Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Parishioners go to the their clergyman to confess sins and talk out problems. But who does the clergy go to?

We confess to other priests or bishops. We are all called to do so, laity and priests alike. Both the laity and the clergy should use similar factors in choosing a confessor. It is often worthwhile to reflect on what this sacrament means to each of us and then to reflect on who might best help us in this experience.

In this unique encounter with the Risen Lord, we have the opportunity to undo the damage our sinfulness can cause to our relationships with God and with our neighbour. Interestingly, in addition to being known as the Sacrament of Penance, it is commonly referred to by other names such as, the sacraments of conversion, forgiveness or reconciliation. No matter what we call it, it is always a turning to God who alone can overcome the reality of sin. It is not a spiritual payment that purchases forgiveness and mercy. It is, rather, the opening of our human hearts, asking for, trusting in and ultimately receiving the mercy which God so freely gives.

Here, we surrender our human weakness which alienates us from God, from others and in a very real way, from ourselves. In the process, we are transformed into people who are forgiven, reconciled and filled with renewed communion with God and each other. Finally, we are filled with praise. In the Vatican II decree, Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 13, we are reminded that the confessor is not the master of Gods forgiveness, but its servant.

In this sense, those to whom we choose to confess our sins should be united intimately to the charity of Christ. They should be experienced in human affairs and sensitive toward the fallen ... and lead the penitent toward healing and full maturity. Each of us should think about all these things when choosing our own confessor.