Friday, April 19, 2019

Is the Sacrament of Confession useless? A reply to Pres. Duterte

Saint Ambrose barring Emperor Theodosius from Milan Cathedral in 390 A.D. A painting by Anthony van Dyck (Wikipedia)

Manila Times: The President then made fun of the Catholic sacrament of confession, saying attending Mass and seeking forgiveness from God were “useless” as he would tend to repeat his sins everyday. “Kaya ako hindi nagsisimba. Kasi ’pag magsimba ako (That’s why I never attend mass because if I go to Church), ‘Forgive me, father, for I have killed last night three.’ Balik na naman ako kinabukasan (then I will return tomorrow), ‘Father, forgive me because I have killed 10 drug, drug lords.’ Pabalik-balik ako, bakit pa ako magpunta doon? Useless (I keep on returning, so why should I go back? That’s useless),” he said.

REPLY

The example given by our President is indeed a useless confession, because there is no conversion of the heart or interior conversion. As the Catechism says:
1430 Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.23 1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).24
Note that the Act of Contrition is recited after each confession by the penitent (though sadly some priests do not require this anymore) and this prayer states “I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.” That is:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.[8] (Wikipedia
And the priest will give the absolution:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself  and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. (EWTN)

If Duterte has the intention to sin again when he made his confession, then he has no intention of turning away from evil and going back to God, so that his hypothetical confession would indeed be useless.  Furthermore, to presume that God will forgive him without repentance is a sin of presumption, which is a sin against the First Commandment:
2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit). (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Normally, after the penitent gives his confession, the priest will give the penance, e.g. pray 3 Hail Mary’s, or return what you stole from your company, or refrain from using the name of God in vain. For the case of the sin of murder, the priest can tell the penitent to go to the police, report the crime, and accept the punishment given by the court, e.g. imprisonment for 40 years or death (c.f. Revised Penal Code). Otherwise, if the penitent has no intention of doing these, the absolution given by the priest won’t have an effect, i.e. the penitent remains guilty of sin and if he dies, he would go to hell.

For the case of a policeman killing a drug lord or a criminal, there are many mitigating circumstances in order for the killing not to be classified as mortal sin. Did the police kill him during a shootout? This can be a legitimate police operation and the culpability is lessened. But if the drug lord was rendered immobile and in the power of the policemen at the precinct, then shooting the drug lord in the head in this case can be murder. This is called rubout. Remember that there are three requirements for a sin to be mortal: (1) grave matter, (2) full knowledge, and (3) deliberate consent. As the Catechism says:
1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother."132 The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.  1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.  1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. the promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church
Thus, if Duterte goes to confession and says he killed 10 drug lords, a good confessor will definitely ask questions. The matter is definitely grave, but the confessor needs to know the circumstances behind the killing, so that he can determine if the killing was a mortal sin or not. The Catholic Church is not stupid and its rules regarding the Sacrament of Confession are not stupid. There is a logic behind them and also wisdom. We just need to study our Catechism and learn what the church actually teaches, because the founder of the Catholic Church is Christ who is Truth Who can neither deceive or intend to deceive.  Unlike those of masons and other secret societies, the teachings of the Catholic Church can be read by any person of good will, e.g. they can be  found the the Vatican website. As a child-like voice told St. Augustine prior to his conversion: “Take up and read.”

Let us pray that Pres. Duterte may convert from his sins and do penance for the satisfaction of his sins. There is still hope. Even the Roman Emperor Theodosius I was guilty of extra-judicial killing, slaying both the innocent and the guilty—about 7,000 in all in Thessalonica--for the murder of his Gothic garrison commander:
In 390 the population of Thessalonica rioted in complaint against the presence of the local Gothic garrison. The garrison commander was killed in the violence, so Theodosius ordered the Goths to kill all the spectators in the circus as retaliation; Theodoret, a contemporary witness to these events, reports:  ... the anger of the Emperor rose to the highest pitch, and he gratified his vindictive desire for vengeance by unsheathing the sword most unjustly and tyrannically against all, slaying the innocent and guilty alike. It is said seven thousand perished without any forms of law, and without even having judicial sentence passed upon them; but that, like ears of wheat in the time of harvest, they were alike cut down.[21]  Theodosius was excommunicated by the bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose, for the massacre.[22] Ambrose told Theodosius to imitate David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt; Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the  Eucharist only after several months of penance. (Wikipedia)
May God have mercy on the soul of Pres. Duterte. He has blasphemed God and his Church. He has mocked the Sacraments. So let us pray:
Lord, you have give the grace of conversion to Emperor Theodosius I who unjustly put innocent people to death in Thessalonica out of vengeance, grant that through the intercession of St. Ambrose of Milan may President Rodrigo Duterte also receive the grace of conversion and lead our country the Philippines into the Catholic Faith, as Theodoisus I did for the Roman Empire. This we ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.