QUAERITUR: Can I go to another parish for a “big” confession?

From a reader:

I was recently listening to one of your podcaZts about St. Augustine, and became convinced of my need to make a good confession.

A quick questions: I would prefer not to confess at my own parish if possible (I have plenty of embarrassing sins and would probably lose my nerve). is it OK to call another parish and make an appt to go to confession there, eve though I am not a parishioner?

Yes, you are free to go to confession anywhere you find a confessor who is in good standing and has faculties to hear confessions.  That means, normally, any regular Catholic parish church.

You can call for an appointment, or you could simply go to that parish at the regularly scheduled time.

Many people like the opportunity of a visiting priest, or going to another parish for “big” confessions.  This is also why the use of the screen, or grate, is appropriate: it also helps to protect the anonymity of the penitent.

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  1. Kat says:

    I can definitely understand going to a different parish, even when you regularly have a screen. It’s not so anonymous when there’s only a dozen regular goers.

  2. TomG says:

    Fr., I really appreciate your generous understanding of this (I’m not the “reader”). It’s about getting the faithful to this wonderful sacrament, period!

  3. Titus says:

    For a big confession? I go to not-my-parish for every confession.

    Bryan Williams (the news anchor) tells a story about how when he was a child in New York, his mother would take the train all the way to New Jersey once a month just to go to confession, in case “the priest peeked.”

  4. Choirmaster says:

    I am a big proponent of the super-anonymous confession! I think it is a very good thing to go to a different parish (or take advantage of a visiting priest). You should consider the priest’s feelings on the matter, too. One time I was working in a parish and the pastor certified that I was a good, practicing Catholic, even though we both knew I was not.

    Long story short, I did not want to make a liar out of him, so I went to him for Confession. Big mistake; it was as big a mistake as it was a confession!

    In retrospect, it was not fair to burden him with such a big Confession, which included all of my college years and most of high school, when he was not just my pastor, in a way, but also my employer and immediate supervisor. (I insisted on kneeling behind the screen, even though we both walked into the confessional together, but, somehow, I don’t think it provided all that much anonymity!)

    In my opinion it is always better to be as anonymous as possible. Not just for the penitent’s ease and comfort, but for the confessor, too! From the outside looking in, it would seem to me that the priest-confessor would have an easier time honoring the Seal, consciously and unconsciously, if he did not also have to protect the penitent’s identity!

    Epilogue: May God bless that priest! His job was (and still is) not easy, and on top of all of it, I piled on my sins! He did a very good job in being my boss and pastor and collaborator after that, but it could not have been easy, and his eyes were ever wider when we would greet each other. Either way, I am not hinting–in any way–that he did not or could not keep the Seal, only that I cannot believe that he had an easy time of it!

  5. Ella Minnow says:

    I am planning on being out of town this weekend and was looking up a church to attend near Disney World. The place that I found, Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, has the most generous confession schedule I have ever seen. Seven hours A DAY. That’s more than my parish offers in a month. If anything, I think this schedule shows how many people take advantage of being away from their home to confess to a priest who doesn’t know them.

  6. Banjo pickin girl says:

    The parish I came into had a screen but I always did face to face confessions but I went to another parish for a face to face if it was something really bad because Father would sigh and roll his eyes. I used to think, “oh great, Jesus is sighing and rolling his eyes at me.” Now I go to a parish with traditional boxes and the sound is sort of muffled they say so they may not know who you are anyway.

  7. Caro_c says:

    “When the faithful ask me: ‘How can we help our priests?’ I always respond: ‘Go to Confession,’” the cardinal said, underscoring that “when the priest is no longer a confessor, he becomes a religious worker.” Cardinal Meisner (at the close of the Year for Priests)

    I too always confess at another parish, times at my own parish do not suit, but that quote from Cardinal Meisner struck a chord with me. Some parishes have no one confessing, as everyone goes elsewhere.

  8. JaneC says:

    I would wish to lodge a complaint, that almost every parish within fifty miles of us has confessions at the same time of day–Saturday afternoons, sometime between 3-5pm. Can’t they coordinate so that someone has a different time? Sometimes I am busy then, and I do not like to make individual appointments for confession because every time I have done so it has cost me my anonymity (they always meet me outside the confessional), and some of the priests have had a negative attitude about it, asking me why, exactly, I couldn’t wait until Saturday. Um, isn’t that a matter for when we actually get in the confessional, not while I’m on the phone making the appointment?

    As much as I hate to say this, one of the few good things about the Los Angeles Cathedral that I miss from my days in that archdiocese are the generous confession times. Confessions are heard every weekday, for an hour, in addition to the usual Saturday time. What a luxury!

  9. Kypapist says:

    There was a holy Jesuit priest (gone to God now) who used to be in the confessional in Downtown Cincinnati all day every day, except for his Mass time. He was so well know as a confessor, the expression was “When in sin, go to Flynn.” He said the most devout Mass imaginable.

  10. flyfree432 says:

    I have never gone to confession at the parish I am a member of (and employee of). In school we are always taught never to confess to your boss. We usually travel about a 1/2 hour once a month for confession, and usually go to different parishes. The advantage is you find out who the good confessors are, and those who tell everyone to “pray 5 hail marys”, offer no advice, and sound slightly annoyed you interrupted their newspaper reading time with your confession.

  11. digdigby says:

    I’m a new Catholic, this discussion has made confession even more complicated and scarier than it already is. One question if anyone can answer it. Why would my priest at the end of my absolution say “Pray for me”?

  12. Fr. Basil says:

    Any of the faithful–including religious–is entitled to use an extraordinary confessor for any reason.

    Even in monasteries, it’s common to have an extraordinary confessor come it at least once a year so the community can have a second opinion, for lack of a better metaphor.

  13. MikeM says:

    I always go to Confession at another parish, but for a different reason than those mentioned. My priest knows my family and friends, and so, from time to time, I’ll confess a sin that either involves me having wronged them in a way that might be embarrassing for them, or it might involve them having sinned with me. In one Confession, I wound up feeling like I was avoiding admitting the full extent of a sin because explaining the factor that made it so bad would have given away the identity of the other person… and since my priest had me and that person working together in positions we held, that would have made things all the more awkward. Now, I go to a different parish where other people won’t be a consideration one way or the other in what I say.

  14. kat says:

    In the past, there were Redemptorist missions held in parishes during the year. Does that occur anywhere anymore? Then you have the visiting priests giving a mission and hearing the parish confessions.

  15. APX says:

    My home parish doesn’t offer regular confession, so if you want/need to confess you either have to go some place else or make an appointment. I probably wouldn’t go if I couldn’t go someplace else. It’s nice to have that freedom.

  16. yatzer says:

    He most likely asked you to pray for him because he feels the need for others to pray for him. I hear that a lot, actually, from priests whether in the confessional or elsewhere. Just my 2cents.

  17. ckdexterhaven says:

    About a year ago, Roger Ebert had a very illuminating blog post called my priestly vocation. He was raised by a devout mother, who hoped he would become a priest. Sadly, now he is a buddhist (I think).

    Anyway, he stopped going to confession as a teenager b/c he had “embarrassing” sins he didn’t want to confess to his priest that he saw every day. Although he didn’t pinpoint his leaving the church b/c of this, it has caused me to take my kids to priests that don’t know my kids.

  18. stmungo says:

    When ever I Hear confessions, after giving the absolution I always conclude with ‘May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints, whatever good you do, whatever evil you suffer bring about for you a remission of your sins, an increase in grace and one day life everlasting. The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace and pray for me a sinner.’

  19. Pray for Me says:

    I am blessed to have a nearby parish (St. Patrick’s Church in Nashua NH) where the pastor hears confessions before every Sunday Mass; and if he does not have a morning funeral, he hears confessions before his daily noon time Mass.

  20. paxetbonum says:

    I’m surprised no one else has mentioned this re “big” confessions… no matter where or what priest you go to, if you have a “big”, i.e., lengthy, time-consuming confession to make, please, PLEASE, for the sake of all the weary penitents waiting patiently in lines outside confessionals everywhere, please call a confessor and make an appointment for a private confession outside of scheduled confession times. More and more people these days are going into the box and monopolizing Father’s time (and his patience, no doubt) for 10, 20, even 30 minutes or more. Don’t these selfish people see the other tired, harried, perhaps fearful people waiting behind them, who have screwed up their courage and taken precious time out of their busy lives to travel to church and wait humbly in a queue for their own chance at forgiveness and redeeming grace?

    Rant on-

    Don’t “confession hogs” realize the box is for confession and reconciliation, not one-on-one psychotherapy? If any penitent needs more than about 5 minutes of Father’s time in the box, that person should make an private appointment for confession. Most confession periods are scheduled for an hour (or less) at a time these days; at even 5 minutes per confession, that is still only about 10-12 penitents per hour receiving the sacrament. Too many times I have gone for confession, joined in a line of 10 or so penitents, then stood patiently in line for over an hour only to have Father discontinue and leave the box before I could make it in… usually at least one of the confessions before me would run 10-15 minutes, thus depriving at least some of the waiting penitents access to Father and the sacrament during that session.

    I have never heard this issue addressed in a homily or a parish bulletin, but would certainly like to see it addressed some day. Years ago I read about the “B’s of Confession”- “Be Blunt, Be Brief, Begone”. An updated formulation might be- “Got sins? Hit the box, no stories, just sins, get in & get out. Got issues? Go see a shrink. Yo, it’s confession- not therapy!”

    Rant off.

  21. RichardT says:

    Glad to see it’s allowed. That’s what I usually do, and when I saw this title I was horrified at the thought that they might not have been valid.

    One follow-up question – does it matter if I go to a church & priest in another diocese, not just another parish? This just as a normal thing, not an emergency (I prefer to go to a big city-centre church in another diocese when I’m away on work). Hope it’s valid!

  22. RichardT says:

    paxetbonum – depends on the parish – many of them never have a queue for confessions.

    Yes, city centre parishes seem to have queues, and so a long confession would cause problems for other people. But in many parishes it just isn’t an issue. An extreme example – after 6 months in post, my new parish priest complained in a sermon recently that despite sitting in the confession box every Saturday afternoon, no-one had ever come.

  23. Lynne says:

    If anyone travels to Massachusetts and would like to go to confession while they’re shopping (really), there’s a Carmelite Chapel at the Northshore Mall in Peabody. Confessions are heard 3 times a day during the week and on Saturdays and the priests give good advice and penance.

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