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The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession…
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The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession

by John Cornwell

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A very clear history of how the sacrament of Confession evolved over the centuries. When it moved into a private one-on-one setting it opened the door to all sorts of perverse exploitation of the penitents. The problem was magnified in the early 20th century when Pope Pius X lowered the confession age from the early teens to age 7 or even younger. Both boys and girls were sexually vulnerable to priest predators.
It also covers seminary training under the edicts of Pius, training which made for an alienated priest culture with a medieval mindset for much of the 20th century. A distinct feature of such alienation was the ability of priests to compartmentalize their abuse of children, and of course, confess their sins to other priests or members of the church hierarchy who were complicit in such depravity by their silence; or as he witnessed in recent decades, even mounting legal and media assaults on the victim.
A truly sordid narrative of an institution that unleashed immoral agents in the attempt to impose restrictive and unrealistic moral guidelines. ( )
  VGAHarris | Jan 19, 2015 |
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A bestselling journalist exposes the connection between the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis and the practice of confession. Confession is a crucial ritual of the Catholic Church, offering absolution of sin and spiritual guidance to the faithful. Yet this ancient sacrament has also been a source of controversy and oppression, culminating, as prize-winning historian John Cornwell reveals in The Dark Box, with the scandal of clerical child abuse. Drawing on extensive historical sources, contemporary reports, and first-hand accounts, Cornwell takes a hard look at the long evolution of confession. The papacy made annual, one-on-one confession obligatory for the first time in the 13th century. In the era that followed, confession was a source of spiritual consolation as well as sexual and mercenary scandal. During the 16th century, the Church introduced the confession box to prevent sexual solicitation of women, but this private space gave rise to new forms of temptation, both for penitents and confessors. Yet no phase in the story of the sacrament has had such drastic consequences as a historic decree by Pope Pius X in 1910. In reaction to the spiritual perils of the new century, Pius sought to safeguard the Catholic faithful by lowering the age at which children made their first confession from their early teens to seven, while exhorting all Catholics to confess frequently instead of annually. This sweeping, inappropriately early imposition of the sacrament gave priests an unprecedented and privileged role in the lives of young boys and girls -- a role that a significant number would exploit in the decades that followed. A much-needed account of confession's fraught history, The Dark Box explores the sources of the sacrament's harm and shame, while recognizing its continuing power to offer consolation and reconciliation. - Publisher.Confession is a crucial ritual of the Catholic Church, offering absolution of sin and spiritual guidance to the faithful. Yet this ancient sacrament has also been a source of controversy and oppression, culminating, as prize-winning historian John Cornwell reveals in The Dark Box, with the scandal of clerical child abuse. Drawing on extensive historical sources, contemporary reports, and first-hand accounts, Cornwell takes a hard look at the long evolution of confession.… (more)

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