POLL: face to face or behind the screen

Catholics should make a good habit of regular confession for the whole year, of course, but Lent is a privileged season for penance and reconciliation.

Alas, the sacrament has fallen into desuetude in many places.  Many priests, of a certain age and formation, abandoned their confessionals and imperiled the souls entrusted to their care. 

May God be merciful to them for their deadly neglect.

One of the things which changed around about confession was the development of the "reconciliation room" with "face to face" confession. 

Frankly, I won’t use those.  Unless there is a very good reason, I usually won’t hear confessions if there is not a screen available, preferably a full and fixed barrier, like the old fashioned confessionals.  

I want people to have anonymity and there must be the security of propriety.

The situation in Italy is a little different, of course.  Many Italian confessionals have an open window in front.

That said, what do you prefer?    Give us your answer and your reasons why!


Which way do you prefer to go to confession?

  • behind a screen or grate (88%, 1,924 Votes)
  • face to face (12%, 264 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,188

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  1. Brian Day says:

    While I’ve gone to confession both way, I prefer the screened confessional. Probably because that is the way I learned it in my youth.

  2. btb says:

    Face-to-face with my personal confessor; behind the screen otherwise.

  3. caleb1x says:

    Sorry, but I can only give you my answer behind the grate.

  4. Kiel says:

    I prefer face to face. I especially prefer receiving the sacrament from a priest I know well or who is in my parish that I deal with often. Among other reasons, it gives me a sense of accountability and it helps me receive the grace that I need to prevent me from repeating the same sin again. If I was to return to confession and repeatedly confess the same sin, I would feel more “disappointed” or “guilty” as the priest, in persona Christi, has heard me confess this before.

  5. tradone says:

    IMO, Confession face to face does not reinforce the fact that one is confessing to God.
    It’s kind of like looking at the priest face to face at Mass.

  6. cuaguy says:

    I need to have the screen to calm my nerves. I know that I shouldn’t be scared going to confession, but I am, and won’t go face to face, since I don’t want to know my confessor

  7. Brian in Wisconsin says:

    Father and others, I’m with you that behind the grille is best, especially when a priest is with a woman. However, consider the fact that in Italy face to face is common, and there are even pictures of St. Pio hearing someone’s confession in this manner. Our confessionals are not like those in Italy (grille on each side of the priest, but the priest visible and with a little kneeler on the door, often), so that’s probably why it never became common here. But there’s nothing ipso facto wrong with it.

  8. Irish says:

    It’s dark. You’re on your knees because you are asking for mercy. You’re alone with your conscience. The screen opens. A light shines and a hand appears, blessing you. The hand of God offering forgiveness. You only see a veiled profile. But you have his ear. It’s enough. A mortal’s peek into the eternal mystery. You begin, “Bless me father, for I have sinned…”

    Behind the grate.

  9. I prefer to go behind the screen because being anonymous is more comfortable for me, but also because I can better direct my words and my heart to God. At my parish, the confessionals have crucifixes above the screens–I find that very helpful and comforting. They remind me why I am there–Christ died so that I could be reconciled with God. And He gave us this Sacrament and ministers to help us go about it.

    I’ve gone to Confession face-to-face a couple of times. It was not the same. I was more nervous and distracted.

  10. Jillian says:

    I’ve gone both face to face and behind a screen. Being a younger reader of your blog, I was actually taught to go to “Reconciliation” face-to-face and was not aware there was another option (hence my formal rare reception of the Sacrament) until I discovered traditional Catholicism and a few faithful parishes. Since my first experience with a Confessional, I’ve never looked back and gone to the Sacrament more often–not because I like anonymity, because I’m pretty sure certain priests could recognize my voice, but because it seems more proper and puts the priest-penitent relation in proper perspective… every reconciliation room I sat in a chair facing a very relaxed priest– the feeling was very informal. Kneeling behind a screen, I understand better the gravity of my situation that brings me to the Sacrament.

  11. Charlotte says:

    As with btb, I prefer face-to-face with my usual confessor. But if I’m out of town or at a strange parish, then behind the screen. I used to feel otherwise, but my fear of confession was eventually lessened when I started to have courage and faith, which I obtained from an ongoing relationship with my confessor.

  12. Nemo says:

    Definitely behind a grate. We should be on our knees begging for mercy, not having a chat session.

  13. Lydia P says:

    When I was a teenager (about the time that face to face was introduced) I thought it was cool to confess that way. But now that I am older and have had a chance to sin in so many more ways, I really prefer the anonymity that the grille or screen affords. Also, I agree with Brian that a woman should not be alone in a room face to face with a priest.

  14. I have a very distinct voice, so over the years I know that almost every priest I confessed to know who I am.

    But I think that it’s good to have the screen, because most people don’t want the priest to know who they are.

    Also having the screen helps the priest to be more objective in dealing with sins. If you see the person, it’s so easy to judge the person base on appearance. But if you only hear the sins, you can more objective in making judgements base on facts.

  15. Tina says:

    I’m actually torn. I’m an informal person, so I like the face-to-face confession. However, now I’m worried what my priest thinks of me. You’d think this would be a good thing, in keeping me from sinning….
    I suppose the solution is to find a strange priest and kneel.

    I remember when my 2nd grade class had First Reconciliation. The nun (our school for the longest time had a nun teach second grade, as it was the year for first Communion/Reconciliation…they tried to keep a nun for 8th grade as well, but it didn’t work out as well) encouraged us to try both ways before deciding. I think the reason we didn’t have the reconciliation room like other parished is because there was no where in the Church for one. That’s what happens when you go to a church built in 1860, no extra rooms.

    Well I suppose they could have used the baptistry…but when I was in second grade, the baptismal font was still in there…

  16. Jeff Pinyan says:

    I prefer to confess behind a screen. In my childhood, I was familiar with both ways. I had one excellent face-to-face confession that I remember, but most of the face-to-face confessions have seemed more like “conferences” or “pep talks” rather than actually experiences of a sacrament.

    Confession behind a screen reminds me of my separation from God due to sin, it helps me put the personality of the priest out of my mind so I can concentrate on the person of Jesus, and it makes me much less self-conscious.

  17. Jimbo says:

    Behind the screen. Good points about propriety and anonymity. Face to face confession also seems to make the line pull to a standstill. If you want spiritual direction, its best to make an appointment so you can talk at length. I learned several years ago that no priest is obligated to do face to face confession (unless the circumstances call for it such as while offering last rites), but can choose to use only the screen. Thought that was interesting. This whole problem could go away if priests just said no to reconciliation rooms and demanded confessionals.

  18. Mike Finn says:

    Face to face because I’m mildly claustrophobic and sometimes freeze up in the boxed in space of some small confessionals.

  19. Dan W says:

    I go face to face with my usual confessor and behind the screen elsewhere. I prefer the screen because it takes less effort to remember that I’m confessing to God, but I find I can get better spiritual direction when my priest knows who I am.

  20. opey124 says:

    Behind the screen. Because I can focus more and remove the temptation of “chatting” the other way. I also realized I made excuses when I went face to face.

  21. Mark says:

    Face to face makes me feel more accountable. Plus, I have a hard time making the regularly scheduled time, so I have to make appointments.

  22. Margaret says:

    Strong, strong preference for the screen. My confessor knows perfectly well who I am, thank you very much– the better to tailor his advice and counsel. But I’ll still take the screen, and IIRC, it’s actually our right to confess anonymously if we so choose. Is that correct?

  23. Gil Garza says:

    Behind the veil makes it plain to me that I’m having a personal encounter with Christ. I tend to forget that when I’m looking at Fr. Joe’s mug.

  24. I voted for behind the screen or grate, but I am actually rather neutral and that was not an option.

    I find that the more traditional the priest, the more they seem to prefer that we do it the old fashioned way (my perception, of course). Part of this, I believe, may have something to do with how people can abuse the face to face opportunity and turn it into a conversation.

    I used this option when I first went to Grotto and Fr. Perrone opens both sides of his box (face to face on one side, and kneeling behind a grate on the other).

    One reason he does this is because handicapped people have difficulty getting into the kneeling side and they often cannot kneel (which means, that if they stand if they don’t put their foot on the kneeler, the light isn’t triggered. This is difficult for the elderly and handicapped and, my personal experience with at least one such person, leaves her insecure feeling that someone will walk in on her confession because she cannot trigger the light.

    I also think that with a grate, no one with an evil intention in mind, can claim that the priest did something to them, sexually, or otherwise, while in the confessional. With the grate – there is no way for priest and penitent to touch, physically.

    Again, I have no qualms confessing face to face.

    One thing for sure, I prefer to confess on my knees, whether it is face to face or behind a grate.

  25. Behind the screen, for all the reasons given above, e.g., the candor fostered by anonymity, the reinforcement that it is the work of God. I also have bad memories of face-to-face therapy sessions from my youth.

  26. memoriadei says:

    I much much prefer face to face. I make an appointment which the priest blocks as much time as he thinks which is 30 minutes to an hour. It’s at his convenience so there is time to discuss the sin more and to have feedback. I have not gone behind the screen since 1968.

    I am placed in a much more humble position to face the face who absolves. It was easier for me spiritually to be anonymous. I find that the more aware I become of my sins, the more I appreciate face to face.

  27. Janet says:

    Face to face when with my regular confessor, but generally we both have eyes closed or are looking down. With any other priest, I stay behind the screen.

  28. Jayna says:

    There is one priest in my parish that I usually do face to face confessions with if only because he knows my voice so well that it doesn’t make a difference if he can see me or not. Last time I did confession behind, well, the slightly sheer curtain that’s hung between the kneeler and the priest (with a huge honkin’ window behind it – makes you feel like you’re on display!), but the anonymity was pretty much shattered when the priest came around the curtain and opened the door for me after I was done – which, I must say, was completely unnecessary. He did that for everyone, so whether or not they wanted to do confession behind the “screen,” he saw them all.

    So, I guess I’m like a few others on here – face to face with my usual confessor (with whom I usually make appointments), if not, then behind the screen.

  29. big white van says:

    Definitely prefer a structured, permanent confessional. I’ve gone face-face a couple times due to a very large priest who couldn’t fit in the confessional once and confessional renovation once. Neither time though was in a ‘conversational’ set up. The priest was sitting in a chair with a kneeler next to him. His eyes were closed when I entered the room and never looked at me while hearing my confession or giving absolution.
    At large Catholic events where they have many priests hearing confessions I have seen confessions set up outside,obviosuly out of earshot from one another.

  30. Jim says:

    In the Eastern tradition the penitent stands next to the priest while confessing. It is not really “face to face.” The priest places his stole on the penitent’s head during the absolution. Confession is strongly encouraged in the Eastern churches.

  31. Paul Haley says:

    I’m usually so embarrassed that I prefer the anonymity of the screen or the privacy of the booth. But, in an emergency face to face will do.

  32. ours was replaced by a reconciliation room years ago, used very little, I won’t use it, It is much easier to be candid when I go to another parish with a confessional and I don’t have to see the priest every Sunday

  33. Nick says:

    The face-to-face adds to the humiliation factor, which is good because we deserve humiliation for our sins. The negative side is that this scares or distracts as many people as it supposedly helps.

    That said, behind a screen is more “traditional” and helps you to confess rather than looking around and especially having to look at the priest’s face.

    As far as ‘telling it like it is’, I think face to face it is harder for the priest to chastise you, so that is not good for spiritual growth. I remember one time when an ‘old school’ style priest just crushed me so bad I didn’t recover till a few days later, but after I got over it I realized just how much it helped spiritually and I knew that would not happen face-to-face.

    However, back in the early Church, you had to confess publicly and do public penances and grave sins meant you couldn’t receive Communion for months if not years.

  34. Anastasia says:

    face to face with my regular confessor/spiritual director
    confessional with other priests although most of them recognize my voice anyway.

  35. memoriadei says:

    ooops, forgot one thing. One day we will face Jesus and be naked before all our sins. Being face to face gives me just a tiny example of what that will be like. If it’s that hard here, oh wow, how much more difficult will it be then? If I am going to confess my sins…I want the full impact of what I have done or not done with a face to face.

  36. Clara says:

    Behind the screen. It’s not just about anonymity, because when it’s my regular confessor, I know he recognizes my voice. But I think this is one of those cases where less contact is better. This is a principle that I’ve occasionally found helpful when trying to talk through a somewhat emotionally charged issue with my husband or another family member. Maybe we’ll get in an argument, feelings will be a little bruised, and then when we approach the issue again… we do it over ichat. That way you don’t get all the “unintentional” feedback of facial expressions and body language and so forth, which can sometimes be a relief. Makes it easier to stay calm and focused. After you’ve cleared some things up that way, maybe you’ll feel sufficiently fortified to apologize to their face.

    Well, I think something similar holds for confession. If I’m talking to someone face to face, particularly about something intensely personal, I will be scrutinizing his expressions and body language, trying to figure out what he’s thinking. It’s just second nature to do that. But in the case of confession, it isn’t helpful; I just need to concentrate on Christ and on my own sins and not worry about what the priest thinks. Putting a screen between us helps me to do just that. I’ve even confessed sitting in the back seat of a dark car (sounds shady, I know, but we were short on options!) with the priest sitting in the front seat. I thought that worked fine.

    Ever since my conversion I’ve found regular confession to be enormously helpful to me spiritually, and I often urge people not to be afraid to go. But I have to say that the *only* really bad experience I’ve ever had with confession was also the one time I ever confessed to a priest face to face. The face to face factor was not the main thing that made it so traumatic, but it certainly didn’t help. So I say go with the screens. They’re safer on every count.

  37. Cath says:

    I go face to face with my spiritual director, anywhere else behind the screen. Even if face to face, I prefer on my knees, sitting in a chair seems too informal to me.

  38. PMcGrath says:

    I prefer face to face, but kneeling in front of the confessor.

  39. Ruben says:

    I prefer behind a screen. For a short time I used to go face to face just to mortify myself more. I learned later that it sometimes mortifies the priest. A priest once told me that he won’t even look at a person in the face if they come in for face to face confession. It didn’t occur to me until he told me so that perhaps it was not something the priest necessarily prefers either.

    The other reason I believe face to face is not necessarily always helpful is that I think it might discourage some from wanting to confess if that is all that’s available at a church. Some modern churches have what amounts to a big glass cage with two chairs for a confessional. We want to encourage people to go to confession, not scare them off. It’s not an easy thing to begin with so why make it more difficult?

    I have been preparing catechism students for their sacraments for some time and I can appreciate the difficulty many of them have in their first confessions, especially if they end up confessing face to face.

    I wonder if the increase in face to face confessions have caused in some way the diminishment (or even the eradication) in some people for the desire to go to confession. That could not be a good thing.

  40. Definitely face to face… I had awful experiences as a small child in the darkness of the confessional. The door handle was rickety and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to open it…

    Scary for me…

    Also, I don’t use the formula I used as a child. I confess directly to God and then when I am finished, I ask God to speak to me through his priest… This has been very meaningful for me.

  41. Mark G. says:

    I prefer face-to-face with my usual confessors & behind the screen otherwise. As Memoria said, you’re going to be face-to-face to with Christ accounting for your sins one day – might as well prepare yourself now.

  42. I prefer the screen and the anonymity.

    The face-to-face confession has its place when speaking with a spiritual director in an appointment which allows for a much longer session. Some familiarity with someone who knows you, your history, and particular issues is necessary for personal direction.

    But for the ‘get-it-done’ session, I prefer the screen. Move the line along! There is a long line behind you!

    Hopefully people understand that ‘chatting’ is not a prerequisite for the grace – but the absolution and penance is.

  43. Jeff M says:

    When I converted to Catholicism as an adult and had to make my first confession, I went face-to-face. I didn’t really understand how to go to confession, and I didn’t want to hold up the line. I think that’s a good practice for people who are making their first confession or haven’t been in a long time. I was behind a guy in the regular line once who hadn’t confessed in 18 years–he was telling everybody–and of course he went too long and I missed my chance to confess that day. Make an appointment fer crying out loud! But after the first time, I found I preferred the screen.

  44. catholic college student says:

    Hm. With my spiritual director or in need of an impromptu confession, I don’t mind and almost prefer face-to-face. Some of my best confessions have been kneeling in front of the priest in the sacristy or walking along with the priest outside.

    If it’s a regularly scheduled confession time… I’m more likely to go behind the screen, though the priests at school all know my voice. Sometimes I’ll face-to-face because of the fact that the priests know my voice.

    Back home or with a priest that doesn’t know me, I go behind the screen.

  45. Brian says:

    I once tried to go to confession at a liberal parish. There were only three of us there. The person in confession was in there talking for forty-five minutes, then confession time was over and the two of us waiting were out of luck. If people are seeking pastoral counselling they should make an appointment.

    I do not like all that chummy chatter. I prefer the darkenend anonymity of confessing my sins to Christ and receiving a word of advice, penance, an act of contrition, and absolution. I come out a new man, and the line moves along.

  46. Nick says:

    I like screen confession because the screen reminds me that the priest is only a screen for Jesus.

  47. Christina says:

    I’ve made confession both ways. To be sure, the screen does convey more of an awareness of “self” and God as “other,” and I am told it serves to protect the celibacy and spirituality of priests. And if protecting our priests was the only reason to use a screen that would be enough for me!

    All that said, I really appreciate making confession face-to-face. There is little more humbling than having to look a priest directly in the eyes and name my sins. It reminds me that our Lord sees my sins directly and clearly, and waits patiently to show His grace.

    As for all that “reconciliation” stuff? Icky.

  48. snowy says:

    In the confessional, most definitely. I am extremely nervous, almost to the point of shaking during confession. I can’t imagine face to face. I wouldn’t go. That why I am so glad my church has a confessional.

  49. As Memoria said, you’re going to be face-to-face to with Christ accounting for your sins one day – might as well prepare yourself now.

    So roughly 14 centuries of our ancestors were unprepared …?

  50. Mitchell NY says:

    I have written my opinion about this in a few other posts recently on this site. Behind a screen, for many,(accurate translation)helps to be more honest and removes the personality of to whom we are speaking. Too many people are just uncomfortable confessing to their Priest while viewing the facial expressions and gestures with each utterance of the next sin. Behind a screen it just feels more like you are talking to God with no distractions, or at least less of them..I remember my first confession was the then “ad experimentum” face to face in the pew. And because of it I was terrified, stumbled through the shorter version of the Act of Contrition, left things out and never wanted to do it again. I was angry (which I did not confess either) that I could not go in the confessional booth. They were off limits from then on.

  51. shana sfo says:

    I was taught as a child to go face to face (another of those 1970′ atrocities committed against Catholic children with communion in the hand, ‘collages’ and ‘Rock Masses’)

    It was many years that I thought it the ‘best’ way because it was how I learned. I was told by someone it was good for humility.

    But really, it was quite dreadful for humility because I find it very difficult to properly accuse myself of my sins when someone is looking me in the eye. I tried, but often found myself trying to excuse my sins so as not to lose the esteem of the priest. I know that my pastor knows my voice, but it is much easier to accuse myself if I don’t see him.

    I also feel embarrassed about the first volley of my list of sins, and then I don’t remember all the sins I wish to confess.

    I learned right here that we have the right to confess anonymously, and once I knew that, I utilized it, found it a great relief, and that is what I prefer now.

    Not long ago (and before I knew our right to be anonymous), when some of my younger children made their first confessions, parents were instructed to walk into the room where the child would be confessing (they could be seen through a glass door, but not heard) and introduce them to the priest!

    My 9 year old made her first confession last year, and I made sure she knew she had the right to kneel behind the screen (there was a portable screen as well as a face to face chair in the glass-doored room) – and she did kneel behind the screen. And so did most of the other children. They don’t like confessing face to face either and seem to be happier kneeling behind the screen, too.

  52. JF says:

    Definitely voted for the behind the screen style. It’s much more “liturgical” and feels like a rite of the Church, which it is, rather than Fr. So and So doing me a favour and then chatting it up afterwards.

  53. Peter says:

    Definitely behind the screen. When I entered the Church via RCIA we were told face to face was “better” but I can’t say that’s been my experience. When I first started going to Confession I would forget what I was going to say or the Act of Contrition – being behind the screen allowed me to bring notes just in case I got flustered and I wouldn’t have to feel funny about looking at them. I’m but a sinner, and don’t need any extra excuses not to go to Confession.

  54. Brian Walden says:

    I stutter and am greatful for the opportunity to confess face to face. It’s a much more comfortable situation for someone with my condition. It would take me twice as long to confess behind a screen.

  55. Ad Orientem says:

    Most people don’t realize it but anonymous confession is something of an innovation. The traditional mode in both the east and west has always been for confession to be in person with the priest directly. This is the manner in which it is still done in the Orthodox Church and among at least some Uniate Catholics who have not adopted the Latin custom.

    Confession in my parish is generally done just to the side of the iconostasis though I have also seen it done standing in front of and facing the icon of Christ the Savior. Usually there is a small stand with a gospel book and a blessing cross on it. One kisses the gospel and the cross and and then you begin your confession while the priest stands to the side. The preparatory prayers stress the need for repentance and that one is confessing to God. The priest has only three functions, to be a witness, to give spiritual council if such is needed, and to give voice to God’s forgiveness by reciting the absolution. In Orthodoxy it is God who forgives. The priest merely gives voice to that pardon. It is not at all unusual in Orthodox churches for persons to take confession in the front of the church while people are coming and going.

    That said I certainly do understand that the whole screen thing is what many people of a certain age grew up with. And it probably makes things easier for some people. I don’t think there is anything wrong with anonymous confession. But historically it was not the normative method.

    Under the mercy,

  56. Margaret C. says:

    The responses here are fascinating. I’m a convert and have tried the sacrament both ways. In general, I prefer to confess behind a screen — it’s easier to stay focused and not avoid what I’ve come there to say.

    Our RCIA group discussed the sacrament of penance last week — my advice to the class was to try it both ways and then stick to whatever seems to work best.

  57. rosebudsal says:

    First time I ever confessed I went face-to-face with the priest in the pews. I was terrified. I don’t really recall the experience, but I do remember he put me at ease and it ended up going smoothly. My catechism students had the option of going either face-to-face or in the confessional. Most actually went face-to-face. We had several priests hearing the confessions and the pastor of my parish had the biggest line.

    Now, I like to go behind the screen. I’ve gone face-to-face with my pastor. It was a good experience, mostly because it was the first time I’d been to confession in years. He was very kind, patient and helpful. I suspect much like he was with the children a few weeks ago. But now, that I’m going to Confession fairly regularly, I prefer going behind the screen.

  58. TKS says:

    Behind the sreen as in my childhood. I travel a lot and one time I walked in to ‘Reconciliation” to find Father behind a big desk and reading. So much for that. A screen goes along with my need for quiet and solemnity to keep me focused and trying to make the best Confession I can.

  59. Privacy says:

    Not posting under my usual name, hope this can be an exception to the “no anonymous” comments.

    [Partially edited by Fr. Z]

    I’ve seen all glass confessionals that have two chairs facing each other, and both individuals able to be fully seen. As someone who is partially deaf, I’ve had to learn lip reading (though I’m not great at it). Anyone with the skill could read another’s confession. [Good point!]

  60. student says:

    I prefer face to face if it is obvious that the confessional is not well sound-proofed. If I sit in line and I can easily hear what’s going on in the confessional, then I go for face-to-face so I don’t have to speak so loudly. Should I be ashamed before men when I have sinned before God? No, but I still can’t bring myself to disclose sins loudly within earshot of everyone waiting.

  61. Most people don’t realize it but anonymous confession is something of an innovation. The traditional mode in both the east and west has always been for confession to be in person with the priest directly.

    This is an assertion requiring proof. Moreover, as another poster observed, in the East confession is conducted as priest and penitent stand side-by-side, with the priest placing the stole over the penitent’s head. In short, it is nothing like the contemporary face-to-face confession. So if we’re going to discuss what is and is not an innovation, we should be clear on the facts.

  62. Lois says:

    How I long for the confessionals. They ripped them out of our church years ago. All we have now is the little room, face to face or go behind a curtain. It’s just not the same thing…………

  63. CPT Tom says:

    I have gone to both. I much prefer “the box.” When I go to confession I want to be able to core dump my sins, and I want it to be all business. Even if there is no “box” (like when I was in the Army in the field) then I would sit (stand) sideways with my hand in front of my face with my eyes closed so I don’t have to look at the priest. Most priest get the hint and would do the same.

    In that moment, the priest is of lesser importance, I want to be able to confess my sins to God. I am not looking for a “Dr Phil” moment.

  64. A Random Friar says:

    I actually like the open-faced confessional, with kneelers on either side (you see these a lot in old Latin countries, colonies in the New World, etc). You get anonymity with the priest, and you get a lot fewer folks starting to talk while already you’re on the other side with someone else.

  65. Diego says:

    I’ve confessed both ways but much prefer behind a screen. My best confessions were behind them, with the exception of the ones in the “face to face” rooms. I can concentrate more when it’s dark and very little room and when I can only hear the priest. A much more powerful experience IMO.

  66. Dan says:

    In the confessional booth because it is so much more aesthetically pleasing then the big open room with two IKEA chairs looking at each other, not to mention Padre.

  67. CarpeNoctem says:

    Typically I go face-to-face because, as a priest, it is hard if not impossible to make regular confession hours where a priest is available in a regular confessional. I typically need to grab another priest and take him aside to any old private place whenever there is a gathering of priests. These inevitably end up being face-to-face encounters, except for one rather elderly priest I\’ve encountered on a number of occasions who would literally put his hand over his eyes when he hears my confession… an odd practice, but I suppose the way he was taught to do it when he was outside the box?

    I definitely prefer and do better with \’anonymous\’ confessions across a screen, both as a confessor and as a penitent. Until becoming a priest, I went to confession almost exclusively behind the screen.

    It can be awkward as a priest when face-to-face as to what to do with eyes, hands, etc. I think most people are a little spooked as well. I have noticed that most people look past me or on the floor or nervously all over the place when they go face-to-face. I have adopted mostly an eyes closed, head bowed, hands folded posture to hopefully provide a little more comfort/calmness for the penitent when they go face-to-face. I guess I do this regardless of whether the penitent is on one or the other side of the screen.

    My experience as a confessor is that the majority of folks (perhaps even a \”sizable\” majority in many places) use the screen.

  68. Julie says:

    I prefer behind the screen, for a few reasons: I won’t be tempted to sugar-coat my sins, I can kneel, I can focus on what I’m saying, what I’m hearing, and understand that this is Christ HIMSELF. Also I often tear up and it’s easier to not have someone see that. While at times there is value in face to face confessions (ie it can help one grow in humility!), I usually just go behind the screen.

  69. Karen says:

    Face to face with my regular confessor since that is available at his current assignment. Usually behind the screen when he was at my parish (though sometimes face to face if it was scheduled, rather than during regular confession hours). He knew who I was anyway.

  70. Dahler says:

    I don’t use the screen b/c the kneelers are usually too close to the screen and too high up, so its impossible for me to bend down and speak into the priest’s ear without sprawling onto the screen like bug on a windshield–tragic penance.

    Instead, I go face-to-face, but kneel on the floor and face the crucifix on the wall (priest sees my profile). This helps remind me of the penitential nature of the whole thing, and also allows us to communicate more effectively.

  71. Mark says:

    Behind the screenm, because I have heard that many priests prefer it.

  72. Kradcliffe says:

    I like a screen even though I know that the priest knows exactly who I am (the American woman.) I just find it easier to speak candidly when I don’t have to look anybody in the eye.

  73. Didymus says:

    May I offer a suggestion for another poll: does your parish offer Confession a regular times or “by appointment only”?

    At least half the parishes in this area it is by appt. which removes not only removes anonymity for those who wish it but also encouragement for people to go at Confession offered before Masses.

  74. Joel L says:

    How apropos. Just this afternoon my wife and I, and some friends were discussing this very topic with our former Pastor. He was curious and had asked us the same question.

    We talked it through and covered most everything that has already been said in previous responses. However what we all did agree on, and I have seen mention a couple times, is the physical position one ought to be in when making a confession. Being on ones knees was an overriding standard for everyone.

    On a side note, Father mentioned something that I suppose is a discussion topic between fellow priests. He said one thing that saddens him or gives him pause is when parishioners tell him they could not go to him for confession because they wouldn’t feel comfortable and wouldn’t want to jeopardize their relationship with him.
    Aside from a few very specific exceptions, that’s pretty sad when you think about it.

  75. Brandon says:

    SCREEN. Less emphasis on “who the priest is” and more on “what he is”

  76. Face to face was the worst thing ever. I dont think anything could have diminished the sacrament or the perception of more then allowing people to see the priest

  77. For most of my adulthood, I have used the face-to-face method. This was mainly because I encountered too many confessors who were sadists who loved to beat up people emotionally. I figure, if I walk into a confessional, I’m already contrite, and don’t need some guy with a burr in his saddle to bring the point home with me. In the last year or so, however, I’ve taken to using the grille. I suppose I’ve developed a thicker skin now that I’m in my fifties. I generally do not go to priest with whom I am acquainted. My own examen is rigorous enough, so I don’t look for rigor in a confessor, although I expect him to acknowledge my sins for what they are. Being in the Arlington-Washington area, I’m able to avoid most of the nonsense. When I’m home in Ohio, I try to find a religious order priest for my confession.

    Sometimes I go only once every few months. Sometimes I go once every week or two. As a master of ceremonies for a TLM, my duties often prevent me from stopping to receive. It is just as well, as I prefer not to take the sacrament for granted, and don’t receive every Sunday.

    I don’t expect the experience of others to be the same as mine. People should have their own hands full with their own salvation. I know I do with mine.

  78. AJP says:

    A number of people have said they are sure their confessors recognize them by
    voice. This is something that often crosses my mind when I go to confession
    (I’m in a small parish), and sometimes is quite troubling. I’d really like to
    hear a priest’s perspective on this. Father Z, Father Anthony, and other priests
    who are reading, do you really recognize the voices of regular penitents? What
    is a priest supposed to do if he recognizes through voice or through face-to-face
    one of the penitents, especially if the penitent is someone the priest already
    knows? Obviously the seal of confession applies to everyone, but is there anything
    a priest ought to do when he recognizes the penitent, especially with regards to
    “forgetting” the sins confessed when the priest sees the penitent again?

    Sorry if this is not making much sense.

  79. Geoffrey says:

    I have never seen a “box” confessional with grates, so these are things of legend! ;-)

    Where I am in California, you usually walk into a room and see the confessor’s feet sitting from behind a curtain. On the penitent’s side of the curtain is a kneeler. Across from the confessor is a chair, so you have the option.

    I always choose kneeling behind the curtain. In my youth I did face-to-face confessions once or twice which made me nervous and so not very effective. Recently I did a face-to-face confession when I had to ask a priest prior to Mass. We both sat but made no eye contact, thereby keeping that “focus”, as it were.

    To make a long story short, I prefer the curtain, but in an emergency, I won’t quibble!

  80. Mark M says:


    Ordinarily I would agree with you, and I absolutely abhor “reconciliation rooms”…

    …but what about when you maybe visit a Priest at his Oratory, and there is no confessional available? In those circumstances I have no qualms kneeling on the floor of the sacristy, to the side of, and almost behind, the Priest.

  81. Anthony OPL says:

    I am only in my early twenties, but over my short years I have grown to dread face to face confession. The first (and simplest) reason was the total lack of anonymity – when you form a friendship with a priest, especially one to whom you regularly confess, it becomes exceedingly difficult to return regularly to the sacrament. At the time I recognised the need for the sacrament far outweighed my reluctance to shamefully expose my sins on a frequent basis, but the point still stands that for many people, this is a real impediment to their frequent reconciliation (and therefore the fortification against sin and exercise of penance that come with it).

    A more recent reason is the horizontality reinforced by this method. I have often confessed to priest friends in a pew, or on a park bench, or even walking through cloisters. None of these environments reminds the penitent (or the priest!) that one of them is in persona christi, dispensing divine grace to a repentant sinner. Rather the feeling is that of two friends chatting, with perhaps a reverent bow at the end as the absolution is pronounced and the sign of the cross made over the penitent. This “horizontal relationship” is identical to the corrupt message of the “face-to-face mass”.

  82. Mac McLernon says:

    When I first returned to the Church, I came across face-to-face Confession, and I was happy with that. Gradually, as my understanding (and use) of the Sacrament grew, I came to prefer behind the grille.

    This has nothing to do with anonymity – I mostly go to my regular confessor, and he knows who I am – but it is more a reminder to me that I am not having a cosy little chat, and it’s not spiritual direction, but it is the confession of my sins to God.

  83. Mike says:

    Definitely behind the screen. It underlines the sense of shame and sorrow, and puts the focus on God rather than the priest. I also don’t want the priest knowing who I am as that is irrelevant to the Sacrament.

  84. Emil Berbakov says:

    Behind the screen. I think “face to face” is too much like counseling, which is also good and necessary, but its not confession.

  85. Jacque B says:

    Face to face is the only way I have confessed, but everytime I go in there I hesitate and nearly stop at the screen. Eventually I’ll try it. ( It took me 2 years to get up the courage to take communion on the tongue. I will never take it in the hand again.)

    In our parish you might as well go face to face, because you have to ask the priest to get in the confessional. He already knows who you are. Confessions are only heard once a week for 30 minutes, and that’s on a Wednesday afternoon between 5:30 and 6:00. You can make an appointment for other times.

    In case I’m sounding like all this is my priest’s fault, forgive me. He is a wonderful priest, but he runs 2 parishes and they are 30 minutes away from each other.

    Sometimes I go to the Cathedral for week day Mass. They have confessions 15 minutes before each Mass. There is always a line a mile long and never enough time to hear all the people. You would think that they would get the hint and add some time to that 15 minutes.

  86. Calleva says:

    Behind the screen. It’s also quicker I believe. I can recall waiting for my turn and hearing laughter coming from the confessional – it sounded like a cocktail party. There are times when it’s stress relieving to have a chuckle, but it’s inconsiderate to the people waiting to go on and on and on like a social occasion. I think the screen prevents this as it’s more anonymous, even if you recognise the voice.

    I was looking at an old Latin Rituale Romanum (I had got it secondhand for £2 and eventually gave it to a young man headed for an FSSP seminary) and although my Latin isn’t too good I’m pretty sure that it said that although face to face confession was permissible, it was never so with women.

    The older forms of face to face confession tended to have the priest and penitent at right angles, not exactly facing, and the priest inclined his ear to the penitent. There would be no eye contact.

    I was in Lourdes last May and confessions there did not allow for a screen. The priest did not look at me however, and although I felt uncomfortable, I was able to make a full and good confession. I no longer want face to face confession as I feel other factors come into play, body language, greater sense of embarrassment. I don’t care if he knows my voice, I am there to receive forgiveness from Christ and the graces of the sacrament and, er, that’s it.

  87. Calleva says:

    correction: ‘if the priest knows my voice’
    [wish there was an edit button to our posts]

  88. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    I understand that you opened this combox thread with the specific purpose of gathering readers’ preferences, and I am happy to share mine, though you and other regulars already know it: behind the grille, i.e. in anonymity.

    That said, I hope you will indulge an observation that, while not strictly falling under the stated purpose of the thread, is certainly pertinent to the larger issue under consideration; in Latin Christianity, both the penitent and the priest have a right to the grille (cf. CIC 1983 c.964.2; cf. also idem. c.979).

  89. Ann says:

    I find that behind the screen in the confessional is far better for me. I am so deeply ashamed of my sins that I simply cannot spit them out if the priest is looking at me. I can’t do it and then go away feeling that I have failed at confession and even worse off emotionally because of my concerns that my confession was not a good one.

    Behind a screen, anonymously, and ideally to a priest who does not know me by voice. Then I am finally able to work up my nerve to SAY what my worst sins are in addition to the little ones. I never find it easy. But I also do not feel that I am truly repentant until I can manage to speak the sins out loud in confession. It is too easy to make excuses outside of confession because in the stress of dealing with having committed a serious sin, one begins to find God a little too abstract–and entering the confessional really brings it home that God IS and He IS listening, and that your sin is just as bad as can be.

    Confession behind the screen is always a relief.

  90. Matthew says:

    It’s my understanding that the faithful have the right to request a “barrier” or “screen” under Canon Law?

  91. Dear Matthew,

    Your understanding of the pertinent law is, I believe, rather imprecise. The law requires that the option to confess one’s sins anonymously be available.

    If the purpose of the barrier is the preservation of anonymity (it is), then you can see the immediate practical difference my formulation makes when compared with your own. [The purpose of the barrier is not simply to protect anonymity, but to protect also the priest and the penitent from unjust accusations or lack of propriety.]

    There is another consideration:

    Though I am not a Canon lawyer myself, I am told by practicing friends and students that the law has for centuries recognized a priest’s right NOT to know whose confession he is hearing.

    Is there a lawyer out there who might help us?

  92. Anthony says:

    like many here, face-to-face with my regular confessor, behind the screen otherwise. My parish was built in 1974 in the heyday of “Reconciliation Rooms”, but its very clear that the preference is for behind the screen and kneeling for confession. (You walk into the confessional and practically trip on the kneeler!)

    I’m happy to say that confessions are on the increase at my parish! The confession times have increased from one hour a week to two hours! (While this doesn’t sound like much, the parish next to us only offers confessions a half hour per month!) More importantly, the time offered is being used!

  93. Andreas says:

    To me, behind the screen seems to be more appropriate because it elevates the sacramental sense of the action as it veils the human element. Face to face feels too much like psychotherapy.

  94. John P says:

    I have to say I usually prefer face to face, especially if it’s a priest I know. I may use a screen if it’s a priest I don’t know and I’m on vacation, but I don’t think I’ve ever used a screen before.

  95. Anna says:

    I prefer the confessional. Sometimes, it’s hard enough for me to chalk up the courage to confess my sins. It’d be even harder if I had to face the priest. It would tempt me to leave out some of the sins I need to confess. I know that because I’ve been trying to go for regular confession and always to the same priest, he probably recognizes my voice and probably knows who I am. Still, for propriety’s sake and the comfort of anonymity, I much prefer the confessional.

  96. ckdexterhaven says:

    I prefer a “real” confessional. In my parish, the “confessional” is the baby’s cry room with windows all around. So frustrating. This is the same church that has the tabernacle off to the side. :(

  97. Joan Moore says:

    Definitely, behind a screen – even though the priest (or, in fact, any one of three priests) know who I am because they recognize my voice, and I recognize their voices and, thus, know exactly which one of them is in the confessional.

    I have used face to face at times – not by choice – at a parish advent or lent confession service (with at least six priests available for confession). I don’t like it. It distracts me.

  98. Alan F. says:

    I feel a lot more comfortable behind a grate or a curtain, with face-to-face (one liberal priest I know only does it that way) I get so uncomfortable it’s hard to make a proper confession.

  99. Bryan says:

    I actually prefer face-to-face, but that may be a result of a regular confessor. While I do appreciate the privacy of the “grate,” the benefits of counseling afforded me in the face-to-face style far outweigh things IMO.

  100. Ben Trovato says:

    Generally behind the screen, always kneeling, for many of the reasons already cited (though for me it’s less about anonymity, more about the focus on the sacramental reality of the encounter with Our Lord); except… on the Chartres pilgrimage when I confess walking through French fields to the priest walking alongside me. And that works too!

  101. Anna says:

    Face to face, I simply can’t confess sins against the 6th Commandment, even though I can confess them to the same priest behind a screen, even knowing he knows who I am. Something about not seeing the priest and him not seeing me keeps the focus on Christ, my sins, and the restoration of grace and I can open up.

  102. Fr. BJ says:

    I prefer behind the screen for my own confessions, and I like it when my penitents choose that option also. Some day, when I have my own parish, I am going to put a solid wall in the “reconciliation room” completely separating it off. The screen or grate — which could be a little larger than normal — could be made so that the priest could open it if someone requests face-to-face and he is willing to accede to that request. The penitent’s side will have a posted placard with the act of contrition, a crucifix, and a kneeler — I am still thinking about what to do to accomodate those who cannot kneel — maybe a bench sort of on the side of the kneeler.

  103. Evelyn says:

    When I converted, face-to-face was the only option. When the next priest came, he began to provide both options. I still only go face-to-face, because my regular confessor knows who I am. The human element of the priest being there is actually helpful to me. There are some things I am tempted to that I have been able to refuse, at least in part because I could not bear to confess them to someone who has spent so much time helping me. It would seem like a slap in the face to him, and through him to God. I have yet to confess away from my parish, but when the time comes I’ll try the screen.

  104. Rob says:

    God knows I sinned. I know I did. The priest is a sinner. I really don’t feel any shame by doing the face to face since we’re all on the same page.

  105. Ave Maria says:

    Since my former parish priests would not use the proper formula for absolution, I went to a ‘retired’ priest for the 4 years before my move and that was face to face and when I meet my director once a year, that is also ‘face to faace’ but I am on my knees on the floor.

    But I choose to kneel at the grill ordinarily. At my brother’s parish in Santa Fe, they once just used a large room with chairs in the middle of it, knee to knee! Now they have a small area with a big glass window facing into the church so everyone can see who is going to confession and see the priest as well, I guess to avoid any accusations? No thanks to either of those scearios.

    At my parish we have 10 confession times a week ordinarily but now for Lent, along with 7 more daily Mass times, we will have 17 opportunities for confession!!! It is so easy to be able to go when there is confession after every weekday Mass and there are now 15 weekday Masses for Lent. In the old days, arranging my Saturday around the 45 minute window was not always easy.

  106. Mitchell NY says:

    The overwhelming majority according to the poll prefers behind the screen. I would venture to guess that 88% of parishes do NOT have a confessional booth for the majorty. Something seems wrong here. It seems late to reverse the practice when if this poll was taken 30 years ago probably a 90% majority or more would have said the screens are just fine the way they are it makes me wonder how and why did we get here. Also by allowing a newer option the preferred method was squeezed out almost entirely. Confessionals nailed shut, storing equipment, etc. And even those who prefer the screen in a Reconciliation room get a curtain pulled across. Adding to the majority of screens, booths, grilles, and now curtains…Doesn’t it make sense to have a traditional confessional booth in every church for the overwhelming majority and a room to accomodate the few who prefer the newer practice? Who makes thee decisions to change practice, invent something new, force it upon a majority opposed to it, and then go back to putting up curtains to mimic a confessional booth? Something is weird.

  107. Thomas says:

    I prefer the screen, but I have a question for the priests here:

    Fathers, do you prefer to HEAR confession face-to-face or behind a screen? If I were a priest I would be terrified of face-to-face and the possibility of inappropriate laughter if a penitent confessed something really absurd out of left field.

  108. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    A lot is made about the “traditional” nature of screened confessionals. In many places, however, this was a post-Reformation development. Medieval confessions were “face to face”, although manuals instructed the priest to look at the ground (…et sacerdos cum oculis ad terram…). Some research suggests that the priest would sit on the chancel side of the rood-screen while the penitent knelt on the nave side.

    For the record, I prefer the screened approach. If circumstances or architecture don’t permit this then I prefer to kneel and keep my own eyes firmly on the ground. Kneeling, not only reminds us of our petition for mercy, but rising after absolution allows us to rise and continue on our journey to Christ, the burden of sin no longer pulling us down.

  109. Jane Teresa says:

    Behind the screen on a Saturday when everyone else is going. For practicality’s sake, when I meet my confessor on a Tuesday we do it face-to-face.

    I’ve had to go face-to-face in a “reconciliation room” with a priest who was not my regular confessor and I found the whole experience very uncomfortable.

  110. MArk S. says:

    I prefer going to confession “behind the screen” because:

    – even though I may know the priest, the screen gives a certain sense of anonymity that makes it easier to confess something I may feel embarrassed about;

    – following on from the above, I think that I was once told by a priest that the ananoymity makes it easier for the priest as well;

    – the screen emphasises the concept that when you go to confession, you\’re really confessing to God, and not to the priest, and this is reinforced by the presence of a crucifix on/near the screen;

    – it is the traditional practice of the Church;

    – on the one occasion I have been face-to-face, it was outside the scheduled times of confession, and during the 2/3 minutes of making my confession and receiving absolution, the priest and I were interrupted by 2 people who didn’t realise what was going on. This got me thinking (perhaps without justification) that face-to-face confession could potentially be an occasion of the sacramental seal being broken if somebody didn’t realise confession was taking place, overheard what was being siad and then started talking about it to other people.

    – finally, as was pointed out by the priest I referred to above, being separated by a fixed screen protects both priest and penitent from the suggestion, or even the real possibility, of anything “improper” occurring within the confessional. In recent years in the UK after the child abuse scandals – and it may have been suggested in the US as well – there have been suggestions that the confessions of children should be heard in view of the rest of the church, for example in a confessional with a glass door. This is intended to reduce the possibility of “something happening” in confession. Although the chances of such an occurrence may be very small, a fixed barrier and grill between priest and penitent reduces the possibility of any suggestions being made, and gives a greater sense of security to those involved. The priest I refer to felt that this was a serious consideration, and he certainly felt more comfortable behind a grill, and i feel that on its own is a good reason to prefer the practice.

  111. I am a convert. I started out with face to face b/c that was the expected method and only instruction given. We were not taught to memorize an act of contrition or how to go to confession at all. But I learned on my own. After a few years I went to confession after a thorough, examination of conscience using the Seven Deadly Sins. The priest, who knew me and knew the work I do in the parish, pooh poohed my sins, as if I were being scrupulous. Which I was not. I usually go every two weeks with an Opus Dei priest 40 minutes out of town and it is ONLY through the screen.

    I prefer it. It is easier to say my sins and my appearance and who I am does not unduly affect the priest.

  112. sacerdos in germania says:


    Definitely behind the screen but necissity does require me sometimes(not often)to hear confessions face to face…for example, in the sacristy, or in my office( I have a kneeler for that) or our house chapel. I will say though I always feel a little uncomfortable when I hear confessions face to face, not so much for me but for the pentitent. I say this because I know that most of my pentitents, if not all of them, would rather go to confession behind a screen in a traditional confessional than face to face.

  113. EVERYONE: I must share in this entry an e-mail I received.  It represents several problems.

    Here is the e-mail:

    I was about to post a comment to your blog, then decided to email this to you instead. Confession using a screen is simply not an option for me. Being profoundly deaf, I need to lipread. Since you “won’t use those” reconciliation rooms because of a lack of “propriety”, it’s lucky for me that you’re not my parish priest.

    The person who wrote this to me has committed a serious injustice. 

    When I wrote that top entry I very carefully said:

    Unless there is a very good reason, I usually won’t hear confessions if there is not a screen available, preferably a full and fixed barrier, like the old fashioned confessionals.

    A couple things here.

    Priests have the right … the right… not to hear confessions if there is no screen or fixed barrier.  The Church guarantees that priests have rights in this regard.  The reasons for a fixed grate/barrier are sound.

    At the same time, no priest I know, including myself,  will refuse to hear a confession if the request is reasonable.

    I can’t think of a priest who would refuse to receive the confession of a person who must read lips in order to understand what the priest wants to say.

    I imagine that the person who wrote that e-mail had an emotional reaction to what I wrote and therefore emoted in that e-mail. 

    But the fact remains that the person did not read what I wrote carefully or fairly. 

    Why is this important enough for me to include this in the combox?

    That writer fell into a rash judgment about me and other priests who desire to exercise their rights to have a confessional with a fixed grate.  

    It is possible that that person will repeat this in some way to others and therefore harm the reputation of priests who desire that their rights be respected.

  114. Coletta says:

    I prefer the screen even when I know and am recognized by the Priest hearing my confession because it helps me keep in mind I am speaking to God and hearing His response. Whenever I don’t have an option, I offer it as additional penance but I don’t think I can think as clearly sitting on a chair next to Father near the altar. That was awful.

  115. Mary says:

    Screened, unless it’s at the end of spiritual direction with my very holy director, although even then I often close my eyes!

  116. IngridAiram says:

    Personally I prefer to do confession face to face, mostly because I’m hearing impaired and despite having hearing aids now, I don’t have enough confidence in my hearing yet to do it otherwise.
    But I can understand it is preferable to do confessions behind a screen, for the reasons a lot of people have already mentioned. Hope that one day I will have the courage and confidence to do that also.

  117. O'Neill says:

    I prefer the screen. I always have so many sins that I have to write them down on a piece of paper. It’s always so dark in the confessional box that I have to bring a flashlight in with me so I can read it…which earns me awful stares from my fellow penitants.

  118. joe says:

    As to Confession, unless something serious impedes me from going beheind the grill, I always go in a confessional. Women are traditionally bound to a higher degree to go to confession behind the grill, and not out in the open, face to face, except for serious reason. Potential embarassament, lack of anonymity, propriety, etc have to always be considered. As alluded to, for the sake of the priest as well does the Church instruct on this as the fashion to regularly receive the sacrament.


  119. “Comment by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf — 22 February 2009 @ 11:27 am”

    Father, I would question (with all due respect) that an injustice is necessarily in the works. Your correspondent has a limitation where most of us are not so challenged, and quite possibly has met with a lack of sympathy from others. I don’t question the rights of a priest in this matter, or what you took pains to say. Given what is likely to have been their experience in the past, given that they took the trouble to write you privately, I’d cut them a little slack. [Perhaps you didn’t read what the e-mailer wrote?]

  120. A Random Friar says:

    Someone was asking about voices in the confessional, and if priests recognize them. As for me, very rarely. I’ve never thought to myself, “Now where did I hear that voice before?” Even if I *do* recognize a voice, I quickly forget who it is, since I am more focused on what the person is saying, than who the person is, otherwise I’m too distracted. Most people speak quite softly, anyway (I’ve had to ask a fair number of folks to speak up a little…very, very rarely have I told someone “You may want to lower your voice a little.”

  121. trespinos says:

    I must have lived either a very sheltered or very charmed life, it seems, since in the entire 57 years since my youthful first confession, I have never had to confess face-to-face. Or wanted to.

    I do drive a minimum of 36 miles, one way, to one of three parishes for the sacrament chiefly because my own parish and those in the immediate vicinity don’t seem to value it as I think they should (very seldom preached, very few hours of availability, general 1970’s-1980’s time warp in pastoral/liturgical attitude). Of course, as I age, and circumstances conspire against me, I will trim my preferences accordingly and accept the sacrament however it may be offered, because I need it so very badly.

  122. Laura says:

    For me, it depends on what I have to confess, as well as the confessor. with one confessor I knew very well I had no problem going face to face with him. I prefered it that way actually, but then again I also like the screen. When I came back to the Church, my first confession upon coming back was behind a screen in a proper confessional. Thank you St. Agnes. Anyway, it also helps that I’m blind. I can’t see the priest anyway, and so I can’t see him looking at me, though I never got the feeling that he ever did during a face to face. Perhaps that’s why I don’t really mind either the screen or the face, though I think I’d lean towards the screen because, as others have said, it is more formal, and yes, you are kneeling, just how it should be during Confession. also I like the proper confessionals because they’re easier to navigate for someone who is blind rather than feeling around and trying to either frind a kneeler or a chair and then the priest has to get up and help me, or I have to have someone else come with me to help from the confession line, and it’s really off-putting when I’m scared enough to go to Confession. The confessionals take all of this out. You’re in this tiny space and all that’s there is a kneeler and where else can you go? LOL, one of the most accessible places is a confessional… thank you very much Lord, knew you were looking out for us.

  123. Susan Peterson says:

    My question is, where are all these people finding confessionals? Or, by behind the screen do they mean that little kneeler with a screen attached in the “reconciliation room”? The ones I have seen are so small I would feel as if I were falling off the kneeler, and the top of my head would show. I would think a tall man might not even have his whole face hidden by it. My impression is that they don’t really intend for people to use these. Confessionals have disappeared so thoroughly in this part of the world that when my then 15 year old daughter and I went to a church near Philadelphia which was build in the 50’s and had stained glass windows representing the 7 sacraments, I had to explain the picture of a confessional to her; she had never seen one. I know she always chose to use the little screen in the reconciliation room despite repeated urging from priests that she come out from behind it. The few churches that still have visible confessionals have turned them into storage closets.

    For years I always had a regular confessor and became accustomed to face to face confession. I eventually got over my shame and fear of confessing sins against the 6th commandment. Sin is always ugly and I am embarrassed and ashamed at times at other sorts of things I have done, but not with that particular kind of sexual shame which makes confessing such things especially difficult for some women. When I had that problem i was just as ashamed in the confessional as face to face, because I could always imagine how this would seem in the priests “mind’s eye.” In fact, my imagination made it worse than it was when I could see that he had no particular emotional reaction at all. Back in the days when there were still confessionals, though, and priests in them, I would also go for a quick confession which was different from confession in spiritual direction, when something was bothering me and I wanted to tell God I was sorry, right now, and hear those wonderful words of absolution. Although I have gone to confession in many settings, sitting on a bench in a garden, on one occasion in a car, in reconciliation rooms, in a side by side chair set up behind the iconostasis, and so on, I think there was something about the old confessional which delineated sacred space for a particular kind of interchange which is not an ordinary human interaction. In other settings there is more of a burden on both participants to create that space mentally and emotionally. I don’t know how old confessionals are (My guess is that it is not 14 centuries, but I could be wrong) but I think that there is a psychological and spiritual wisdom to them, which it was wanton to discard.

    Susan Peterson

  124. Susan Peterson says:

    Someone said that he had trouble getting priests to use “the correct words of absolution.” It seems to me that I have heard several different formulae used over the years. Was there an official change in these words since I became a Catholic in 1972? It seems to me that there was a formula which said in some way that Jesus Christ forgives you, and then said “and II by HIs authority absolve you etc” And there was a wonderful addendum “May the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, whatsoever good you do, or evil you endure, be unto you for the forgiveness of your sins, the increase of grace, and the reward of life everlasting. ” The Redemptorists and Capuchins I went to all used this formula. Then I didn’t hear it again for years. The one I got used to hearing said something about Jesus, who reconciled to world to HImself , grant you pardon, absolution and peace, and then there was an “and I absolve you from all your sins” etc. The “by His authoritiy” wasn’t there any more, and no addendum. Recently when I went to confession at the Toronto Oratory, they used the formula I remembered from years ago, including what I am calling the addendum.

    I am ignorant about this. Was there a change? Are there “options”? Would someone who knows about this be willing to lay it out for me?

  125. Fr. William says:

    Several of the comments show the loss of the difference between spiritual direction and confession. What is necessary for the Sacrament is “kind and number” of the sins. While advise or exhortation, etc. is a part of this process, spiritual direction (which many people desire) is a separate process and should be requested of the priest outside of confession. Coming before God kneeling and “anonymous” is the right of the penitent, but is also the right of the priest. One of the many graces of ordination is the grace of forgetfulness. I have had people come to me in the parking lot of a store and tell me how well the penance assigned was helping in their life and I did not have a clue as to what their penance was or that they had come to me. I have no need of connecting the particular sin to a person. What God has forgiven I have no need of remembering nor do I have the desire to remember. One of my constant statements to people: I have not lost sleep over the confession of even one person; it is the confessions of the many who do not go over which I lose sleep! Have faith in the Sacraments and Christ’s work in them, pray for priests, that they may take seriously the graces of ordination and truly embrace the Cross of Christ for their penitents and that they may follow the teaching on confession. For all who do not know — your priest is to do penance on behalf of all those who come to him to receive the Sacrament. In this way the priest joins himself to Christ the victim, offering himself on behalf of the penitent for their healing and forgiveness. This is not a burden but rather a joy on behalf of the priest as he pours out himself for those who are contrite of heart and seeking mercy before God. We are thus joined in this sacarament and the mercy of God. God Bless!

  126. Julie Michelle says:

    The box, for my confessor’s sake rather than mine.

  127. Julie Michelle says:

    Susan –

    The confessional as we know it was supposedly \’invented\’ by St Charles Borromeo – by which I mean the box *with* the grill.

    The words you need are \’I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit\’ (or, in the East, N is absolved…); the rest is from the old formula, but those words are the strict minimum.

    I have been in a situation where the priest has, umm, not used those words or anything like them. He was over ninety and forgot – I didn\’t realise until afterwards that there was no absolution.

  128. Hidden One says:

    I’m just kinda tired of bad Confessors… face to face works better because after awhile I start receiving better advice… and in some cases any unorthodox slants on the part of the priest become more apparent. If I had more confidence in confessors around here in my area(s) of Canada I’d certainly try through a grate!

    And before you ask… no, I don’t show up looking for a 20 minute thing. But a few sentences are really nice, and with every priest that I’ve ever confessed to, I haven’t had the option not to get those few sentences.

  129. “[Perhaps you didn’t read what the e-mailer wrote?]”

    I read it, Father. All of it, if only the part you chose to disclose to us. Including where the correspondent describes themselves as “profoundly deaf.” I do not mean to excuse their intemperance, only to understand it. [I posted the whole e-mail, except for the person’s name. I am closing this rabbit hole now.]

  130. Jill of the Amazing Wolverine Tribe says:

    Behind the grille/screen. Usually to a priest I have no other interaction with. It\’s easier to dump them all that way.

    I can\’t stand penance services. I committed those sins all by myself. I don\’t need a Kumbaya moment.

    FWIW, it IS difficult for those of us with bad knees who can\’t kneel who need anonymity. There is one place I go that has thoughtfully ALSO placed a chair on the penetient\’s side of the screen. You could easily sit OR kneel the way it was set up.

    I also don\’t like those open style Italian grilles for that lip reading business.

    I have to say I nostalgically miss the old grilles. Usually Father sat in the box and when he opened the grille, he\’d be leaning with his hand near the grille and have his head against the hand. You\’d have that intimacy of his nearness and voice, [but him, of course, not looking through the grille] and it was sometimes easy to imagine Jesus sitting there.

  131. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    You wrote the following in red, at my comment of 8:01 AM Feb 22, 2009:

    [The purpose of the barrier is not simply to protect anonymity, but to protect also the priest and the penitent from unjust accusations or lack of propriety.]

    I understand that you are clarifying a point that I did not sufficiently articulate. By asserting that the law exists in order to preserve anonymity, I did not intend to deny that it exists also to protect priests and penitents.

    I will try to be more careful in the future.


  132. M. G. Hysell says:

    [A closed rabbit hole. I was pretty serious.]

  133. CB says:

    I prefer to use a screen rather than face to face. However, I prefer to confess in reconciliation rooms the have the option of a screen rather than the old fashioned kind. In my experience, the old fashioned kind aren’t as sound proof. Especially if there is only a curtain for the penitent instead of a door, or the kind where the priest is in the middle and there are people on either side, I have to actively concentrated on not hearing what the person is confessing. This takes all my mental power and I am not able to properly prepare myself for confession.

  134. Lindsay says:

    Is it improper to also receive the sacrament of confession at the same time one is meeting for spiritual direction? My priest seems okay with it, and it is convenient for me as the mother of small children to have this set time for both. The two acts are separate. My priest will even direct me to ask him about a particular sin “if I wish” for counseling (should he have advice) after absolution since he can’t bring up things himself. It all seems correct to me, and it doesn’t seem like the two issues are confused, but often preparing for spiritual direction and preparing for confession are closely related, and like I said, it is awfully convenient!

    Like others have said, I use face to face with my spiritual director and regular confessor and behind the screen in other places. I’m usually looking down at my notes to remember everything I wanted to remember during face to face.

  135. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    I see now that you were not clarifying a point; you were correcting me. You were right to do so, and I thank you. I ought to have written, “If one of the central reasons for the barrier…” My text of the aforementioned hour was faulty on its face. [Don’t get me wrong. The grate also helps to preserve anonymity. But that isn’t the only purpose of the screen.]


  136. C. J. Guelker says:

    For me, going to confession behind a screen, preferably in a closed confessional, allows me to better perceive the priest “in persona Christi” and to make my confession as if I were speaking to Christ Himself. I am there not for a chat, but to confess my sins to God through the priest and to be forgiven by God through the priest.

  137. Simon-Peter says:

    I don’t really mind either way – I will go to confession whether there is a screen available or not. However, I find with a screen, I feel less I am talking to Father Whoever, and more to the Lord. It would be a real shame to lose the confessional.

    In my parish, we had a ‘reconcillation room’ which was turned into a confessional by putting ip a wooden screen with a slot in it, and kneeler in front. Unfortunately, the main reason for this was child protection rather than for any spiritual benefit.

  138. Liam says:

    I normally prefer the screen – because of the focus it permits – but I don’t sniff at the option for face-to-face.

    All that said, I is interesting to note here on a site devoted to “Say The Black, Do The Red” that I have rarely (and never since the early 1990s) encountered a confessor in the context of Form I of the Rite of Penance who tries to follow the ritual set forth in the ritual books. There is never a greeting per section 42, the Scripture reading provided (admittedly as an option) provided in section 43 is invariably omitted, and the dismissal provided in section 47 is invariably omitted. So the ritual is truncated to sections 44-46 – but only one of the three omitted sections is optional.

    Perhaps Fr Z can use his bully pulpit to encourage his fellow confessors to use the ritual as set forth in the ritual books, rather than working off mere convention, a practice that perhaps implies that this sacrament is of less distinction than others. [You want priests to read Scripture to you when you go to confession? That is the stuff of a different thread. ]

  139. Liam says:

    No, Father – it’s not only the optional section 43 that missing but the mandatory section 42 & 47. If one seriously believes in Say The Black, Do The Red, it’s an issue along with respecting the requirement for the grille, et cet. I think it’s part of the symptom of slapdashedness to which this thread commentary is directed, but it seems a lot of confessors are unaware that it’s even an issue.

  140. Dawn says:

    Definitely behind the screen for me! I have gone both ways but prefer to use the screen now. I am nervous enough to confess my sins, looking at Father in the process just makes it even harder.

    As a convert who made her first confession at 34 years old, I did go face to face for the first confession. I was feeling pretty lost, scared and clueless so I think that was a good way to do it.

  141. supertradmom says:

    In my church, a weird thing happens. One enters a room where there is a screen, but the priest sees you face-to-face and then asks which manner of confession you prefer! This occurs in several parishes where I have gone to confession over the years in the Midwest.

  142. Joe R. says:

    Since I am confessing sins to God through the priest, all the darkness and mystery is not really necessary.This isn’t the Eucharist- it’s reconciliation.In the end, it is God we will face, not his rep on earth.
    With a good, kind, and understanding priest, there is a lot more emotive interaction and advice face-to-face that is virtually impossible to experience holistically behind a screen in a dark room. Unless of course, we are simply led to confess out of guilt with little intention of trying to change. Then the darkened confessional and anonymity may be more appealing.Like, there, I’m done…got that out of the way…be back next week..

  143. Tony from Oz says:

    This has long been a bete noir of mine, to wit – the insane clerical urge from the 1970s onwards, to ‘renovate’ confessionals so as to allow people the opportunity to confess their sins, face to face, as if to suggest that there ever was a vox pop in favour!

    We all have our favourite confession story – or, equally, horror story about blatantly appalling confessionals which do not respect the penitents right to privacy! In the midst of all this Jungian psychology in which entire generations of priests have been steeped since the 1960s – one would at least have imagined that it was a no-brainer that the human emotion of shame for sins committed would be bleedingly obvious to such clerics! I have never heard – but often asked myself – what was the actual justification for imposing this regimen (which must also have cost parishes thousands in renovation costs over the past 30 years!)? I suspect it all to be tied up in the ‘personal encounter with Christ’ being mixed up with the egotistical ‘personal encounter with ‘Fr Hank” syndrome, and that these confessional rennos paid zilch attention to (a) the pre-existing, and predominant culture of anonymous confession let alone (b) the natural psychological and intensely human sense of shame attendant upon confessing one’s sins!

    Now I know that there is nothing wrong with face to face confession; the eastern churches do this almost exclusively I believe – and it is also sometimes claimed that confessionals were developed as a spin off from Jansenism etc etc. And, of course, on pilgrimages there is wall to wall ‘face-to-face-on-the -trot’ [albeit in the reinforced context of pilgrim solidarity/shared fervour etc]. But this is the exception that proves the rule.

    I suspect that the insecurity engendered on Catholics by the unilateral imposition of ‘reconciliation rooms’ (often badly designed so as effectively to preclude anonymous confession) has been a strong discourager of frequent confession by the faithful over the past 40 years (and I am talking about less active Catholics, and not the one’s, such as I , who post here!)

  144. Susan Peterson says:

    Using Google, I found the answer to the question I asked earlier about the older and newer words of absolution.

    The older form, supposedly pre VII, but as I said, it was used by the order priests I went to up into the ’80’s:

    “May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve thee, and I by His authority absolve thee from thy sins in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen. May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, whatever good thou hast done and whatever evil thou has borne, be for thee unto the remission of sins, the increase of grace, and the reward of everlasting life.”

    The newer form, which I have heard from about the early 80’s onward is:”God the Father of mercies has reconciled the world to Himself through the death and resurrection of His Son, and has poured forth the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. May He grant you pardon and peace through the ministry of the Church. And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

    (If any of this converts back to links when I post it, do not click on them. I got these words from a Protestant site which apparently posted them to prove that we are bad because we are not Protestants. But they are accurate according to what I remember. They did include in the older form a absolution from excommunication and interdicts, but I left this out as I never heard it. )

    I am very glad to hear either form of words! There do seem to be some differences of theological emphasis, though.
    Susan Peterson

  145. Abigail says:

    Our church built in the 80s has four confessionals. The priest I usually see sits with his back to the wall
    and feet toward the opening where face to fact would occur. There is a lamp in the room on his side so it isnt’
    so dark. But kneel at the grate or sit in the chair and he still can’t see the penitent and trust me, he isn’t moving.

    I’ve had one priest go through the whole form including greeting, scripture, advice, and ending along with the requtired portion. I have to admit it was nice, but seemed a bit prolonged. I’ve gotten used to the elderly priest who strips the
    process to the absolute minimum. Although I always seem to apologize for taking his time. He’s so frail.

  146. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    There are a lot of things going on in this thread. In line with something Fr. Z himself taught me when I was a seminarian (the rules of seminary survival), I shall make distinctions.

    Regarding the rights of priests, the laws (and particularly the authentic interpretation that clarified that a priest has a right to a fixed grill) are rarely implemented in parishes. I currently serve as a substitute for other priests and have seen many, many setups. Next to none seeks a balance between face-to-face and the right of the priest to a fixed grill. In particular, next to none has the fixed grill except an old downtown parish (yes this parish took out their altar rails, etc. Somehow the confessionals survived).

    If by preference we mean, “of the situations you have actually been in, what is your preference”, then I have to say the form 2 celebration, since all the confessions are done in public (which guards against impropriety) and allow for an experience which approximates personal interacion as one normally encounters it in ordinary life.

    If however by preference we mean: “In the ideal world, what would you most like to have?” then I would say a separate priest’s entrance into a room enclosed on every side and utterly physically impossible for the penitent to simultaneously enter with two rooms to either side separated by a fixed metal grill but one side being uncovered except for the grill and the other completely anonymous (alternately a covering that the penitent only could remove and only by effort on their part, the fixed grill remaining intact in every case). In addition the room should be made of highly sound-resistant material (4 or 5 inch wood would be okay) and some sort of slidable and well sealable small door of highly sound resistant material. It should also have its own independent climate control that adequately heats and cools (how many confessionals or rooms have I been in with next to no insulation!). All doors should be far away from the sacristy (quite a few fail on this one!). The penitent rooms should have a kneeler, but constructed in such a way that the many elderly with knee joint problems can still confess without shouting. If practicable, hearing assistance should be available on at least one side, but only if said instrument of assistance is highly secure. The penitent rooms should also have adequate space for the interpreter allowed under canon law. There should be lights external to the confessionals with switches in easy reach of the priest but also constructed so the lights can be easily changed by someone with an elementary school education. The priest’s chair inside of the confessional should be very comfortable and adjustable to different heights. There should be one or two shelves in easy reach to place a breviary and a missalette and other reference works the priest likes (for instance the catechism or bible), as well as a convenient hook or some such to allow a stole to remain permanently in the confessional. The stole should be a worthy vestment. There should be internal illumination for the priest (but not necessarily the penitent) with the same requirements about ease of replacement. There should be some simple sacred art in the sight of the priest (with preference given to the crucifix). The atmosphere in the penitent rooms should be sober and plain so that parish personell feel absolutely unconfortable entering these rooms with an eye to do anything but confess sins (I am forever being importuned by musicians or others who think they can enter the confessional to tell me something before mass without then confessing their sins). Penitent rooms should also contain some sort of placard or laminated card with an act of contrition in at least 18 point type in all the prevailing languages spoken in the parish with the words “ACT OF CONTRITION” printed on the top in 36 point type minimum. Outside of the confessional should be pamphlets with very detailed examinations of conscience and the rubrics for the rite for all who are interested (which seems to be very few), and another pamphlet which explains what is necessary for an integral confession and the precepts of the Church.

    Hmmm…..did I forget anything?

  147. Ohio Annie says:

    i like face to face confession because i can read lips. my hearing aid doesn’t work so well in an enclosed space.

  148. Ohio Annie says:

    Lindsay, I have seen Father for counselling/talking and confession and we do the confession first. when the stole comes off then it is counselling/talking time. though we can talk about anything, especially sin.

  149. Ohio Annie says:

    And yes, i posted without reading everything.

  150. Alli says:

    Honestly, I’m of mixed opinions on this one. There’s a certain appeal to going to the same confessor, having him know who I am, my backstory, my journey and struggles. There’s no one that I would rather get advice from than a priest, especially when it comes to my habitual sins. Sometimes I feel like I am hiding in anonymity behind the grate, and personal accountability to someone vanishes.

    Yet when a grate is available, I always use it. The current set-up at the parish I go to for Confession has the option – the priest sits on one side of the grate, but there is a chair set up in front of him as well.

  151. Bill says:

    I will confess either behind the screen or face to face. I usually sit face to face with our current parish priest, because he seems to expect it. My voice is distinctive enough that I wouldn’t be fooling anybody in this situation. However, because of my age and the way I was taught, I am more comfortable behind the screen. I am a little bit ambiguous about my comfort behind the screen and about my occasional discomfort face to face. Either way, I do my best to make a good confession, to not waste Father’s time with anecdotes, and to avoid turning the reconciliation into a counseling session. If I need to be counseled, I have no problem with making an appointment (and have done so in the past). If I need to pass time telling anecdotes, Father is readily available for socializing most days after Mass. We are a one-priest parish, with a lot of people who regularly and frequently make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to me it makes sense to make a good, concise, and penitent confession, especially when there’s a long long line winding around the chapel. I used to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation 4 times a year, then for a while it was once a year (big mistake!), and for the last couple of years once a month. The last (monthly) seems to be best, and it helps me make progress whichever way I go.

  152. John 6:54 says:

    I’m suprised to see the wide gap in the poll results. I figured the numbers would be closer to 50/50 or 60/40. 90/10 is quite eye opening.

  153. Liam says:


    Why the surprise? The audience here is very highly self-selective (which is not a slam against the blog – it’s generally true of almost any blog that is geared towards advocacy, et cet.).

    So you should never think that polls on a blog are representative of anything other than the audience of that blog. A pulse-taking, not statistically relevant.

  154. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    I forgot to say my own preference when a penitent. I prefer face to face. Often I petition a priest I see if I can “get a quick confession”. We sit down and get it done. When I need a priest, I don’t waste any time. :-)

  155. I posted that I prefer absolution “Face-to-Face”.

    But I think that there is some ambiguity in that preference. I prefer to confess directly to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To confess at my church, St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church, both I and my parish priest, Fr. Alexei, face the icon of Christ the Teacher, and the confession is made to our Lord, with the priest as a simple witness.

    With the exception of “Ad Orientem”, it seems that no one here knows this option, which as Ad Orientem said, is present in both the whole of the Early Church and in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches.

    I for one think it a pity that the West seems to have lost this option.

  156. Mike H says:

    I was seated face-to-face with Father for my first confession during my conversion years ago, and I’m glad that was an available option at the time. I didn’t want to kneel to a human. I had much to learn.

    Now that I more fully accept that the priest is in persona Christi and that neither Father nor I needs to see the other for the benefits of grace I prefer the kneeler and a screen.

  157. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    Hey I just went to another church recently that had a fully functional fixed grill (YAY) but with a door that opened to the sacristy where I could hear the deacon, etc preparing for mass as I heard the confessions. How can you have a confidential confession unless you whisper but the grill was solid metal meaning the penitent couldn’t hear what I was saying unless I spoke at greater than a whisper. Good idea bad execution.

  158. Dotti says:

    I’m ashamed to say I actually fell asleep during my only face to face confession in hospital and had to be awakened by Father. I like most people prefer the screen even when I need to ask for the sacrament and there is so mistaking my identity.

  159. Merriweather says:

    I prefer the screen. The important thing is not anonymity, it’s the posture. We are not “having a conversation”, which the face-to-face reconciliation implies. We should be kneeling, not sitting in a chair.

    I have confessed face-to-face in a sense…on pilgrimages (Auriesville), when walking, the priest will hear confessions (at a suitable distance to the other pilgrims of course!).

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