The Canonical Defender, Prof. Ed Peters, has posted something that shook me a little, when I think of the implications it could have for priests who are less than committed to the Church’s moral teachings. He has an article in HPR which requires attention.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states:
can. 1387 - A priest who in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession solicits [sollicitat] a penitent to sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished, according to the gravity of the delict, by suspension, prohibitions, and privations; in graver cases he is to be dismissed from the clerical state.
A great deal here turns on the meaning of “sollicitat“. Sollicito means a range of things from “stir up, tempt, induce” to “incite one to do something”, often something wrong. “To urge to wrong-doing”.
When I read that canon in the past, what always occurred to me is the situation in which some bottom-feeder of a priest might solicit something for himself from the penitent. The more common notion of a “crime of solicitation”.
It didn’t occur to me that this canon could apply to a priest who has given advice leading the penitent to sin against the Sixth Commandment in some other way.
Imagine – or perhaps you don’t have to imagine – some priest saying that it is okay to use contraception for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy, that it is okay to masturbate, that it is okay to have homosexual sex, that it is okay to marry or remarry when not free to do so, etc.
It seems that can. 1387 applies to a priest who gives really bad advice in the confessional, saying or suggesting or proposing that the penitent do something or can do something against the Sixth commandment, that doesn’t involve himself at all.
There have always been some dodgy confessors and dirt-bag priests who think they know better than the Church, or to give some benefit of doubt, priests who through a misplaced “compassion” tell penitents things that are not true and thus endanger both their souls.
There have always been that sort of priest.
But the number of that sort of priest rose sharply in the chaotic wake of Vatican II.
Who knows how many people’s lives were screwed up as a result?
It is a matter of great consolation that so many priests are, in fact, faithful to their role in the confessional. It is a matter of enormous consolation that younger priests are less and less inclined to make it up as they go.
To any priest out there who thinks it is okay in the confessional to fudge the Church’s teachings on things that we darn well know are sins and are clearly taught as such, you may be committing – in a different sense – the “crimen sollicitationis” spoken to in can. 1387.
Knock it off.
Otherwise, if someone calls you on it – and I hope they do if you persist in your ill-considered ways … good luck.