Prof. Peter’s and a scary thought about can. 1387

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.

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  1. rakesvines says:

    To be honest, I was looking for such a confessor in the past i.e. someone who would say that artificial means of birth control is OK. The good news is the priests in the archdiocese of Washington D.C. whom I met have shown themselves faithful to the teaching of Humanae Vitae. (So now, I’ve perfected the art of NFP that I can tell if my wife is fertile just by looking at her. ;D)

  2. newtrad says:

    My husband was told in confession it was ok to contracept because we had 4 children and “had done our part”, thankfully we knew better and are expecting #7, I pray for all priests, especially when they think they are helping us by making our “burden” lighter. The confusion must stop!

  3. Mark01 says:

    I have been told in the past it was ok to masturbate. Fortunately I knew better. Unfortunately, this priest told me that is what he was told in seminary. He did not say this in confession though, just during spiritual direction, so does the law not apply then?

  4. AM says:

    situation in which some bottom-feeder of a priest

    I always thought this expression was a calumny on the humble bottom-feeders (like crabs, and sole) which in addition to keeping the sea clean and the dead stuff recycled, happen to be delicious…


  5. dans0622 says:

    This understanding of the canon (even “soliciting” the penitent to some sinful behavior with a third party is included in the law) was proposed in penal law class: as Dr. Peters points out, it is commonly understood in this way in all the main commentaries. But, I must admit that the full, practical ramifications of this escaped me and I never really connected the dots until now.

  6. Glen M says:

    Priests who use the St. Thomas Aquinas ‘informed conscious’ to justify heretical positions should take heed.

  7. MargaretC says:

    I agree with AM about “some bottom feeder of a priest” — the expression insults the humble catfish which, when pan fried, is one of God’s finest creations.

    Now, as to the priest who, out of misguided compassion, gives bad advice to penitents, that one might be compared to a jellyfish — soft, squishy, and and armed with a painful sting that leaves long-lasting consequences.

  8. pseudomodo says:

    Yes, bottomfeeder is a mysterious word.

    Consider the lowly clam, or oyster, or crab, or lobster. All non-kosher for the very reason that they consume dead things. And yet all perfectly able to transform all this muck and slime into delicious meals worthy of a Friday…

    I think that these confessors may be giving bottomfeeders a bad name.

  9. raitchi2 says:

    Why only the 6th commandment? Are there other canons that apply to the other 9?

  10. RichR says:

    Practically speaking, how can a penitent bring the issue up? If the priest is bound by the Seal of Confession, he cannot defend himself. I think priests are “sitting ducks” on anything said in confession any way you slice it. Even so, the extreme spiritual intimacy and trustof a penitent and priest in confession is so sacred that most penitents wouldn’t dream of violating it. Confessors shouldn’t either. Give good spiritual direction and everyone wins, give bad direction and no one wins.

    Dismissal from the clerical state is serious, but there is a higher court to answer to than simply the Roman Rota. Confessors deserve our prayers. They have a huge burden to carry, but if they are faithful, the crown awaiting them is that much more glorious!

  11. RichR: I think there would have to be more than one person telling very similar stories.

  12. xgenerationcatholic says:

    I recall reading that if a penitent accuses a priest falsely of violating the Sixth Commandment in the context of confession, only the Pope can absolve the penitent of doing it.

    So there’s a check and balance to a priest being a sitting duck.

  13. LouiseA says:

    The word “solicit” has a meaning that implies something being initiated that wouldn’t have otherwise been initiated. I don’t think this crime of solicitation applies to a bad priest who says (for example) that it is ok for a co-habiting couple to continue to live together before marriage. However, if a bad priest SUGGESTS that a single person move in with his/her finance before marriage, that would be soliciting. The priest is the one initiating the sin against the 6th Commandment.

  14. Daniel says:

    Reading Professor Peters’ article with the analysis looking back at the earlier code and commentary reminded me of the research I tried to do when the question of selling a blessed rosary came up. The 1910 Raccolta was very specific in Norm 38 in discussing how the indulgences for the use of a blessed object only apply to the original person for whom they are blessed and any transfer loses the attached indulgence with the object returning to its unblessed state. The current norm only says something to the effect that the indulgences are lost when the object is destroyed or sold. I find the lack of specification in the current Norm could mean the object could be given away at some later date while the blessing with attached indulgences remain with it, or it could mean someone was lazy in writing up the new Norms.

  15. catholicmom says:

    Thank you, Father Z for bringing this to everyone’s attention — surely there are a number of priests who have fudged on the Church’s teachings in the Confessional in an effort at displaced compassion. But at this time, I would like to thank all of the good priests out there who have given me very good advice while in the Confessional and have made the Church’s teachings crystal clear. In every instance, I can look back now and realize that I grew tremendously from the advice and in every case my life took a turn for the good. Thanks to all the priests who have the Courage to stand by Mother Church.

  16. LawrenceK says:

    If the priest in any way encourages the penitent to commit a sin, then certainly that falls under the rubric of sollicitare. But if the penitent says, “I committed sin X,” and the priest replies “Actually, X is not a sin”, then that doesn’t seem to fall within any of the definitions of sollicitare in Lewis & Short. The priest is merely stating to the penitent something that he himself believes (incorrectly) to be a fact.

    Consider: if a penitent said, “I have never missed Mass on Sundays and holy days, but I have occasionally missed daily Mass, which is a mortal sin,” the priest would rightly inform him that missing daily Mass is not a sin. Yet the priest who did so would not be “stirring up” or “tempting” or “inducing” or “inciting” the penitent to stop going to daily Mass!

    Most of the authorities that Prof. Peters cites in his article consider solicitation to apply in cases where the priest is in some way encouraging the sinful behavior. It appears that only one of his authorities (Abbo-Hannan, 1960) considers solicitation to apply even in the case of “wrong advice as to the sinfulness” of something.

    Of course, we all know that if a priest says “X is not a sin,” he may indeed be encouraging the person to do X. Such encouragement might be merely in his tone, or his emphasis — and that would suffice for sollicitare by the other authorities that Peters cites. But it seems to me that, according to most of Peters’ authorities, a priest who merely states “X is not a sin” (when, of course, it is) without actually encouraging it would not be violating canon 1387.

    Of course, he should be more worried about Matt 5:19 than canon law!

  17. oratefratres says:

    Does the above canon apply to a Priest who says to a penitent that it is okay to date even if one is still in the process of being assessed confirmation or denial of Annulment?

  18. Julee says:

    I had a priest tell me one time, in the confessional, that birth control was wrong, BUT that my main duty was to take care of the children that I already had and if that meant having no more children, so be it. The implication was unstated, but VERY clear.

    I also had a priest tell me, during confession, the the issue of birth control was “not a dogma of faith, and in his opinion the issue of birth control should be a decision left up to the couple and “the church should stay out of it.”. How many clueless people he told that to, I shudder to think about.

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