Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
27. Reasons Excusing from Complete Accusation.
In the preceding paragraph we said that sins may be omitted by the penitent without the confession becoming sacrilegious. As there are reasons which can justify such silence, and release the penitent from the obligation of confessing the sins of which he is conscious, we devote this paragraph to the consideration of these reasons.
I. No difficulty in the confession itself or internally connected with it ever excuses from making a complete accusation; for when Christ gave the precept that all grievous sins should be confessed to His representatives in the tribunal of penance, He intended that we should submit to the difficulties inherent in such an accusation and bear them as a penance for our sins, and this discipline is very wholesome for the penitent.
A difficulty of this kind would be, for instance, the great shame felt in confessing a sin, even if it came only from the fact of mentioning it to this or that particular priest; the course then to be adopted is to put off the confession, or to go to another confessor, or to be brave and overcome the shame. This difficulty was recognized in the Council of Trent, and hence it was declared that the difficulty of such a (perfect and candid) confession and the shame of declaring one's sins might well seem great obstacles, but that they were counterbalanced by the consolation and profit accruing to those who received the Sacrament worthily. 81 The same may be said of the other difficulties, such as the fear of losing the esteem of one's confessor or of receiving a rebuke from him. If such reasons as these could be held to justify a want of integrity in the accusation, the faithful for the most part would consider themselves at liberty to make incomplete confessions, and the great object for which this Sacrament had been instituted would to a great extent be frustrated.
Likewise, a large gathering of penitents (concursus magnus poenitentiam) on the occasion of a great feast or indulgence is never a reason for want of integrity in confession, for this is not a case of necessity and it would expose the priest to the risk of giving absolution to ill-disposed subjects. Nor can exception be made to the rule of integrity because people might conjecture from the time taken in the confessional that the penitent had committed very many sins.
Besides the case of physical impossibility, however, there are others which justify an incomplete avowal of sin; they are in general such external or accidental difficulties in connection with the confession which render a complete accusation morally impossible, or involve grave harm to the penitent or the confessor. When the impediment no longer exists the law of God comes again into force; the moral impossibility of making a complete confession does not altogether cancel the duty of making it, but only suspends it, since the precept of confession is not one that is confined to any fixed time or state, but extends over one's lifetime; hence mortal sins which have not been confessed must be mentioned later when opportunity offers.