‘Tablet’ blog : Homosexuality and The Confessional

  • Blogs:  Refused absolution because of my gay relationship
  • 31 October 2014 by Aaron Saunderson-Cross

The Feast of St John Paul II was like any other day and it was not unusual for me to make a mid-week confession; I knelt in silent prayer before the tabernacle before creeping into the wooden confessional at the back of the Church; I detailed the familiar naughtiness and ended with a general confession regarding the sins of my relationship.

I’m a 29-year-old year old gay man in an eight-year relationship and All Saints’ Day marks the Fifth Anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church.

For the first time ever, the priest refused me absolution. The experience left me angered, saddened and confused.

I accept the irregularity of my situation as existing outside of the Church’s normative structures of family life and yet I am resolved, by God’s grace in the life of “complete continence” (Familiaris Consortia 84), to live out my call to holiness as detailed in Lumen Gentium.

It is always difficult when visiting a new confessor and language so often fails in our feeble attempts to give a full account of the complexity of our lives: in negotiating how to communicate the resolution of chastity with the reality of weekly failure I wonder whether the poor priest I visited that evening mistook my amendment for Sebastian Flyte’s Augustinian lament: “O God, make me good, but not yet”. I was quite prepared for a pious grumble about “cheap grace”.

The refusal to absolve me that evening and the reproach of my relationship as an occasion of sin belongs to a conservative narrative that thinks of homosexuality principally in terms of Cardinal Ratzinger’s “objective disorder”. So to “come out” is always to announce one’s sin: the love, care, and bonds of affection that are Providential in our redemption are less important to the homophobic mind than the presumption of our genital transgressions.

This presumption of gay sin is inimical to St Paul’s dogmatic assertion that we are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) and is an injustice to the “theology of hospitality” set out in the Synod’s midway Relatio post disceptationem: the same theology that Cardinal Vincent Nichols characterised in his BBC Radio 4 interview as “respect”, “welcome” and “value” and which I believe are the hallmarks of a pastoral language of mercy towards gay folk and their relationships in the Church.

I returned to that priest the next afternoon. He distinguished between being refused and deferred absolution, yet this distinction failed to acknowledge my relationship – in Cardinal Peter Erdo’s words from the recent Synod – in the “light of the law of graduality” which Cardinal Nichols explains is a “law of pastoral moral theology which permits people, all of us, to take one step at a time in our search for holiness in our lives.” The grace of sacramental absolution is “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24) and necessary to the mental health of gay Catholics who labour in faith to integrate their lives to the perfect will of God.

I returned to confession and absolution this afternoon with my principal confessor, yet I fear that politicising absolution will serve to destroy the faith of those gay Catholics who, in the words of Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” line on gays, “seek God and have good will”.

Aaron Saunderson-Cross is a lay Catholic and a lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies

Editor’s note: Given the absolute confidentiality priests observe with regard to confession, we are unable to ask the priest who denied absolution to this blogger the reasons for his decision.

Above: The Vatican has been encouraging Catholics to rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Pope Francis surprised onlookers by making his confession during a penitential liturgy. Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters


This homosexual penitent, while recognising his status as being contrary to the perfection enjoined upon us all by God and the Church, felt duty-bound to enumerate his  routine faults and failings in auricular confession before a priest of the Roman Catholic Church.

Because of his Church’s  official condemnation of his situation, he still feels the need to confess his fallen state in the confessional. Of course, it stands to reason that, if you are still convinced that what you are doing in your relationship is ‘SIN’, then, for a practising Catholic, this is what you do.

However, as the penitent here gives evidence, his recitals of misdemeanors – normally met with the grace of sacramental Absolution by his usual Confessor – were, on this particular occasion, met with a refusal to grant the accustomed Absolution, seemingly on account of the fact that the person concerned was in a long-term relationship with his partner.

The Sacrament of Confession  – certainly in an Anglican situation – is reserved, normally, for those ‘grave sins’ that need to be confessed, as being a barrier to the pre-venient grace that comes with Absolution of such sins. In today’s climate of a better understanding of Same-Sex relationships, very few Confessors would refuse absolution to the confession of intimacy within  a committed, monogamous, long-term relationship – whether hetero- of homosexual.

I, personally, as a priest of ACAANZP, would be hard-put to refuse absolution for any person who came to me to confess their intimate goings-on in an ordered, monogamous relationship. In fact, to me, such activity should be adequately covered by a simple and reverent acknowledgement of our common human frailty in the order of the ‘General Confession’ provided in the Eucharistic Liturgy. This is then met with the Absolution given by the priest in the liturgical format.

What I am ever mindful of – in the situation of auricular confession – is that the priest is always bound to ask of the Penitent: “And pray for me, a Sinner!

Jesu, mercy; Mary, pray!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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