I was thinking about the priesthood, today. Not joining it, mind you, but about the objection to confessing one's sins to a priest for absolution. I'm catholic now and have found the experience to be incredibly freeing. It is nice to hear a voice and see a face (if you do the face-to-face kind) when I express my contrition (perfectly or imperfectly) and seek forgiveness. The priest is acting in the stead of Christ and it rankles a lot of feathers for non-Catholics.
I have heard several reasons, many good ones, for why confessing to a priest is not the terrible thing people think it is. Some of those include the idea that the apostles were the one's given these gifts (a la Christ breathing on them and conferring said gifts) so not everyone in the Church was given those abilities. This makes sense.
I have done fairly extensive (in my own opinion) reading on this subject and I do not think I have come across the argument I am about to set forth. Please keep in mind that I am a former dyed in the wool protestant, so I am familiar with the whole "man between me and God" argument. I have recently come to see that that idea fails in another arena, i.e. the arena I am about to bring us into.
I could be wrong, but I have not yet heard the idea of Jesus being Jewish and simply modifying certain Jewish traditions and beliefs being a reason for confession as catholics do it. Here's my meaning: Christ specifically states that he did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it. Now, many protestants have taken this in a way that no other Christians before the Protestant Reformation took it. They believe this means that everything is just between you and God because the veil was torn and we could now enter the Holy of Holies.
There is much truth in this sentiment. We have access to salvation never before thought possible. The veil was torn in a real sense, but is it in the sense Protestants seem to take it? That there would be no more priests and everything about how God related to people previously was thrown away?
Here's my thing, Jesus was a Jew and a good one. I mean that he was Orthodox and he, in fact, made a point of stating that he was not destroying the entire edifice that was Judaism at the time, but fulfilling it or--one could say--enhancing its understanding. It is revelation, you see? Christ comes and does not completely change the rules (though some stuff did pass away), but changed our understanding.
Now, I could be wrong--as I have not had time to do direct research just yet--but it seems that Jews still had sacrifices done by priests for the people's sins at the time of Christ. They still had the temple (it was destroyed again later) and they had sacrifices best as I can tell. The purpose of these sacrifices was mostly for the atonement of sins. No one but a Levite could fulfill this function if memory serves. This means that they had people set aside specifically for dealing with the corporate sin of the Jewish people.
After Christ's resurrection and his transference of power to his apostles, the practice changed somewhat. It seems to have become more personal, meaning it became more as Catholics did it then and now. They came to people who were given that power and confessed their sins to them. This is done for a number of reasons, one of the most important being that their is no private sin as sin effects everyone. That is why it is important to have faithful people who confess and treat things seriously, they could become a cancer otherwise--even if no one specifically knows what they are doing. It could start as something small but, if not checked, it could grow and others can be pulled down into it. For example, the kid starts looking at porn and then involved himself in cybersex with other people and thereby bringing them into his secret skin.
So, we are still told to confess to one another and it appears that the priestly function for absolution was changed somewhat though not abolished. Remember, the Faith is a revealed one and God was very slow in dealing with his people. Religion (contrary to popular belief) is not simply a set of rules and rituals to follow just because. It is how we relate to higher beings or to our God. Rituals and practices like confession to a priest fall under this category. Your personal relationship with God is in no way hindered by this practice and--as point of fact--those who practice confession regularly can attest to how it actually helps them do better when they are serious about changing.
The job of the priest is to act as Christ would and chastise, comfort, and--in the end--give us the absolution we so desire. It makes sense also when we remember that our spirits and bodies are completely intertwined (one of the reasons death is so unnatural seeming). But, that is for another post.
In conclusion, there are no private sins however secret we keep them. Everything we do affects the whole. Also, the priest is not there to lord power over you. He is simply a servant doing what was commanded of him. He gets these powers through no merit of his own and the good priests know and understand that. If this is the way that God chose for us to absolve our sins, as it appears to be, then there should be little trouble with it because it is how God chose to relate to us.
In other posts on this I will explore thoughts on what confession may do for the presiding priest and fight soul-body dualism.