Following is a Guest Post by Suzanne, who is currently strugging with her Catholic faith. I thank her for her valuable contribution.
The issue of confession is what first began to make me question Catholicism—and I am 30 and have been a willing and devout Catholic my whole life, until a few months ago. I have come to believe that the requirement of individual sacramental confession (auricular confession) puts artificial bounds on Jesus’ forgiveness. Auricular confession can be a great chosen path, and should be available as a choice—for example if someone wants to talk privately about a recurring sin; however, the absolute sacramental requirement for the sole particular ritual is misplaced in many situations.
The type of situation that has been described on this site—getting too close to your confessor—is clearly a danger, both because of the privacy of the confessional and the vulnerability of the confessor, and the stringency of celibacy (which I do not find wrong in itself, but it must be acknowledged that lifelong celibacy is a special condition that should be protected by not adding temptation)—for even a priest devoted to keeping proper boundaries might find himself sorely tempted when confronted with the intimacy that auricular confession requires.
There is something amiss in a system that exclusively requires priestly confession, and I am thinking in particular of, for example, a 14 year old girl who is struggling with sexual sins like masturbation. Imagine the difficulty of a 14 year old girl confessing that sin, out loud, to a priest who is probably twice her age. But the alternative is to risk burning in hell. Is this kind of choice between deep embarrassment and hellfire really the reason why Jesus came? The "secret" confession available (with the screen) is an illusion, because our priests know us and they know our voices. And how difficult must it be for priests to hear parishioners detailing their sexual sins over and over, when they are vowed to be celibate!
The specific rite of auricular confession is not as old as the church itself and in fact it is much newer. When I turned 30 this year, I began to question why I, a grown woman, must tell my most embarrassing deeds to a priest—who I may have gone to college with, who I drank with at parties—and have him hand out penance to me when he knows nothing about the strains of being a mother, being a woman, being a wife—any of it.
Many Protestant churches offer a general confession, where parishioners admit and confess their specific sins to God in their heart, and the priest offers the Protestant version of "absolution." This option exists in the Catholic church as well, but it is rarely offered. I believe many more souls would actually confess and repent of their sins if this option were offered, because it preserves the dignity and modesty of the individual. I personally feel that this is particularly true in the case of young girls, although any demographic may have serious issues with confessing to a priest, for many reasons.
In my prayer and study I begin to know Jesus as the One who is with us in these dark times—the continual process of sanctification—and He is with us whether we sinned two minutes ago or two years ago. God is God of the desert as well as God of the mountaintop.