QUAERITUR: Priest walking around outside the confessional, able to see penitents.

confessionFrom a reader:

I went to make confession at a local parish, but saw the priest walking around near the confessional. Since it’s not a priest I wanted to make my confession to, I left to go to another church. On my way to the car, another woman came by and I told her which priest was hearing confessions. She ranted against priests walking around where they could see potential penitents in line or praying during posted confession times, and how she didn’t think privacy was taken seriously enough. She was deeply concerned. While less harsh, I, too, prefer to remain unseen before confession (especially if I am the only young woman and my voice could therefore identify me). I imagine there are many others who are made uncomfortable by being seen before confession, and might even skip the confession if they are (I’m not saying they should skip, but they might skip nonetheless).

It may be that the priest needed to get up a move a bit because of a cramp in his leg or pain in his back from sitting or maybe the poor guy suffers from claustrophobia… whatever. I admit that there have been a couple times when, on a blistering hot, humid day and during a lull, I have open the confessional door or gotten out to stretch my legs and get some air.

That said, if you are conscious of mortal sins, and there is a priest ready to hear your confession, then make your confession!

In general, I think it is a good idea if priest confessors make as little eye contact, or any contact, with people in line. If getting in or out of the confessional a priest has to pass by people who are in a line (perhaps at a different confessional) or who are in church still doing their penance, in my opinion, he ought to keep him eyes down and do his best not to give people a sense that he is looking at them. Other than that, he should probably stay in the box. Younger priests out there – if you haven’t been told this at some point, you would do well to pay attention: make your way to and from the confessional with as little contact with people as possible.

Keep in mind that priests are bound by the Seal of Confession. They will not reveal anything you confess, whether they know you or not.

I think it is rather unlikely that a priest would radically change his opinion of you from what you confess. My experience is that I forget almost immediately what people have said. I don’t know why. It just happens that way. This same experience – of forgetting – has been backed up by other priests I know. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few priests chimed in under this entry to say the same thing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PhilipNeri says:

    Confession time: I read the headline of this post and felt a twinge of guilt! We have 25 mins of confession time before each daily Mass. The 8.00-8.25am slot is really, really slow. I usually step outside the box and walk around. I go out of my way not to make eye contact with people when I see them heading to the box. Of course, I have no idea if potential penitents leave when they see me strolling around. . .so, guess I should stay put, uh?

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  2. Dear Father, you know your community/parish and you can make that judgment for yourself. It seems to me that 99/100 people don’t care one way or another. At the same time, the old adage is tutior via sequenda est. Perhaps there is that one person who would otherwise make a confession.

  3. AGA says:

    I was talking to some of the former altar boys of Fr. Emil Kapaun. As he would walk to and from the confessional Fr. Kapaun would cover his eyes with his stole. [Cool anecdote. That is a great example of what I was talking about. Good idea, too!]

  4. cresci says:

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but here in Brazil this doesn’t matter much. People were accustomed since the 70’s to confess in a “psychologist-table” manner, so eye contact is not a reason for fear down around, as they were taught to do face-to-face confessions without fearing for the Seal being broken.

    That said, there are very rare cases here of having “boxed” confessionals, even the traditional ones with a grate are “open-air” where the confessor can see the penitents.

    I personally find it better. Why? I can easily see who’s the priest on duty and easily skip out to another one if I know it’s one of the following:

    1. The deaf one who will ask you to repeat everything in a louder voice OR that will not control his voice tone and give you counsel and penitence in a VERY LOUD VOICE;
    2. The liberal one for whon nothing is a sin and you’re “all right”
    3. The one who has a psychology degree and wants to make the confession as of a treatment session and try to shrink me.
    4. The one who has a very strong foreign accent (or is extremely old with a speaking problem) and I can’t possibly understand what he is saying or trying to say, especially when handing out the penitence and counsel.
    5. One who is a personal friend (and I am personal friends with a ton of priests) and to whom I wouldn’t like to confess some kinds of sin in order not to tempt him in breaking the Seal or weakening the personal relationship.

    These are just some easy-to-find real world examples, there can be more… [This is why we usually put name plates, with the name of the priest hearing confessions, on the door of the confessional.]

  5. frobuaidhe says:

    My routine is: eyes down making straight for the tabernacle, a quick prayer for them and for me, eyes down again and straight to the box. At the end I remain in the box for a little while to let the last penitent out of the church after their penance is said.

    I don’t remember confessions either. All in all, I can remember three or four outstanding sins in fourteen years of confessions, but don’t know who any of the penitents are. I don’t recognise voices nor make any attempt to. A few of times a penitent has either revealed their identity to me or said something which has definitely identified them; none of them were anyone I was expecting.

    I have heard some very serious confessions in face to face situations. Two things: 1. but for the grace of God there go I, 2. I admire and thank God for their courage to confess and receive absolution.

    I hope these few thoughts help someone.

  6. Shellynna says:

    A few weeks ago, I had to walk into the reconciliation room after the previous penitent and go around the screen to let the priest know that the sound-dulling music was off and the confessions could be heard in the foyer of the church. (It’s one of those parishes built in the late-’70s when soundproof confessional boxes were a low priority.) Ordinarily, I confess behind the screen when in a confessional, but once the sound problem was fixed that seemed silly once I’d already talked to the priest. So I sat down for the face-to-face. I get somewhat impatient with people who let their scruples run away with them, so I sometimes think God made me a woman so it would be very clear that I had no vocation to the priesthood.

  7. Tim says:

    A couple of years ago, I heard a sermon by a priest of the FSSP who said we must always go to the same confessor who becomes acquainted with us, our struggles and our shortcomings. I wondered how that could be squared with the idea of anonymity — confessing in the box with a grille between penitent and confessor. There are some churches I often go to for confession and others I would prefer to avoid but I don’t seek out the same priest every time. In fact I find it easier to confess to a priest I may not encounter regularly — or never if it happens to be in another city. [I agree that it is good to have a regular confessor. But priests should not tell people that they MUST go to the same confessor. However, the issue of the “regular confessor” really isn’t the point of this entry.]

  8. Mike says:

    1. I think Tim’s comment is apt when seeking spiritual direction in Confession that takes a little more than an average amount of time. I think there is no more potent instrument of Grace for getting rid of vices than going to the same priest for six months.

    2. The comments of Fr. Z make a lot of sense; we don’t want anyone scared off from the grace of this awesome Sacrament.

  9. Jack007 says:

    Tim, I think the priest was referring to the laudable practice of having a spiritual director. My mother had one for years and my sister has one today. She knows him personally, including having him as a frequent dinner guest.
    Some people are perfectly okay with this and feel that it keeps them on the straight and narrow much easier.
    Maybe its not for everybody, but I can see a good case being made for it.
    Both the FSSP and the Institute priests promote this practice.

    Jack in KC

  10. LarryPGH says:

    To all the priests who’ve added a comment to this discussion:

    First off, THANK YOU for your ministry to the people of God, and your devotion and attentiveness to the Sacraments, especially to the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

    One request, though: some valid points have been discussed in this thread, and you’ve made some awesome observations… wouldn’t it be nice, though, if next Sunday, we could hear you talk about some of this stuff from the pulpit? ;^)

  11. APX says:

    @Fr. Z
    My experience is that I forget almost immediately what people have said. I don’t know why. It just happens that way. This same experience – of forgetting – has been backed up by other priests I know.

    Fr. Chad Ripperger (not sure if he’s still with the FSSP, but he used to teach at the Denton, Nebraska seminary), has a number of his sermons online at Sensus Traditionis in exchange for penance. I recall listening to one on frequent confession and he brought up this topic and something about it being a special grace given to priests which causes them to forget most confessions almost the moment the penitent walks out of the confessional.

    I’m a basketcase when it comes to Confession, as I have social phobia. For those of you who don’t know what it is exactly, here’s a definition just so you can appreciate what Confession is for me:

    Social Phobia: A persistent and irrational fear of situations that may involve scrutiny, judgment by others, or which may cause embarrassment.

    People talk about being scared to go to Confession and that being anxious is normal. What I go through is not normal, as I have had times where I’ve had to stop talking because I couldn’t breath. Fortunately, I can hide it pretty well and get myself back to being able to breath somewhat enough to finish confessing. I have to be pretty desperate to do face-to-face Confession or Confession by appointment. If I had a rather rough Confession, I can’t look at my confessor for a number of days after.

    While my confessor doesn’t sit outside the confessional waiting for penitents, I have seen other priests sit outside the confessional reading and waiting for a penitent to come up to ask them to hear their confession. If I had to do that in order to get my Confession heard, I would make very little use of Confession. The amount of cognitive restructuring it takes during an anonymous confession lasting less than 5 minutes is mentally exhausting. I couldn’t imagine one of those long drawn out face-to-face confessions. I haven’t done that since I was in high school.

  12. Philangelus says:

    For a while I was very good friends with a priest, and from time to time he would hear my Confession. There was at least one time when he asked me after Confession was over to please repeat the nonsinful parts of it to him because they were fairly important and he wanted to be able to interact with me and not worry “Okay, did she tell me who she was dating in Confession, or out of it?” :-)

    He did later tell me that the majority of the time he couldn’t remember from one Confession to the next what was said. A woman once got into the Confessional and said, “My husband was just in here. He confessed to adultery, didn’t he? Was it a woman named Jennifer? And he lied to me about going on a business trip?” And my priest friend said to me, “Not only would I not have been allowed to tell her yes or no, but I honestly couldn’t remember! And this was only three minutes previous!”

    (I don’t envy priests who find themselves in that position. I would have no idea how to extract myself.)

  13. acardnal says:

    I have heard other priests say the same thing as you, Fr. Z, i.e. they are given the grace to remember nothing they have heard in the confession box. At that same time, I think it is prudent and important for the priest to avoid eye contact with penitents in line and respect their anonymity.

  14. St. Epaphras says:

    This afternoon where I went for Confession Father X was doing things outside the room where they hear confessions at that parish, so of course he saw anyone who was waiting near there (only me from what I could tell). Plus there is glass in the front so the whole world could get at least a look at who is in there.

    Only have this to say about that: FATHER X IS A PRIEST (sorry for caps, don’t get the html thing). I could not get to confession with my regular confessor, things were piling up and I really needed a priest – any priest with faculties – to forgive my sins and to help me straighten something out. So despite the lack of the ideal situation, whatever that is, all is now well.

    Sometimes Confession is just plain embarrassing. Our Lord knows this and He still planned it this way. Sooner or later we have to face up to our sinful selves and take the cure. We are actually confessing to Our Lord anyway.

    Thank God for all of the spiritual fathers out there, and thank God for the father I confessed to today.

  15. SpokaneTrad says:

    APX: I don’t know if I have a social phobia but I have been in the same spot as you not being able to breathe during a number of confessions. I figured I was too emotionally wound up prior to entering the confessional and it would come to a head about the time I finished with my sins. It would take a serious effort for me to take in enough air to say my Act of Contrition. Thank God it hasn’t been so bad the last few times.

  16. Sin isn’t that interesting – there are so many other things I’d rather keep in the memory banks, and that’s hard enough already! That said, I find that not a minute after a confession, whatever might have been is just gone, much like the sin after absolution. To penitents – be peaceful and make a good confession, and often.

  17. Bos Mutissimus says:

    “My experience is that I forget almost immediately what people have said. I don’t know why. It just happens that way. This same experience – of forgetting – has been backed up by other priests I know.”

    Perhaps it is a special grace afforded to priests, consistent with this week’s first reading, specifically Isaiah 43: 25. “It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.”
    I wonder if, just as priests have a share in Christ’s Priesthood, He allows them to forget the sins blotted out, just as He “remember[s] no more.”

  18. LisaP. says:

    APX, that’s an amazing story. I had a run in with OCD once, and if someone made ignoring or restructuring my anxiety a condition of salvation for me I don’t see how I could have done it. I read someone describe anxiety of that kind once as the feeling you would get seeing your toddler playing in traffic — try to tell yourself to not panic and run at that feeling.

    I love the idea of a regular confessor — a little too much. I want someone to know me, affirm me, council me, etc., and those are all good things. But in the confessional, what I need is someone to absolve me, and those other goods frankly can get in the way, so I think anonymity and “variety” is best. I like to be behind the screen not just to preserve my anonymity, but because it is a tangible way for me to keep in my mind who I am confessing to, that the priest is just in persona. I understand priests are human and sometimes need to come and go (obviously nature calls us all), but I deeply appreciate the priests who try to be discreet; the story about the stole above I find heartening.

  19. PhilipNeri says:

    I never remember confessions. Penitents will often say something like, “Father, I know I confessed this sin to you last week. . .” Really? OK. I’ve heard about 50 confessions since then, and I simply do not recall it. As your sins are washed clean, so is my memory! :-) Deo gratis!!!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  20. LadyMarchmain says:

    Thank you to all good priests who hear confessions, especially before mass!

    This is to speak in favor of a priest standing visible in the sanctuary near the confessional. Just last Sunday, as it happens, I drove over an hour and 15 minutes to attend an Extraordinary Form mass where I could confess right before mass. I was late and arrived, sadly, just as mass was beginning. The light had been turned out over the confessional so I walked to the pews.

    I saw (from the back) a man standing near the missals and offering baskets, who I thought was an usher, and I quietly asked if he could direct me to the restroom. He walked me instead to the confessional and I realized he was a priest as he stepped inside! I was surprised, but so very grateful that a priest had thoughtfully waited while mass was beginning for any late comers who wanted to be able to confess in order to receive communion. (The fact that he knew what I really needed I attribute entirely to the Holy Spirit and discernment gifted to him by Holy Orders). Father Philip Neri, this might have been you! Thank you!

    I do sympathize with the desire for anonymity, though,; there are times I avoid my usual confessors, sometimes because my confession involves other people in the parish.

  21. mamajen says:

    I definitely value my anonymity when it comes to confession, but I really don’t worry if the priest sees me in the queue. In fact, I like to think it gives him some comfort seeing me there because he also sees me in the Communion line! The one time I drew the line was prior to a friend’s wedding when one of the priests hearing confessions was his uncle! I chose to go to the other priest who didn’t know me. I was taught that when priests are sitting in the confessional, they are concentrating on doing Jesus’ work and not focusing on identifying whispering voices and counting down the people who come and go. When I am feeling particularly wretched and tempted to “chicken out”, I just remember my dear husband who is the only British man in our city and couldn’t conceal his accent if he tried. He has no anonymity, but he goes. I know priests are only human, but I trust them more than the average human not to gossip about me or judge me. I am not quite fearless enough to go to a face-to-face confession unless there was no other choice, but I don’t mind a priest seeing me in line.

  22. Cincinnati Priest says:

    As a priest, not only do I try to get in the box early and keep my eyes downcast while entering my confessional ( so I don’t see the penitent at all ), I have to admit that I prefer it when the penitent goes behind the screen rather than face to face.

    Confession is a beautiful and intimate encounter between the penitent and Christ the merciful judge, and I think that face to face confessions can sometimes obscure that.

    I always do whatever I can to preserve anonymity. For instance, I am (unfortunately) very good at recognizing people by their voice, but I never indicate that I know them even if I do recognize their voice in the confessional.

  23. Random Friar says:

    I try to make as little eye contact as possible, although I’ve learned that I have to make a “one minute” hand motion to ask that the first in line give me some time to get everything ready.

    That said, I usually can’t remember who it was anyway, if he or she chooses the screen.

  24. Priests have heard everything, and they hear hundreds of confessions a week. Just something to think about when we get nervous before confessing.

  25. Matthew says:

    I wouldn’t mind if the priest saw me in line at the confessional. I am happy we have good priests to hear our confessions frequently.

    I once met an old college friend when he heard my confession while I was traveling 20 years after we last saw one another at school. I had no idea he was at that parish, a nice chat was had after confessions finished that afternoon.

    When I need to go to confession I am happy to be able to find a priest, if it was urgent I’d confess (quietly of course) on a public bus.

  26. Philangelus wondered about priests who are quizzed about hearing other confessions, etc, and said, “I don’t envy priests who find themselves in that position. I would have no idea how to extract myself.”

    Oh it’s easy; I just act dumb!

    About remembering or reacting to sins…

    First, I find it striking when people confess my sins to me. I take that as a message from the Lord to me.

    Second, sins are not worth remembering.

  27. LouiseA says:

    In my experience, American priests seem more sensitive to the fact that most penitents do prefer at least the illusion of anonymity. I figure it is a cultural difference more than anything else.

  28. bdang says:

    One book instrumental in my conversion was, “This is the faith” by Canon Ripley. The most beautiful part, which I remember to this day, is his section on confession and how he contrasts the harsh and vindictive condemnation of the world to an exposed sinner in contrast with the perfect charity that Christ has given to all sinners in the quiet and secretive sacrament of confession. I remember the passages on how He leads the sinner quietly and gently into the confessional, how the sinner has but to say a few words revealing his sins, how it goes from the sinner’s mouth to the priest’s ears and out again and is remembered no more and then absolution and freedom. I like to think all priests are like that and remember nothing of the sins (as we are really confessing to Christ). Whenever I feel anxiety about confessing a sin I remember that part of the book and realise how easy it is to confess to the Christ vs. telling the world.

  29. xsosdid says:

    I don’t have a problem confessing face to face with my Pastor (I did it just today!!). Am I weird or what??

  30. n1tr0narc says:

    As a penintent we must always remember that we are not confessing to a priest, he is acting as the supernatural receiver of a telephone to God. I admit that confession is difficult, but I tend to prefer a face-to-face type as you know and will see how the supernatural grace operates and the advises which are given is at time very uncharacteristic of the priest (and I know most of them at a very personal/family level). This is where I’ve seen that grace come and work. Imagine after immediately hearing confession, the priest and my family would get along as if nothing went from my lips to his ears.

  31. Father S. says:

    This reminds me of the movie “Romero.” There is a scene when he hears the Confession of one of his priests. While he is praying in the church, the penitent priest goes into the confessional and then rings a bell when he is ready for the confessor. I have long though of doing the same. You can see this at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJjgx0YZ6dg&feature=related

    As for making eye contact, I always keep my eyes to the floor as I walk to the confessional. From time to time someone will ask me why I don’t greet them on the way to the confessional if they are in line. I find that a brief explanation has always been readily accepted by folks.

  32. Ed the Roman says:

    First, my gratitude for Confession is hard to describe. Thank you to all my confessors, past, present, and future.

    Second, if I needed anonymity I’d have to go to another parish; between being a cantor and confessing frequently the pastor and the PV both know me immediately by voice.

    But compared to what is available, the potential embarrasment is a burp in a hurricane.

  33. Trad Catholic Girl says:

    It doesn’t bother me if the priest sees me in line for confession, although I do prefer traditional confessionals with modesty screens vs. face-to-face confessions. I am fortunate to have a confessor for whom I trust implicitly. He is a good and holy priest who draws a huge crowd for confession because it does feel like one is confessing to Christ through him. I do not go to confession as frequently as I should as I usually wait until I have something major to confess. Kind of similar to not wanting to go to the dentist until I have a toothache or the doctor unless I am in pain.

  34. NancyP says:

    Several years ago a priest talked to our parish council (of which I was then a member) about this very topic. He told us that God gives confessors a very special grace when He helps them to forget the sins they’ve heard. Any priest would feel overwhelmed, depressed and more if he had to carry all the memories of confessions…so God takes those memories away to spare His priests that burden.

    I can appreciate this because I have had mere acquaintances share some very harrowing stories with me (e. g. from the Vietnam War) and I felt so very overwhelmed by their tales that I promised myself that the stories had to die with me, so no one else would have to carry them in memory. I can truly appreciate the blessing God gives to His priests by blurring the memories of individual confessions. He has planned for every event and situation; God is truly good.

    And so, we should all feel encouraged…our priests are truly there in the moment for us, to convey God’s forgiveness and grace…and, just as we have long been taught, they are intermediaries. They invite us to confess and they convey God’s forgiveness and blessing…and they receive graces of their own to enable them to administer this important sacrament.

    We should also remember to thank our priests for all they do, particularly when they spend time hearing confessions.

  35. NoTambourines says:

    Even if the priest has seen me waiting and knows who I am, I’ll make my confession behind the screen. I try to get to confession at least every other month (with my work schedule, I’ve had to plan even that well in advance), and more often than not, my eyes tear up a bit at absolution, at the sheer magnitude of mercy to be found in that sacrament. That, and I’m just able to be more frank and articulate, and less emotional from behind the screen.

    I dread face-to-face confession, but when you gotta, you gotta. I try to tell myself it’s less awkward than standing before God with those sins un-confessed. Still, my preference is definitely the screen, even if anonymity isn’t really there.

  36. FXR2 says:


    I still prefer the priest who will not know me or recognize my voice. I often go to confession a parish or two away from my parish. I am a policeman and know much more about people than I would care to admit or remember. I pray priests have the special grace to not remember, or to forget the sins of their confessees.

    I remain a cynic, however.

    Sometime I travel even further. Perhaps, I am missing the point, but I do not appreciate a priest who tries to council me. I know my sins, and I know how despicable I am! I wish absolution, not to be told how selfish I am. If I did not know I was selfish, and despicable I would not have confessed my sins.

    I can’t remember the last time a priest reminded me of the next plenary indulgence, that might really be helpful.

    I am sorry for the rant, but I thought this might be somewhat constructive.

    With prayers and thanks for all you do!


  37. Joseph-Mary says:

    My priests know me well. They know my voice and they know my struggles. I gave up the need for anonymity a while ago. Sometimes I do indeed feel like going to another parish but when I have to come to one of our two priest with something I am particularly sensitive about, I know that this is when my pride isespecially smashed. And I need it smashed. I need humility and that comes often with humilitations. As people come to be very regular penitents, they begin to drop the idea that Father must not know who they are, I think. If you go monthly or weekly, the confessor will know who you are. If you seldom go, they won’t.
    But it is a grace to smash that pride! I did ‘it’ and I own it and confess it and ask for the grace to not do that again!

    One church in Santa Fe where my brother lives put in glass confessionals. I only went there once. People do not have to confess with the others in the church looking on! I know that is to protect the priest (or maybe penitent) from anything untoward but that is going too far!

  38. inIpso says:

    I don’t care if the priest sees me… I’d rather a priest absolve me from lots of horrible sins, knowing who I am, then have him think I’m holy but really have a gunky soul! We’re all sinners in need of God’s mercy!

  39. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    It is true for me that I often forget what someone has confessed. Our confessions are all done face to face and sometimes I feel people may hold back because of this. This is only a hunch though.

  40. akp1 says:

    I help out with an RCIA group (led by a priest or sometimes two) and when we talked about confession (bearing in mind we are a tiny Diocese, you will see your priest in the street very often!) they said exactly the same thing – there is a grace which means they do not remember what people have confessed.

  41. Mariana says:

    Anonymity is a luxury we don’t even have in this solidly Lutheran country with only a few thousand Catholics, and in the few towns where there is a Catholic parish you can’t “go somewhere else,” if you don’t want to confess to the parish priest.

    But I know our good and holy priests don’t remember our sins -because I asked – and also I actually want to go to the same one every time, so he can get to know my weaknesses and advise me.

  42. APX says:

    I am a policeman and know much more about people than I would care to admit or remember. I pray priests have the special grace to not remember, or to forget the sins of their confessees.

    I don’t know if you know this or not, but the grace of forgetfulness is not just for priests. We too can pray for it. While I’m not a police officer, and don’t deal with the horrific sights, smells, and duties police officers deal with, I do work in the criminal justice field on the corrections end in probation. I get to read the police files, and get to hear the details of the offences from offenders who, quite frankly, are often proud of what they’ve done. I’m still pretty new, so I haven’t been exposed to as much as most people, but I do find the sexual offences disturbing. I had one file where I unfortunately literally got the play-by-play of something disturbing which burnt some of the most disturbing mental images into my head that would not leave me alone. I didn’t know what else to do, so I took it to Confession and my confessor worked through it with me. When I walked out of Confession I couldn’t remember anything about what I had read aside from what the offence was. The images, the play-by-play description, wiped out completely. Even if I try to remember, I can’t. It’s like I never even read about it.

    Upon further research, I have learned that one can pray to God for the grace of forgetfulness so that one can forget past sins, wounds, etc. I feel kinda bad for my co-workers who don’t have access to these viable resources.

  43. Debbie Sercely says:

    Good post, Father. Reminds me that I probably need to get to Confession in the near future.
    It can be a little awkward if the priest is strolling around outside, and certainly for the sake of those with severe conditions (APX, I SO admire your courage!), it would probably be best if most priests tried not to be seen before Confession. Though, the most consoling Confession I ever experienced was not just face-to-face…the good priest and I were sitting on a bench outside the church (which was nothing more than a 3-sided shelter for the altar and Tabernacle – we were at Philmont!)…he held my hand through the whole thing, and when he gave me Absolution, he put his hands on my head. I imagine it’s what it would have felt like to be healed by Christ (when He was here the first time).
    To all you dear priests – THANK YOU. Thank you for the many things you’ve given up in order to bring Christ’s healing and forgiveness to all of us. Thank you for being Christ for us.

  44. Supertradmum says:

    I do not see the problem.The priests where ever I have been walk into the Confessional after the line has formed, and obviously they have seen whoever is in line. Also, as the only American in confession lines for ten months, all the priests know who I am even if I am behind the grill.

    I have never counted on being anonymous for Confessions.

  45. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    I am reminded of a true story written by Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ in his memoirs, “With God in Russia.” He spent years in a series of Soviet slave labor camps. In one of those places, he would go to the barbed wire separating the mens’ camp from the women’s camp. The women would risk their lives to confess in a very quiet voice or they would write their sins on a tiny scrap of paper and threw them over the fence to Father. Then, he absolved them. Thank God for Priests.

    This is my rule of thumb: If you truly need to go to confession, go immediately, even if it is someone to whom you’d rather not confess. You never know when… your next confession could be your last confession… And it doesn’t matter how young you are, either…

  46. gkeuter says:

    For gold and silver are tested in fire, yet truly, acceptable men are tested in the furnace of humiliation.
    Sir 2:5

    I try to remember this when I have to confess a certain embarrassing sin, better to be embarrassed (humiliated) in front of my parish priest where I can receive absolution and another chance than at my particular judgement where I would suffer the eternal consequence of that sin.

    Thank you Fr. Z for your dedication to the sacrament and to all the priests who hear confessions on a regular basis.

  47. When I first went to live in Italy, some 30 years ago or so, it was still the practice that only women went to confession on the side of the box (see Fr. Z’s picture–priest in box, people in full view). Men knelt in front of the priest. The screen, you know, was instituted after Trent for women’s confessions, not men’s, because of the risk of scandal. When I went to the side, the priest kept poking his heard around to look at me. Afterwards, a kind Italian explained that men go in front. Now days, however, it seems that everyone in that part of Italy goes on the side. You might also note that in the Italian confessional, the priest can see out and notice people passing and getting on line. I think the anonymity thing seems rather American, or perhaps northern European.

  48. APX says:

    I just had a thought with regards to anonyminity. Ever notice how there are people who have nooooo problem whatsoever about confessing their sins on Facebook, posting the scandalous pictures and video for all their friends, family members, co-workers, associates, etc, bragging about it to their friends, but confession is too embarrassing?

  49. Rachel K says:

    I have never seen a glass confessional here in the UK. Surely the best protection for both priest and penitent is the fixed screen with separate doors into each half of the box. It is the practice within Opus Dei that this is always the case, as St Josemaria Escriva foresaw the need for complete discretion in order to avoid the scandals which have affected other parts of the Church. I found the practice of never having an Opus Dei priest alone with any woman a bit strange at first (the ladies always go in pairs to fetch the priest, even from another room) but now I see the wisdom of this. I think many of the distressing situations we now face in the Church could have been avoided by such refinement in our interactions with each other.
    Thankyou to all the priests here who have worked so hard in the confessional over many years- a job well done!

  50. Rachel K says:

    I have never seen a glass confessional here in the UK. Surely the best protection for both priest and penitent is the fixed screen with separate doors into each half of the box. It is the practice within Opus Dei that this is always the case, as St Josemaria Escriva foresaw the need for complete discretion in order to avoid the scandals which have affected other parts of the Church. I found the practice of never having an Opus Dei priest alone with any woman a bit strange at first (the ladies always go in pairs to fetch the priest, even from another room) but now I see the wisdom of this. I think many of the distressing situations we now face in the Church could have been avoided by such refinement in our interactions with each other.
    Thankyou to all the priests here who have worked so hard in the confessional over many years- a job well done!

  51. CountryPriest says:

    When Lateran IV codified the Easter Duty, it specified that the annual confession was to be made to the parish priest, i.e the pastor. Medieval episcopal visitations asked the parish priest if everyone in the parish had made his Easter Duty. The assumption was that the pastor has seen everyone who had confessed to him. Here is an image from Belgium in the mid-15th century showing the Sacrament of Penance in the upper right-hand corner:


    Plus, as far as I know, the Sacrment of Penance is always ‘face to face’ in the Eastern Rites. So anonymity is certainly a ‘modern’ accretion to the Sacrament. I believe confessional ‘boxes,’ including the kind decribed by my confrere Fr. Augsutine, are a product of the Baroque Period. So I don’t think we can talk about anyone having a ‘right’ to anonymity in confessing his sins.

    Still, I doubt whether confessing one’s sins to a priest was any more popular in the middle ages than it is today (hence the need for Lateran IV to require people to go *gasp* once a year). Fr. Thompson noted that screens for women’s confessions were introduced for propriety’s sake, perhaps in part as a response to Protestant libels against priests’ morals. But one can easily see this innovation as a pastoral response to peoples’ reluctance to confess sins to another human being. So what a pastor lost as far as his knowledge of the spiritual health of his parish was perhaps outweighed by a greater recourse to the Sacrament.

    As one who hears confessions, I have to say that I prefer face-to-face. Being able to see a person’s face and movements can tell me a lot about what is going on with the person and it is easier to provide appropriate spiritual guidance. But I can also say that I have heard some confessions of people who were so moritified by their sins that I doubt they would have availed themselves of the Sacrament at all if they had not been able to make it anonymously. So I think it is a good thing to provide people with the option.

  52. acardnal says:

    @Shamrock: I hope to God that the “facilitator” was joking! If true, it could be a serious matter to bring to the bishop’s attention. First, I would ask the priest if this is true.

  53. heway says:

    @ Shamrock….the priest may be listening to tapes while waiting for a penitent. About 8 years ago a young man who had been away from the church for quite a while asked if the priest was in town. We have a mission church with a priest twice a week. I told him that Father was relaxing on the porch behind the rectory and he would find him there. Next time I saw this man he told what a wonderful experience it was. Father heard his confession on the back porch and placed his hands atop his head. As someone else descibed it – he felt as if the hands of Christ had touched him This young man has been a regular practicing member of our congregation since.
    Many thanks to all you priests who are so understanding, forgiving and full of good counsel.

  54. LouiseA says:

    @Shamrock: I have been praying for you, as previously you had posted on here that you have not been to Confession in 50 years. I am sorry someone told you that horrid tale about the priest taping confessions. That rumor has got to be merely an attempt by the devil to keep you from it as you get closer to going back. It reminded me of the lies spread against the early Christians by the pagans…that they ate babies! You should go directly to your priest with what you heard, as he has a right to know such a harmful rumor about himself, and then he can correct it. God bless you!

  55. Brad says:

    Charitably, it sounds like the lady who “ranted” about priests seeing her has some pride issues. I can hear our own priest’s refrain: pride, pride, pride.

    Does she fear the judgment of a man more than the judgment of God? The judgmental (so she projects) look in the man’s eyes more than the offense she has already committed against God, the offense that has brought her to the booth and to that man who is in persona Christi?

  56. Brad says:

    FXR2, hi. As my three year old niece would say, you are a “police-a-man”, not a “policeman”, by the way.

    I hope you see this. I want to remind you that I agree that our sins are despicable, but you, my brother, certainly are not. You, yes you!, are made in the image and likeness of God. We have both sullied ourselves horribly, but in so doing, have attracted the pity and attention of God to the extent that He actually incarnated Himself here with us, suffered, and then took our flesh, which He “did not spurn”, up into heaven with Him. He pardons us endlessly before the Father. The Sacred Heart understands what it is to be a man — how it is.

    The Gospel on the 12th showed the leper’s assumption (mingled with some small hope) that Christ would find him repugnant. He said to our Lord, “If you wish…” — “If” — as if our Lord may reject him. But the Sacred Heart answered, “I do will it.” Love. No hesitation. No despicably.

    May God bless you!

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