While private confession and absolution is a great blessing to the church, there are matters that are simply inappropriate for a woman to discuss with a man who is not her husband. God only knows how many pastor / parishioner relationships that began with a woman confessing her sexual sins to her pastor were concluded by the two of them sinning sexually together.
A woman can speak from within herself to another woman in a way a man cannot. No, this is not the ministry of the word, but it is a blessing from God. A woman can listen, understand, and give woman to woman counsel that no pastor can give.
Hmmm re: this quotation from Pastor Rolf Preus which was part of a longer essay posted to Lutherans and Procreation by Dr Heidenreich.
Our Lord established Holy Absolution to forgive sins and thereby comfort broken and contrite hearts. The fact is that women sin sexually. With all due respect to the Father in Christ whose words I'm considering, are women to be denied the comfort of Holy Absolution of these sins on the basis of inappropriateness? This seems particularly cruel since sexual sin often causes great personal shame and as a result can be uniquely painful to confess. But it is precisely that shame which drives penitents to endure the pain of confessing it.
The Catechism: "But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts." The Smalcald Articles: "But the enumeration of sins ought to be free to every one, as to what he wishes to enumerate or not to enumerate" (3 VIII:2, emphasis added). I don't see an allowance here for awkward social situations, (arguably) excessive propriety, or potential temptations to the confessor or penitent.
What's a girl to do? The wicket sticket, but doesn't every child of God have a baptismal birthright to Holy Absolution of any and all sins that torture his or her soul? This means I'm not going to just have a chat about it with some nice church lady and pretend it's taken care of. "Not ministry of the Word," then what's the point if what a woman needs is the Word of Absolution? I want all my sins loosed in heaven, darn it. And to prohibit women from confessing sexual failings to pastors stigmatizes these sins even more, inflating their natural shame.
What about glossing over, using euphemisms ("indiscretion," eg), confessing very generally under the umbrella of the sixth commandment? Eh . . . ok, but in my experience with confession, sometimes I need to get a whole story out and hear that the rotten thing I did, and the manipulative way I did it, and even the obliquely related catty thought I had while I was doing it are forgiven. Does a woman have to forgo this costly comfort when a specific sexual sin has broken her? Furthermore, there is always a temptation to euphemize and thus mitigate when making confession. My black and evil heart doesn't need an excuse to gloss over any sin rather than facing it head-on, as speaking it in plain words requires.
And what about those temptations? Hearing confessions is indeed risky business. Then again, so are many responsibilities of the stewards of the mysteries of God. Handling our Lord's holy Body and precious Blood, for example, or exorcising the unregenerate who would be baptized, puts pastors in spiritually vulnerable positions. Shepherds are like that. They expose themselves to danger to protect their sheep. Perhaps the danger could be minimized with some simple ground rules: don't socialize with anyone who poses temptation, don't hear confessions in hot tubs, keep your vestments on (especially that cincture). If a particular person is (unwittingly) a problem for a particular pastor, maybe he could find a priestmanly way to entrust her spiritual care to a colleague down the road. And obviously a "penitent" who is behaving provocatively is unrepentant. I believe the system has a correction built into it for this scenario.
Maybe one of the Blackbirds or another pastoral type could take this up. I would really appreciate it. If any of you Reverend Bloggers are so inclined, email us or drop a heads up in the comments when you get around to it and we'll link back to your post.