How far will reporters go to get a juicy story: How low will they go? How many rules will they break? How many sacred cows will they make into hamburger? Reporter Riccardo Bocca of L'Espresso is attracting worldwide attention from Catholic media outlets and bloggers. Bocca stealthily visited confessionals at 24 Catholic churches in Rome, Turin, Naples, Milan and Palermo, and lied to each priest he visited, manufacturing false confessions for various sins. He said he wanted to show the disparity between what the church teaches and what priests do. Would they conform to Catholic teaching or slip out of orthodoxy to show sympathy? Bocca found priests who would step away from orthodoxy, although not on abortion.
Fox News explained that the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, was furious: "Shame! There is no other word to express our distress toward an operation that was disgusting, worthless, disrespectful and particularly offensive," the Vatican's paper said in an editorial headlined "Fake confessions in search of a shameful scoop." (Philip Pullella at Reuters also had a story.) I can't imagine even many "secular progressive" reporters finding it ethical to lie your face off in a supposedly sacred ritual.
Catholic blogger Mark Shea headlined his post From our "Take Off 50 IQ Points Whenever the Press Talks about Religion" File. His take is just as sharp as the headline:
So some jackass reporter goes around to different churches, lies about various sins and ethical conundrums in the confessional, gets 24 different pieces of advice from 24 priests and then compares them to what he calls the "official teaching" of the Church. Then he writes a "Gotcha" article which proves that priests are not computers dispensing dogmatic formulae, but shepherds who, within their varying abilities and limits, try to mercifully help struggling people do the best they can in living up the admittedly hard ideals of the Faith. Of course, he doesn't realize that's what he proves. He *thinks* he's proving that the Catholic Faith is crap, which shows what a jackass he is.
He also proves that he is a liar and a jerk, not to mention a blasphemer. I generally think it unwise to try to learn the truth about plumbing from liars, much less the truth about something weighty like a religion. I also think it unwise to try to learn the Catholic faith from people who neither understand nor believe it.
Absolution in the Christian Church was instituted by Jesus Christ. Through it, a penitent receives forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. In the Catholic Church, one of the elements of the sacrament of penance is that the penitent presents himself to a priest and accuses himself of sins. In Catholic teaching, it is necessary that penitents be truly sorrowful for their sins.
For Catholics, it’s not just about “telling of one’s sins.” Without sincere sorrow and a resolve to make amends, confession avails nothing, the absolution has no effect and the guilt of the sinner is greater than before.
So Bocca will have a lot to talk about with a priest should he ever desire to make an honest confession.
What’s frustrating is how irresponsibly Bocca and his paper used their power. They hoped to incite and inflame rather than edify and inform. The premise for the article was interesting and valid. The means by which the reporter researched the story were unethical and unnecessary.
Exactly. Orthodox Christians and especially Catholics would be interested in how priests and bishops would split from the Church -- in public speeches or in response to journalistic inquiries -- but not by violating the confessional seal with scummy falsehoods and even scummier reporting.