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The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardback)
  • The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardback)

The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (Hardback)

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Hardback 320 Pages / Published: 13/02/2014
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Would you tell your deepest secrets to a relative stranger? And if you did, would you feel vulnerable? Cleansed? Or perhaps even worse than you did before? Confession has always performed a complex role in society, always created mixed feelings in its practitioners. As an acknowledgement of sinfulness, it can provide immense psychological relief; but while aiming to replace remorse with innocence, its history has become inextricably intertwined with eroticism and shame. The Dark Box is an erudite and personal history; Cornwell draws on his own memories of Catholic boyhood, and weaves it with the story of confession from its origins in the early church to the current day, where its enduring psychological potency is evidenced by everything from the Vatican's 'confession app' to Oprah Winfrey's talk shows. Since the 16th century, seclusion of two individuals in the intimate 'dark box', often discussing sexual actions and thoughts, has eroticised the experience of confession. When, in 1905, Pius X made confession a weekly, rather than yearly ritual, the horrific cases of child abuse which have haunted the Catholic church in the twentieth century became possible.

Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781781251089
Number of pages: 320
Weight: 499 g
Dimensions: 222 x 144 x 33 mm

The subject is a very important one and I am glad you have tackled it. The extraordinary change with regard to the sacrament and its regular use is something that seems to have happened without serious reflection by any authoritative people in the church. So I am sure your study will help in a process of reflection that should continue in the years ahead... proper reform of the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation is necessary so that people are not deprived of its benefits. -- Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster
The Dark Box is a major contribution to the Catholic church's examination of conscience about the roots and circumstances of sexual abuse. -- Eamon Duffy * The Guardian *
The Dark Box is a heartfelt mixture of history, theology and memoir that feels like one of John Cornwell's most important works. Even Pope Francis could learn something from it. -- Andrew Lynch * Sunday Business Post *
It's a powerful and disturbing addition to the literature on the subject, and lays bare the dysfunctional nature of a church which has still come nowhere near to facing its own self-inflicted demons. * Irish Independent *
Far from being merely a history of the Catholic sacrament of confession, his book is a meticulously researched, carefully wrought and quietly furious anathema upon the Catholic Church as constituted from the Council of Trent in the 16th century up to the present day. -- John Banville * Financial Times *
John Cornwell has genuinely interesting things to say about confession. -- Melanie McDonagh * Evening Standard *
The Dark Box is a powerful, impassioned treatise about the dangers of confession. -- Catheriine Peppinster * The Observer *
I found myself persuaded by his central thesis. The Catholic church has a sex obsession that is powered by enforced celibacy, and this sex obsession sometimes finds a perverse outlet in the dark box of confession. -- Craig Brown * Mail on Sunday *
Cornwell is a humane man with a sharp intellect. -- Christopher Howse * The Telegraph *
John Cornwell, who has himself chosen cautiously to return to the Church which did him some very bad turns in his youth, has much to tell it, as it seeks to find a new way forward. -- Diarmaid Macculloch * Literary Review *
The Dark Box is a book that anyone concerned with the future of the Catholic Church should take very seriously. -- Peter Marshall * TLS *
Deeply felt, important and powerfully expressed. -- Frank Cottrell Boyce * New Statesman *

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“The Dark Box”

This book provides a thorough examination of the role of Confession in the history of the Catholic Church, and of the Confessional in particular.
The preface lays out the bias of the author; a cradle-Catholic, and... More

Hardback edition
11th March 2014
Helpful? Upvote 22


Incredibly well written with a vast amount of information covering a huge expanse of time presented in an interesting and accessible way.
It presents how the role of confession has changed within the church, the... More

Paperback edition
11th June 2015
Helpful? Upvote 16

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