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6 of 6 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 6 months ago by Thomas Patrick Doyle

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1 of 6 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 4 months ago by BRENDAN CURLEY


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5.0 out of 5 stars An ordinary reader's thoughts., 14 Sep 2014
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This was a really good read, both interesting and revealing; so much so that the highlighter in my Kindle had to be rationed. Already a fan of John Cornwell this did not disappoint. It seemed to me that this difficult subject was treated fairly and truthfully, and for me, was not just a detailed and compelling history of the sacrament of confession, along with the abuses that took place, but one that offered a path of understanding through a tragic, complex and faith cracking subject. For some, understanding is so very vital, when dealing with the thought, 'if this can happen in this day and age none of "this" (religion)can be true'.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you masturbate? - I do and it is wonderful !, 21 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
This was the question put to us, a group of fourth-year London-based medical students, by our newly acquainted Chief of Paediatrics [internationally renowned and affectionately known as Ronnie M]. He knew it would startle, make us think, and reflect deeply on our own sexual awareness and that of our future patients, of all ages.
Far from being a prelude to any grooming activity, or dramatic exhibitionistic acting-out, and coming as it did in the sexual revolutionary period of the early Seventies, this wonderfully apposite question was, on reflection, a turning-point in my previously pietistic attitude concerning the morality of innocent human sexual activity, and much else besides. A career in medicine with maturing insight has now displaced most of what I had previously been conditioned to believe [namely traditional ideas of "sin" and of an all-seeing, fearsome, deity].
Much of John Cornwell's excellent compelling history of Confessionalism, within the the context of the Christian narrative, resonates deeply with my own adolescent experiences of priestly abuse as an altar boy and the wholly negative, guilt-ridden, enforced [I had no say in the matter], "dark-box" encounters with this same man.
The details of this book have been previously well described [see other reviews] and his time in priestly formation again similarly resonates [without the abuse] with my own very brief period of seminary training. I still see young men [of questionable emotional maturity] making the decision and being actively encouraged to pursue a perceived vocation into a cloistered, celibate priesthood - and I still see people coming out of the "dark-box" in tears [but not, sadly, tears of joy]. How long can this situation be allowed to continue and yet, why should I be bothered? If the Catholic Church wants to self-destruct then let it - nothing lasts for ever.
The abuses scandal will not go away and will continue unless the Curia comes clean, decides to debate the whole question of Human Sexual Ethics [and includes the laeity in this] and questions the dubious function of priestly ministry in this complex area. I also ask myself - what has the Catholic Church got to offer an increasingly disinterested and sceptical modernity, and why does it still want to know what people will or will not be doing in bed before and after they marry?
With attendances in decline, can a moralistic, out-of-touch, out-of-date clerical elite, deliver new insights and emphasize the real importance of Jesus the Nazarene [minus the myths and make-believe] - namely His concern for the genuinely poor and afflicted in society.
Less talk about sin, hell-fire and damnation [surely now considered to be primitive and damaging language] might begin to help, and praise is far preferable to condemnation. So why not just simply praise and wonder at the natural world -becoming aware of and at one with the way things are [without judgment and without condemnation] - surely this is more than sufficient?
I now accept nothing less than verifiable truth, am a lover and guardian of the natural world, and have moved beyond the divisive beliefs of the past which have created so much misery and continue to do so. Are such traditional beliefs necessary - I think not - and why does it matter anyway?
The only thing that really matters to me now in life is to be kind, loving, protecting and respectful of all that is.
Dr Richard Walsh.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Box throughout the Dark Ages (before Vatican II), 16 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
Fascinating account of the history of the confessional, and indeed of the evolution of our understanding of sin. Glad things have changed!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spooky Sacrament, 23 Oct 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
As one who only confesses his sins to God and not some in-between go-between, I found this fascinating, disturbing and informative. The hierarchy of sins (masturbation is worse than rape - REALLY?) shows this "sacrament" up for what it is, nonsense. The book's revaluation of the modern imposition of weekly confession by some deranged man in a frock dripping with gold was a revaluation to me. Glad to see this farcical ritual is dying out, not before time.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sobering read, 25 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
This book confronts a Catholic with uncomfortable truths. I found it thought-provoking although, in the end, I took issue with Cornwell's view. I can believe, as he writes, that confession has been sometimes abused by priests; I can believe too that some individuals have suffered great harm as a result. But I remain convinced that we are all in need of forgiveness and the very act of confession anjd repentance is healthy and restorative. the world, I believe, would be a better place if everyone examined their conscience on a regular basis and confronted their failings: I don't think John Cornwell allows the truth of this enough.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessary Book for Catholics - and Others, 31 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
What would you think of a person who takes an emetic, vomits and then eats her own vomit? And also eats the vomit of colleagues? Seriously disturbed, you might say? But this is St. Theresa of Avila, practising self-mortification. What would you think of a man who cuts down his apple trees in order to protect children from the sin of stealing apples? Weird you might say? But this is the Cure d'Ars, who as recently as 2011 was nominated by Pope Benedict 'Patron of the Year of the Priesthood'. The book runs through a number of such 'saints' - and their histories sound very much like the case histories that psychiatrists and psychotherapists deal with. Why are they highlighted in this context? Well, it is all about SIN. Indeed, for long periods of its history, and arguably today, the Catholic church has been obsessed about sin. Not about doing good, let it be noted, but about the avoidance of sin.

Reflectively read, the book gives us many insights on recent Catholic history. Why was the Catholic church so concerned for the welfare of child abusers, for instance, and not for the welfare of the victims? Because confession was all about the damage done to the soul of the perpetrator, with scant heed for the victim. Why is the sin of masturbation considerably higher in the scale than the sin of rape? In cases of rape, the seed at least ends up in 'the appropriate vessel'. (Any we learn, en passant, that the main victim when a virgin is raped is not the girl but her father, because rape damages his daughter's chances of a good marriage...)
Crazy stuff, actually, but authentic and well-researched. Although younger than Cornwell, I can confirm a lot of what he writes from personal experience in the confessional. Catholic 'moralists' sound much like the Pharisees that our Saviour condemned but they were passing on official church teaching.

Let me finish with a word of advice to any potential Cure d'Ars: GIVE your apples to impoverished village children, rather than cutting the trees down. That would prevent them from sinning and at the same time prevent them from going hungry...
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Confession: today is there something better?, 19 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
Vatican II was a paradigm shift in the Catholic Church, the full impact of which many have failed to grasp.

Despite contemporary advances in psychotherapy, the Catholic Church seems obsessed with its medieval form of individual confession to the exclusion of user feedback. In response, John Cornwell’s “Dark Box” throws light brilliantly on something that appears to place the wellbeing of an individual below an institution’s need to promulgate teaching.

Bearing the hallmark of his usual excellent research, this is an even-handed investigation by John Cornwell. The book traces confession since inception and the agenda behind its imposition on the Catholic population. The well-formed line of argument poses the pertinent question of whether confession has a place in the Catholic Church of the 21st century.

Unfortunately two areas fall outside the scope of the book – the social nature of sin and the significant potential of today’s healing ministries, particularly healing of memories.

This is essential reading for those seeking to understand the Catholic Church’s past preoccupation with the pursuit of power. As someone exposed to the emotional trauma of childhood confession, I couldn’t put this excellent book down.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of interest not just to Catholics, 17 Mar 2014
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John Holland - See all my reviews
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Very well written and researched. Will reward being read again especially the last quarter. I have nothing more to add to this review.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Catholic confessions, 14 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardcover)
Brilliant well written book, a great insight into the inner sanctum of the Catholic church and all its devious workings.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting and appropriate timing., 25 Mar 2014
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Certainly useful information for people within the Church or in public administration involved in youth welfare anywhere but particularly in Catholic countries
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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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