The need to extend the Grace of the Confessional
A group of Catholic ministers have gathered severally to reflect on the ongoing clergy abuse and cover-up crisis. The pain that some ordained men caused their victims as well as the pain that a broken clerical system causes on the entire church community is disgusting.
St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, proclaimed that Paul doesn’t take priesthood as a call to be chief administrator, perfect pastor, or a holiest gatekeeper. Instead, he writes that the role of a priest is to be a representative of human beings before the alter of God. The priest’s duty as a representative is to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
Paul went further to tell the Hebrews that priests are to offer sacrifice day after day, firstly for their own sins and secondly for the sins of the people.
Paul also explains the reason priests are able to sacrifice and need to sacrifice for the sins of humanity is because they themselves are surrounded by weakness. And that there is no hierarchy of holiness in priesthood. Because, every high priest is taken from among humans. The ordained are called and chosen by God as they are also in need of mercy like everyone else, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins to God on behalf of themselves and of all God’s people.
How would the life of church change if we understood priesthood as “ different from” other vocations instead of “better than” other vocations? Each vocation brings special gifts to the world. I think a bigger acceptance of this reality would reduce clericalism and promote more honest repentance.
Paul’s images of priesthood help us to imagine a church where all people both lay, ordained, and religious alike can take one another accountable for shortcomings, and do so out of a deep love for individuals and desire to see them heal. You can imagine a church where everyone is more open about their brokenness so we can get help for our bad behavior before it destroys lives and creates a culture of abuse and secrecy. You can imagine a church that offers honest apologies, seeks true forgiveness, and works towards difficult reconciliation.
Maybe, the whole church could then increase the grace of the confessional. Probably then we could take steps towards healing this broken body.