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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scary, Shocking, Liberating and True
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...
Published 8 months ago by Thomas Patrick Doyle

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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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 ..... Moreover Cornwell is not the supreme legislator of the church, Christ gave that singular privilege to Peter and the bishop's of Rome
Published 6 months ago by BRENDAN CURLEY


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scary, Shocking, Liberating and True, 1 April 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflections on Confession, 23 Jun 2014
By 
Wolfgang Somary (Zurich, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
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. We are now responsible for our own conscience and note that "The Dark Box" is open only for brief moments. Those who go to confession no longer have to hurry, as there are few people in line, and those who no longer attend learn to take responsibility for their own conscience. I am grateful to John Cornwell for his timely and interesting book but find there is a lot more to be said on the subject of sin and forgiveness.
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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
This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars This entirely changes the view of the Catholic sacrament of confession, 23 April 2014
This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
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 (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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. Cornwall believes this is symptomatic of a much wider crisis within the Catholic Church.
He believes a gulf has opened between teaching and practice.

A major theme of the book is the practice of obligatory confession in early childhood, and the opportunity it affords a minority of priests to abuse children sexually. He writes of offending priests being moved to another post, for example a prep school, where they are able to carry on their illicit activities.

How many priests used the confession to groom children for sexual abuse is under investigation. He documents the fact that confessors have been notorious sexual predators since the Middle Ages. The author believes that whatever the outcome of this investigation, numerous children who were not abused have learnt to regard their bodies with shame and guilt. Many, he says, think of God as a petulant tyrant, paranoid about sex. This he argues is the direct result of pope Pius X's decree that all Catholic children must make their first confession at the age of 7 (before it was for the majority 12-14). This he says was a catastrophic act.

Despite his anger at the perversions committed, Cornwall recognises that the practice of confession can for some 'ease the soul's' problems. Because of this he regrets the abandonment of confession, an abandonment he says that is due to the Vatican's dithering over homosexual sex and the use of condoms.

Writing as he does from personal experience plus the revelations about the abuse of children across the world by priests at all levels, this forceful and well-argued account should be required reading for all who are concerned about the future of the Catholic Church.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful insight into the Catholic Church and it's history, 10 July 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely and Fascinating, 3 April 2014
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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. The sequence is perhaps questionable, as it floats lightly between past and present, and back again. However, John Cornwell is to be recommended for this endlessly stimulating study of a catholic tradition, surely now in need of "aggiorniamento"
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking but Gripping, 11 Feb 2014
With (well documented) anecdotes that made me gasp, this book is a shocking and gripping read in equal measures. Midst all the current media attacks on the Catholic church and its 'behind closed doors' practices, John Cornwell gives us the history and consequences of Confession, inside and outside the Box. Brought up in the 'high' Anglican faith, I was put through this procedure just once as a young teenager before Confirmation. It seemed uncomfortable but ultimately harmless. Dark Box illustrates just how easily this can change: the power of Confessor over Penitent, of an obligatory ritual that involves two people in a state of vulnerability, the Penitent to the Confessor, the Confessor by his enforced life of abstinence and celibacy to the Penitent. As I travelled through the centuries, the almost kinky carry-on made me shiver but I couldn't stop turning the pages. Most of all it has made me reflect on human nature, the danger of dictates from power machines, and the responsibility we all hold to ourselves and each other.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Box, 6 Mar 2014
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As usual John Cornwell's books are well written and informative. I learned a lot about confession although I have been practising for over 60 years.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredibly brave book, 18 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
I pretty much read the whole thing in one sitting, front to back.

At heart, the Dark Box links the paedophile priest scandal with a disastrous decree in 1910 from Pope Pius X to lower the age of first confession from 13 to around seven. In making his case, Cornwell takes us through the history of confession, charting its development over the years and the subtle change of purpose it takes on within the church: from a societal tool to repent wrongdoings and make amends, to a way to better command and control the faithful. To Cornwell, the reforms made by Pius X - together with other factors happening at the time - conspire to create the 'perfect storm' of priestly abuse.

I thought it was a captivating and revelatory read. It will upset a great many people, I have no doubt. My only hope is that it will upset the right people.
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The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession
The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession by John Cornwell (Hardcover - 10 Feb 2014)
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