A Contemporary Examination of Conscience

Note: So many people have misread Professor’s Crowe’s intentions here, let’s be clear that this is a SATIRE, intended to underscore how “modern” sins differ from the real ones the Church has always taught about – and we’re supposed to confess. – Robert Royal

I recently decided to go to Confession – or Reconciliation as it is now called. Because I hadn’t been to the sacrament for a long time, I looked for one of those guides for preparing for confession. The one I found, however, had an examination of conscience that seemed hopelessly out of date. I decided to make up my own, one that adequately reflects a contemporary understanding of morality.

In the old days the idea of sin was mostly doing evil deeds – especially in the sexual realm: “Thou shalt not . . . .” (This was before the sexual revolution brought us a healthier attitude toward sex.) There were some sins of omission, like missing Mass on Sunday, but the emphasis was on bad deeds.

Another bad deed was eating the wrong food, like meat on Friday, or too much food. You were supposed to fast in Lent. Some Catholics also gave up things they liked during Lent – like chocolate, alcohol, or coffee – thinking this “bought” them grace. They had this crazy idea that self-denial helped them avoid sin – a leftover idea from the Middle Ages when some penitents scourged themselves with whips!

Now we have a more positive view of morality, stressing doing good things like reaching out to others and celebrating racial and gender diversity – although not diversity of thought, since we do not want to expose people to unfamiliar ideas. Another feature of my examination of conscience is that it incorporates the latest insights that recognizing the grievous sins of our ancestors reminds us to pray for them and realize that our own sinfulness may be due to their bad behavior. We now understand that much serious sin is really social sin.

I have decided to share my updated examination of conscience with other Catholics. If you have stayed away from Confession for a long time, you may find this approach will make you more comfortable in the confessional – excuse me, Reconciliation room – and have a more deeply satisfying spiritual experience. So. . .


Dear heavenly Father,

Please open my mind and heart to be fully aware of the sins of my parents, grandparents, and ancestors. Help me to realize the extent to which they and others contributed to prejudice, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination, and social unrest, and to repent for their failure to promote diversity and inclusion.

Were my ancestors racist?

The Confession by John Opie, c. 1800 [private collection]
Did they fail to use the correct term for national identities, saying Mexican instead of Latino, or Black or – Heaven Forbid! Negro – instead of African American?

Did they prefer living in a neighborhood with people of the same religious and ethnic background?

Did they believe that minorities might actually be more comfortable and thrive more among people of their own race?

Did they send their children to a Catholic school that had no minority students?

Did my Irish ancestors commit cultural appropriation not only by liking Mexican food, but by making it in their own homes, and even working in a Mexican restaurant? (Note that the word Mexican is appropriate to describe food, but not a person – something my ancestors failed to understand.)

Did they fail to support a higher minimum wage, one adequate for supporting a family, for everyone, including teenagers?

Did they use the word man or men when they really meant men and women, thus failing to be inclusive?

Did they support the Military’s policy that women were not allowed to fight in combat, thus limiting their possibilities for promotion?

Did they see no problem with some professions – like welding, construction, plumbing, teaching, and nursing – having more of one sex than the other?

Did they encourage their daughters to go into teaching and nursing and their sons into business and engineering?

Did they disapprove of allowing female students to participate in traditionally male sports like football and wrestling?

Did they believe that it was wrong to permit a biological male who felt that he/she was a girl to play on a girl’s athletic team? Did they sympathize with the girls who were poor losers when the former boys outperformed them, instead of understanding the importance of honoring each person’s choice of gender, including the form of pronoun by which the person prefers to be addressed?

Did they prefer male and female restrooms that correspond to people’s biological sex?

Did they believe that a person should not marry someone of the same sex?

Did they not only approve of women being full-time wives and mothers, but actually think it was the ideal for most?

Did they believe that having sex outside of marriage was a terrible sin, thus causing many people to feel guilty and ruining their first sexual experience?

Did they refuse to have premarital sex, thus jeopardizing their possibility of having a good sex life and perhaps marrying someone with whom they were not sexually compatible?

Did they think it was shameful to have a baby out of wedlock?

Did they deprive some children of their mothers because they believed that children are better off with both a mother and a father, and therefore encouraged single mothers to consider adoption?

Did they believe that abortion was gravely immoral and should be illegal, thus causing emotional conflict in pregnant women and trying to deny them control over their own bodies?

Did they believe that Christianity was the only true religion and therefore fail to be ecumenical by trying to make converts to the Catholic faith?


I thank you, Lord, for helping me to call to mind the sins of my ancestors. I am overwhelmed when I think of their bigoted attitudes and failure to practice social justice. I give you thanks that I am not like those unenlightened and immoral people. I go to Mass during Lent, I contribute to my parish and Catholic Relief Services . . .

Wait a minute. This is beginning to sound vaguely familiar. Where have I heard something like this before?

Marian Crowe earned her PhD in English at the University of Notre Dame. She taught at Notre Dame and at St. Mary’s College but is now retired. She is the author of Aiming at Heaven, Getting the Earth: The English Catholic Novel Today. She lives with her husband Michael in South Bend, Indiana.