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The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession [Kindle Edition]

John Cornwell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Would you tell your deepest secrets to a relative stranger? And if you did, would you feel vulnerable? Cleansed? Or perhaps even worse than you did before?

Confession has always performed a complex role in society, always created mixed feelings in its practitioners. As an acknowledgement of sinfulness, it can provide immense psychological relief; but while aiming to replace remorse with innocence, its history has become inextricably intertwined with eroticism and shame.

The Dark Box is an erudite and personal history; Cornwell draws on his own memories of Catholic boyhood, and weaves it with the story of confession from its origins in the early church to the current day, where its enduring psychological potency is evidenced by everything from the Vatican's 'confession app' to Oprah Winfrey's talk shows. Since the 16th century, seclusion of two individuals in the intimate 'dark box', often discussing sexual actions and thoughts, has eroticised the experience of confession. When, in 1905, Pius X made confession a weekly, rather than yearly ritual, the horrific cases of child abuse which have haunted the Catholic church in the twentieth century became possible.

John Cornwell's impassioned treatise on the dangers of confession is now available in paperback.

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The Dark Box is a major contribution to the Catholic church's examination of conscience about the roots and circumstances of sexual abuse. (Eamon Duffy The Guardian 2014-02-08)

The Dark Box is a heartfelt mixture of history, theology and memoir that feels like one of John Cornwell's most important works. Even Pope Francis could learn something from it. (Andrew Lynch Sunday Business Post 2014-02-02)

It's a powerful and disturbing addition to the literature on the subject, and lays bare the dysfunctional nature of a church which has still come nowhere near to facing its own self-inflicted demons. (Irish Independent 2014-02-15)

The subject is a very important one and I am glad you have tackled it. The extraordinary change with regard to the sacrament and its regular use is something that seems to have happened without serious reflection by any authoritative people in the church. So I am sure your study will help in a process of reflection that should continue in the years ahead... proper reform of the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation is necessary so that people are not deprived of its benefits. (Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster)

Far from being merely a history of the Catholic sacrament of confession, his book is a meticulously researched, carefully wrought and quietly furious anathema upon the Catholic Church as constituted from the Council of Trent in the 16th century up to the present day. (John Banville Financial Times 2014-02-15)

John Cornwell has genuinely interesting things to say about confession. (Melanie McDonagh Evening Standard)

The Dark Box is a powerful, impassioned treatise about the dangers of confession. (Catheriine Peppinster The Observer 2014-02-23)

I found myself persuaded by his central thesis. The Catholic church has a sex obsession that is powered by enforced celibacy, and this sex obsession sometimes finds a perverse outlet in the dark box of confession. (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday 2014-02-23)

Cornwell is a humane man with a sharp intellect. (Christopher Howse The Telegraph 2014-03-01)

John Cornwell, who has himself chosen cautiously to return to the Church which did him some very bad turns in his youth, has much to tell it, as it seeks to find a new way forward. (Diarmaid Macculloch Literary Review 2014-03-01)

The Dark Box is a book that anyone concerned with the future of the Catholic Church should take very seriously. (Peter Marshall TLS 2014-03-28)

Deeply felt, important and powerfully expressed. (Frank Cottrell Boyce New Statesman 2014-04-04)

Book Description

The sacred and profane history of confession in the Catholic Church, with a shocking new exposé of its role in the child abuse scandals of the twentieth century.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 537 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (13 Feb. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #163,790 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scary, Shocking, Liberating and True 1 April 2014
John Cornwell is true to form with this intense yet highly readable history of confession. Like his other works it is extremely well-researched, a fascinating read, with very believable conclusions. He begins with a concise yet thorough history of the theory and practice of confession in the Catholic Church. The single reviewer who tagged this book an attack on the Church has obviously no awareness of the well documented history of confession. Cornwell's connection between the clergy sexual abuse phenomenon and confession is piercing and insightful...and true. His account of the contemporary history of the gradual demise of confession and the juxtaposition of the recent popes' unsuccessful and unrealistic attempts to shore it up and return it to its former place of prominence with the realities of the real world is spot on. Those who still carry emotional and spiritual scars from their Catholic past should read The Dark Box. It will not only be enlightening but liberating.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflections on Confession 23 Jun. 2014
St. Augustine apparently outlined the future focus of moral theology with his assumption in "The City of God" that had Adam and Eve not disobeyed God, conception might have taken place without the sin of lust. In the late nineteenth century a deeply Christian healer Nizier Anthelme Philippe turned away a patient with the words: "Come back to me for healing when you have ceased to have black thoughts about others for the space of two months". Have we ever been questioned in confession about our lack of love? "With the institution of private confession", Ivan Illich said in an interview with David Cayley, "the forgiveness of sin was made into a juridical or legal act. This represented a profound change in the meaning of both law and sin. Christians of the first millennium had understood themselvels to be living, in the apostle Paul's words, 'not under law, but under grace'". With the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) sin was criminalized.

We learn from John Cornwell that moral theology, following the Council of Trent, would focus with casuisitc intensity on the refined complexities of intentions and conscience. There was scant reflection on a positive Christian theology: the fostering of virtues for the common good (ideas inherent in the theology of Thomas Aquinas). I recall that the sin of lust received foremost attention, followed by the sin of disobedience to the Church. Pope Pius X (1903-14), writes Cornwell, promoted acquiescence to authority, with no room for individual conscience and judgement. I would ask to what extent did such institutionalisation of conscience facilitate the collapse of the German Center Party that could have prevented the advent of Hitler?

The Second Vatican Council subtly announced the emancipation of the layety.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Box 17 April 2014
By Sheila
Any ex Catholic who still looks over their shoulder for the thunderbolt should read this book to free themselves from the indoctrinated idea of a vengeful God.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If there is a value in confession, this truly startling revelation of confession and its role in abuse will show how this purpose was entirely distorted. One of the secrets of Cornwell's dark box is how the sexual and emotional immaturity of the confessors contributed to the horrific abuses they inflicted.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The True Confession 9 Feb. 2014
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said that one of the most difficult things in life was to try and change someone's cherished beliefs. Much research has shown the truth of this, particularly if that belief is religious.

This book by John Cornwell will undoubtedly upset many people because of what it reveals about the history of confession in the catholic church. I doubt it will lead to many Catholics changing their beliefs. Despite this, it is a very important book which demands wide readership particularly in view of the recent United Nation's report. It is not what some will argue an anti-catholic polemic but a well-researched and balanced analysis.based on a very wide range of historical sources.and the personal testimonies of fellow Catholics past and present.

Cornwell writes as a former insider. He was brought up in the East End of London by a very devaout Irish mother.He was instructed in the Catholic faith by nuns from the age of five, making his first confession at seven. At age 12 he wanted to become a priest having 'fallen in love.with the ritual of the mass'. He spent 5 years in a junior seminary 150 miles from home. One day he was sexually propositioned by one of the priests during confession. Nevertheless, he went on to the senior seminary. But by the age of 21 he decided life as a priest was not for him. After Cambridge he abandoned Catholicism. Yet he married a devout Catholic who brought up their children in the faith..

In his book the author describes in detail the history of the confession and how it changed from kneeling before a seated priest to a box. He says that the confession has been largely abandoned today despite pleas from pope, Benedict XV1.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By joanie
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A wonderful insight into the Catholic Church and it's history, the early days of confessional were a reminder of my early days at convent boarding school ugh! Dreading the weekly trip to confession at 6 years of age, and wondering what sins I had committed. But, of course, nothing unusual, as that was the way it was at that time. John Cornwell portrays a very dark picture of a worrying time for many within the Catholic Church.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Not sure I have ever seen it
Published 18 days ago by Philip Pearce-Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr Cornwall made great use of survey data acquired through interviews...
A thorough exploration of the history of confession and its power as a mind controlling tool. I was shocked to learn that some confessional boxes were doctored in a way to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by d moore
Published 4 months ago by Pearl
5.0 out of 5 stars Spooky Sacrament
As one who only confesses his sins to God and not some in-between go-between, I found this fascinating, disturbing and informative. Read more
Published 10 months ago by billeeboy
5.0 out of 5 stars An ordinary reader's thoughts.
This was a really good read, both interesting and revealing; so much so that the highlighter in my Kindle had to be rationed. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Speedwell
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Box throughout the Dark Ages (before Vatican II)
Fascinating account of the history of the confessional, and indeed of the evolution of our understanding of sin. Glad things have changed!
Published 12 months ago by Mary Carnegie
4.0 out of 5 stars A sobering read
This book confronts a Catholic with uncomfortable truths. I found it thought-provoking although, in the end, I took issue with Cornwell's view. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Robinox
1.0 out of 5 stars Shoddy
A very poor understanding of the ministry of reconciliation..... More of a self indulgent and shoddy attempt to tar everyone of one generation with the same brush ..... Read more
Published 14 months ago by BRENDAN CURLEY
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely and Fascinating
This is a very wide-ranging and continually challenging study. It is the kind of book you can revisit again and again. At every turn it opens up new areas for study and debate. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Hugo
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