…


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