QUAERITUR: recording my own confession

From a reader:

Under stress, my mind goes blank. I find Confession really stressful, so therefore can not mentally absorb the advice of the priest nor remember hardly anything he says afterwards. I feel I am missing a lot of good advice that could be helpful to my spiritual life.

Can I hit the voice memo button on my smart phone and record my Confession so that I can replay it later (just for myself to hear)? [Don't.] I have not done this yet as I thought it might not be permitted due to the risk of one’s phone being lost, but I do password my phone so I’d be willing to take that small risk. [Bad idea.] I write down my sins to say anyway, so already take the risk of losing my paper (which isn’t password protected). Since writing one’s sins is allowed, I have begun to wonder if it might not be forbidden afterall to record one’s own Confession just for one’s own personal spiritual benefit.  [Don't.] I still have a “funny” feeling about doing that, so perhaps there is another reason if might be forbidden… if it is forbidden. Do you know if it is?  [Don't]

My advice is: Do not record any part of any confession.

READ THIS:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

MODIFICATIONS MADE IN THE NORMAE DE GRAVIORIBUS DELICTIS

§ 2. With due regard for § 1, n. 5, also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the more grave delict which consists in the recording, by whatever technical means, or in the malicious diffusion through communications media, of what is said in sacramental confession, whether true or false, by the confessor or the penitent. Anyone who commits such a delict is to punished according to the gravity of the crime, not excluding, if he be a cleric, dismissal or deposition.

The priest, or anyone who over hears a sacramental confession, is bound by the Seal and may not divulge by any means the content.  The penitent may not record anything either.

People can and do write sins down.  If a person does that I strongly suggest never putting your name on it or making it identifiable.  Sometimes a priest must make notes about the content of a confession for the sake of contacting the Apostolic Penitentiary in order to obtain a faculty to lift a censure.  In those cases he does everything possible to protect anonymity.

But a voice recording of your confession….

Don’t record any part of a confession.

If you must, ask the priest to repeat what he said so you are clear about it.  Make a note if you must.

Recording any part of any confession is a really bad idea.

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25 Responses to QUAERITUR: recording my own confession

  1. Papabile says:

    Just recently there were some canonical modifications in this area… relevant extract follows:

    Thursday, July 15, 2010
    MODIFICATIONS MADE IN THE NORMAE DE GRAVIORIBUS DELICTIS

    § 2. With due regard for § 1, n. 5, also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the more grave delict which consists in the recording, by whatever technical means, or in the malicious diffusion through communications media, of what is said in sacramental confession, whether true or false, by the confessor or the penitent. Anyone who commits such a delict is to punished according to the gravity of the crime, not excluding, if he be a cleric, dismissal or deposition[30].

    [Thanks!]

  2. PS says:

    I was under the impression that, while not bound by a seal as the Priest is, once a confessor does publicly divulge the contents of a confession, the Priest is similarly no longer bound.

  3. Random Friar says:

    I still recall with shivers the case in Oregon (and I believe the police *still* have the tape and have not turned it over). I fear that the Seal will be respected less and less by civil authorities and the legal system. Our submitter may never be cause for a police investigation, but even the *hint* of folks recording confessions may tempt some less respectful officials.

  4. kab63 says:

    I have found that, generally speaking, I tend to sin in the same sort of way and confess similarly. My confessions are not duplicates by any means, but my weaknesses and my temptations stay constant. I have also found that if I confess to the same priest each time, a priest whose penances and advice are meaningful for me, that the priest will tend to say something relatively similar to what he said the last time. Obviously I need to hear it again, and I’m always grateful for that consistency. Over time I understand more and more of what the priest says by hearing it, more or less, repeated. Confession becomes like an onion, peeling back the layers of understanding over time. I recommend to the reader to try the same priest each confession, once a priest who speaks in a way YOU can assimilate is found.

  5. Oneros says:

    “I was under the impression that, while not bound by a seal as the Priest is, once a confessor does publicly divulge the contents of a confession, the Priest is similarly no longer bound.”

    Not exactly. The priest can say that so-and-so publicly claimed that such-and-such happened in confession with him, but he cannot confirm based on his own knowledge that it actually did happen that way. [He would do even better not to say anything about it at all.]

    So if I say publicly, “Yes, I confessed to Fr. X last week that I stole this,” the priest could (like anyone else with this public knowledge) say, “Oneros said publicly that he confessed this to me last week,” but he cannot confirm that this claim was true, nor add any details not publicly mentioned by me.

    “Just recently there were some canonical modifications in this area… relevant extract follows”

    I would find it hard to believe that this was meant to apply to the penitent himself. [Ummm... "... by the confessor or the penitent. Anyone who commits such a delict... ".] Surely the delict is meant to protect penitents against having the seal violated. Yet we are allowed to expose or divulge whatever we want of our OWN confessions (and, in fact, recording BY the penitent might help the penitent defend himself against a bad priest). [And it could get the penitent a censure.]

  6. gambletrainman says:

    I was always taught that the lay person was bound by the Seal of Confession just the same as the priest. In other words, if I am waiting in line to go to confession, and the person immediately in front of me, who is hard of hearing, and must “shout” everything he says, goes in, and speaks loud enough for me to hear, I am bound by the same Seal that the priest is. Of course, times have changed, now, and a lot of confessionals are generally sound-proofed, so the chances of “outside interference” is minimized, but some of the older churches had just the little “rooms”, or boxes, with the only privacy being just an ordinary door, or curtain.

  7. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    Does this mean that you cannot write down the priest’s advice after the fact?

    “… recording, by whatever technical means, or in the malicious diffusion through communications media ”

    I guess it all hinges on what they mean by the word “recording.” Does recording mean audio or recording in writing…? [I believe the censure is intended for sound recording.]

  8. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    A little something positive for me today, although this would be more for pentinents with a decent short term memory.

    I acquired an app for the IPhone called “IConfess”. While it will not allow an audio recording, The app contains: 3 guides> Q and A about confession, an examination of conscience based on the Ten Commandments, and prayers for congession; “For Confession” area where one can jot down their sins before hand, an area to put in post-confession where you had it and with whom, the date, and any information you happen to remember from the confession. It also has a master password feature so someone can’t eavesdrop on it unless they know it.

    The only thing I could see this person doing to retain the valuable spiritual direction from the priest post-confession, which I have done with this app (without recording the confession) is to try to condense the advice and what the priest says says into simpler chunks of information or simpler sentences to memory, say them briefly in one’s head a few times to try and increase the person’s memory, then immediately after confession proceed to the foyer or outside the church and write down the advice or put it into the IConfess app. E.g. “I would like to you read some reflective works to increase your spiritual disposition. Acquire the Imitations of Christ, the daily examination of conscience, nd the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius” –> Pentinent reduces it to “imitation of Christ, Daily exam conscience, Spirit exercise St. Ignatius” x 2 or 3 mental repeats.

  9. ray from mn says:

    Between about 1960 and 1981, I was pretty much out of the Church, mostly due to laziness. Then, due to the graces of Divine Mercy (a concept with which I was not yet familiar), I returned to the confessional during a daylong Lentan retreat. I didn’t really prepare for my confession and just blurted out a bunch of the most grievous sins that I could think of and was given given absolution. Having had 12 years of catechism and religion classes in grade and high school, I felt confident for a while that my sins had been completely forgiven.

    But occasionally over the next 20 years or so, I would be plagued by guilt when my conscience reflected upon a sin or incident that I had neglected to mention during my “spontaneous confession.”

    So ten years ago or so I resolved to make a general confession of all the offenses of that 21 year period and some of the subsequent period. I made an appointment with a priest I knew and then spent a great deal of time itemizing what needed to be confessed. Enumerating them would have been impossible for some of them so terms like “sometimes”, “often”, “regularly”", “a lot”, and other subjective terms were all that I could use many of the offenses I mentioned in this confession that was accounting for 45 years of my life or so.

    It took over an hour and the priest worked with me on some of the items and assured me that some others were not really “sins.” I finished and since then have felt truly absolved of all of the major sins of that portion of my life.

    I never looked at my list again, and although it took me some years, I finally did destroy and delete all of the notes that I made for that general confession.

    It was a great relief to make a proper confession, even though now and then I recall something that I did not mention, but which I know that I truly forgot in the confessional.

  10. Patikins says:

    When I make notes to take into confession I use a sort of code so if I lose them they won’t make much sense to another reader. I’ll write a person’s name (first name only), a place name or a cryptic phrase to jog my memory while in the confessional. When I get home it goes into the paper shredder.

  11. dcs says:

    It might be good to remember that even if one is prone to forget sins in confession that one is never bound to actually write down one’s sins.

  12. Magpie says:

    Aside from the main reasons, this is classic OCD/scrupulous behaviour and must be resisted. Find a good confessor who can help you, and seek treatment from a good Catholic shrink (if you can find one) if you have clinical problems. I found this faithfully Catholic website helpful: http://www.chastitysf.com

  13. Magpie says:

    I say that as one who struggled with this problem. I’m not saying that is what the OP is troubled with.

  14. Random Friar, I remember that Oregon case. I was in law school at the time. I was outraged by it then and I am outraged by it now. A government official who tapes a confession ought to be hung up by his thumbs.

    This question reminds me that I’ve noticed that the lives of saints frequently contain testimony from confessors, which seems to come from the process for beatification. Just how much can a confessor divulge for purposes of someone’s cause for sainthood?

    Miss Anita Moore, O.P.

  15. Re: testimony from confessors –

    Those are saints whose father confessors were also their spiritual directors. So they would hear their confession, and then, separately from Confession, advise them. Priests are allowed to testify about stuff they talked about outside of Confession.

  16. LouiseA says:

    Ray in MN,
    IF Catholics remember any previously UNconfessed grave sins they are obliged to mention them in their next Confession. The sins were already forgiven, but the obligation to confess them and receive a Penance for them remains. If you are not sure if you confessed them or not, you are not obliged to confess them.

  17. Oneros says:

    “And it could get the penitent a censure.”

    Well, I’m not going to risk being the “test case” but I am 99.99% certain that the “anyone” means anyone but the penitent. On appeal, I’m sure such sloppy wording would be clarified. There is no reason for the penitent themselves not to record. I am almost certain the intent is for the law to be analogous to the law for the Seal itself. Which is that anyone else involved has to keep the secret, but not the penitent himself.

  18. MikeM says:

    RE: Young Canadian,

    OR, for us luddites, you can always replace the iPhone with the iConfess with a pen and paper.

    I often times jot down a few words after confession… something like “priority of virtue… St. Michael… Psalms” Just a few words to jog my own memory when I get home.

  19. Tony from Oz says:

    I sympathise with folk jotting down a few notes apropos the penance received from a confessor. some priests give inordinately detailed penances (including page numbers where prayers are to be found) which involve detailed meditative instructions for what one is supposed to think on when one is reciting the prayers of penance – which is sometimes hard to recall. In these instances, I will draw the priest’s attention to my limited attention span and ask him to simplify his instructions.
    LouiseA: I am not so sure that if, after one has confessed sincerely and without intention to conceal any grave sins – one is obliged to confess a grave sin forgotten (but maybe I am thinking only of, say, a range of sins committed against a particular commandment, of which a few instances were forgotten – perhaps oversight of a completely different grave sin might be different). But, I had thought that if the intention of a penitent were to sincerely confess all sins without intentional concealment, then those unconfessed sins are forgiven – and it is only an exercise in humility to confess them again at a future confession, but not obligatory.

    I am interested in what the actual situation is in regard to this, so please feel free to put me to rights!

  20. dcs says:

    But, I had thought that if the intention of a penitent were to sincerely confess all sins without intentional concealment, then those unconfessed sins are forgiven – and it is only an exercise in humility to confess them again at a future confession, but not obligatory.

    They are forgiven only indirectly, not directly, and must be confessed when they are remembered.

    Hope this helps.

  21. dcs says:

    I should add that one need not make a special trip to confession to confess forgotten sins. It suffices to confess them the next time one receives the Sacrament after remembering them.

  22. Tony from Oz says:

    Thanks dcs – although can you cite a source for your contention about ‘indirect’ as opposed to ‘direct’ forgiveness? God, Who knows the intention of the penitent to confess all his grave sins, will surely forgive a grave sin forgotten. Assuming that the penitent has examined his conscience against the decalogue – so as not to exclude categories of sin on some tendentious/heretical ground – God can surely forgive such sins ‘directly’ as it was not the penitent’s intention either to conceal or deceive. Of course, the same case could especially be true of penitents making general confessions after many, many years in which the likelihood of forgetting particular grave sins is far greater.

  23. dcs says:

    @Tony from Oz,

    although can you cite a source for your contention about ‘indirect’ as opposed to ‘direct’ forgiveness

    I think it is Moral Theology by Jone and Adelman. In this case, “indirect” refers to sins that are not confessed but are nevertheless forgiven (because, for example, they are honestly forgotten or some other extraordinary circumstance), “direct” refers to sins that are confessed and are forgiven. We are bound to confess all sins that were not directly remitted. Here is St. Thomas on the matter:

    Objection 1. It would seem that a general confession does not suffice to blot out forgotten mortal sins. For there is no necessity to confess again a sin which has been blotted out by confession. If, therefore, forgotten sins were forgiven by a general confession, there would be no need to confess them when they are called to mind.

    Reply to Objection 1. In sacramental confession, not only is absolution required, but also the judgment of the priest who imposes satisfaction is awaited. Wherefore although the latter has given absolution, nevertheless the penitent is bound to confess in order to supply what was wanting to the sacramental confession.

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5010.htm#article5

    Simple rule: when you remember a sin, confess it!

    Hope this helps.

  24. Tony Layne says:

    I came to the conclusion some time ago that, in situations where recording media aren’t normally found, the question “Can I take a videocam/voice recorder to …?” will answer itself if you replace “videocam” or “voice recorder” with “time bomb”.

  25. GrogSmash says:

    Do NOT take your cell phone into the confessional! If you do, remove the battery! I forget the case specifics right off hand, but I do remember reading and hearing of a mafioso who was nailed (in NYC I think) as a result of the authorities tapping his cell phone. (I just found the link to the article: http://news.cnet.com/2100-1029_3-6140191.html)