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Sacraments 6    Penance1

“Hypocrites! They confess their sins every week and then go out and commit the same sins all over again!” Thus goes the old [pathetic] description of Roman Catholics and the practice of sacramental confession. If that criticism were true of them, it would be true of all of us in all denominations – do we not also confess our sins every week2?

But it does show the considerable suspicion there is about sacramental confession. Rather unworthy criticism like the above comes basically from fear. When I came here as your new vicar, one of the clues I picked up was a tatty old confession card on the prayer desk in the chapel3. I wondered therefore whether anybody would approach me about private confession – but the only approaches I have had are from those who go to church elsewhere. And I well understand why our own people, wishing to make their confession, might go to a priest elsewhere. It is, after all, a scary business – and one which most Anglicans don’t bother with.

You might sum up the Church of England position in the old quip: “all may, some should, none must”. The higher church you are, the more likely you are to take this seriously and do it. It would be hard to claim to be at the “catholic” end of the spectrum if you didn’t take this on – but middle ground CofE folk tend not to, and probably those at the more evangelical end of the range would adopt the line of the “protestant” denominations and say “who needs a priest for such things anyway?”. As most priests know, they hear confessions informally more than formally – conversations often tend to lead in these directions.

Whatever you do yourself, the important thing is to face God honestly with who and what you are – and with what you have done4. All may, some should, none must. Which are you?