VIDEO: Pope Francis goes to confession before hearing confessions!

This is great.

The Devil got a serious kick in the teeth today.

This evening in Rome the Holy Father held a big communal penance service (“Form 2”) in St. Peter’s Basilica, with many confessors to help people make a good confession. That in itself is a marvelous example for the whole Church.

However, Francis – seemingly on the spur of the moment – before getting into a confessional himself – walked across the nave, knelt down at a confessional and made his own confession. I don’t think this is something every witnessed, in modern history at least: a Pope going to confession.

Minor side note: Francis donned a surplice. This is, I think, the closest we have seen him to wearing proper choir dress. Vestment by vestment!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. dans0622 says:

    Very neat. “Vestment by vestment!” Well played, Father.

  2. cpaulitz says:

    So a communal penance whatever and a pope doing a face-to-face confession instead of going behind the screen is now laudable? How far we have fallen …

    [This is me, unhappy: o{]>:¬( YES… first of all, in many countries, people regularly go to confession simply by walking up to the confessional like that. That is how virtually all Roman confessionals are built, and I think the Romans know what they are about. At the same time, I stress that the law requires/d that there be a fixed grate and that priests can decline to hear confessions without a fixed grate. What Francis did doesn’t change that one iota. Furthermore, there were dozens of confessors hearing individual confessions in the basilica. INDIVIDUAL AURICULAR CONFESSIONS. There was no general absolution.]

  3. Someone told me that he wore the surplice for the Prayer Vigil for Syria as well. I haven’t looked yet for any photographic evidence. But if so, this would be just the second time he has done so.

  4. Michael says:

    Very interesting to see the Pope going to confession. We all know popes have to do that, but it can be so easy to think of them as almost being “above” it, if you know what I mean. They’re human. They sin like the rest of us. They need absolution like the rest of us. I can’t imagine what it must feel like absolving the Pope, though.

  5. TomG says:

    Goosebumps on top of goosebumps.

  6. In fact, he wore it under the cope for benediction at the Syria Prayer Vigil. You can see it when he is incensing, at this point:

    I didn’t remember seeing it, and that’s because he only wore it for a short while then.

  7. Iacobus M says:

    That’s the spirit! Leading by example! I think this guy will turn out all right, especially if he continues to follow an “actions speak louder than words” policy (if you know what I mean) .

  8. acardnal says:

    Good example his flock. Now. . . he needs to catechize the flock on examining their consciences properly and regularly.

  9. AlexandraNW says:

    God bless him.

    And God bless you, Fr. Z. Without your coverage I doubt I would have learned about this. It means a great deal to me. Thank you.

  10. majuscule says:

    Well, it looked like Msgr. Marini took the change of plan with his usual aplomb.

    And the priest hearing Francis’s confession kissed his ring afterwards.

    Goosebumps indeed!

  11. benedetta says:

    That was very beautiful to see.

  12. lsclerkin says:

    With Allegri sung in the background.


  13. RobS says:

    Michael: I can’t imagine what it must feel like absolving the Pope, though.

    Or giving him a penance! Wow!

    Great video. I was initially heartened by its length but I saw they cut away to the crucifix, so more time might have passed than just the 30 seconds it appears the Holy Father was kneeling in the confessional. Even so, this might be instructive to show the bored people who spend 15 minutes chatting in the box with Father — “Look, let’s imitate the Pope and be concise at confession time! There’s a line, you know!”

  14. ajf1984 says:

    An excellent reminder of the centrality of this Sacrament for our lives…and, on a personal note, with the time difference, it’s possible that I was kneeling in a Confessional in Milwaukee at around the same time as our Holy Father was being shriven at St. Peter’s! I would add that we had three priests hearing Confessions today, with a fairly good crowd (for a non-First Friday, too!) lined up! Very encouraging.

  15. wolfeken says:

    It’s hard to get excited about seeing “face-to-face” — especially when the dozens of confessionals in Saint Peter’s were not designed for the modern option.

    Why does everything have to be different with this pope? [Ummmm… they were designed for that option. See the window open but the lower half closed?]

  16. Kent Wendler says:

    Not designed for it? What, pray tell, is His Holiness doing if not “face-to-face”? I’ve been there and done that. The two sides allow for anonymous confessions. Oh, and bye the way, there is *no* padding there, just hard wood for your knees. By the time I finished my knees felt like they’d spent a significant duration in Purgatory!

  17. O. Possum says:

    wolfeken: As Fr. Z says, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. This is awesome!

  18. danhorse says:

    Thanks for posting this, Father, I loved it. God bless our Holy Father and God bless you, Fr. Z.

  19. wolfeken says:

    Interesting responses. So now “face-to-face” is all the rage here. Yet, during the last papacy…:

    The march toward papalotry has been awfully disturbing amongst the center-right.

  20. chantgirl says:

    Fr. Z, perhaps you need a “Rabid Trad” award, and this is coming from a self-proclaimed trad herself.

  21. Magpie says:

    cpaulitz, if we’ve fallen far then we go to confession. ;-)

    Believe me, I’ve given Pope Francis a very hard time, and I feel a little bad about that but that’s not for now… I thought it was nice to see the Pope show an example by going to confession himself… Maybe we should all try to take it at face value without analysing things to death.

  22. pledbet424 says:

    The Church can decide how the Sacrament is administered, face to face, behind a grate, etc. I’ll take face to face Confession over the early Church practice of confessing to the entire assembly any day, and I’m glad St. Patrick started the practice of private confessions.

  23. acardnal says:

    lsclerkin says: “With Allegri sung in the background.”

    Reminds me of a parish in Virginia I used to attend where the Pastor played a cd of sacred music on the PA system while he heard confessions. I liked it! It helped get the penitent’s mind in the right place while doing his examination of conscience, provided some sound masking for the penitent/confessor’s words if they were too loud, and helped to raise one’s heart and mind to God while reciting one’s penance afterwards.

    The music cd he usually played is available at Amazon via Fr. Z’s icon HERE

  24. robtbrown says:

    wolfeken says:
    It’s hard to get excited about seeing “face-to-face” — especially when the dozens of confessionals in Saint Peter’s were not designed for the modern option.

    Why does everything have to be different with this pope?

    The pope’s MO at the Confessional is not uncommon in Spain.

    Very often, these Confessionals have little doors that the Confessor can close when he has a penitent on the side. More than once at Santa Maria Maggiore, staffed with Dominican confessors, I would see a friend in the Confessional with no penitents and talk with him. In fact, one of the conversations concerned Ia, 43, 5, ad 2 of the Summa Theologiae compared with the less than satisfactory theology of Walter Kasper that I had been reading.

    BTW, note that they’re called Confessionals and not Reconciliationals.

  25. anniemw says:

    Wowee – I think one would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that. I don’t always click on the clips that Father embeds; I read the story and was very happy and really loved Father’s comment about the choir dress :-) This time I did watch the video and little did I know how it would affect me to watch the Holy Father so spontaneously go over and confess.

    As was stated above, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, indeed!

    Luke 15:7
    Revised Standard Version (RSV)
    7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

  26. Mike says:

    This is good. Reminds me of the time I saw one of our chaplains hearing the confession of our other chaplain behind closed door (with a window).

    Confessors, as JPII reminded us, need sacramental confession themselves to be really good confessors.

  27. mamajen says:

    Beautiful example. That priest must have felt something like St. John the Baptist!

  28. Giuseppe says:

    @Mamajen – you hit the nail right on the head!

  29. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I’m very glad to see this good example. I pray that this will inspire many to confess their own sins.

    At the same time, I’m having a really difficult time resisting the temptation to make inappropriate jokes regarding the proximity of this visit to the Confessional to a noted visit earlier this week . . .

  30. Listen, things can always be better. We have a war to wage (with charity and patience, of course), but let’s take our victories where we can get them. Anyone with an ounce of the Catholic sensibility and a desire to love the Holy Father will get goosebumps at the visual image of the High Priest confessing before absolving. It’s a wonderful example to set for the faithful.

  31. HobokenZephyr says:

    Confessor: for your penance say one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the intentions of the … Umm … Well, for yourself.

  32. Vecchio di Londra says:

    It was most impressive to see the priest in the confessional react immediately as a confessor, but without visible surprise at all, when he saw the Holy Father heading in his direction.

  33. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Hoboken – that made me LOL!

  34. Geoffrey says:

    “Confessor: for your penance say one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the intentions of the … Umm … Well, for yourself.”

    That reminds me of a question that has always plagued me: Is the Pope allowed to gain indulgences for himself? To do so, does he pray for his own intentions?!

  35. Bthompson says:

    Good to see the Holy Father giving such a great example. It is the smallest things that are most edifying.

    As for the type of confessional. My understanding of the history of the screen, mainly from one of my professors, was that it was initiated originally for the modesty of women (and the protection of the priest from allegations of impropriety) and then later morphed into the general guarantee of anonymity.

    He also told me that, there are some places in the world where the old norm that men go face to face and women use the screen is still a cultural presumption. I personally am not well traveled though, and have only seen this first hand in Puebla and Mexico City, Mexico and here in the US by some South Americans I know.

  36. Jeannie_C says:

    There was a photo taken not long after this of someone using the same style confessional, but the individual was on their knees slightly to the side – looked to me like there is a screen if you wanted to confess behind one, or directly in front of the priest on your knees, face to face. Either way, the main thing is to make your confession. I thought this was a perfect example of Pope Francis leading by example, showing us how easy it can be.

  37. This is good– no, this is really, really good. I have to like a Pope who sets such a good example. Maybe he’s swung and missed a few times or been thrown out stealing, but that act was a home run.

    I haven’t been to more than one or two communal penance services, but I wonder how commonly the priests similarly confess to one another at such services.

  38. StJude says:

    That is so cool!

  39. Siculum says:

    Thank you, Papa Francis. God love you.

    I really, really, really need to go to Confession myself after seeing this, and start praying a helluva lot harder for forgiveness, courage, and charitable, just, and worthy words out of my mouth.

  40. SPWang says:

    Of a pontificate that says too much, this says much more than what will ever be said. A great witness and example.

  41. Clinton says:

    Some commenters have remarked on how we know popes go to confession, but we so
    seldom see it happen. I recall an anecdote about Pius XII, who once remarked in an audience
    that he went to confession every day. When someone expressed surprise and asked
    him why he went so frequently, the Holy Father explained that it was because “he was a
    glutton for God’s mercy”.

  42. Catholic Greta says:

    I suspect he was reviewing his sins on the way to the sacrament and remembered he had recently spent time in the NBC labeled HISTORIC MEETING with the abortion butcher of the USA, Obama. That would drive anyone with a conscience to confession.

    By the way, I assume the Obama meeting was HISTORIC because it was the first president to arrive with 50 vehicles and other massive securitydetail to visit the Vatican. Thus, it set a new record for presidents who led the most people to the Catholic Church while being in the state of mortal sin themselves.

  43. iPadre says:

    Can’t some people see the good, without criticizing everything!

    This was a very moving moment in the life of the Church. Pope Francis gives an example that we all ought to follow! Maybe those who are complaining should be at the front of the line.

  44. Juergensen says:

    Great to see. I had read about John Paul II and Benedict XVI frequenting confession, but a video is worth a million words.

  45. Ignatius says:

    This is very edifying, indeed.
    On a lighter note, some of the comments remind me of an Argentine joke of the 90’s. It goes like this.
    (Press conference of Pres. Menem)
    – “The Pope (JPII) received me last week in the Vatican. I told him all the things our government is doing here in Argentina”
    -“Mr. President, what did the Pope tell you about that?”
    – “He said: ‘Ego te absolvo’ “.
    Best regards

  46. Juergensen says:

    “Can’t some people see the good, without criticizing everything!”

    No, not here at least. Complaints about face to face confession, which is undeniably permissible when the option for anonymous confession is provided, as was clearly the case in this situation? Unbelievable. Some will never be satisfied, will they?

  47. Heather F says:

    Wow, the grumpiness in some of the comments regarding the style of the confessional is kind of disappointing. What would they say about the Eastern style of just going right up to the priest and whispering into his ear?

    Anyway came here to share that I saw this story on my Facebook feed and one of the comments I saw on it was “This story inspired me to research a “good confession” today. I still haven’t quite figured out how to do confession as an adult!” and gave a link for a resource on preparing for confession.

    God bless the Pope’s visible emphasis on the importance of this sacrament.

  48. JoseTomas says:

    If I am not wrong, as recently as the sixties, Padre Pio’s routine was hearing women’s confessions in the Confessional and men’s face-to-face in the sacristy.

    Some comments here show that some people will never stop to try to find things to criticize the Pope. I think they should include their public grumpiness in their examination of conscience for their next confession.

  49. ByzCath08 says:

    I think it is great to see the Pope going to the confessional to receive God’s forgiveness. This was a lead by example moment. I just don’t understand the comments about the manner in which he went to confession – face to face. After all, it is a valid option in the latin rite.

    In the Eastern Church, we approach our priest at the iconostasis, stand in front of the icon of Christ and confess our sins. Those who are complaining about face to face confession would have an Aneurysm in the Eastern Church.

  50. FULL 3:51 of Pope’s confession here.

  51. mamajen says:

    Thanks for the link, Confitemini Domino!

    And whaddaya know, the first confession that Pope Francis hears is anonymous behind the grate! I guess that woman didn’t get the memo that he changed everything and was forcing everyone to go face-to-face.

  52. babochka69 says:

    ByzCath08, I was thinking the same thing. :) Some people would really flip out at Confession in a Byzantine Church, wouldn’t they? Who cares whether the Pope goes to Confession face-to-face? Face-to-face Confession was not invented at Vatican II. People are remarkably attached to a tradition that only goes back a few hundred years.

  53. jhayes says:

    Pope Francis speaks about confession:

  54. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It was very common in the old days for someone really needing to go to Confession to just stop Father, kneel, and start talking. If they were lucky, Father had his stole on him. If they were really lucky, Father might have them sit in a chair instead of kneeling. There are plenty of pictures of pre-Vatican II priests hearing Confession “in the field” as chaplains out in the open, or in hospitals at bedside.

    Obviously not something for the shy, but face to face has always been an option, from the beginning.

  55. sunbreak says:

    Well, even the confessionals in Europe with grates can be very see through. Some of them have grates that are more like the lattice work in a garden fence – you can still see through them. Other confessionals don’t have tops on them so the priest can easily see you as you are approaching and kneel down. Most confessionals I saw in Poland did not have the level of privacy that we are used to in the US.

  56. SimonDodd says:

    I have told candidates: Do whichever gets you into that confessional and it out of you. Personally I prefer the screen; kneeling seems a more appropriate posture and I find that it helps me to stop beating around the bush and just get it out. But if someone finds that having a face-to-face chat gets it done, fine.

  57. Random Friar says:

    If I heard the pope’s Confession, and he heard mine, I guess we could share a common penance:
    ordain me a bishop. I’m not sure which one of us would suffer more.

  58. Pingback: A Couple of Lenten Links | Julian O'Dea

  59. Laura says:

    Having lived in Italy… this is only remarkable because it is the Holy Father. It isn’t that rare to hear confession in a semi-public place… I once practiced this sacrament in a train station before a long trip! I think this is a lovely thing to show the world that this sacrament is really for *everyone*.. even the Holy Father. Please don’t get all hung up on the “in public” part. Please note that the Church isn’t the same all over the world and yes… it might be a little different in Italy…

  60. Christ-Bearer says:

    “Your Holiness, for your penance, remove three wacky bishops from office and rescind two ill-conceived indults (for communion-in-the-hand and female altar servers). Now say your Act of Contrition.” :-)

  61. Imrahil says:

    Nice video of course.

    Still, I think the more important part is not that Pope Francis made a Confession. We did know that Popes confess. Still it remains a nice demonstration of the Pope’s humility, and thus very much along his own style. (This is not criticism.)

    The more important part, and – in a way – the yet humbler part is, to me, what the Pope did afterwards. It is told (en passant but nearly overlooked) that he then got into a confessional of his own and heard confessions. I. e.: did not discharge this important function to subordinates, even though he would have all sorts of excuses (by which I do not mean pretexts).

    Of course, by both of that, he publicly stresses the value of the Sacrament of Confession. Great!

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