Dear Father Angelo,
I wanted to ask you about two somewhat peculiar things, namely:
when confessing an impure act committed with another person, whether it is necessary to tell who that person is, whether this may be a significant point or not (a borderline example that comes to mind is whether that person is married or not).
In that same case, are there things (without going into specifics) that worsen the act regarding the way in which it is carried out, or are they negligible, making it enough to confess the sin itself?
1. bearing in mind that the Sacrament of Penance is ordained for the healing of the soul and for this reason it has rightly been defined as medicina salutis (a medicine that heals), one must act in an analogous way as when one goes to see a doctor: one tries to make him aware of the ills one is suffering from and of the contraindications of any medications.
If the Sacrament is conceived as a penalty that must be paid (I made a mistake and now I am going to confess) then the accusation of sins is considered a penalty or a fine to be satisfied.
In this case, obviously one strives to pay as little as possible.
But this is not the purpose of the Sacrament of Confession, which is essentially an encounter or an embrace with Christ our Saviour, our deliverer, and healer of our souls.
2. Whoever is repentant of his sins and is aware that by sinning he has damaged not only himself but also the Church, as he is a part of its body, is eager to be healed and to repair.
Therefore, like David, he gladly says, “my sin is always before me” (Ps 51:5).
3. I wanted to set down this premise before giving you the answer, to highlight once again that the main and irreplaceable element of Confession is repentance.
Sometimes the accusation will be prevented, as it happens for example in case of a seriously ill person, or because there is danger that the accusation of sins will not remain secret. In such cases, one is at least temporarily exempted from the accusation.
On the other hand, one can never be exempted from repentance.
If there is no repentance, the person is not penitent and therefore does not celebrate the Sacrament of Penance other than just formally or superficially.
Therefore, it is said that if one goes to confession but is not repentant for his sins, he commits a sacrilege.
4. Having said that, the answer to your questions just follows logic.
For example, if an adult and married person simply says that he has committed an impure act without saying that he has done it with a person who is not his wife, he obviously does not make it clear to the confessor that he has committed adultery.
Likewise, if he were to keep silent about having committed it with a person of the same sex, he would not make it clear that it is a sin that has an intrinsic malice of its own, different from that of adultery.
5. Of course, one must avoid saying who is the person (their name and surname) with whom that sin was committed because – even though a sacrament that requires the utmost secrecy is being celebrated – it would be defamation of another person.
Only in some cases, such as for engaged couples or married people, telling the sin is the same thing as making the partner manifest. But in this case, the two are in the process of becoming one (engaged) or they are already completely one (married).
6. Likewise, there are circumstances that need to be declared because they change the nature of the sin (for example, if it involved a consecrated person) or worsen the guilt (for example, if the sin was committed with minors).
7. Some circumstances are so decisive that without their disclosure the sin is not understood by the priest.
For this reason, the Council of Trent has established that the integrity (completeness) of the accusation belongs to divine law in the same way as the accusation of sins does.
Here is the text: “If anyone says that in the sacrament of Penance it is not necessary by divine law (ex jure divino) for the remission of sins to confess each and all mortal sins, of which one has remembrance (…) and the circumstances which alter the nature of sin (…) let him be anathema” (DS 1707).
Thank you for the question.
I remember you in prayer and I bless you.