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Against Confession: On Intersectional Feminism, Radical Catholicism, and Redefining Remorse

Laura Goode | Longreads | January 2017 | 23 minutes (5,818 words)


In the last formal confession I remember having delivered, I sat face-to-face in the room with a priest: the confessional booth and screen, while useful for dramatic staging in mob cinema, has mostly fallen out of the contemporary Catholic architecture. I was 10 or 12, and mostly absorbed the time with meditations on curse words and disobedience to my mother, too skittish to relieve myself of what I knew to be my more impure concerns, those having to do with other people’s private parts. There was nothing remarkable about this last confession, except for my discomfort with its blocking: why did God suppose that I, a young girl, facing this elder male stranger alone, would feel safe enough to truly unburden myself, or to be relieved by such an unburdening? After this event, I gratefully allied myself with my father’s discomfort with the sacrament—he has always felt a license to improvise within the choreography of the sacraments that my more faithful mother eschews—and I would not confess.

I was a senior in high school in suburban Minneapolis in 2002, when The Boston Globe published the sea-changing evidence of rampant sex abuse, and institutional harboring of abusers, within the Catholic church. One shudders to imagine a readier justification to depart from one’s own native faith, and the fact that it arrived in my defiant throes of late adolescence only accelerated my exit out the papal door. Catholicism was guilty of cloaking the wolf, so I would no longer call myself a Catholic. I traipsed off to college prepared to locate and adopt a more unimpeachable moral code, as convinced as any other 18-year-old that I was in possession of some sacred and unique ethical ambition absent from my parents.

Tellingly, since relieving myself of the formal sacrament of reconciliation, I have pursued no dialectical gesture more compulsively than the informal “confession.” Especially in those tender, feckless years that begin adulthood, I have always apprenticed myself to my own peccadillos, constantly working them over in thought, diary and conversation; I am constantly forcing myself to think, write, or speak at least some of the feelings and behaviors that disturb me the most. I am the partygoer forever in pursuit of the inappropriate comment everyone else is thinking. I am the stranger who will tell you the secret she’s never told anyone else; I can keep any secret but my own. Sometimes I inflect it with humor, sometimes rue; here, candor, there, shock value. I fetishize the intimacy of revelation between unlikely interlocutors. I am no evangelist, but O! paradox enamors me. Read more…