During the diocesan assembly in Moscow on December 20, 2019, His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, encouraged clergymen to separate confession from a spiritual conversation, and also to not invade marital relations unceremoniously.
“Pastoral attention is primarily the ability to listen and understand a person. Today the loss of precisely this ability is, one can say, a sign of our times. This is not the first time we have to speak about the need to separate confession from a spiritual conversation, especially if such conversation is made during a divine service. Moreover, even experienced and respected clergymen tend to unacceptably expand the place of confession in church life and give it functions that absolutely cannot be characteristic of it,” said the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Patriarch explained that “confession should only serve the matter of reconciliation between a person who sinned and God”.
“It is unacceptable to make confession a means of inquiry or supervision, psychotherapy, overcoming conflicts or anything else. A priest listening to a confession should at this moment, to put it this way, lay aside all his functions – a mentor, guide, friend, interlocutor – all except one: a witness to human repentance,” His Holiness Patriarch Kirill stressed.
He is convinced that the space of the Sacrament of Confession “should not become a place of satisfying one’s interest in someone else’s life”.
“I would especially like to warn our pastors against taking excessive interest in sins against the 7th commandment. It is unacceptable. You need to trust the free testimony of a person’s conscience and preserve the fragile vessel of human chastity. Indeed, it already undergoes too many tests these days. Some people perhaps disagree and believe that there are no forbidden topics during a confession, but actually there are, especially in the field which is the place of exclusive competence of a husband and wife, the matter of the internal life of their union. Nobody should intrude into this area. Unceremonious intervention will inevitably do harm. Healing the inflicted wound can sadly be very difficult,” said Patriarch Kirill.
The Primate of the Russian Church noted the need for “reasonable detachment and maintaining that distance in communication with the flock which allows a clergyman to freely proclaim God’s truth to people, without being bound by the conventions of ordinary earthly relationships between people”.
“The presence of a certain distance will also protect from the emergence of unnecessary addictions and personal dependencies in the relations between the pastor and the flock, which, as we know, can darken church life and even lead to a shipwreck in the faith (see 1 Tim. 1:19),” said His Holiness Patriarch Kirill.