QUAERITUR: priest gives horrible, erroneous counsel in confession; to whom do I turn?

From a reader:

Christ has given me the heavy cross of same sex attractions to carry (I’m 26). Today I confessed matter regarding same sex activity and I was [get this] told by the Priest that I should get a Boyfriend and settle down with him, [Total fail.] he told me he knows of homosexual couples active in the church and that they receive communion, times have changed and attitudes towards homosexuals have as well. The Priest was in his late seventies.  [And he had better get worried about standing befor God and receiving a horrible judgment for his failure to teach the truth and for confusing the faithful.]

So I have another Priest who I wont go to confession to due to his lack of orthodoxy. I have informed the Archbishop … of being told similar advice in the past and he doesn’t want to know the name of the Priest, although he did apologise to me for it.

Who is the proper authority in the Church that I should write to, to inform them of this kind of nonsense?

I now know why the scandal in Ireland took place.

The problem with writing to the Holy See about something like this is that it is a matter of the internal forum, that is, the priest cannot talk about it since it is a matter of the confessional and therefore under the Seal.

When you write to a dicastery of the Holy See, you really need to present something concrete they can work with.  Best are actual church bulletins, photos, written documents, recordings of talks, sermons, etc.


You took steps to inform the local Archbishop.  That was the best thing to do.  At this point there isn’t much else unless you start hearing from other people similar problems about what he is saying in the confessional.

The office of the Holy See that would deal with this sort of thing would have to be the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  If there were any aspect of the case that would require the aid of another Congregation, they would take care of that.

Again, just saying to them that you heard this in confession isn’t going to help much.  Even if they did contact the bishop or priest, the priest is bound by the Seal and could very rightly refuse to speak about the situation one way or another.

In the mean time, I apologize for that jackass move of his and pray that you will not be discouraged both in your personal spiritual warfare and suffering.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. shellac says:

    God bless this young Catholic for trying to live his faith. It cant be an easy cross to bear. Know that we your bother and sisters love you and are praying for you in your walk. Keep fighting the good fight. Michael aka Shellac

  2. Flambeaux says:

    Confessor FAIL.

    I’ve had to put up with similar nonsense from some of the priests in the various diocese that I have lived in, so I understand the difficulty.

    If I may offer a few practical suggestions:
    1) Keep looking for a priest who is a good confessor. Is there a
    2) Does Courage have any affiliated priests in the area?
    3) Pray for the priest spefically and the priests in your diocese generally. If you have difficulty finding a good confessor, how much greater difficulty to they have?

    Praying that you find a confessor and the graces you need to bear your Cross fruitfully and joyfully.

  3. Flambeaux says:

    Sorry. Incomplete thought in point 1. I was going to ask if there are some younger priests in your diocese to whom you could turn?

  4. bnaasko says:

    The good news is that even this bad counsel does not affect the absolution. This young man can still rejoice that Our Lord absolved his sins through the actions of this flawed priest.

  5. zapman says:

    Reading this made me sorrowful, and you are in my prayers.

  6. sejoga says:

    Are penitents allowed to rebuke their confessors at all? I should think this would be a moment where it would be appropriate to say, “I know what the Churches teachers, Father, apparently better than you do, and I have a serious problem with the fact that you would use the sacrament of confession to lead people into further sin out of your own misguided personal feelings.” I’m all for respecting priests; I’m also a firm believer that a stern rebuke can be the greatest manifestation of true respect.

    Also, since Fr. Z mentions that he should look for external, concrete evidence of the pastor supporting this interpretation of the moral law… would it be unadvisable to try to coax something concrete out of him? Like writing a letter to him about the concern and seeing if he writes a letter back that teaches error? Maybe that would be too much. It seems kind of like entrapment.

    At any rate, I think I’ll say a few prayers for this young man who’s clearly dedicated to his faith. I know too many people who, even when they acknowledge their own sins as such, refuse to confess them out of shame or spite of the sacrament. Especially sins like this that are so easy to fall into because of a culture that not only tolerates but often explicitly endorses them. We need more people with faith like his.

  7. pfreddys says:

    Again, God bless this young man for knowing the truth in spite of the Church leaders he has encountered……I hope he is victorious and that his reward will be great in heaven.
    I don’t know of any personally but I have heard that there were Christian {not necessarily Catholic} physiologists and perhaps psychiatrists who have successfully treated homosexuality as a personality disorder.
    I had thought awhile back that I had seen somewhere on the internet someone maintaining a list of orthodox and recommended confessors, has anyone else seen or heard of this or am I just dreaming

  8. wanda says:

    I am truly sorry for your reader’s horrible experience. I pray he does not give up or give in to despair. Pray for Priest’s, our Holy Father and for Holy Mother Church.

  9. TomB says:

    A few years ago I confessed a mortal sin, and was told it was not a sin at all. I simply told father he was mistaken and asked for absolution. And I never went back there for years. Then, I foolishly returned, and it was worse than before. Run from these priests who do not know their faith, or worse, who are trying to subvert it. If you cannot trust them in the confessional, you cannot trust them in anything, I should think.

  10. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    I nearly wept at reading this. My friend, you are in my prayers. I wish the critics would read some of the comments here: this is Christian charity and Christian understanding.

  11. TJerome says:

    I am not surprised at the age of the priest confessor. I have found that many priests in their 60s and 70s are the least orthodox.

    However, it is extremely disturbing that the priest could not somehow realize that this young man wanted help in conforming his life to the teachings of the Church, not a license to commit sin. Also, the response of the Archbishop is shocking, to say the least. He should definitely not be in a position of authority since he’s no better than Sargeant Shulz “I know nothing, I hear and see nothing.” That attitude is why the Church had the problems it did in addressing the clergy sexual scandals.

    This young man should be commended and prayed for.

  12. Magpie says:

    This is a book that may be useful to strugglers, published by Ignatius Press:

    The Battle for Normality: A Guide for (Self-)Therapy for Homosexuality

  13. Ralph says:

    “Christ has given me the heavy cross of same sex attractions to carry”

    We all have our burdens and challenges. Yours, to me, seems a terriable hardship. But I know that Christ’s Grace overcomes all. Turn over your suffering. Offer it up for the poor souls. Your suffering can be redemptive.

    Thank you for not taking the “easy way out” and using this bad council as an excuse to give into the desires of your flesh.

    Remember, our Lord loves you. We of the Church love you. Having same sex attraction does not lessen your value to God or to our Church. Keep up the fight!!

  14. jt83 says:

    God bless you, dear brother. Keep close to the Lord.

  15. Alex P says:

    It does seem that priests who think like that are in the same age range, and would have been influenced by all the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ stuff. I told a priest one time I wouldn’t go to receive Communion if I had committed a mortal sin and not confessed it. His response? ‘That was all done away with by Vatican II- why do you think we have the Penitential Rite at the start of mass, if not to forgive sins? You have my permission to receive Communion whenever you like’.

    I never returned to that priest again.

    It must have been a shock to this young man to hear what he did in the confessional, but luckily other priests must be around who are far more orthodox. Sometimes you have to go to a few different priests to find one who won’t lead you astray- and pray, of course, that the Lord will lead you to such a priest.

  16. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    I know the seal of the confessional is absolute, but what about counseling sessions? I know of an area couple who approached a pastor for counseling when the husband announced he was gay. According to the wife, the priest strongly sided with the husband during counseling sessions. They eventually divorced and now the man is living an openly gay lifestyle and is still part of the parish (which includes “married” gay couples). Would the wife had any recourse if she’d chosen to complain about her treatment?

  17. ssoldie says:

    I will tell you what a priest(traditional) told me to do when I knew I had been misdirected in the confessinal by a priest(progressive), write to the Bishop, and if he does nothing, the nuncio, then the Vatican. Make copies of your letters.

  18. Craig says:

    26 and already aware of the dangers of the lgbt lifestyle, congratulations, I was 30 when I figured it out. Some good suggestions above, especially the one about contacting CourageRC (just be patient, the folks there are not real fast on answering emails). Also, contact your local family life office for the diocese, generally they can help you find a good priest. If, however, you find yourself in a more “progressive” diocese, get ahold of Opus Dei, if they have any members or co-operators in the area, they will usually have a priest that makes visits, they are tough confessors (okay, sometimes they will scare the liver out of ya, but they are trying to get you to Heaven) but you will not find any un-orthodox advise.

    Practical advise:

    1. Pray
    2. Fast
    3. Pray (Blessed Mother especially the Rosary, and the Pater whenever you feel a lustful thought sneaking up)
    4. devotions to: St. Joseph, St. Benedict (who fled Rome and through himself into thorns to overcome lust), St. Michael and, personal favourites, the Sacred Heart and the Five Wounds.

    If you are having a particularly tough time with lust, find a chapter of SA (Sexaholics Anonymous). They define sobriety as no sex with oneself or others outside of marriage (man and woman). The program is enlightening to say the least. And perhaps find someone you can email or phone with, having someone who understands actually helps, a lot.

  19. everett says:

    While not having confession go quite that badly for me, last month I was in need of the sacrament, and found that a local parish offered confessions after its Sunday morning Mass. It meets in a gym, so no real confessionals. After mass, I spoke with the priest, who took me aside (was no longer vested, or even wearing a stole). I went to begin my confession in traditional fashion. He asked me what my “general area of sinfulness was.” After a single sentence, I was then stopped, and asked if I tried to treat others charitably. I stuttered yes, I try, at which point I was stopped again and he gave me absolution. After returning, I told my wife that I was “pretty sure” it was valid. I was repentant, attempted to confess my sins, and received absolution. However, how depressing is it when we can not be certain of the validity of a sacrament? Thank goodness my regular parish has an excellent confessor. Since then I’ve been careful to rearrange my schedule so as to be able to make it when my parish does offer it.

  20. worm says:

    I know you didn’t ask for this, but like many others have already said, keep fighting the good fight and I am saying a prayer for you.

  21. Fr Z: I’m no canonist, I defer to the expertise of any here who are. But does not this come under “the crime of solicitation”? The priest is encouraging someone to commit a grave objective mortal sin against the sixth commandment…N. Halligan, OP in his book “The Administration of the Sacraments” says that this crime can happen if a priest counsels someone to do something gravely sinful against the sixth commandment, even if he is not directly involved.
    I’m not trying to cause trouble here; I’m merely asking the question.
    To my mind, this goes beyond “counseling” into something extremely serious that must be dealt with in a serious manner. The individual has gone to the diocesan bishop; nothing seems to have been done. Don’t penitents have recourse in this situation?

  22. And I want to encourage this individual to seek help in “Courage”, which is a very solid, Catholic group that will help spiritually, psychologically and emotionally to deal with these issues; and pray for a good confessor, go to him regularly (avoid priests you do not know, if you can); do what he tells you; and know that the Lord Jesus, Crucified and Risen is with you every step of the way. Don’t be discouraged; Satan wants that so you will give up and give in.
    Entrust yourself to our Lady and Saint Joseph…the loving Holy Family will help you every step of the way. Prayers and blessings to you.

  23. MariO says:

    My poor young man. What a horrible way to be treated at a most vulnerable time! Nonetheless, you can take comfort in the numerous prayers that are heading your way rignt now from Father Z’s many readers.

  24. Geoffrey says:

    Stories like this kept me away from Confession for many years, afraid of hearing heresy or something… Deo gratias, I am now a regular “penitent” and I have never heard a pinch of heresy. I have actually been surprised when hearing sound doctrine from a priest whose homilies are sometimes full of… “fluff”?

    Try and remember that there is a huge and important difference between sacramental absolution and advice in the confessional. Advice does not have the “weight” of absolution, doctrine, etc. It’s advice. And with a properly formed conscience, as you obviously seem to have, you know if it’s good advice or bad advice. Years ago, I don’t think penitents had to worry. Now, we have to be on guard.

  25. LaudemGloriae says:

    To My Brother in Christ: May Almighty God strengthen you and sanctify you and reward you mightily for accepting this cross. May you feel the love of the Catholic community which values and welcomes you.

  26. ikseret says:

    I heartily second Craig’s advice: prayer and fasting.
    Fasting is so neglected today. Who of us hasn’t heard we should fast from “attitudes,” etc.?
    Meanwhile the traditional liturgy makes it clear Lent is a period of fasting.
    Our Lord said his disciples would be known by their fasting and warned that some demons are only driven out by fasting.
    Fasting (with prayer) is the best defense against impurity.
    And didn’t our Lady of Fatima ask us to fast and make sacrifices warning that many who do not do so will fall to Hell for sins against the flesh?

  27. Animadversor says:

    I am thinking that the Apostolic Penitentiary might be helpful. [I doubt it. They could write a consoling letter, perhaps. The CDF is the proper dicastery because what the priest in the confessionl said was clearly against the Church’s teaching. Still the CDF needs something concrete to work with.] They have no doubt plenty of experience in such matters (their fill and more, probably) and would be able to advise 1) what would be the best course for the penitent to take with regard to his own spiritual welfare and 2) what would be the best course to take with regard to this priest, having a fraternal and charitable regard both for the priest’s own welfare and and for the welfare of his prospective penitents. Also, it would appear that the penitent got something of a brush-off from his Archbishop; I can assure him that from the Apostolic Penitentiary he will receive nothing of the sort, and I think that this will be some considerable comfort. [Comfort, yes. But don’t expect they can do any to the priest or bishop.] The previous Penitentiary, James Cardinal Stafford, was at one time Bishop of Memphis in Tennessee, and I had the privilege of going twice to him for confession and counsel. He was most gracious and kind without being in the least other than orthodox. Now, he is no longer the Penitentiary, but I feel sure that if he possibly could, he would respond graciously to a letter from the penitent. Probably he could be addressed in care of the current Penitentiary. But my general advice would be to dump all of this, both the original difficulty which the penitent brought to his confessor and also the difficulties so sorrowfully created for him, in the lap of Our Lord, and then to rest serenely in Him.

    Christifidelibus Romano Pontifici semper appellare licet.


    Mailing Address: Palazzo della Cancelleria, 00186 Roma, Piazza della Cancelleria, 1


    I don’t know about the email address.

  28. Augustine Terra Mariae says:

    With this sort of abuse, it’s not surprising that many of us have to fight dispair over the state of the Church on an almost constant basis.

    Sadly, there are a number of places on my diocese (Baltimore) where it’s extremely likely that you would have received the same scandalous advice. After all, we have a pastor (of two parishes) current on the *board* of New Ways Ministry and another pastor just recently honored as a new monsignor who advertises New Ways Ministry events in his bulletin (as recently as last month). And these are pastors who publicly display their distain for Catholic moral teaching: the majority can reasonably be assumed to (dis)believe as they do. So, when diocesan campaigns say “The Light is On for You”, one needs to think about who might be waiting in there.

  29. PostCatholic says:

    I’m no longer Catholic, but I wish to offer Rev. Zuhlsdorf’s correspondent this advice:

    Find a path of joy. Life is very short to spend on those who hurt us and others. Once we have done what we can to prevent further hurt and harm, as you did by contacting this priest’s Ordinary and as you might do if you pursue it further, we should leave it there. We ought to recognize we can’t right every wrong in the world and get back to cultivating our own spiritual garden, which includes the willingness to forgive a well-meaning (as I hope this priest was) transgressor. A path of joy is one where you can love many and be loved and do as much good as possible in the world and enjoy doing it. If your Catholic faith provides you that, stick with it assiduously, but waste no time on those who will not respect your path.

  30. Animadversor says:

    Yes, Father, I agree with you, and perhaps (or certainly) I didn’t make clear in what I wrote, for which I am sorry, that I didn’t imagine that the Penitentiary could do much directly with—or to—the priest or archbishop. But it seemed to me that the Penitentiary could offer comfort and consolation to the penitent in his anguish—and anyone who has been in such a situation, where one asks for bread and gets a stone, all the while being told it’s bread—will know that anguish is the right word. Moreover, although as suggested, the Penitentiary’s tribunal cannot do much, if anything, directly, perhaps they can give practical counsel on how to proceed caussa animae suae. That is what I meant when I said they might be helpful.

    In any case, an honor to have my comment commented-upon by you. ;-)

    Aliorsum, nostra fruniscaris urbe? Reverentiae vestrae salutandae studiosus sum, si placebit.

  31. PostCatholic says:

    Is William Card. Baum still the Apostolic Penitentiary?

  32. PostCatholic: The current Major Penitentiary (since June 2, 2009) is Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli.

  33. JonM says:

    If our brother is reading this thread, I want him to know that he now has many praying for him.

    You did the right thing and are doing the right thing by seeking out a good confessor.

    Devotion to Mary and medidation on Christ’s extreme pain will lead to freedom from this. And you can’t let the enemy drive you to despair if you have a fall. (I’m sure you know all of this already.)

    Fasting has such a strong cleansing; I recently read that St. Thomas Becket refused to say Mass for 40 days after even considering accepting Henry II’s constitutions.

    You’re in the battle and not running from trouble!

  34. Maggie says:

    Oh my dear brother. I am praying for you. My rosary tonight will be for your courage to continue to carry this burden.

    And yes, find a better confessor!

  35. Athanasius says:

    That is horribly sad. What should have been said was counsel to fast, pray certain prayers and follow an intense devotion to our Lady, to conform Himself completely to Jesus Christ through her. The priest might have offered to fast for him as well.
    Those of us arguing in the previous posting on the Irish scandals are not really worth our salt if we don’t offer at least one day of Lenten fast for this fellow.

  36. Virgil says:

    By my reading of the Catechism, the priest could be correct. Depends, of course, on the precise situation: the sin confessed and the counsel given.


    “Disinterested friendship” is an unfortunate translation of the Latin “amicitiae gratuitae auxilio.” I am interested in Father Z’s translation, but mine would be “the grace-filled friendship of a helpmate.”


    Let’s give Father the benefit of the doubt. CCC #2359, in the case of this young man, could be applied as:

    “Your best bet for cultivating the virtue of chastity could very well be a Boyfriend, who is also looking to you to support him in chastity.”

    I know a sackful of couples like this, who fill Catholic parishes.

    God will richly bless this young correspondent.

  37. Virgil says:

    Sorry, for some reason the combox deleted the quote from the Cathechism. Here ’tis.

    2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

  38. Virgil: God bless you for you charity and compassion.
    But, in the context of what this individual wrote, I don’t think a “disinterested friendship” is what he meant; there is, unfortunately, an opinion that a “monogamous” sexual relationship is more moral than promiscuity in the same-sex situation. Boyfriend does not mean “chaste friendship” in common parlance in this particular context…forgive me if I’m being overly critical.
    No priest, no how, no way should ever incite anyone to sin mortally; compassion and understanding are absolutely necessary; encouragement, at least as how this looks, to do something morally wrong cannot be condoned. Friendship, yes. Living together as friends, fine, if it is not an occasion of sin. But “boyfriend”…I just don’t think so.

  39. Animadversor says:

    Devotion to Mary and medidation [sic] on Christ’s extreme pain will lead to freedom from this.

    I think that devotion to Mary and meditation upon Our Lord’s sufferings, together with a sincere intention to live chastely, can most probably ensure that he will not commit this sin in the future, but I do not think that it necessarily “will lead to freedom from this,” if by “this” is meant his particular temptation. It might mean that, if it so pleases God, but it does not always seem to be God’s will that we should not be tempted in a certain way; sometimes He is pleased rather that we should triumph over temptation, even though we may suffer and be wounded. I think that if the penitent is constantly looking for these temptations to disappear, and they do not, his courage and faith may be daunted. Rather, he ought to have a serene confidence that God will by His grace keep him from actual sin—if not from temptation—and will forgive him should he lapse and repent, and then leave it in God’s hands whether it is best that he should no longer be so tempted. It is important also to remember, that while one may have a general intention not to sin, sometimes this intention falters. One is faced with a urgent temptation and one does not wish to resist, so one does not ask for help at the most necessary moment. Developing the habit of pious ejaculations can help here.

  40. eiggam says:

    I am impressed by the charitable way in which everyone has responded to this situation. I will keep the man in prayer.

  41. catholicmidwest says:

    Confession is a sacrament. You go to confession as an act of faith and you hope for absolution and penance. Sometimes the priest says something useful; as often he says something mundane and sometimes he even might say something idiotic (true). I think we’ve probably all heard weird stuff. But remember why you’re there. That’s the key.

  42. jm says:

    The tone of responses here is instructive. This advice is little different in essence to child abuse: a cleric counseling someone to go get a gay lover! The priest is not a “jackass.” He is far worse. The whole sympathy for priests culture has got to go: they should be held to a HIGHER standard. Damn the confessional seal. The guy’s confidence is not in danger, is it? One more example of the hierarchal church waffling. If gay sex is mortal sin, a priest so counseling should be ferreted out and expelled. Period. The “Now, nows” here offered this guy are so very eeriely reminiscient of the responses to abuse victims.

  43. catholicmidwest says:

    That priest, giving that advice, is interesting, I agree. I sure would be watching to see what all is going on around there, if this had happened to me. Priests like this are a disaster looking for a place to happen.

  44. catholicmidwest says:

    But then, I’ll be upfront with you: I think that all priests with lovers on the side, even transient ones, and even on one occasion, ought to be taken out of service immediately and put on 25% pay while they discern their future. They need to work in the world and understand life a lot better before they have the maturity to lead a parish. Ditto for any priest caught in embezzlement–even once.

    Priests with felonies on their records, particularly those related to sexual or moral issues, need to be dismissed from the clerical state, period. Priests are not supposed to be criminals, and criminals shouldn’t be acting as priests. The only exception ought to be those whose felonies were obtained in acts of *speaking in fidelity to the church* during war, political imprisonment and protesting in front of Planned Parenthood and the like.

  45. catholicmidwest says:

    People might say, “Oh dear, what would we do for priests? How many would this be?” I say, we’d be better off without this going on in our parishes. You can’t give what you don’t have. It’s unfair, impossible and unwise to expect priests who don’t have the ability to give to do so. It’s unfair to subject Catholics to this kind of duplicity. Let it go and let’s get on with life.

  46. Rouxfus says:

    The Dialogue which St. Catherine of Siena had with God, recorded by others while she was in ecstatic union in prayer, has some things to say about how we should regard priests, whom God, several times in the Dialogue, refers to as “My Christs”:

    See, then, that besides the dignity to which I have appointed them, how worthy they are of being loved; when they also possess the adornment of virtue, as did those of whom I spoke to you, which are all bound and obliged to possess, and in what great reverence you should hold them, for they are My beloved children and shine each as a sun in the mystical body of the holy Church by their virtues, for every virtuous man is worthy of love, and these all the more by reason of the ministry which I have placed in their hands. You should love them therefore by reason of the virtue and dignity of the Sacrament, and by reason of that very virtue and dignity you should hate the defects of those who live miserably in sin, but not on that account appoint yourselves their judges, which I forbid, because they are My Christs,, and you ought to love and reverence the authority which I have given them. You know well that if a filthy and badly dressed person brought you a great treasure from which you obtained life, you would not hate the bearer, however ragged and filthy he might be, through love of the treasure and of the lord who sent it to you. His state would indeed displease you, and you would be anxious through love of his master that he should be cleansed from his foulness and properly clothed. This, then, is your duty according to the demands of charity, and thus I wish you to act with regard to such badly ordered priests, who themselves filthy and clothed in garments ragged with vice through their separation from My love, bring you great Treasures — that is to say, the Sacraments of the holy Church — from which you obtain the life of grace, receiving Them worthily (in spite of the great defects there may be in them) through love of Me, the Eternal God, who send them to you, and through love of that life of grace which you receive from the great treasure, by which they administer to you the whole of God and the whole of Man, that is to say, the Body and Blood of My Son united to My Divine nature. Their sins indeed should displease you, and you should hate them, and strive with love and holy prayer to re-clothe them, washing away their foulness with your tears — that is to say, that you should offer them before Me with tears and great desire, that I may re-clothe them in My goodness, with the garment of charity. Know well that I wish to do them grace, if only they will dispose themselves to receive it, and you to pray for it; for it is not according to My will that they should administer to you the Sun being themselves in darkness, not that they should be stripped of the garment of virtue, foully living in dishonor; on the contrary I have given them to you, and appointed them to be earthly angels and suns, as I have said. It not being My will that they should be in this state, you should pray for them, and not judge them, leaving their judgment to Me. And I, moved by your prayers, will do them mercy if they will only receive it, but if they do not correct their life, their dignity will be the cause of their ruin. For if they do not accept the breadth of My mercy, I, the Supreme Judge, shall terribly condemn them at their last extremity, and they will be sent to the eternal fire.


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