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Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor believes that Confession is in need of significant reform and should be discussed at a special synod on the sacraments.
The Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster has called for “proper reform to the sacrament” and says Confession has not received “serious reflection by any authoritative people within the Church” despite declining numbers of Catholics making use of the sacrament.
The remarks come in a private letter to the Cambridge academic and author John Cornwell, who is campaigning for a ban on childhood Confession and who sent the cardinal a new book he has written on the sacrament.
Mr Cornwell, who says he was the victim as a boy of sexual solicitation by a confessor, has written an open letter to Pope Francis calling for a ban.
A spokeswoman for the cardinal stressed that he was not endorsing an end to childhood Confession, had not read Mr Cornwell’s book when he replied to the author, and in no way associated himself with the letter to the Pope.
The spokeswoman told The Tablet the issue should be discussed by bishops from around the world. “The cardinal believes that Confession could be considered as a topic for an Episcopal Synod on Sacramental Life. [He] thinks there needs to be much serious reflection in the Church as to why people are not going to Confession and what would encourage them to return to the Sacrament.”
Mr Cornwell, who wrote about Confession for The Tablet in August 2012, estimates that 40 per cent of paedophile offences within the Church around the world have occurred “under the auspices of Confession”.
Accounts of the alleged widespread abuse of children in Confession are collected in a new book by the author, The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession, which is published on 20 February.
Photo: CNS/Gregory A Shemitz