Catholics/Research for a screenplay
Hi there -- I suspect my question is probably a bit unusual for you; first off, it involves the Russian Orthodox church rather than the Roman Catholic. I'm not sure if this is completely out of your purview -- but I'll ask anyway. Secondly, it's for a screenplay I'm working on -- I'm assuming you don't get too many questions for this purpose. Anyway -- this project is about a reformed criminal (he's a devout member of his Orthodox Church) who accidentally kills someone again -- this after committing several real murders in his youth -- he's clearly anguished by the accident, and confesses to his Priest. For purposes of my story -- I need this character to go to a distant land and make direct restitution and an apology to his victim's wife. This is where I need your help: is there any way to justify a priest telling someone that IN ORDER to achieve salvation -- one must FIRST go to a victim, make restitution and ask for for THEIR forgiveness? (I realize that the order is usually the other way around.) Simply put, my understanding is that all one really needs for salvation is sincere repentance and asking for God's forgiveness. HOWEVER, IS THERE a way I can credibly have my character believe that if he doesn't go off to this distant land and ask another HUMAN for forgiveness -- he won't get into Heaven? Is there a way to justify/frame his believing this -- even if his priest doesn't?
Any thoughts -- even if you can't reconcile what I'm asking -- will be most helpful. Thanks so much.
A priest can quite reasonably impose some additional condition for forgiveness, for example by requiring that a person who confesses having stolen something must return it. And murder is certainly much more big and serious than mere theft. In a murder case, a priest would normally and reasonably ask that the person turn himself in to the police and admit his crime, as a condition of forgiveness.
As a reasonable plot element, I suppose you could have the person "negotiate" with the priest in the confessional:
"You have to report yourself to the police; this is no mere 'say ten Hail Marys and be done with it' kind of sin. If you want absolution you have to follow through, or it would do you no good."
"I can't do that, Father. I made several other promises, to look after my nephew and ...(several other such serious and long-term promises)... and as you know I would not only be imprisoned but sentenced to death, even though I turn myself in and plead guilty (you may want to check to make sure you can find a place where the secular law would be so unforgiving), so isn't there something else I could do."
"But, the person you killed also made such promises and accepted such obligations as well, you know."
"Yes, I know. Father, what if I devoted my life to fulfilling those promises of the dead person I killed in addition to my own? Perhaps I could ask his widow what it would take? Even if there were nothing that could assuage her pain but to see me die I would rather die at her hands than in the hands of some executioner simply carrying out his job."
"Very well. If you can make peace with his widow and other family members, and you and they approach the police together, then perhaps they might be able to request clemency in your case, to which I would add my own voice as well, and perhaps you will not die. I cannot promise such an outcome of course, but that is always the way of the cross. If you die, you die, but if you must, then die honorably, as one who accepts responsibility for what he has done, and not as a wild animal running away and seeking only its own life. In such honor alone shall you find a true absolution, and thereby attain eternal life."
So, I do think you could have something there, if carefully and properly handled. I think you have a good possible story here, the murderer approaching his victim's widow and family with such abject humility and utter desire to do all in one's capacity to make it up and then some, if only that were possible. I could also imagine the dead man having a similar responsibility for a daughter, who your character agrees to look after, and then the dead man's daughter and the murderer's nephew end up falling in love... - clearly it was meant to be, and so forth, new love and life from old death, and the like. Just an idea of mine I thought of right now; feel free to use it or not as makes sense in the overall context of the story.