ASK FATHER: If I confess to watching porn, must I say it was homosexual porn?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Father, recently the catechist at our parish said that, when making our confessions, we ought to mention anything that might aggravate or mitigate the gravity of our sins, so that the confessor can get a clearer idea of our culpability. I know that this is good practice, but is it necessary for making a valid confession? For example, if I wanted to confess to watching homosexual-themed pornography, could I just say “I watched pornography on one occasion”, or would I have to specifically say that the pornography was homosexual in nature?

First, the catechist at the parish is right to say that we should confess any circumstances which might aggravate or mitigate the gravity of sins.

For example, a man steals a loaf of bread.   On the one hand, he might be a well-off fellow who is perfectly able to buy it.  On the other hand, he is a poor man whose children are starving in the alley around the corner.  In both cases, a man stole bread.  Stealing is always wrong.  Circumstances change the gravity of the guilt of the sin committed.

Other circumstances include not having full use of will at the moment, because of fear or illness, etc.

Another example of why details can make a difference.  Say someone confesses needlessly belting a guy in the chops.  It wasn’t self-defense, he just did although insufficiently provoked. That’s sinful.  However, the guy he belted was not just any guy, he was a priest. The assaulter knew that his victim was a priest when he belted him.  That means that two sins were committed: the sin of the assault and the sin of sacrilege, because the person belted is a sacred person.  One act, but two sins must be confessed.

We must confess sins in kind and number and with necessary details.  These make a difference to the confessor.  These pieces of information tell the priest what sort of problems exist and what kind of counsel to give.  However, knowing and confessing in kind, number and significant details tells YOU, the penitent, what your principle problems are.  You can’t move forward if you don’t really know who you are.

Examination of conscience and confession of sins tells you who you are.

In the case you bring up, watching porn is sinful.  But, there is an essential element which must be confessed: it isn’t just porn, it is homosexual porn.  Homosexuality, by definition, involves unnatural, disordered appetites and inclinations.   Watching even homosexual porn of the opposite sex is an aggravating detail.  Watching homosexual porn of your same sex is worse yet.

Also, one occasion of doing this is bad.  If might just be a one-off, as it were.  An aberration (in more than one sense).  However, occasion after occasion across many confessions is a problem that must be addressed.

The devil is, literally, in these details.

Do not fear providing these details.

The priest has, by now, heard it all.  He is not going to freak out.  He is not going to tell anyone what you did.  He is probably going to be impressed by your courage.

And speaking of courage, the priest, learning that you are involved with homosexual porn, especially watching homosexual porn of your own sex, might be able to refer you to the excellent and helpful organization Courage.

Knowing ourselves and our principle faults, our vicious habits, etc., is the first step to making changes and striving for holiness.  Another indispensable element in amending our lives is the knowledge that we are going to suffer and the willingness to suffer when it comes.  When we say “NO!” to vicious appetites and temptations to sin in ways that are by now deeply ingrained, habitual, we will begin to suffer.  THAT’s the moment you must anticipate before hand.  Plan for it.  Recognize it for what it is.  Make a plan about how you are going to handle it.  Have a strategy to deal with it.  Commit yourself to a plan of action, for example.  Plan that when you say “NO!” to a temptation and you start to suffer you will go out to the garage and start scrubbing oil stains out of the concrete.  You will clean the gutters.  You will strip paint from the fence and repaint.  You will…. etc.

Be ready and willing to suffer and have a plan.

And, especially in the case of something like porn, really be tough on yourself.  It is horribly, diabolically addictive.

Maintain custody of the eyes.  Don’t look at what you must not look at.   The devil can really get to you through your eyes.  If this means getting rid of the computer, etc., that is what you must do.   I remember one young man telling me – outside of the confessional and in no way in the internal forum – that having a computer in his apartment was like having hot and cold running cocaine coming right at him.  He got rid of his computer in his dwelling and broke the vice.

And for any Jesuit homosexualist advocate who might be reading this:

Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.  And if thy hand, or thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to go into life maimed or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee having one eye to enter into life, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

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11 Responses to ASK FATHER: If I confess to watching porn, must I say it was homosexual porn?

  1. Don’t be afraid to confess. God ALREADY knows what you did. You aren’t telling God anything He doesn’t already know and see. Also, try not to ‘see’ the priest so much as remember it is a merciful Jesus Christ to Whom you are really acknowledging these sins in this sacrament of love.
    Fear not.
    Prayers for all of us who struggle to confess, that we may all see confession for what it really is, that we will run to that ocean of mercy in full and open self-disclosure.

  2. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Thanks so much for this excellent post, Fr. Z.

    As a priest of many years, I know that there is still a lot of confusion on how to make a good confession.

    I still occasionally hear things like “I sinned against the 6th commandment.”

    Penitents: Please be a little more specific about the *nature* of the sin (without going into graphic description of the *details* of the sin). This helps the priest confessor in assigning a fitting penance and, if necessary, giving appropriate counsel.

    Can’t underscore enough Fr. Z’s advice: Don’t worry about shocking, upsetting or unnerving the priest. We have heard it all before. We are there to forgive sins in the person of Christ, for the penitent the Lord places before us, certainly not to compare one penitent against another.

  3. faithandfamily says:

    Your Reverence, I can’t thank you enough for posting this question and your response. You cannot imagine how timely and necessary was your advice, for a family struggling with this addiction. May God continue to bless you and protect your priesthood. A prayer offered for this situation would be much appreciated.

  4. ChrisP says:

    Great post Fr Z.
    And it makes me wonder: is it an occasion of sin to give open consideration to the rantings of Jesuit homosexualists? Must we all confess the precise number times we have tried to prise reality from their missives?

  5. Peregrinator says:

    For example, a man steals a loaf of bread. On the one hand, he might be a well-off fellow who is perfectly able to buy it. On the other hand, he is a poor man whose children are starving in the alley around the corner. In both cases, a man stole bread. Stealing is always wrong. Circumstances change the gravity of the guilt of the sin committed.

    That stealing is always wrong is certainly true. However a man who takes a loaf of bread to feed his starving children isn’t stealing. As St. Thomas writes, “In cases of need all things are common property, so that there would seem to be no sin in taking another’s property, for need has made it common.” (ST II-ii q.66 a.7)

    [Aquinas is nimble. But it is hard to get around the fact that the hungry man took what was not his, which, by definition is…]

  6. Peregrinator says:

    Aquinas is nimble. But it is hard to get around the fact that the hungry man took what was not his, which, by definition is…

    Not to belabor the point, [And yet here we are…] but I’ll add that St. Alphonsus agrees with St. Thomas here and defines “theft” as the “taking the property of another, without a just cause, and against his will.” Extreme necessity (merely being hungry is not enough, but your example mentioned starving children) is certainly a just cause.

    [Objectively speaking, the man took something that didn’t belong to him. The circumstances, however, justify his taking it and his guilt is zero. Rabbit hole is CLOSED.]

  7. Peter Stuart says:

    Thank you for the clear advice, Father. It’s a trial to haul my struggling SSA self back into the confessional time after time (yesterday was the latest, after reading this post). But knowing that the priest welcomes straight-up candor makes me feel more confident in the sacrament. I pray that translates into more confidence in Christ’s mercy and grace, and in the Church’s teaching, next time I am tempted either to sin or to the occasion of sin.

    [Truth in charity, friend. And then we help each other out.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. thomas tucker says:

    So, I take it the same thing would apply to confessing the enjoyment of something like impure thoughts- would one have to specify that they were impure thoughts about adultery? What happens if someone didn’t stipulate that in confession? Do they have to go back and confess it all again? [No, you don’t have to go back.]

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: reading Aquinas, “it would seem to be” means “this is an objection which I am about to demolish, or which is only partially true/applicable.”

  10. If you will forgive me, Father: it occurs to me that some may read this and be unclear on a precise point. Is a confession not valid if the penitent omits these aggravating circumstances, and only confesses, “I looked at porn” or “I was impure with someone else”? [I think that it is super important to add important circumstances, such that some additional sin is identified (as in the example of striking a priest or religious: one act, two sins). It is good for the penitent, and important for the confessor. However, if people who are not well on the way in the spiritual life, or who are less than experienced or perhaps less than well-formed in regard to making a good confession, sincerely do their best, certainly they are validly absolved of all their sins, regardless of the omission of some details, however important. As a person advances, however, and becomes more thoughtful and discerning in making an examination of conscience, the more important it would be to add some details that can change the nature of the sin.]

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