If you build confessionals, people will come … and use them

At Religion News Service there is something about confession and confessionals.

Putting real confessionals in churches… that’s what I call promoting the New Evangelization.

Let’s have a look at this excellent brick by brick story.

DERBY, Conn. (RNS) The Rev. Janusz Kukulka can’t say for sure that his parishioners are sinning more, but they sure are lining up at the new confessional booth to tell him about it. [If priests hear confessions, people will come to make their confessions.  This is not rocket science.]

For years, Kukulka, was content with absolving sins in a private room [blech] marked by an exit sign to the right of the altar St. Mary the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.

But something happened during Lent this year. [I commend this priest but, in all honesty, this is like rediscovering the wheel, isn’t it?] For the first time, Kukulka really noticed the two confessionals missing from the rear of his church. They’d been gone for four decades, ripped out during the 1970s to make room for air conditioning units during a renovation inspired by the Second Vatican Council.  [Renovations that result in confessionals being torn out are inspired by Hell, not by Vatican II.]

They must have been a thing of beauty, Kukulka thought. He imagined their dark oak paneled doors and arched moldings to match the Gothic architecture of the church designed by renowned 19th-century architect Patrick Keely.

Their absence was striking, especially when the Archdiocese of Hartford had asked parishes to extend their confession hours during Lent, part of a public relations campaign to get Catholics to return to the sacrament of reconciliation.

So, one Sunday Kukulka announced his desire to the congregation. “I told them I wanted a visible confessional,” he said.

He got one within a week.  [Not only the rediscovery of the wheel, but of fire too!  Does the speed of this surprise anyone?]

Parishioners Timothy Conlon and Patrick Knott moved quickly to fulfill their priest’s wish. They thought about building a confessional, but the cost was prohibitive for the cash-strapped parish. So, they turned to the Internet, where Conlon found an antique confessional for sale in Iowa on eBay.

Conlon flew out to Iowa and drove the confessional back to Derby. Knott’s wife, Elisa, donated the $1,100 cost of the confessional in honor of her parents, who were devoted church members. A plaque above the confessional bears their name.

“It’s a big hit,” Conlon said.

Patrick Knott, who had never confessed in the private room, [blech] said a long line formed in February when Kukulka held the first confession in the booth. He was the first to try it out.

“I got celebrity status,” he said. “It wasn’t bad.”

Kukulka said confessions have been up ever since at the church.  [BEHOLD!  I am the maker of fire!  Good for Father.  I am not running him down, people, believe me.  I think it is great what he did.  But now the villian enters from stage left….]

But Thomas Groome, professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, doubts [Imagine my shock.] that an old-school confessional will be enough to keep the momentum going.[This guy has been bad news for decades.  If you want to know about Thomas Groome, get this book by Eamon Keane, A Generation Betrayed.  Keane vivisects the ex-priest Groome, along with Rahner and Fiorenza.]

Confessions among American Catholics have been on the decline for decades, a trend many theologians attribute to changes introduced by the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).  [“modernizing reforms”… as if going to confession is old fashioned? Well…. it is old fashioned!  It is also the ordinary means Christ Himself intended for us to receive forgiveness for our post-baptismal mortal sins.]

In an attempt to make confession less about sin, [?!?] many churches during Vatican II shuttered their confessional booths and opened “reconciliation rooms” where the faithful could sit face-to-face with a priest and talk about their sins in the context of self-improvement. [I won’t use a room that has a door but doesn’t have a barrier.]

“The church was moving in a direction where priests were supposed to be counselors instead of judges,” Groome said. “The problem was that many priests didn’t have the counseling or spiritual skills, and people didn’t like the openness. They wanted the anonymity that comes behind the grill.”  [Broken clocks are correct a couple times a day.]

When Monsignor Stephen DiGiovanni arrived at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Stamford, Conn., in 1998, he found two confessionals nailed shut during Vatican II.  [Grrrrrrrr…..]

He closed off the church’s reconciliation room that featured “two beat-up old chairs and a crummy little screen” and opened up the confessionals. In 2009, he told a New York Times reporter that more than 400 people partake in the confessional rite every Sunday.  [BEHOLD!  My new invention which I call the Wheel!]

That number continues to grow, and the church has added more confession times.

“When I began as a priest in 1977, it was about ‘I’m OK , you’re OK, we don’t have to confess anything,’” he said. “We shouldn’t be guilt-ridden Catholics, that’s all true, but we should be contrite.”

Kukulka couldn’t be happier with the new confessional.

There’s just one small problem: Voices inside the confessional echo through the sanctuary. [Two suggestions: tell people to whisper and keep them out of the sanctuary!]

(Ann Marie Somma is the editor of Hartford Faith & Values.)

Warm Fr. Z kudos to Fr. Kulkulka, the donors, and the people of that parish.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Priests and Priesthood and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    “In an attempt to make confession less about sin” is right up there with “In an attempt to make eating less about food”.

  2. LarryW2LJ says:

    Juat goes to show – you CAN find just about anything on eBay.

  3. Dennis Martin says:

    I’m guessing the reporter who wrote the story is using “sanctuary” in the sense some Protestants use it: to refer to the nave or indeed, simply to the interior space, since they have no “sanctuary” in the Catholic sense since they don’t believe in/have no need for sacred space, reserved sacrament, communion rail. The opening paragraphs describe the confessionals missing from the rear of the church.

  4. Marcello says:

    This is so true. Before the confessionals were ripped out and replaced with “reconciliation rooms,” they should have asked for the parishioners’ input. I know of one parish that only offered face-to-face confession in these rooms. If you wanted anonymity, the priest pulled a screen on wheels between the two of you, but of course he saw who you were when you made the request. Confessions fell off to next to nothing. Another example–“reconciliation booths”–of a “solution” to a non-problem. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!

  5. Bosco says:

    I believe we now live in a world divided between the Morlocks and the Eloi. Be kind to the poor Eloi who must relearn everything which has been lost over time.

  6. Choirmaster says:

    “Voices inside the confessional echo through the sanctuary.”

    One suggestion: add some white noise in the church (not in the confessional). How about those two A/C units? You can switch on the blower motor to get some white noise in the nave.

  7. Joseph-Mary says:

    We have confessions six days a week and people come. The big parishes with 45 minutes on a Saturday have often less than our daily recipients.

    Fathers, please hear confessions often! For this you were ordained.

  8. Jacob says:

    Lawrence Welk married his wife Fern at St. Boniface in Sioux City, Iowa in 1931. I stopped in there recently and its the same situation. The 8 confessionals are original to the church, they are all padlocked shut and filled with music stands and folding chairs (you can see into the windows). The church was staffed by Franciscans years ago and there were confessions being heard 24/7. Now knowing that Lawrence was a daily communicant, it wouldn’t be to hard to imagine him using one of these confessionals at least once. Why do they cut us off from our history? I haven’t a clue

  9. laurazim says:

    “Renovations that result in confessionals being torn out are inspired by Hell, not by Vatican II.”

    I love this.

    I have returned to going to confession every First Saturday. The line is usually stretched across the back of the church, with some people waiting in the small nook just inside the door. My husband goes in a place where there is confession before every Mass (every day, every Mass, and all 6 Masses on Sundays!) that lasts up until the Consecration. Our children have the opportunity at least weekly at their school–most of the students go at least bi-weekly. The church I attended in my childhood utilized not the in-nave confessional, but the parish library which was across the narthex, in the fashion mentioned above. It was horrible, and there was almost never a line. Eventually the priest stopped offering confession except by appointment…because when you need confession, you should have to call the parish secretary ahead of time and make an appointment…….And the church which is not quite 2 blocks from our home? They use (I think) the sacristy. There is no confessional, and no times posted…and the phone is almost never answered. Lord, have mercy!

  10. wolfeken says:

    I also noticed the parish website calls the sacrament of penance by the word that everyone knows it: “Confessions.”

    Not “reconciliation” or “healing” or a similar psychological name.

    NONE of my lapsed Catholic friends have any earthly idea what “the sacrament of reconciliation” means. If we want to help more people get back into the state of grace, we need to go back to the familiar terms that a normal human being would recognize.

  11. McCall1981 says:

    “Renovations that result in confessionals being torn out are inspired by Hell, not by Vatican II.”

    Father, that’s why they needed to add the air conditioning units…

  12. charismatictrad says:

    “[Renovations that result in confessionals being torn out are inspired by Hell, not by Vatican II.]”


  13. kevinm says:

    I stopped going to a Jesuit run retreat a few years back because their idea of ” Reconciliation” was to go up to the priest and tell him which of the 7 deadly ( do they still use that term?) sins with which you are struggling…and boom… absolution. I didn’t feel quite right after it. It’s funny, but it was Msgr DiGiovanni from St. John the Evangelist in Stamford who suggested I reconfess to him ( while in a proper Confessional) because the form at the retreat was in his opinion not valid.



  14. donato2 says:

    I was wondering where in the Vatican II documents guidance can be found on where to put the church’s air conditioning units. I am concerned that this guidance may extend to places other than churches. At my home we have them in the back yard. Might we need to relocate them to bring our home into compliance with Vatican II? Are there any experts out there on the spirit of Vatican II who can help me with this?

  15. Gregg the Obscure says:

    In my twelve years in the Church, I’ve been to face-to-face confession twice. Each time I ended up delaying my next confession by too long. Please make anonymous confession broadly available, Fathers!

  16. lucy says:

    One of our local parishes where we go to confession is a very old church that has echo qualities. The priests put on some chant during confession playing throughout the church which seems to work well with sound issues.

  17. techno_aesthete says:

    “He got one within a week. [Not only the rediscovery of the wheel, but of fire too! Does the speed of this surprise anyone?]”

    If it’s God’s will, He can make it happen as fast as he wants.

  18. Charles E Flynn says:
  19. Imrahil says:

    Make Confession less about sin… that, first, made me laugh. (Not that I’d delight in always talking and thinking about sin; precisely for this reason to not always be troubled with it, you need to have this sacrament which deals with it swiftly and lastingly.)

    Second, it is an insult. At any rate it is counted as an insult around here (unless the medicinical truth) if you tell a man that he ought for his comfort to see a psychiatrist. (Which is the only thing they can have possibly meant Confession to be about instead of sin.)

    As Chesterton put it, “as a point of mere vanity I’d rather be called a murderer than a homicidal maniac”. Men may fear the judge, but whom they dread is the shrink.

  20. future_sister says:

    Here at the Chapel on campus no confessionals only a “reconciliation room” with a screen with holes so large that it doesn’t matter whether you use it or not because it’s perfectly see through. Though most of the time if you ask one of the priests to hear a confession they just invite you to their office. And then they get annoyed when you don’t look at them during your confession because you’re staring at the floor completely embarrassed and ashamed (at least in my case). It’s one of the reasons I can’t wait to go home. Actual confessional and confessions heard 30 mins before every Mass or by appointment. I remember my first time with a face-to-face confession, it was on a pilgrimage while walking along with one of the best CFR’s ever. But I was so crazy nervous I procrastinated as much as possible (two days and then finally had to be dragged up by a friend when I mentioned needing to go) because I couldn’t stand the idea of going face-to-face. Unfortunately I’ve had to get used to it while on campus, hopefully I’ll have a car next year so I can go to another parish with confessionals for confession.

  21. 7bellachildren says:

    As Lucy said above, the parish we attended back in NY would play Gregorian Chant over the speaker system. It worked quite well.

  22. ACS67 says:

    The confessional (booth or box) is distinctly Latin Rite which came about after the Council of Trent (16th century). There are no confessional boxes or booths in the East.

    I actually prefer confessing face to face. If I have the nerve to commit the sins that I have, then I should have the courage to look the priest in the eye, who after all represents Christ, and confess those sins. That’s just my opinion, however.

  23. Pingback: If you build confessionals, people will come … and use them | Fr. Z’s Blog (olim: What Does The Prayer Really Say?) | therasberrypalace

  24. Bill Foley says:

    Just wondering; why would any priest want to hear confessions anywhere but in a place where any physical contact with a penitent is impossible. False sex abuse accusations and large monetary settlements are just waiting to happen.

  25. Imrahil says:

    Dear @wolfeken,

    I do not perceive the name “reconciliation” to be psychological in nature. It is certainly theologically sound. If there are any problems with it, they are
    1. Holy Penance is merely a sacrament of reconciliation. If there is a The Sacrament of Reconciliation, it is Holy Baptism; Penance is the second plank after shipwreck.
    2. Saying “reconciliation” might be interpreted as not daring to say “confession” (or “penance” for that matter).
    But nevertheless reconciliation is theologically sound.

    Dear @ACS67,
    what courage you should have is one thing, and what courage you do have is quite another. Confession, even if it is often received by venial sinners for the sake of devotion, is principally instituted to bring back the life of grace and virtue, not to require it; and then not any sinner sinned with uplifted fist, but there are those things as struggles, and those things St. Francis of Sales said are an occasion to be patient-with-oneself, which nevertheless are brought into the confessional.

  26. FaithfulCatechist says:

    I’ve never needed “the warm velvet box” (to steal a phrase from Peter Gabriel), but many do. You’d better have one. People will see it and remember what it’s for.

  27. Bob B. says:

    Taking classes to Confession was always an experience, no matter what age they were. The unfortunate thing was that we would have 3-4 priests located all around the inside of the church – not in the confessionals, but a two-chair arrangement.
    One year I was able to convince the pastor to have the priests in their confessionals because this is the way we would go to them on weekends and they needed to know what to expect and how to do things. After taking the classes over beforehand and showing them what everything looked like in the “box” they were relieved and almost looked forward to the forthcoming Confessions. I always went too, because it’s important to lead by example.
    I had hoped this would continue, after all we want our students to go to Confession often. Alas, a new principal didn’t personally like the “old” way and she didn’t like Confessions anyway (and never went at the same time as the students – don’t think the kids didn’t notice) and things reverted back to the post-VII style.
    I would still take the classes over to the church for them to see the things they were learning and I would include peeking into a “box” and explaining things to them. Not quite the same thing, though, as actually using it.

  28. cheerios in my pocket says:

    Great Article & Comments, Fr. Z. A few thoughts, as others are commenting… The Churches I’ve attended basically took one side of the confessional and made it into the seated side (face-to-face) and the other side of the confessional remained the same. When it has been a Priest I do not know, I’m more comfortable in “old reliable” but with a Priest that basically was my “Confessor” who knew me and my struggles, I would go face-to-face because it was Absolution along with a nugget or more of Wisdom as to how to change. We’ve been blessed over the years for Priests that visit throughout the year to even hear our confession in our home (a room where no one else is). These Priests always had their, oh boy, is it alb(?), or, no, is it stole(?), that rather long sort of scarf item, packed in their car (well armed and ready).

    Additionally, I heard a wonderful Irish Priest speak at a homeschooling conference years ago (maybe Fr. Jack Riley?), who basically said the same…the more confession times a Parish schedules, the more Parishioners confessing and receiving frequent absolution. God Bless our Priests!

  29. Jeannie_C says:

    With our church’s renovation our Reconciliation room has a partially divided wall, fabric screen (no peering through) with a kneeler beneath. Go face to face, go behind the screen, plenty of room, but my goodness the line up before Mass, definitely more people confessing at our church than at the smaller church nearby where there is a more revealing set up, not to mention a window out onto the parking lot so people can see who’s in spilling their guts to Jesus. I believe we are blessed to have the ideal set up, and I also believe the long line-ups before Mass attest to the value of considerate design.

  30. Phil_NL says:

    Bob B.,

    Frankly, I think that taking a whole class of kids to confession is not a good idea anyway. Apart from the inherent compulsion (which I’d find only acceptable if coming from the parents, not from teachers), is it really a good idea to have children go to confession without their parents at hand? There’s always the chance that a confession knocks a kid off his feet a bit (in a good way in the long run, most likely, but still), that father ask questions that were a bit too advanced for the age, that there were misunderstandings etc… A teacher would in many case not be a good person to help sort a child through these issues. In fact, looking at my own teachers, there would be none at all that I’d want to approach with issues like that.

    Last but not least, confessionals still provide limited amounts of anonimity and physical separation (grills may have big holes or slidable). if I were a parent, I would want to exercise parental supervision from a distance no more than 3 meters away, and I wouldn’t want any other kids within that same distance. Adults outside the confessional hopefully make active efforts not to overhear, you can be sure that some kids will make active efforts to hear….

    Parents, just go with your children.

  31. Gentillylace says:

    Three out of the four confessionals in my parish church (there are four priests at my parish, and each has a confessional: on Saturday afternoons, one of the confessionals is not used because a priest needs to prepare for the Sunday Vigil Mass) are well-attended for an hour every Saturday afternoon before the Sunday Vigil Mass and a half-hour every Saturday evening after the Sunday Vigil Mass. However, the confessionals are small and dark and pokey. I go to confession once a month, but feel slightly claustrophobic in the confessional. I think — or at least rationalize to myself — that I might go to confession more often if the confessionals were larger and better lit while still having a permanent screen between priest and penitent.

    By the way, the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic way of confession — the penitent standing before an icon, with the priest behind the penitent — is not a bad idea, in my opinion, as long as the penitent can keep his or her voice down.

  32. APX says:

    There’s just one small problem: Voices inside the confessional echo through the sanctuary. Egg cartons lining the walls work wonders for this. Our band director lined our entire band room with egg cartons to deal with the echo problem while waiting for the acoustic paneling to be installed.

    A little over a year ago Saskatoon obtained a new Cathedral, but whomever approved the design plan at the time (there was no bishop/auxiliary bishop in the Diocese, just some lay committee) allowed some hideous reconciliation room with a big giant glass window and no screen. There is absolutely no way to have anonymous confession, and furthermore, you’re put on display to anyone else around.

    I have social anxiety disorder and can’t go to confession in these rooms without having an anxiety attack. Many other Catholics have the same disorder (it’s the 3rd most common disorder after depression and alcoholism) and wish to go to Confession, but can’t because of these set-ups. It’s bad enough having to call around trying to find a church with confession and a priest who actually cares about confession. Adding the need to find an actual confessional just makes this task a long drawn out process that is a royal pain. Did I mention that many people with social anxiety disorder have a phobia of making phone calls, and will avoid it at all costs if possible, or spend hours agonizing over calling?? Don’t even get me started on Confession by appointment only. Under such circumstances, unless I absolutely need to go to Confession, I don’t go.

    Anyway, as it is, there is only confession for 30 minutes on Saturdays for a parish of around 2100 families . (They recently published their stats on RCIA, funerals, and sacraments excluding Extreme Unction and Confession. I would love to see the stats on Confession.) Now, I’m no expert in logistics, but in order to accommodate a very rough estimate for the entire congregation to have their confessions heard on a monthly basis, that only allows about 1.7 seconds per confession. A priest can’t even say the bare minimum form of absolution in that time.

    They are getting another brand new priest there in two months. Based on word of mouth experiences from people I know of his fellow seminarians who have already been ordained, and having met him there has been a real zeal for hearing confessions, and I anticipate an increase in the demand for confession in the future (or an uprising against him from the parishioners as soon as he starts preaching about sin and confession, hell etc. Such things are not preached about there. Actually, quite the opposite.).

    I will send this to Bishop Bolen, explain my concerns, and request a proper confessional. I will also help with funds, if necessary.

  33. ACS67 says:


    I appreciate your response but I honestly have not idea what you were trying to say. I mean that in the nicest way. Truly.

  34. Imrahil says:

    Dear @ACS67,

    thank you for your answer! I think you were inadvertently making the better the enemy of the good.

    When a sinner goes into a confessional, that’s good. This is not, in my opinion, the place to critizise him for looking down to the floor instead of right into the priest’s eye. And haven’t we recently been told by our Holy Father – cutting aside the question how far we would precisely agree with what he precisely said – that (which is certainly right) there is such thing as a good shame?

    And then, there are situations where you have committed a heinous deed and tear your heart in parts for it. There are, however, also other situations where you have, yes, sinned, but rather come as a faithful patient to your doctor to receive your medicine (if you know what I mean). “What I do not will to do, that I do.” It somehow seems to me that in that case, phrases like “if you have had the nerve to sin, you had better” etc. look in yet another way out of place.

  35. Darren says:

    As I read this I begin to think what I experienced last fall. On a Saturday visit to Newark, NJ a friend and I visited the most BEAUTIFUL Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. We were to assist at a High Mass at 3 PM at another Newark church and the cathedral basilica had confessions on the schedule… last chance locally before 3 PM.

    In a Cathedral Basilica as beautiful as this:

    With numerous confessionals like this:

    WHY oh WHY do they do something like THIS?!?!?!?!?!

    You are put on display in the middle of the sanctuary! I confessed… far enough from anyone to have been heard by anyone but the priest… …but, if I knew another church would have had confessions before 3, I might have considered waiting until later. (The parish with the 3 PM High Mass did not have them at that time, as it was not something normal there)

  36. Imrahil says:

    As to schools,

    just announce before Easter and Christmas that students may drop out of class for Confession. If there is a chapel in the same building, there; in a disused room, otherwise. (In this case I’m even for Confessions without confessionals, if there is none.)

    That’s the way it is done with our Catholic schools around here, and from what I’ve heard, it (comparatively, with general Confession attendance that is) works like a charm.

    [If you want to spare them a venial sin of disobedience, then rather forget the “come as quick as possible back after Confession” admonition. They won’t tarry for hours, and as for a little delay or fetching some coffee from the vending machine, we were all young once.]

  37. Hank Igitur says:

    The walls of the confessional can be inexpensively lined with soundproofing board, similar to peg board in appearance, used in some recording studios. It is effective. Voices carrying even when sotto voce can be a big problem in some churches with no carpeted surfaces and barrelled/vaulted ceilings designed deliberately for choir voices to resonate.

  38. ChesterFrank says:

    I would agree with this. I never really got used to the idea of the reconciliation room, or even trying to figure out how a particular church deals with confessions. The little booth with the light on top was always easy to recognise, even if giving a confession was a bit of a challenge. My guess is that the rec. room was designed for confident and experienced confessors. They should have left something for the reclusive and the bashful, and the novices though.

  39. Laura Lea says:

    We had a problem with voices that could be heard outside of our new church confessionals too. The priests solved this by playing Gregorian Chant or instrumental catholic hymns outside the door of the confession. The music is very soft and can’t really be heard inside the confessional, but it is enough that people waiting on the bench can not ear what is being said inside the confessional now.

    We also do this at the prison where I volunteer. We have a large room but it isn’t very private and sound travels, so we play music in the area where confessions are being heard now too.

  40. APX says:

    In my parish that I’m at now, whatever the priest says travels through the radiator along the wall. Probably not advisable to build the confessional next to the radiator.

  41. ACS67 says:

    I don’t mean to belabor the point but the bottom line is there is no “screen” between you and God. There is no anonymity with sin. God sees us everywhere. There is no “hiding” from God. Therefore the “box” and “screen” is an illusion as far as I am concerned. I truly sympathize with those who are shy or have panic attacks and therefore confessing face to face causes trauma of some sort. But quite honestly this post and the one over at Rorate Caeli along with the responses seem to be more about basking in the “externals.” These externals might look very pretty and they might all look very recognizably “Roman Catholic” but in the end the externals won’t save you. They are but means. They are not the end.
    Just my opinion on the matter. I’ll say no more.

  42. iPadre says:

    A number of years ago, I did the same. I refuse to be in a closed room, where someone can do or say anything and I have no defense. For all those who would attack a priest who refuses “face to face,” the Vatican made it very clear that it is the priest right to use a confessional with a “fixed” grille. A few made fun of my confessional, calling it a “haunted house” to our 1st Communion class, but she was the kind that saw no need for the Sacrament anyway, the fruit of the “spirit” of Vatican II. The “spirit” is quite evil and has nothing to do with the Sacred Council!

    “If, according to Canon 964, paragraph 2, of the Code of Canon Law, the minister of the sacrament, for a just cause and excluding cases of necessity, can legitimately decide, even in the eventuality that the penitent ask for the contrary, that sacramental confession be received in a confessional with a fixed grille.” (see http://www.adoremus.org/Canon964-Confessional.html)

  43. benedetta says:

    I have received the sacrament face to face whilst on retreat or at “World Youth Day” type youth events where the lines are long and the priests somewhat specializing in listening and responding to one’s concerns in addition to extending the sacrament.

    However, as a matter of routine maintenance in the spiritual life, and with the fact of seeing and knowing one’s priests apart from confession, I prefer to receive the sacrament in the confessional. I like that my and the priest’s personalities are set aside, and beside the point, which is God’s overwhelming mercy. Whatever relationship we have or our personalities take a back seat. They do not disappear of course but they become less a priority in the ultimate scheme of things. To me this is so very comforting, knowing that God sees our intention in the sacrament purely and comes to meet our seeking out of His forgiveness. Especially in our times when so many priests can let us down or commit some scandal, I find that the minimization of the individual persona of any given priest and the recognition of him as a fellow mortal in an equalization in the confessional to be a better practice. Additionally in these times when confession is less encouraged as it once was, people having been away for longer times may feel a lot more comfortable knowing that the priest is not second guessing who this person is, how often they are seen at Mass or the parish, what they are wearing etc etc., none of which matters in the grand scheme anyway. It is a sacred rite, not a counseling session, not coffee with a friend, and we do better to retain its sacramental character so much as possible.

  44. OrthodoxChick says:

    My present N.O. parish still has one of the original confessionals intact – Thank God! The one opposite it was converted into a rest room, believe it or not. But the interior of that one confessional is big enough to allow the penitent their choice. It is about the size of an oversized closet. There is a screen and kneeler placed directly in front of the door so that one may enter and kneel without being seen by the priest. If one prefers face-to-face, all they need do is step around the screen and sit in the chair the pastor has placed opposite him. No noise issue. The confessional is in the gathering space of the church and the procedure is not to form lines there. First pew in the rear of the church is reserved for those waiting to go to Confession with the traditional red light/green light installed on the wall behind the pew. It isn’t usually mobbed, except during Lent.

    But, when I received my First Confession, this was during a very upside-down time in my former diocese. There was a period of a few years (and I received my sacraments during those years) when we received our First Holy Communion BEFORE making our First Confession. I did not receive my First Confession until nearly 2 years after receiving my First Holy Communion. And when I did finally receive my First Confession, it was not in a confessional. We went up alphabetically and lucky me, I was first. When it was my turn, I was motioned to go up on the altar and sit in a chair opposite the pastor to make my confession – right there out in the open with all of my classmates sitting in the first two pews watching and listening.

    I don’t remember ever going back to confession at my parish again after that. My dad had to take me to a Franciscan chapel with a traditional confessional booth instead. To this day, I prefer the confessional. If a particular church has no confessional, I can get through a face-to-face reconciliation, but it’s not my first choice.

  45. ktfaith says:

    @FaithfulCatechist: Cool reference to Mercy St. by Peter Gabriel – One of my favorites by him

    I’ll never forget my first confession back in the late 70’s. As I was getting out of my parent’s Ford with what I remember as having big, heavy doors, I accidentally slammed the door on my finger.

    My mom and Sr. Virginia Anne were fussing over my finger to stop the bleeding as I stood in a state of shock. After the chaos died down, aspirin taken to numb the pain and my finger bandaged I went over to the two folding chairs in the middle of the school’s gymnasium and did my best to confess my sins to the visiting priest from Ireland, Fr. John. Fr. John said that I had already done my penance given my smushed finger.

    I was never taught about the traditional confessional (as well as so many other things about the Church before VII) so I couldn’t compare the folding chair experience to it. Bummer. It really sucked being a young Catholic in the 70’s and 80’s. It was like I was robbed from what Catholicism really was supposed to be. It’s like having to learn my faith all over again. I am blessed to have the opportunity to re-learn it (at least fill in the gaps).

    Anyway, within the past year I’ve experienced Confession in the traditional confessional
    (after 20+ years of not going) and am still getting used to it. It’s much better than those folding chairs. :)

  46. Southern Catholic says:

    I thank God that I have the ability and the fortune to live within 30-40 minute of EWTN to attend confession regularly, where they have the confessionals.

  47. Suburbanbanshee says:

    ACS67 —

    If you had a baby or needed an appendix out, it would be perfectly okay for the doctor or surgeon to set up the operation in the backseat of your car. If it’s not an emergency, you’d probably prefer to go to the hospital.

    If it’s an emergency, I’m okay with going face to face. If it’s not an emergency, I’d prefer to go to the confessional. It was invented more than a thousand years ago, it’s highly functional, and it works. Like the doctor’s office and the hospital, it respects human frailty and supports privacy.

  48. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I am not a he-man muscular Christian. I am just a sinner full of fear and weakness.

  49. Bob B. says:

    I absolutely agree that children should go to Confession with their parents, or with their friends as they grow older. The problem I always found was that hardly any of the students went at all to Confession outside of the twice yearly times we went as a class. That’s the problem, parents don’t go often (if at all) anymore.
    As for other students overhearing things being said, I always had students maintain a wide separation from the confessional (which was easy because they invariably were trying to remember the Act of Contrition).

  50. FeedieB says:

    My parish only uses a “reconciliation room.” That is probably why I rarely make a full, honest complete confession. I hate going to confession. I dread it and procrastinate because that knee-to-knee, eyeball-to-eyeball thing makes me extremely uncomfortable.

  51. Stephen Matthew says:

    I am all in favor of restoring the confessional.

    I am also in favor of school kids having an opportunity, because we now live in an automobile based society, and kids can’t drive themself to confession, and no child wants to have to ask the parent to take them. Certainly care should be taken in how this is done, and it should not be compelled, but an opportunity very much should be made. We often praise churches with confession before every normal mass, why not confession before school masses?

  52. Glen M says:

    In my diocese, a newly arrived pastor built a confessional…some people complained and he got transferred.

    There is a different theology to reconciliation rooms versus a confessional; one I fear isn’t Catholic.

    For white noise I suggest a public rosary.

  53. PA mom says:

    Bob B- our students also do the class time confession. It gives them practice, and they mostly are fairly positive about it. Because we have so many priests attend to help with this process, I was trying to convince our program director to allow the parents to go after the students. I offered to keep the in class more minutes as needed, and also believed that it would be helpful to the parents as a convenience (already there, children handled) and as a good example to the children.
    It really blows my mind that our very sizable parish only has 45 minutes of confession time per week, the. Relies on “cattle call” style 14 priest mega nights in advent and lent.
    I have driven 1 hour to go to a traditional style confessional ( despite being surrounded by churches!) and will never go to those evenings. Oh no, cannot confess I front of thousands of people in a chair in the middle of the Church. Not happening, cannot do it.

  54. Skeinster says:

    We have Confession before and after every Mass, and during Mass on Sundays. There is a short break while the non-celebrating priest leaves to help distribute Holy Communion. As the EF parish for a large metropolitan area, many of our parishioners drive a long way to get here, so a fixed time on Saturday would not work very well.
    We have two 2-sided confessionals in the back of the church. The booths themselves have heavy drapes on all the walls, for sound buffering. Father’s sections have that green eggshell foam on the walls-not pretty, but effective. Usually, all you can hear from the other side is a low hum. Reciting prayers in a whisper on your side takes care of anything louder.
    I enjoy cleaning the confessionals in our turn. The first rule is “Don’t touch Father’s stuff”, as all three of them have a collection of booklets, printouts, medals and scapulars they dispense as needed and don’t want re-arranged. Imagining the hours they spend in that tiny cubicle, lifting the burden of sins, counseling (a little) and encouraging us in our spiritual battles makes me very grateful.
    As benedetta expressed above, in the confessional, he’s a Priest more than Fr. X.

  55. introibo says:

    Remember the “new rite of reconciliation”? Although the reconciliation rooms still abound, I think that new “rite” kind of flopped big time…

  56. A confessional should be the ordinary way to confess but some actually prefer face to face and there is no real issue so why not let them do that. That is the norm of the Church. Although, as you noted personally, the priest can also say no to this if he does not think it is convenient.

    Even in the Basilicas here in Rome, sometimes you see people who want to speak to the confessors face-to-face. I assume they’re confessing so I intentionally stay far enough away that I can’t hear anything.

  57. Joe in Canada says:

    “more than 400 people partake in the confessional rite every Sunday”. With 2 confessionals I guess 2 priests – still over 3 hours per priest just for confessions, at 1 minute per confession. Wow!
    I have found that in a room with an option for a good screen or a chair in front of me, about half the people choose the chair.
    In the Orthodox church confessions are heard in front of the icon screen. It’s confidential – usually hours are being chanted and people who are waiting stand far enough away – but you are not ‘hidden’ from the congregation. Apart from a medical condition, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about “being on display”, even if it’s not the best way to go for us Latins.

  58. Patti Day says:

    Father Z, I don’t think you can make it any clearer. For wont of a couple of wooden cubicles with a barrier for privacy and anonymity, many unconfessed souls may burn in hell.

  59. Basher says:


    Now can we talk about those voices echoing in the sanctuary?

    I have been forced to endure so many slipshod confessionals and bizarre practices in using them. It’s a real pet peeve of mine. Some examples:

    1.Wife and I went to confession while traveling. The boxes were in a gymnasium and had no roofs. One could hear everything. I went first. Wife, pressed to find a solution, started jangling her keys loudly to mask my sins from the people waiting and herself. What was Fr. thinking?

    2.I’ve witnessed many “reconciliation services” in which the priest insists on sitting in a pew *just outside* the confessional. Oy. A few times I’ve asked them to please go into the box with me, but they got so angry at me that it was a worthless exercise anyway. What were the Frs. thinking?

    3.Just a few weeks ago, I was in line with wife and a wheelchair-bound elderly woman was in front of us. A daughter or caregiver was pushing her and tried to get the chair into the box, but it wouldn’t fit (I guess the Americans with Diabilities Act…oh nevermind). Fr. popped out and “handled” the situation by pushing the chair about 20 feet away. Well, the elderly woman could not whisper, only speak loudly. Wife and I started praying the rosary loudly to cover it up, everyone in line was apparently offended by our performance. Pfft. Whatever. When Fr. was done, he then called the caregiver over and proceeded to also hear her confession outside. We continued the Rosary. What was Fr. thinking?

    Fr. Z, can you please write some practical advice for us concerning these weird situations? I know that I cannot give a worthy account of my sins in these situations. We need some guidelines. Thanks!

  60. The Masked Chicken says:

    Very good post, Fr. Z.

    “My parish only uses a “reconciliation room.” That is probably why I rarely make a full, honest complete confession. I hate going to confession. I dread it and procrastinate because that knee-to-knee, eyeball-to-eyeball thing makes me extremely uncomfortable…”

    Go to another church?

    “I don’t mean to belabor the point but the bottom line is there is no “screen” between you and God. There is no anonymity with sin. God sees us everywhere. There is no “hiding” from God. Therefore the “box” and “screen” is an illusion as far as I am concerned. I truly sympathize with those who are shy or have panic attacks and therefore confessing face to face causes trauma of some sort. But quite honestly this post and the one over at Rorate Caeli along with the responses seem to be more about basking in the “externals.” These externals might look very pretty and they might all look very recognizably “Roman Catholic” but in the end the externals won’t save you. They are but means. They are not the end.
    Just my opinion on the matter. I’ll say no more.”

    I think you do not completely understand why there are grilled confessionals. While there is no screen between you and God, there certainly can be a screen between you and yourself, such as happens when shame makes you turn inward towards self instead of outwards towards God in a face-to-face confession. How can you effectively deal with issues if you are frozen in place by fear! or, Heaven forbid, distracted by the face the priest is making? Also, did not the God who fed the crowds in the desert, lest they feint, who followed him to hear his word say, “I have compassion on the crowd…”? Jesus knows our human frailty and has allowed the Church, in Her wisdom, to make confession less difficult for the socially sensitive.

    This is not an external. This is an act of charity, even condescension by the Church, who is very interested in the salvation of souls.

    The Chicken

  61. sciencemom says:

    I’ll third the suggestion from Lucy and 7bellachildren to have chant music playing over the speakers during confessions. I’ve been to confession in a couple of churches where the acoustics were just too “live” … even if you spoke softly everyone in the nave could hear you. Playing chant music solved that problem, and the music didn’t even have to be loud. Only thing to watch out for is not to play a bunch of “Alleluias” during Lent. :)

    @Bill Foley (2 May 2013 at 4:03 pm) –
    That’s a very good point. I think that may be why a lot of newer “reconciliation rooms” have windows through which people in line / in the church can see the priest and/or penitent. I still think the older style is both more comfortable for most people and definite protection against such accusations.

  62. sciencemom says:

    Oh, and one of the things I love about the traditional confessional is the kneeler. I *want* to kneel as I confess my sins to Our Lord. It helps me to bear in mind what this is all about — kneeling underscores that it is to the great High Priest that I am confessing, not to Fr. X. But, of course, Reconciliation Rooms do not have kneelers — it would be very weird in that situation.

    This from the post says it all, really, about the difference:

    In an attempt to make confession less about sin, [?!?] many churches during Vatican II shuttered their confessional booths and opened “reconciliation rooms” where the faithful could sit face-to-face with a priest and talk about their sins in the context of self-improvement.

    Even if it’s not a conscious attempt, the “feel” is different to me — confession is about getting rid of my sins so that I can really improve. “Talk[ing] about their sins in the context of self-improvement” I think puts too much emphasis on a sort of therapy / counseling and not enough on the graces of the sacrament. (Not that I object when Fr. counsels me — quite the opposite! It’s just that the real power of confession is that it is a sacrament, not just a visit with a psychologist.)

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