Body piercing and Confessing past sins

The morality of body piercing

Q. I am the mother of three girls, ages 17, 15 and 11. Our two older girls have been asking permission to have their navels pierced. For now, my husband has told them "no," but he has promised to reassess once the girls have taken the time to present to him a list of "pros and cons."

Is there anything in Catholic teaching that opposes body piercing? The girls are straight-A students and participate in Life Teen (which is a Eucharist-based program of youth ministry). They say they want the piercing because it "looks nice." I'm not opposed to it, but I'd like to know first what the church thinks. (Murrells Inlet, S.C.)

A. The Catholic Church has no fixed position on body piercing. The church does, of course, prohibit mutilation (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2297), but that really means altering the functioning of a body part, for example, plucking out an eye or cutting off a finger.

The catechism also says that "life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God" and that "we must take reasonable care of them." Caution would preclude using dirty needles that might cause bodily infection. As to your daughters' view that a pierced navel "looks nice," I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Anyhow, you didn't ask my opinion on that!

Q. Some weeks ago, when explaining the concept of a general confession, you said in your column, "Surely any serious sin not already forgiven should be mentioned."

Please tell me what I should do. I am 75 years old and have been a Catholic all my life. I first married a Catholic girl in a church wedding, but after 23 years we were divorced.

I then met another Catholic girl, and we were married in a civil ceremony. Sometime later, we both had our first marriages annulled by the church and were married in a Catholic service.

Now comes the troubling part.

After our annulments were granted, we met with our parish priest in his office. He asked whether we would like to go to confession. I was uncomfortable doing this with my wife present (and I know that she was, too). I told the priest the things I had done wrong that my wife already knew about, but I skipped some of the really bad sins from years gone by. The priest said that all of our sins were forgiven.

My wife and I go to church every Sunday and during holy days and receive Communion. But I've always wondered whether I need to confess the sins that I skipped over that day in our pastor's office. A couple of years ago, at my Easter confession, I asked a retired priest about this, and he said not to worry because those sins had already been forgiven.

Please give me some advice. (My current parish priest knows me well, and I'd rather not ask him about this.) (Central Wisconsin)

A. First, let me say that what the parish priest did in his office - invite you and your wife to confess your sins together - is irregular and unwise. The whole point of the sacred seal of confession is to give penitents the confidence that only the priest and God have heard their sins and that the priest is strictly prohibited from disclosing them.

Having said this, it is still true that in nearly every circumstance, serious sins must be confessed to a priest. In speaking of the sacrament of penance, the church's Code of Canon Law says, "A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism" (No. 988).

In practice, an exception may be granted by a priest to someone with an overly scrupulous conscience who shows the required contrition but has great difficulty distinguishing the relative gravity of sins. (For that particular individual, a specific recitation of sins might be upsetting and virtually endless.)

It's possible that the retired priest to whom you made your Easter confession made that judgment in your regard, dispensed you from the "integrity" of confession and absolved you of any past sins in that same Easter confession.

Since you have already done your duty by bringing your question to a priest in confession and have been assured of forgiveness, I would say that the prudent thing to do is to look forward, not back, and to continue as you are, worshipping God, praying each day and living the Christian life.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970