Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Dark Box

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Dark Box

Article excerpt

THE DARK BOX

By John Cornwell (Basic Books, 2014)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

John Cornwell normally subscribes to the conspiratorial school of Catholicism, as demonstrated by his books Hitler's Pope and A Thief in the Night. So when I picked up his new book, The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession, imagine my surprise when I found in its pages a lucid and honest history of the development of sacramental confession, plus some rather balanced observations on its uses and abuses.

If the book has a weakness, it is that Cornwell in his recitations seems to be falling into the very error that he accuses confessors of: an over-emphasis on the sexual. Cornwell makes a point that, for many youngsters, it was in their preparation for first confession that they encountered a sexual vocabulary they were unprepared to deal with. Imagine a confessor asking, "Have you been touching yourself?" to a youngster who wondered what in the world the priest meant.

Cornwell does not make a good case that the sexual abuse of youngsters was the result of solicitation in the confessional, and the historical figures don't support that thesis. …

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