The Apostle Paul’s prediction about a “man of sin” goes on to detail that this “son of perdition” would claim to be superior to God Himself. He would sit “in the temple of God showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2:4). The claim seems to imply that this one, who would come before the day of Christ, would invest himself and his ministers with powers both to hear confession of personal sins and to forgive them. “Who”, asked the scribes, “can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:7). Whether Paul meant that the man of sin would claim to forgive or not, it was the eventuality.

The origin of the Confessional in its various forms has been obscured by the darkness of the third and fourth centuries when Christianity became increasingly more formal and hierarchical. The succession of the bishops and priests from the apostles is equally unverifiable. In all the literature of the Church, succession is an assumption made rather than a connection established. Tradition since the fourth century has become the source of all authority. Quoting John 20:23, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained”, is not a defense of the Catholic practice when it is clear that the words were directed at ten of Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection and to no-one else either before or after them.

The sacrament of penance

In the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, confession to a priest or bishop is provided for in the sacrament of penance. It is the method by which an individual may be freed from sins committed after receiving the sacrament of baptism. The priest or bishop hears the confession and then recites the prayers of absolution to forgive the penitent’s sins.

In the early centuries confession was made publicly. Those who sinned seriously were excluded from communion until they showed repentance by undergoing a period of public penance that included such things as fasting, public humiliation, the wearing of sackcloth, and other austerities. It could be followed by communion to provide healing for the soul and to regain the grace of God. This penitential rite endured until the early Middle Ages. It was too rigorous for most Christians. Later, private confession could be made face to face with the priest or anonymously through a screen or grill inside a purpose built confessional which might be a small room in the church or a free-standing booth. The priest sat with his ear to the grill, through which the tale of sins conceived or committed was whispered by the kneeling penitent. The confessional in this form did not appear until the middle of the sixteenth century. A revised ritual was given to the Church by Pope Paul VI in December of 1973 but the principles remained the same.

The question of confidentiality

For the priest who has heard a confession, the confidentiality of all matters admitted is absolute even under the threat of death directed at himself or others. This is called the seal of confession. Were it not so, the sinner would not make confession in the first place. The problem of course arises that the priest knows more about the misdoings of his flock than the local authorities. Sins admitted might include serious criminal offences. It makes the priest an accessory which would be the case for a private citizen in most countries today. Laws exempting ministers from disclosing sensitive information made in confession are crucial to the fabric of the Catholic Church, according to Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson.

This privilege of the Church has been the cause of misdemeanours by the Catholic priesthood for centuries though we are given the impression that sexual license and child abuse are recent problems. The assumption made is that all members of the clergy have integrity and the fact forgotten that all priests are human. The very reason for the invention of the confessional was to create a separation between the celibate priest and eligible young parishioners whom he might find attractive.

Another set of detailed rules

The ritual of confession is surrounded by a complicated set of rules and expectations. The following is only a summary:-

  1.  The priest must be qualified and have the approval of the local bishop and the hierarchy.
  2.  For the priest to hear confession is an obligation.
  3.  All Catholics are required to confess sins at least once a year.
  4.  Frequent confession is a pious practice and a means of swifter daily progress along the road of virtue.
  5.  If death should intervene before final confession, forgiveness may be obtained if contrition and a desire to go to sacramental confession existed before the event.

The final straw is that manuals of confession developed out of the need to obtain the maximum benefit from the sacrament – one for the faithful so that they could prepare a good confession; and another for the priest who had to make sure that no sins were left unmentioned and the confession was as thorough as possible. The priest had to ask questions, while being careful not to suggest sins that the faithful had not thought of and give them ideas!

Encyclopaedia Britannica states when comparing Catholic practice with the New Testament:- “There is no direct evidence that confession had to be specific or detailed or that it had to be made to a priest.”

Here again is a general practice of the Roman Church that puts the priest necessarily between the worshipper and God. Christ taught us to confess our sins unto the Father: “forgive us our debts as we forgive us our debtors” is a crucial article of the Lord’s prayer. With no divine authority this imposter priest makes the worshipper dependent upon him for the obtaining of forgiveness of sins. He sits in there listening to all the shady moments of his congregation as though he is above and not tempted by all the revelations of these men and women, young and old. What an arrogant assumption is all this. It is clear that the papal system accumulated “powerand used “signs and lying wondersas Paul wrote that it would do. It has done this “with all deceivablness of unrighteousness in them that perish” and consequently God has sent “them strong delusion that they should believe a lie”.

By contrast we who have loved and obeyed the Truth are free from the ritual, hypocrisy and indeed judgment of a system of falsehood which “the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Thess 2:9,11,8).