Forgive Me Father: The Sacrament of Confession as a Means to Control and Debauch Young Girls and Women

  • Diana Peschier

Abstract

The perpetrators of anti-Catholic ideology in the nineteenth century were prompted by a particular set of anxieties concerning the wives and daughters of English, Protestant men, who allowed themselves to be deceived and seduced by effeminate, reptilian, Catholic priests. Reptilian because the Catholic priest was often compared with snakes and other reptiles. This is an extended image of the priest as the Devil in the guise of the serpent in the Garden of Eden which is employed to illustrate his deadly cunning. Danger was perceived to be lurking in the dark recesses of the Catholic confessional and the key to the hearts and minds of innocent English women was to be found in specific beliefs surrounding the female psyche. Jules Michelet, writing in 1846, makes the unequivocal observation that women, in particular wives, confess not to wood, ‘the black oak of the old confessional’, but to a man of flesh and blood: ‘and this man now knows of this woman more than even her husband in their long intercourse by day and by night.2 The priest is viewed as dangerous because he ‘has her secret’ and he will never forget it. Michelet believes that women, because of their modesty, are originally unwilling to speak to the priest and yet they speak inspite of themselves because they are ‘fascinated like the bird by the serpent’.3 He writes about the confessing woman having two husbands, one who has her soul and the other her body

Keywords

Burning Europe Dine Verse Leprosy 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Jules Michelet, Priests Women and Families (London: Charles Edmonds, 1846), p. 47.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See Kate Flint, The Woman Reader 1837–1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 36.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    Rev. Andrew Thomson, A Course of Lectures on Popery, Delivered in Edinburgh 1851 (Edinburgh and London: Johnstone and Hunter, 1851), pp. 265–6.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, pp. 138–45. For a more detailed discussion of this, see Kate Soper’s essay ‘Positive Contradictions’, in Caroline Ramazanoglu, ed., Up Against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions between Foucault and Feminism (London: Routledge, 1993), chapter 2, pp. 29–50.Google Scholar
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    See Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady Women, Madness and English Culture 1830–1980 (London: Virago, 1987), chapter 3. Managing Women’s Minds.Google Scholar
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    Rev. Charles Brigham, The Enormities of the Confessional (London: Richards, 1839), especially pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    J.G. Millingen, Mind and Matter, Illustrated by Considerations on Hereditary Insanity and the Influence of Temperament in the Development of the Passions (1847), p. 157. Quoted in Kate Flint, The Woman Reader 1837–1914, p. 57.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    George Spencer and William Riland Bedford, The Indelicacy of Auricular Confession as Practised by the Roman Catholic Church (Birmingham: William Hoggets, 1837), p. 26.Google Scholar
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    William Hogan, Auricular Confession and Popish Nunneries (London and Liverpool: G.B. Dyer and Edward Howell, 1846), pp. 34–7.Google Scholar
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    Chiniquy, The Priest, the Woman and the Confessional (London: W.T. Gibson, 1878), p. 8.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    Robert Steele, The Priest in the Confessional (London: The Author, 1887), p. 15.Google Scholar
  12. 49.
    William Hogan, Auricular Confession and Popish Nunneries (1846), p. 37.Google Scholar
  13. 50.
    Catherine Sinclair, Beatrice or the Unknown Relatives (London: Richard Bentley, 1852), preface, pp. xiii–xiv.Google Scholar
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    Frederick Edwards, Inez, a Spanish Story Founded on Facts, Illustrating One of the Many Evils of Auricular Confession (Lyme: W. Landray, 1829), p. 18. Canto 1 xvii and Canto 1 xvi, pp. 31 and 34.Google Scholar
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    Eliza Smith, The Progress of Beguilement to Romanism: A Personal Narrative [sic] (London: Seeleys, 1850), p. 10.Google Scholar

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© Diana Peschier 2005

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  • Diana Peschier

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