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Discussion 1 to Meditation 738
More a solution to problems created by doctrine

by: Rev. Nick Rockers

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It occurs to me that the problems with the rules for papal absolution are not due to an inability to distinguish the severity of sins, but instead stand as a solution to problems created by doctrines that have nothing to do with sin.  I’m not suggesting this as an excuse for the priority problems that you point out (I come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him), but to give everyone a better understanding of why they exist.  In essence, only allowing the Pope to pardon these sins is a logical solution, given the doctrines that they have to work with, and that the idea of these sins being more heinous than others is simply incorrect.

Defiling the Eucharist/Attempting to Assassinate the Pope

These sins are more about the symbolism than the actual crime.  Really, spitting out a cracker isn’t as despicable as murder, and the murder of one good person isn’t more horrifying than the murder of another good person.  Both the Eucharist and the pope are representations of the church themselves.  The entire belief system is based on symbolic reference points (as is any religious belief system), so these sins are representational of a direct attack on the abstract entity of the Catholic Church itself.  And I believe these crimes carry with them intent.  Committing them is a declaration that the sinner flat-out no longer believes in the Church’s doctrines and rejects them violently, which carries the punishment of automatic excommunication (similar to having oneself ordained in a non-Christian faith – I’ve been automatically thrown out on the technicality of being ordained by the UCTAA).  For any excommunication, only the Pope can reverse it.

Breaking the seal of confession:

Internal Church business, indeed.  It’s also betrayal of a covenant between the priest and God.  The problem is that confession is one of those Holy Sacraments that cannot, must not be tampered with, because that suggests tampering with the Church itself (again, according to that unbreakable Church doctrine).  For the same reason a priest would be kicked out of the priesthood for getting married, a priest is excommunicated for breaking confession, because instead of just his own Sacrament, he’s fouled someone else’s, too.  Unfortunately, the child-molesting issues that have plagued the Church are all because of this rule, and because the Catholic Church is incredibly slow to change.  Chastity isn’t a sacrament; it’s a personal vow that all priests take.  Who the priest has sex with is irrelevant in the eyes of a medieval God (especially during a time when arranged marriages to 12 year-old girls was commonplace).  This rule could certainly use some updating.  But then the priest, even a bishop, hearing a sex confession is stuck in a conundrum.  According to the rules, he has to risk being excommunicated for revealing the confession of a pedophile priest, no matter how revolting he finds the crime.  My personal instincts are to tell someone as soon as possible, but a priest, like a soldier “just following orders,” is trained not to question the rules or the authority dictating them.

Offering absolution to one's own sexual partner:

This is too close to hearing and absolving oneself for one’s own sins.  Even the Pope doesn’t have the authority to do that.  The bigger issue here, though, is a priest falling into a cycle of sleeping with a parishioner and absolving them for it over and over again.  Again, it’s a bastardization of someone else’s Sacrament, and therefore only pardonable by the Pope.

Participating in an abortion and then wanting to be a priest:

This is the only rule that has no doctrinal precedent.  It’s downright laughable.  Politics within the Church have put this rule in place and there is no need for it in order for the rest of the doctrine to function.

You’re right that the problem with these sins is the underlying theology, but they’re not based on severity of the crime for the acts themselves.  They’re the result of logic problems that occur when that theology is practiced.  I saw these sins talked about in the media, and their reference to them as “the most heinous crimes” was media sensationalism.  That’s not why these rules are here.  Still, it’s a terribly screwed up system; even most Catholics would agree that the Church’s priorities are all wrong.