Remarkable longer lasting recoveries after confession were recounted, too. Gundulph, Bishop of Rochester from 1077, heard the confession of a dying woman. She experienced “heartfelt contrition”, and after “the wholesome remedy of penitence was applied… [she was] fully restored to health”.
Confession could even play a part in healing miracles. Odo de Beaumont, who contracted leprosy from a prostitute, was cured after he confessed his sin, fasted, and promised to go on pilgrimage to Thomas Becket’s tomb.
Stories like this suggest that medieval folk viewed the relationship between body and soul very differently to us: physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing were inseparable, and the health benefits of confession seemed to prove the power of God.
In the 21st century, conversely, the needs of body and soul often seem to exist in opposition, and so to compare confession to therapy is to reduce its significance – at least in the eyes of the Church.
But while clerical perspectives on confession have changed, it seems that the faithful have always derived something more than spiritual succour from the practice. If confession is not, and has never been, the same as therapy, it has long been therapeutic – and, despite the best efforts of the Vatican, will surely continue to be.