QUAERITUR: What to say if confessing to a bishop, cardinal, pope?

From a reader:

If you were confessing to a Bishop or a Cardinal or even the Holy
Father would you say “Bless me Bishop” or “Bless me your Eminence” etc

Sure.  You could do it that way.  If would be proper.  But you could always stick with “Bless me, Father…”.  There is no title which is more appreciated than that.

I know of few bishops who regularly hear confessions in their cathedral churches.  The best example I know of is His Excellency Most Rev. Robert Finn, Bishops of Kansas City-St. Joseph.   From the times I have met and spoken with him, I have a sense that he would be an outstanding confessor.  He has his name on one of the confessionals in the Cathedral in Kansas City.

Perhaps you readers have some edifying information of which I know naught.

Would that bishops and cardinals put on the purple stole and heard confessions regularly.  I’ll bet most of them would like to.  One might object with some practical reasons why that wouldn’t be feasible on a regular basis… but I am not sure how good those reasons would be when placed in the balance of the great need in the Church today to revive the Sacrament of Penance and give a good example to priests.



Remember: Except in the case of the lifting of some censures, you are not more forgiven when you receive absolution from Pope Sixtus the Sixth in St. John Lateran than you are from receiving it from Fr. Joe Bagofdoughnuts at St. Ipsidipsy in Tall Tree Circle.

You are not more married if a bishop does the nuptials.

You don’t receive more Jesus if a cardinal says the Mass.

You aren’t more anointed if a monsignor, or canon, or bishop or other great prelate does it.

You might be more buried if the bishop does the graveside … gotta think about that one.  But the grace wouldn’t be more blessed if blessed by the bishop rather than the assistant at your parish.

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  1. DavidJ says:

    I have heard from reliable sources that after Archbishop Donoghue of Atlanta retired, he was overjoyed to be able to hear confessions on a regular basis again.

  2. Dan says:

    Here in Cleveland our Cathedral offers Mass and Confession three times a day, which is a blessing in itself. The bishop himself is often in the confessional, and I’ve had the opportunity of confessing to him twice. It speaks volumes about a priest/bishop’s true priorities when he makes time for confessions like that. I know the church closing episode has caused a lot of angst here in Cleveland, but no one can complain that our bishop does not take the spiritual needs of his people seriously.

  3. AnAmericanMother says:

    This is absolutely true. Abp. Donoghue shows up every time our parish has a big penance service (usually in Advent and Lent) and hears confessions right along with the dozen or so priests in attendance. And last Lent he brought a friend – a cardinal – who suited right up and got to work.
    We had a little discussion on form of address for those who got in the cardinal’s queue . . . the consensus was that “Bless me Father” was just fine.
    By the way, keep Abp. Donoghue in your prayers. He was on our prayer list last Sunday. I have no details, but the last time I saw him I thought he looked a little under the weather. He has been very, very active (in a good way) even as a retired archbishop.

  4. Mike says:

    Way back in the 90s, at the National Basilica in DC, I went to confession, and the sign outside said Bishop so and so. Don’t remember his name. I do remember that he was an excellent confessor.

  5. Ralph says:

    Sure. You could do it that way. If would be proper. But you could always stick with “Bless me, Father…”. There is no title which is more appreciated than that.

    I recall reading an interview with a retired US Army General (I’m sorry I can’t remember which one) who said of all the awards and decorations he had received, the Combat Infintry Badge was the one he was most proud of. It showed that he could do what was important when it counted.
    I would suspect it’s the same for a good bishop or cardinal. Father is a title that can’t be surpassed.

  6. wolfeken says:

    I don’t think there is a distinction with the post-Vatican II form of absolution, but if a bishop uses the traditional (i.e. 1962) form of absolution there is a specific rubric in the Roman Ritual during the “Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

    From the Ritual: “Episcopus autem in absolvendis fidelibus ter signum crucis facit.” (“A bishop makes the sign of the cross three times.”)

    One day I hope to see that motion in shadow form without having to drive to Tulsa.

  7. Andy Milam says:

    A number of years ago, I was privileged enough to have my confession heard by Raymond Card. Burke.

    He was just about to celebrate Holy Mass and gave the adults who assisted at his Mass the opportunity to go to Confession. Everyone went, including the pastor and his curate. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen.

    He is not only firm, but very caring. He does not mince words and he is clear in his counsel. His penance was fair. He ranks top 5 in most just confessors I’ve ever had.

    I addressed him thusly; Bless me Excellency, for I have sinned…

  8. Tim Ferguson says:

    Somerset Maugham, in his excellent novel, The Razor’s Edge does a wonderful job of skewering the notion that the sacraments mean more if administered by someone hierarchically superior. Elliot Templeton, one of my favorite fictional characters, is an elderly American, uncle to one of the main characters, who lives in Europe and has managed to move about in high European society. On his deathbed, after he is anointed by a bishop, he is confident that having received the final sacraments from a prince of the Church, all doors will be open to him in heaven. When Larry Darrell tells him that, in heaven, all will be equal, Templeton replies, “Nonsense! I have always moved in the best society in Europe, and I have no doubt that I shall move in the best society in heaven.”

  9. Joshua Gonnerman says:

    It’s true that you don’t receive more Jesus if a bishop says the Mass. At the same time, it is important to remember that the bishop (not just any old bishop, but the local ordinary), has or should have a central place in the liturgy. St. Ignatius of Antioch presents a picture of the bishop as a centre from which the liturgical life of the Church flows. Sacrosanctum Concilium preserves this insight: “all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers. [paragraph 41]” Of course, it is certainly true that this is not always the case, and due to the sheer number of Catholics, is not usually practicable. Still, it is held up as an ideal which we should always be aware of and striving towards.

    And it is spectacular that Bishop Finn hears confessions regularly in the cathedral! I met him a few months after appointment. I was impressed then, but I just keep hearing more and more good news!

  10. A few points: First, let’s add that one is not more confirmed if a bishop confers the sacrament than if a priest does so, even though in the Roman Rite the bishop is the ordinary minister of the sacrament.

    Second, I think every bishop should make time for confessions. “Regularly” doersn’t have to be every day or even every week, but I think that even a really busy bishop or archbishop should be able to set aside just one hour a month to hear confessions, and it doesn’t have to be on Saturday afternoon or even the same time every time. Everyone has some sort of lull in his schedule.

    Third, I would be so self-conscious about precisely the point raised in the original question that I would probably shy away from a bishop’s confessional for that reason alone. It would probably distract me from my confession. I can see some value in a bishop going to a parish other than his cathedral parish and simply placing a “Visitor” plate on the confessional. That lets him hear confessions as an ordinary priest and lets the penitent relax and confess as he would to any other priest.

  11. JonoShea1 says:

    During my brief time living in Tulsa, Bishop Slattery heard confessions before the 10:00 am Mass in Holy Family Cathedral during Lent. In truth, I never went through his line because it was the longer of the two. I am also grateful that the Cathedral provided an opportunity for the sacrament about 15-20 minutes before every Mass.

  12. rbbadger says:

    When I was the seminary, I spent a summer in Puebla, Mexico learning Spanish. Anyhow, one Sunday, we all went over to Mexico City and participated in the Cardinal’s Mass in the Cathedral. I was serving this Mass. So on my way to the sacristy, I was more than a little surprised to see His Eminence, Norberto Cardinal Rivera hearing confessions.

    The Cardinal celebrates Mass in his cathedral every Sunday. However, this was the first time I ever saw a bishop hearing confessions. They have those old style of confessionals which enable you to see who is in the box hearing confessions.

    I asked one of the cathedral staff members whether or not the cardinal hears confessions every Sunday. She said, “Oh yes. Don’t American cardinals and bishops do the same?”

    I greatly admire the great devotion Mexican Catholics have towards the Sacrament of Penance.

  13. jmoran says:

    When I was in Denver about 5 years ago, I saw surprised and delighted to see Archbishop Chaput’s name on a confessional in the cathedral. I wished it was time for confessions to be heard.

  14. irishgirl says:

    I always wondered what you would begin your confession if the confessor was a Bishop or higher.
    Now I know!
    But I would be nervous as all heck if I found myself in a confession line where the Holy Father was a confessor….what would I say to him? My tongue would get all tied in knots! I would babble like a fool!

  15. Anselm says:

    Bishop Victor Galeone, recently retired from St. Augustine in Florida, heard confessions on a regular basis in the Cathedral, as his schedule permitted. During Advent and Lenten Penance Services, his lines were always the longest, and he was the last to finish hearing confessions.
    It was just one of the many ways in which his holiness – and joy in ministry – was evidenced.

  16. LaudemGloriae says:

    @DavidJ – you heard correctly. I personally had Archbishop Donahue for confession when I wandered into a First Reconciliation event for children at my home parish. After the children had finished, the few adults who had waited around also went to confession. Being prone to scruples I had a 7-page typed (front and back) manifesto of my many evils (don’t laugh). The archbishop was very patient and I might add, even amused by me, but I can say that the confession I had with him was life changing. It was a turning point in my battles over scrupples. Now when past offenses trouble me, I can dismiss them knowing that “even the archbishop” has heard my confession and granted me Christ’s pardon.

    I have also observed Archbishop Wilton Gregory hear confessions at the Eucharistic Congress.

    @Father Z, wasn’t it necessary to obtain reconciliation from the bishop in centuries past for certain sins like sacrilege and witchcraft? There are references to this practice in the book “Eucharistic Miracles.”

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