What’s the most common transgression people feel guilty about? Sex, of course. Now, in a controversial new French book, Catholic clergymen unveil some surprising intimate details
The Guardian- You did what? A priest hears confession. Photograph: Syldavia/Getty Images/iStockphoto (posed by models)
Age: 1,000 years old.
Uh-oh, someone’s been watching Fleabag again. Of course I’ve been watching Fleabag again. Fleabag is great. But this is about actual confession.
Wait, it’s a real thing? Of course it’s a real thing. The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is a central tenet of the Catholic church, allowing believers to relieve themselves of the burden of shame and experience the healing power of God’s love.
What sort of shame do they tend to relieve themselves of? Sex stuff, mainly.
Go on. At least in France, anyway, where it is estimated that up to 70% of confessions are related to some aspect of sex, be it infidelity, use of sex workers or addiction to pornography. It is apparently quite repetitive for priests to sit through.
So it’s just loads of men admitting their dirty secrets? Not at all. According to one priest: “There’s parity, believe me”. Another said: “I often hear: ‘I am cheating on my husband because I am not sexually satisfied by him, so I make up for it with others.’”
Now, hang on a minute. I think I know where this is going.
Isn’t one of the central strands of confession that the contents of what is said is kept private? Why are priests suddenly mouthing off to newspapers about everyone’s most shameful secrets? I knew it. Relax. Nobody is mouthing off to newspapers.
Oh, phew, OK. They wrote a book about it instead.
What!? It’s called I Forgive You All Your Sins, written by Vincent Mongaillard. It’s a collection of stories from 40 anonymous clergymen about what happens during confession.
Isn’t that, you know, a profound betrayal? Oh, pipe down. They’re anonymous. And, by the sound of it, the contents of the confessions are so dreary and repetitive that nobody would ever be able to identify themselves from what is written in the book.
OK, that’s good. Except for what Father Cédric said in his bit.
Wait, what did he say? He said that once a couple in their 50s took turns confessing. The woman went first and revealed that she had been cheating on her husband with a male friend of the couple. Then the man confessed that he had also been cheating on his wife with a male friend of the couple. It turns out that they were both having it off with the same man.
That’s very specific. I am starting to think that Father Cédric shouldn’t be trusted. Well, he did finish his anecdote by saying “I had trouble not laughing”, so maybe you have a point. Still, fun book.
Do say: “May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins.”
Don’t say: “I blabbed all your secrets to a stranger for a book deal.”