Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Pastoral Psychology. (Journal File)

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Pastoral Psychology. (Journal File)

Article excerpt

Kettunen, P. (2002)

The function of confession: A study based on experiences

Vol. 51(1), 13-25

This study examined individuals' experiences of confession obtained by means of voluntary response to questions printed in Finland newspapers. Eight forms of confession were identified including: confession of sins committed prior to conversion; confession as a continual practice; confession of concrete sins with an expectation of holistic psychological healing; pastoral confession involving exploration of causes; distal confession via telephone or letter; private, corporate confession of sin during church services; liturgical confession; and confession directly to God.

Confessors expected listeners to be trustworthy and able to empathize and help them feel accepted. They identified the relationship between confessor and listener as the means through which help was experienced. Confessors reported a greater degree of relief when the sins confessed were unambiguous trespasses and when their sense of guilt resulted from these instances. However, when absolution was pronounced for inexplicable or chronic guilt, anxiety, mental disorders, conflictual relationships, or injustice, confessors reported an increase of guilt feelings. The author proposes that this negative result occurs when absolution falsely labels an act or feeling as sin, often resulting in its attempted denial, eventual reoccurrence, and perpetuation of guilt.

The author argues that individuals who hear confession often overgeneralize the concepts of sin and guilt and suggests that they attend more closely to the psychological experience of confessors. The author differentiates between forgiveness and mercy and between guilt and shame in order to facilitate such sensitivity. According to the author, true guilt results from circumscribed acts for which forgiveness can be obtained. Shame, however, is defined as a view of the self as fundamentally bad, which cannot be absolved but requires an experience of mercy to combat confessors' beliefs that they are unacceptable. The author argues that this distinction between forgiveness and mercy can result in the development of more mature consciences in both clergy and congregation, resulting in decreased regressive needs to rely on external authority and increased internalized convictions. …

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