From a reader:
I have a problem. Whenever I go to confession (traditional screened booth), my confessors can recognize my voice, and sometimes indicate that they know it’s me.
I abhor this with a deep purple abhorrence, and am now really self-conscious when I go to confession. I repeatedly drive around the block trying to avoid confession.
I was thinking, I don’t speak in my actual voice anymore. I have somewhat of a deep manly voice and often got mistaken for a man on the phone, so I sort of changed my voice several years ago.
Would I be sinning if I changed my voice back down several pitches during confession in order to throw off my confessors into mistaking me for a man so they don’t know it’s me? Does it make a difference for priests whether or not I’m female or male?
I am glad that you overcome your nerves and actually GO TO CONFESSION! Very good.
First, I will say to priests, if you are giving a sign that you know who the penitent is, and the penitent hasn’t said “Father, it’s ‘John” again.”, the KNOCK IT OFF! Penitents should be able to be anonymous. Do NOT burden them with the additional knowledge that, when you meet out side of the confessional, you may be connecting what they confessed to their person. Sheesh! Don’t feel you have to be chummy in the confessional.
Secondly, dear penitent, don’t play games with confession. Don’t try to deceive your confessor.
It is a good, standard practice in making your confession to start be indicating your state in life (“I’m married, with children”, “I’m a diocesan priest in good standing”, “I am a professed religious sister”, “I am single/ divorced/separated awaiting annulment…”.). Whether you are a woman or a man does make a difference in your confession. Yes, everyone, it does. People are not “generic”, or “gender neutral” in confessing.
If you have an option, perhaps you can go to confession to a confessor where you are not usually also going to Mass. Put some distance between your regular parish situation and your regular confessor.
If that is not possible, just – breathe deeply – bite the bullet and go anyway.
The priest is bound by the Seal of Confession. Were the priest to betray anything of the content of the confession you have made… let’s just say that will have been a Very Bad Day™ in the tale of Father’s life.
I fully understand how nervous people can be when making a confession, a good confession. The anxiety can be especially heavy if it has been a while and you have a lot to confess.
May I refer you to my Tips For Making a God Confession? Especially:
11) …never be afraid to say something “embarrassing”… just say it;
12) …never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…. he is usually impressed by our courage;
13) …never fear that the priest will not keep our confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
20) …remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.
On a personal note, two things:
I have once in a while been startled by some saying, “But Father, I’m a man/woman!” Yes, it happens. This happens because we are human beings. Just smile and go on.
Also, I think other confessors will attest to this, but my experience is that even in a matter of a few seconds after the penitent gets out of the box, I can’t easily recall what it was that I just heard! I have, over the years, knowledge and experience of lots of confessions, and therefore (please, God, I pray and hope) the accumulated wisdom that comes from experience. However, whether it is because of graces or the results of my years-long discipline of wanting to protect the anonymity of penitents, or both, I don’t usually remember what I hear for more then a very brief time. Granted, were I in a really small country village – of many decades ago – where few people moved around or visited the place, the story might be different. Still, I’ll bet other priests are this way too regarding the content of confessions.
Lastly, a moment of embarrassment does not outweigh the benefits of a sacramental confession well made and the absolution that come from it, regardless of who the priest may be, saintly confessor, wise-cracking jerk, less-than-faithful sinner, scatter-brained but pious. The one who is giving you absolution in the person of the priest is none other than Jesus Christ, High Priest, Savior, Judge.
Keep going, friend.