From earlier this month but pertinent nonetheless…all in the name of “asking forgiveness of your sins.”-A.M.

  • Pope Pius X decreed in 1910 that children must make first confession at 7
  • ‘Prompted sex complexes’ and created opportunities for paedophile priests

By John Cornwell

PUBLISHED: 17:00 EST, 8 February 2014 | UPDATED: 12:05 EST, 9 February 2014

At my Catholic boarding school in the late 1950s there was a jolly priest who heard my confession in his  room rather than in a vacant confessional box. After I had recited my laundry list of petty sins, he asked if I was ever tempted to ‘commit a sexual sin by myself’.

He suggested that I take out my penis so that he could examine it to see whether I was prone to sudden erections. I left the room immediately. The next year, his proclivities discovered, he was removed by his bishop to another school.

As a child barely out of infancy, I had joined the long queues in our parish church every Saturday to confess my sins. The confessor  sat behind a grille inside a dark box like an upturned coffin, smelling of stale perfume and nasty body odours.

A priest at John Cornwell's Catholic boarding school asked if he was ever tempted to 'commit sexual sin' (picture posed by models)


A priest at John Cornwell’s Catholic boarding school asked if he was ever tempted to ‘commit sexual sin’ (picture posed by models)


I did not realise that we child penitents were guinea-pigs in the greatest moral experiment ever perpetrated on children in the history of Catholicism.

When I started my investigation into Catholic confession I was shocked to discover that young children were not allowed to go to confession before the 20th Century – in previous eras children did  not make their first confession  until their teenage years.

It was the anxious and pessimistic Pius X, Pope from 1903-1914, who decreed in 1910 that children must make their first confession at the age of seven. Evidently he had taken to heart the Jesuit maxim: ‘Give me a child at seven and it’s mine for life’.