A Confession of Sin

On Wednesday, March 31, a liturgy of lamentation and penance was held in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna in the context of the many cases of physical and sexual abuse which have come to light in Austria and elsewhere in recent weeks. Over 3,000 people took part. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Catholic theologian Veronica Prüller-Jagenteuful read the following confession.

Cardinal Schönborn:  Triune God, you led our mothers and fathers out of slavery into freedom and taught them the 10 commandments of a good life. You became flesh in Jesus Christ and showed us that love is the fundamental rule in all things. You are with us as Holy Spirit to lead us.

Veronica Prüller-Jagenteuful: And yet we become sinful before you and before one another. Enormous sin has been revealed in these weeks. It is the sin of the individual. It is the sin permeating structures, models of acting, and models of thinking. It is the sin of not offering help and not daring to speak up.

Both: The responsibility for this concerns us as members of the church in widely varying degrees. And yet, we are your people together and we stand in common responsibility. And so we confess to you and to one another our sin:

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have not followed God alone, but rather have followed the gods of our need for lording over and superiority.

Cardinal: Some of us have, precisely in that sense, abused others, even children.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have obscured and betrayed the name of God which means love.

Cardinal: Some of us have preached the love of God and yet have done evil to our charges.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have not kept holy and not sufficiently valued the sacraments and other times and places of special encounter with God.

Cardinal: Some of us have used these as opportunity for assault.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have not maintained between adults and children relationships of unconditional respect for the other.

Cardinal: Some of us have used and destroyed the trust of children.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have not takes seriously the destruction of life and happiness in life, that we have not understood the destruction and we have trivialized it.

Cardinal: Some of us have become guilty of the inner murder of other people.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have not cherished bodiliness and have failed in the task of rightly living out our sexuality.

Cardinal: Some of us have done sexual violence.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have wanted to possess youth, beauty, and vitality for ourselves.

Cardinal: Some of us have stolen childhood from boys and girls and robbed them of the capability of living out successful relationships.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we did not wish to acknowledge the reality, that we covered up and bore false witness.

Cardinal: Some of us have been able thereby to further delude ourselves and others and continue the criminality.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we have wished to have control over others and possess them.

Cardinal: Some of us have thereby usurped the bodies of the weakest ones.

Prüller-Jagenteuful: We confess that we craved security, calm, power, and reputation.

Cardinal: For some of us the Church’s appearance of sinlessness was more important than anything else.

Both: We, the People of God, his Church, bear this sin with one another.

We confess this sin to those many people whom we as Church and some of us as particular individuals have sinned against.

We confess this sin to one another, for the Church has become sinful in its members.

We confess our sin to God.

We are ready to take on our responsibility for the past and the present, individually and communally. We are ready to renew our models of thinking and acting according to the Spirit of Jesus and to collaborate in the healing of wounds. We place ourselves as Church before the judgment of Christ.

Cardinal: O Christ, you said that you have taken our sin upon you. And yet we implore you today: Leave some of it for us. Help us not to brush it away too quickly, and make us ready to take it on: each one for individual sin and all of us together for common sin. And then give us hope in judgment: hope for new freedom coming from truth, and for that forgiveness for which we have no claim.


www.kath-kirche.at/content/site/minidossiers/article/53660.html, tr. AWR.


  1. I am sorry, but I can’t give my full name yet. I still wish to remain unknown – part of my damage.

    But please let me say here that whoever wrote this, truly gets it. I just kept saying yes, yes, yes, AMEN.

    Thank you so very much

    I can breath again.

    Stephen (an abuse survivor)

  2. The Church throughout the ages sometimes has lost sight to the damage that sin and crime inflicts upon the lowly, helpless and defenseless. In this on-going scandal with so many layers of sin, we need to recapture in a liturgical way our need not only to acknowledge the gravity of sin and our complicity in it, but also to express sorrow and do penance. It seems that if we don’t understand “hell” as the absence of God, absence of love, absence of a concern for sin, absence of contrition and absence for empathy and absence of justice and a total absence of the desired need for the Sacrifice of Christ, then we can’t really understand Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday. If we don’t know the penalty of sin, damnation, how can we appreciate and truly celebrate the liberation from the punishment we deserve through the events of Salvation History, Old Testament and New Testament, especially the Christ Event and the return of the Bridegroom which demands vigilance?

  3. This litany was amazing, and as far as words can go to heal, I think it hit all the right notes. Most impressive to me was the last paragraph, which really took my breath away. Whoever wrote this (Veronica?) deserves great credit, and Cardinal Schoenborn does too. I cannot think of an American prelate who stood up paired with a woman lay theologian, to lead such a prayer. A friend of mine who lives in Vienna tells me 70,000 people are predicted to leave the church in Austria this year. Let’s hope the quality of the response here helps to turn the tide.

    1. The drafting of the prayer was done by a group, including members of “Wir sind Kirche” (We are the Church), the group formed after the whole mess with Cardinal Groer. Back in the 90s they collected over half a million signatures calling for controversial reforms in the Church. Some bishops have banned them from church property. So it is significant that Cardinal Schoenborn agreed to work with them and got their approval of what was prayed publicly.

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