[Readings] Diary of a Country's Priest, By Vincent Mongaillard | Harper's MagazineTranslated by Max Norman | Harper's Magazine

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Diary of a Country’s Priest


From Je vous pardonne tous vos péchés, a collection of French priests’ observations about the sacrament of confession. The book was published in March by Éditions de l’Opportun. The following accounts are from a priest named Father Cédric. Translated from the French.

Confession is the most boring thing in the world.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched the rise of individualism: “I’m the captain of the ship”; “I don’t need anyone”; “I wanted to put my colleague in his place.” At the bottom of all that is pride, the sin of the devil.

I met a lady who told me, “I come to confession every week, but today I don’t have anything to tell you. I didn’t do anything bad, but I’d like to be forgiven anyway.” I refused: to me, that’s pride. She left and then tried her luck with the priest across the way.

When it comes to kleptomania, a true disease, I can’t take the confession. It’s impossible for me to pardon someone who isn’t aware of his sin as he performs it.

I’ve gotten admissions of incest, often from people at the end of their lives. Thirty or forty years after the actions that ruined the lives of their entire family, they confess. I’ve always wanted to punch them in the face.

When I was a prison chaplain, an inmate asked me for confession. He had killed someone and admitted his crime. He asked for God’s pardon. I gave him absolution. But a few months later, I learned that he had pleaded “not guilty” in court and that he had been exonerated. I took this acquittal very badly; I felt, and I still feel, an enormous disgust. I’d been had. I couldn’t say anything without being excommunicated. For precisely this kind of case, we should wait six months before giving the sacrament of reconciliation.

Once, when I was a young priest, a couple in their fifties waited in front of the confessional. I started with the lady. She confessed to me that she’d been cheating on her husband with a man, a friend of the couple. Then it was the man’s turn, and he admitted that he’d been cheating on his wife with a man, also a friend of the couple. I realized as he spoke that it was the same guy. The man was sleeping with his wife’s lover. It wasn’t easy to keep from bursting into laughter.

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