From a reader…
There is a young lady who regularly takes a very long time in Confession (25-30 minutes, sometimes longer). She is not making a long confession, and it’s not the priest spending long amounts of time giving her counsel. It’s her repeatedly asking questions about what the priest says and just a whole lot of being loquacious (she’s very loquacious and it’s hard to get a word in if she’s part of a conversation). How do I know all this? She’s also very loud, so everything she says during that half hour is heard by anyone within a 20 foot radius of the confessional (which is pretty well sound resistant). The priest is of a more timid disposition and not going to say anything (if he can even get a word in). Is it ever appropriate for someone in line to knock on the door of the penitent and kindly let them know that everyone in line can hear what the person is saying, or to please wrap it up because the line up is growing exponentially? It’s so frustrating to know that it will take only a few minutes to make my confession, but I’ll be waiting in line for a half hour or longer because said person went straight for the confessional when they got into the church and I opted to Spiritually prepare for a minute beforehand.
Should you knock on the door?
No. You should not.
However, you can tell the person afterward that people outside could hear everything she said. Do NOT say what you heard.
You could, as you get into the confessional after that noisy penitent, tell the priest that you could hear everything.
It is the priest’s responsibility to handle the pace and length of the confession. I wouldn’t get into that with the noisy penitent.
You might also – on another occasion – ask the priest to preach occasionally about how to make a good confession, or to put some instructions in bulletin and to make a pamphlet of some kind available.
And there are my 20 Tips.
Also, I will remind everyone reading this that overhearing something in someone else’s confession places an obligation on you. You are not to reveal or talk about what you have overheard. In a sense it is an extension of the Seal that binds the confessor.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law deals with this.
Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.
§2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.
Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.
§2. An interpreter and the others mentioned in can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication.
So, anyone who overhears the content of a confession cannot reveal what she has heard to anyone else. Doing so could incur a censure, if the person is aware that it is wrong to reveal the content of a confession.
NB: A person who is genuinely unaware of the law and the gravity of the situation does not incur a penalty. You have to know that it is wrong before you can incur the penalty. This is another thing that priests should explain in their preaching and bulletin notes.
Some might wonder if, having overheard a person’s confession, it would violate the “seal” to go up to the person afterward and tell her that she could be heard. Isn’t that a way of making use of information learned from someone else’s confession? Answer: No, that would not violate the law about secrecy. You would merely be acting on the fact of the volume of sound coming from the confessional, which anyone else nearby could hear, not the content of what was said. Also, in no way would it be to the detriment of the noisy penitent to be so informed. It would be a positive benefit so that she knew to correct her noisy practice in the future. However, under no circumstances should you tell her what you overheard.
All necessary steps should be taken to preserve the secrecy of the confessional.
Confessionals should be adequately sound-proofed. Penitents should be instructed where to wait for confession so that, over time, good practices take root. Priests should preach about confession practices and remind people while making their confession to lower their voices if they are loud. Confessors should help penitents not to ramble aimlessly.
And, it seems appropriate to add here:
GO TO CONFESSION!