ASK FATHER: Hogging the confessional

From a reader:

I know you frequently encourage your readers to attend to making use of the confessional and I support you in your efforts! However, I have a question as to how you handle penitents who hog the confessional?

We are fortunate in our parish to have priests available to hear confession during mass and as we have a far flung parish, this is often to only opportunity some of our parishioners have to go to confession.

There are certain members of our parish, and to be honest most of them are women, who will routinely take 20 to 30 minutes in the confessional. It seems to me a sin against the virtue of charity for these folks to take so long in the box when there is a big line of people behind them who also need the use of the Sacrament. And if I happen to be one of them I find myself having to add an extra item to my list if you get my meaning.

So I’d like to know, if you can share, how do you handle these situations and is there anything I should say to our pastor about it?

I’d be careful about accusing others of sinning against charity in the confessional line.  You the risk of adding sin to your own sins and ending up like the Pharisee in the parable who thanks God he is not like other men.

That said, yes, it’s a problem when fellow penitents spend an inordinate amount of time in the confessional  (or the bathroom, or chatting with the checkout clerk at the grocery store) while folks behind are waiting with varying degrees of patience.

Father confessor, in the confessional, should do what he can to move things along.  I don’t say that Father should use cool or severe detachment – St. Alphonsus Liguori has already done that for me – but neither should he let penitents simply ramble aimlessly from one irrelevant point or repetition to another.  Even when he tries to keep things moving, sometimes the grace of the sacrament opens up an avenue of interior exploration and it is opportune to probe a bit further.

What is full solution to this problem? Who can say? An express line confessional (15 sins or less!)? A sign asking penitents with whoppers to call and set up an appointment? “Scrupulosity Saturday” once a month where those who feel the need to reconfess all their sins from childhood on can take up all the time they need, leaving the other three or four Saturdays for those who just need a sacramental touch-up?

Back in the day, or in places where more than one priest can be hearing confessions, people figure out which priests tend to be quicker.  Remember: it isn’t always the penitent who is slowing things down.

I recall one priest, in my native place, whom we nicknamed “Machine Gun Kelly”, because he was so fast.  You could confess fraud on a monumental scale, running prostitutes, acts of genocide and, BAM!, he would have you counseled, assigned a penance, shriven and out practically before you could draw your next breath.  Old Fr. Kelly, God rest him, is perhaps at one end of the spectrum, but everyone who really had things to get off their chests without lectures and rhapsodic mumblings that make your eyeballs roll back into your head could seek him out and make a fresh start.

Friends, examine your consciences BEFORE you get into the confessional.  Confess your SINS in kind and number.  Leave out all the vague expositions about how you feel that you are good person.  Just confess your sins.  It isn’t complicated, even though it can be hard.

Priests, would you please, for the love of all that holy, save your homilies for the pulpit? Be kind but brief and direct.  Don’t lose yourself, and the penitents, in an endless anabasis of syrupy musings about God’s love. Give a brief counsel, make sure there is nothing else that needs to be confessed, suggest a penance, invite the Act of Contrition and get on with absolution.  It isn’t complicated.

The confessional is a tribunal, not a coffee house.

Also, keep in mind that usually Father has no idea how many people are in line.  It can be of help at times to say, “Father, I was the last person in line when I got in…. Father, there are 7 people behind me.”  I, for one, am always glad to know.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    According to my spiritual director:
    Be brief.
    Be blunt.
    Be gone.

  2. ncstevem says:

    My impression of confessional hogs is they view the sacrement as a counseling session rather than what it is. I think the idea of face-to-face confession has help foster that mentality.

    Confess your sins in kind and number people and let the priest offer his feedback (if any) and let those behind you in line do the same.

  3. Macgawd says:

    ncstevem is not far off the mark. The number of people who view the Sacrament of Penance as an optional exercise in “spiritual coaching” is not negligible. I’ve been behind people in line who have spent the better part of 20 minutes in the confessional, wondering what they could possibly have done that would take that long. I was away from the Church for 20 years, and my first confession back didn’t take that long.

  4. nasman2 says:

    Oh boy, this is one of my huge pet peeves especially if confessions are heard before Mass. I’ve found that if I find a parish that has confessions at a time not related to the start of Mass, there is more leeway to deal with long confessions or more penitents. This isn’t scientific, but usually at a place like this there aren’t many penitents anyway since its inconvenient to make a special trip to confession.

    Fr. Z, your counsel against sinning in the confession line was pretty dang funny. Sheesh, it seems we can sin anytime, anywhere about anything. Sigh.

  5. Priam1184 says:

    I agree with ncstevens: it’s the face to face Confessions that did this. I wish we would lose that.

    And I also agree with Macgawd: A couple of years ago I went to Confession for the first time in twenty years and I think the priest got me through it in under five minutes, though it felt like a year and a half at the time.

  6. LarryW2LJ says:

    “Also, keep in mind that usually Father has no idea how many people are in line. It can be of help at times to say, “Father, I was the last person in line when I got in…. Father, there are 7 people behind me.” I, for one, am always glad to know.”

    Thank you for that, Father Z.! I have done that in the past, but felt afterwards that I might have overstepped my bounds. I didn’t want it to appear like I was telling someone how to do their job, but if confession is scheduled to end in a half an hour and there are still seven people behind me, I thought it was good for Father to know.

  7. LeeF says:

    Talking to priests over the years, and also knowing some of the people who typically take a long time in confession, my impression that the majority of them, yes mostly women, can be assigned to one of two categories:

    1) those seeking spiritual direction as well as absolution and who should be directed to make an appointment for the former;

    2) those suffering from scrupulosity, who possibly should have their repetitions of past absolved sins (including minor sins omitted from confession) cut short, given absolution, and also be directed to make an appointment for spiritual counseling.

    The minority who don’t fit in those two categories might include those returning to the Church and making a general confession (would be better by appointment but shouldn’t be turned away I should think), or those having a truly intricate problem needing more discussion.

    Still, for those parishes fortunate enough (rare these days), to have regular and ample opportunities for confession, one should be able after a while to recognize such persons who habitually take a long time and avoid the line they are in, just as one might avoid the line of a confessor also known for long confessions.

    As to priests, I try to seek confessors who fall in between the extremes. While it is unlikely that I will hear counsel that is truly “game changing”, I have heard lots of small bits of advice over the years that cumulatively have made a great difference to my spiritual life. I am more likely to successfully implement and stick to small changes than embarking on some great program.

  8. dominic1955 says:

    Plus, I do think a priest has a certain responsibility in this. When I was in the seminary, they told us that when this sort of thing was happening that you probably should gently remind them “number and kind” especially if there were other people in line. Its a tribunal that judges and forgives sins, it isn’t chatty Kathy time.

  9. mpmaron says:

    I have to praise the Franciscans running St. Francis Chapel in lovely, downtown Colonie NY. Confessions go about 5 or more hours a day. There are lines after work during Advent/Lent, but you have to plan around the volume. Gotta love the Franciscans enough for opening the chapel.

  10. Joseph-Mary says:

    I have a friend who I really try not to follow in the confession line. She will usually take a minimum of 20 minutes and goes almost weekly. One can hear her laugh and so forth and she has always been this way. I know there is spiritual direction or whatever but there is also just plain conversations ( I know this for a fact). I have wanted to ask her to please go last and not always try to be first and then take 20-30 minutes while others who do not have time to wait that long, leave. The last time I was after her, on a Tuesday morning, there were only 4 of us in line and she took at least 30minutes. It was an hour wait as I let others who were more time crunched go before me. I wish the confessor would expedite these ‘confessional hoggers’!

  11. DavidJ says:

    As painful as it seems sometimes, I assume that what’s going on in there needs to happen and even if it takes forever, someone’s in the confessional, and that’s a good thing.

    Even if it’s a painfully long time in there.

  12. magistercaesar says:

    When the campus ministry at my university does it’s Advent/Lent Confession Service, there will be 5-7 priests, and depending on where you are in line, the wait could be 2-3 hours long. From my experience, the wait has never turned anyone around from going to Confession, and at those times, there are a lot of students waiting to receive the Sacrament.

  13. APX says:

    Men sometimes take plenty of time themselves.

    I find this annoying too. I go to confession weekly and thus can usually be out of the confessional in less than 5 minutes. It gets really annoying to get to church before confession starts, prepare myself spiritually to go to confession, only to have to stand in line for 30 minutes because someone raced into the church and confessional before I could get to it, and then end up not being able to go to confession because they take so long and Father has to go say Mass.

  14. Fr. Baer says:

    Thank you for remembering the late Father John Kelley (yes, that was how it was spelled), for years and years the Associate Pastor under Father Patrick Lannan at Nativity Parish in St. Paul. At his Funeral Mass, one of the lay leaders of the parish remembered how Fr. Kelley had described himself as a “mean-and-potatoes” priest. Nothing fancy, but ever-faithful to his sacramental ministry, in the Confessional and elsewhere. During my first three years as a priest, I had the privilege of serving with him at Nativity. There were three (yes, three!) Confessionals open for business simultaneously and, as you well noted, those who were not interesting in an extended visit — especially men — lined up for Fr. Kelley’s box. His penance for one and all: “Say three Hail Mary’s and be truly sorry for your sins.” Yes, I went to him many a time. He would pray his Office dutifully. On rainy days, when he could not do so outside, I would see him pacing back and forth in the basement church as he did his duty.

  15. Fr. Baer says:

    That should read, “meat-and-potatoes,” He was mean only to those who wanted him to be transferred somewhere to become a pastor.

  16. Southern Baron says:

    It might take some teeth-gritting but maybe a good strategy for the queued penitents who gradually realize that they won’t make it, like a traveler at an impossibly swamped security checkpoint who realizes that the plane is departing without him, would be to just be thankful that so many people want to go.

  17. Fr. A.M. says:

    Look on the bright side. This ‘problem’ shows that people are coming to confession.

  18. Pastor in Valle says:

    Golly: for me, as a priest, it’s the people who have one or two tiny peccadilloes but want to explain exactly how they got there, taking fifteen minutes or so to tell me that they had an uncharitable thought.
    Another priest’s gripe; people who tell me things in the confessional that they want me to know, but which have no bearing on the confession. Then I am left with the moral dilemma; can I refer to this outside, even if the inference is that they want me to? Common sense has to come into operation, but I wish people would confine themselves simply to sins and the genuinely relevant circumstances.

  19. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    If I call to make an appointment, then yes, some or even a lot of counseling is expected. I’m taking anywhere from 30 minutes to more than a hour out of my day to make a good confession, and get all the “stuff” that’s built up since my last confession of my chest, and get some good advice in how to avoid it in the future.

    If I’m in line, I’d prefer to simply get in, say what I need to say, and get a decent penance (Something harder than saying a single “Our Father” or a single “Hail Mary”, but something easier than going on a quest to locate and return the long-lost bones of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman…) get absolution, do that penance, and be done.

    And yes, his relics are indeed missing:

  20. JesusFreak84 says:

    The other thing that can complicate things for Father is if he doesn’t remember voices and everyone’s going through the screen; he may not even realize that the same penitent is making every Saturday “Scrupulosity Saturday” (sorry, the line was so good I had to use it XD )

    I also know I’ve taken longer myself if I’m not confident in the soundproofness of the confessional (say, when it was designed by people who didn’t think it’d ever be used…) and I’m confessing so quietly that Father has to ask me to repeat myself several times.

  21. I always think when the confession lines are ultra long, there should be a fast pass to be able to return back at a later time…Thought of the idea after Disneyland tried it…but I find praying the BR helps to kill the time waiting in line.

  22. Volanges says:

    Sometimes it’s entirely on the priest. I’ve experienced this. Used to being in and out under 5 minutes, I was in line for a visiting priest at a Reconciliation Service a few years ago. Twenty minutes after the first person went in, I became the second penitent to confess to him. I did my part and then he started to talk, and talk, and talk and talk… I think he heard the confession of 3 penitents and the Pastor heard everyone else’s confession.

    Off-topic: I know there are some who hate form two of the Sacrament of Penance but I must say that I love those services. Wish they had one once a month.

  23. Spade says:

    I once “missed” confession because some lady decided to take 30 minutes in the box. It was butting up against mass and our pastor decided to cut off confessions when mass started (although not really, the guy in front of me went in after one of the other priests started Mass). I was the last guy in line and told to go away. I was very upset, and wondered how it would’ve been had I been coming back for my first confession in a long time (probably would’ve stayed away). Wouldn’t have been an issue if Chatty Cathy and kept it short.

    Nothing takes 30 min to confess. Oh, you committed genocide? “murder, 6 million times”. Get your spiritual counseling about how to feel better about that fence dispute you have with the neighbor on your own time. There’s other souls out there.

    (I’m still pretty upset at that priest about the confessional thing amongst other things). There’s also a sign up now about confessions ending when mass starts. I’ve considered sending in a copy of Misericordia Dei but I figure I know where it will get filed.


  24. acricketchirps says:

    It seems like I have confessed sins committed in the line up just minutes earlier.
    What, if you’re going to sin, isn’t the best place to do it is in line for confession? Better than getting out of the confessional, looking back at the line of people and thinking, “thank God I’m not like all those sods with all those sins on their souls!”

    Our old priest (RIP) used to stick any visiting priest in the confessional during Mass. There was always a line-up; if it was still there by the end of Mass, he’d open up an express line in the other box: “Five sins or less.” Pretty sure he was kidding about that, though, God love him.

    The new pastor at that parish won’t hear confessions after Mass. I don’t go there anymore but not for that reason.

  25. “Priests, would you please, for the love of all that holy, save your homilies for the pulpit? Be kind but brief and direct. Don’t lose yourself …”

    … which is the more fundamental problem. When it comes down to it, the penitent does not set the pace for what happens so much as does the confessor. We had a priest in residence at a parish once, who only went through two or three penitents in an hour, and twice that many would be turned away. (Hey, I can pray the rosary anywhere, but I don’t do my examen just for the mental exercise.) So if you have a choice between saving three souls, and saving nine, is the former worth loving the sound of your own voice?

  26. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I think this is a very serious problem, one felt much more by laity than by priests. It drives nuts. And I see it all the time.

  27. iPadre says:

    Anonymous confession with a fixed grill helps solve this problem. When people go face-to-face it easily becomes a casual chat session.

  28. Moro says:

    I discussed this with a good friend of mine who is a priest (I’m a layman). He mentioned that he loves the screen because it makes confession faster. It cuts down on the whole counseling idea. The physical barrier reminds people that it is confession not a therapy session. People say their piece, get counsel, penance, and absolution, and leave. So any priest readers out there get rid of the “reconciliation room” and put back the confessionals and it will go faster.

  29. This is often something I wrestle with hearing confessions. I try to nudge people along, but I don’t want to make them more nervous, or have them forget something, or worse, go away afraid to come back.

    Some of the things I will say:

    “Is there a sin you wanted to confess?”

    “What sins of yours did you want to confess?”

    “That’s a difficult matter, which deserves more time than I can give you here; you are most welcome to seek me outside the confessional…”

    A priest I know used to begin penance services with the following comment: “tell your sins, not the stories.”

    And we have, of course, our genial host’s excellent advice: confess your own sins, not those of others.”

    All that said…I confess I am sometimes the problem. I do spend some time with some situations, when I figure there’s a low chance the person will seek me out, outside the confessional. Some people have spiritual problems that are mighty discouraging, and I try to give them both advice and encouragement.

  30. Uxixu says:

    I am reminded of the art that shows demons whispering to those approaching the confessional that they make a bad confession so the Enemy can keep them.

  31. Sieber says:

    Be brief, be blunt, begone!

  32. Darren says:

    I feel the pain of the reader!

    Every once in a while, at a certain parish where I go to confession there is a woman who will be in the confessional for roughly 15 minutes. I try not to sin in how I think as I wait and wait and wait… but what makes it hard is that I hear laughter coming from the confessional… hers, his, hers, his… and I am thinking, “ok, obviously she is done confessing and they are just chatting and having a grand ole time.

    Then the next 5 or 6 people are in and out in less time than she was.

    It’s one reason why I typically go to another parish that has confessions at the same time, even though it’s a little further away.

    Patience patience patience… I try to remain prayerful while on line for 1 minute or for an hour…

  33. Gregorius says:

    Fr Z has advised it before, but I will say it again: arrive early. This past Sunday I got to the church right as confessions began, and there was a huge line (only 1 priest) and so I was in the awkward position to be the very next person up when father had to leave to vest for Mass. Fortunately I asked him to hear mine after Mass, and he obliged.

  34. Lepidus says:

    Also, both sides need to remember the serious nature of what is going on, regardless of the types of sins are being confessed. No joking, laughing, or patting Father on the back! Twice a year when I drive my mother to the Penance Services at her parish, they have individual confession afterward – but not “in the box”. The only option is a chair next to one of the priests toward the front of the church. Everybody can see what’s going on, so there is ample room to add “an extra item to the list”, as Fr. Z’s reader so eloquently put it. Funny thing is, there no joking around during my turn – although that might have something to do with the fact that my knees are still in shape and I don’t use the chair.

  35. mrshopey says:

    I know we all have a story and I am for the most part patient with these penitents and imagine they are just returning to the sacrament! Well, that didn’t happen the last time. Of our 50 min slot time, the first one took 35 minutes. I was OK till I heard them laughing and cutting up. I thought they must be getting through but no, it went on for 10 more minutes. There were at least 16 people left in line as some finally gave up and left. Is it rude to go and knock on the door, esp if you can hear them laughing?

  36. PhilipNeri says:

    I’ve perfected a method for “Box Hogs”: when the poor soul is rambling on and I know that there is a line, I say, “No story, just the sins.” And give them a big smile or a hearty chuckle! 99% of the time this works. Occasionally, someone will say, “But, Father, you need to know the circumstances. . .” I say, “No, not really. No story, just the sins.” Another method on busy confession days: as the penitent enters, ask him/her how many people are in line. That almost always puts a little pep in their confession.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  37. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Could I offer the following yard-stick: Just as one should not rush the Mass ( one should do that which is required, without distracting embellishment) in the confessional both priest and penitent should stick to the matter and form. Could a beautiful polyphonic Mass be sung at Mass? Of course. Could some hack screech through a microphone the melody from “My little pony”? Could happen, but shouldn’t.

    I was blessed recently to have my confession heard by a newly ordained priest. He included the prayer at the end “… whatever good work you do, whatever suffering you endure…….”. I don’t hear it often, so it’s a special joy to hear it.

  38. capchoirgirl says:

    We have confession every day at my parish, which is a tremendous blessing. None of the priests takes more than 5 minutes to confess someone. However, yes, I see this all the time–older women (it’s always older women, 70 and up, it seems) who use confession as their time for therapy.
    Drives me nuts!
    Yes, be patient….but when it takes two people 45 minutes to get to confession, that’s just wayyyy too long!

  39. APX says:

    It very well could also be that people don’t know how to confess their sins, which, if corrected, would likely make things easier on the priest hearing confessions. I was given a structure to follow: What’s the sin? How Many times? Root cause of the sin? What are you doing to fix said sin?

    I admit, it takes a lot longer to do an examination of conscience, but it is spiritually helpful and it forces you to actually work at fixing the problem.

  40. magister63 says:

    We have that problem at the Novus Ordo parish we live in, mainly due to face to face confessions. Standing in line when a face to facer goes in you know it because you hear Monsignor say, “Hey, how you doing? and the laughter, etc. Often the penitent comes out laughing and nodding. When someone goes in and kneels behind the curtain, they are usually out pretty quickly and there are no loud greetings or laughter. But the face to facers really eat up the confession time, sometimes taking 15 or 20 minutes per person. People leave or are deprived of the sacrament. This last week we went to a shrine near our home where there are two doors- one for face to face, the other traditional kneeler and screen. Every time someone in front of us in line went to the face to face side, it took significantly longer. Luckily, most folks chose the screen and we were all able to receive the sacrament.

  41. Mike says:

    Most of the best confessors I have had were always brief in their advice. On the other hand, it is a prudent practice, is it not, for priests to restrict advising women to the Confessional? Not without exception, but as a general rule? Let’s have a cup of coffee and talk can be a step in the wrong direction, after all.

  42. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I’ve dealt with this situation many times. It has been an occasion to learn a tiny bit of patience and persistence and to spend some time in prayer that I might not have otherwise. Absolution is infinitely precious. It is worth the effort.

  43. MarkG says:

    Some of the religious orders have all day confessions or several hours per day with often no waiting. Often people who have lived here for years were unaware that there is a religious order 5 miles away with all day confessions. Maybe Churches could make a list of any of these and put them in the bulletin or at least on the website.

  44. Chon says:

    It was suggested that those returning to the Church make an appointment. It seems IMHO many of those people are especially the ones who would want to be anonymous. It’s hard to make a special appointment and be anonymous at the same time.

  45. Will D. says:

    It’s none of my business why someone takes a long time in the confessional. I will take advantage of that time to re-examine my conscience and pray for those who need to make a confession but are unable or unwilling to do so.

    Having said that, the Capuchin chapel (at a mall) that I frequent has a wireless doorbell installed in the confessional rooms. If there’s a line and someone has been in the box more than about 5 minutes, the receptionist will ring the bell which tends to hasten things along. I like this because the people waiting outside are not involved (most, I suspect, don’t even know about the bell), so it doesn’t depend on how patient the penitents are.

  46. Paul Young says:

    Really hit a nerve for me. Due to my work and travel, the only time I can get to confession without having to schedule an appointment is the “before Mass” confessions in my home parish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hugely grateful that we have those opportunities, but when someone takes 20, 30, or more minutes and like others have noted, you hear gales of laughter and they come out still in conversation about some mundane topic, it is hard.

  47. Nun2OCDS says:

    Once I entered the confessional just before the priest was going to leave to offer Mass. I thought I was being brief enough but evidently not. He started to rattle the keys (to the confessional)!

  48. St Donatus says:

    We have a priest who gives a very personal five minute mini-sermon BUT his lines are always longer than the other priest. Why is his line so long? Because his mini-sermons are so beneficial to one’s spirituality.

    Generally, when he is giving confession, I make sure I arrive early enough to get in. Otherwise, I will wait for another time. They also give confession until just prior to the Gospel at Mass. It seems that somehow he knows how many walk away when Mass starts because he will have confession again after Mass at those times. What it comes down to is that I think it is well worth it. If I don’t want to wait, I will go to confession to the other priest. Thankfully we have that option at our FSSP parish.

  49. Marie Teresa says:

    @Fr. A.M. who said, “Look on the bright side. This ‘problem’ shows that people are coming to confession.

    The other bright spot is that the priest has a time set aside for the sacrament!

    Thank you to all priests who do so!!

  50. Michelle says:

    Others have mentioned this as well, but I think there are 2 things that cause a lot of people to take longer – they are seeking advice and things more suited for spiritual direction and/or counseling along with confession and/or they feel like they have to tell the whole story behind the sin instead of just the sin, number, and any relevant factors.

    A good friend of mine was waiting in line a few people behind me for confession one day and jokingly remarked “wow, that was fast”, because she knows I’m usually a talker. I lucked out by learning about confession from a priest who emphasized keeping it brief and focused – name & number the sins, tell anything that effects the gravity, but don’t use it as an opportunity to provide a huge backstory or try to create excuses for yourself, and don’t confess other people’s sins. Even with face-to-face confession, he was quick – I think my first confession was over in 7 or 8 minutes (and I converted in my 30s and had a several notebook page’s worth of things to confess when I first started examining my conscience).

    OTOH, the priest at a the parish nearest my school tends to ask clarifying questions for many things, gives advice after almost every sin, and tends to give a mini-homily before absolution. He’d probably be a great guy to go to for direction or counseling, but it makes confession take a long time. In his credit, he will stay long after the posted times if people are still in line, because weekday confessions are after Mass, but those waiting in line don’t always have that flexibility.

  51. VexillaRegis says:

    One time I went to confession with a priest I have known for years but never confessed to before. He is of the saintly-soft spoken-mild-and-gentle type. It was terrible! The confession began in the usual way and I told him that it was six weeks since my last confession. He nodded and smiled. So I started by telling him “I did X one time” and then just breathed in to catch some courage to tell him the next sin. He interrupted me and asked in his soft manner: “So you did X, Hmm?” Me: “Yes, I’m sorry…” Him in an understanding tone: “Often we bla,bla…..-……. you understand?” “Me: Yes. And I did Y too” Him “Oh, so you did Z? Have you any idea as to why you did Z?” Me: “No, I did Y, not Z, sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear :-)” And so on.
    He commented on all my sins in detail, very gently and slow. After half an hour I had only managed to confess three sins out of five and began to want to run out from the room. After 45 minutes he had finally gotten to the point of assigning me a penance: “Do you think you can pray the rosary, one decade and meditate on the Divine Mysteries………. ” Me, nearly panicking:” Yes, no problem.” Him: “Are you sure? You know you start with….” GAH!

    Now I know why there are never any queues outside of his confessional.

  52. Joseph-Mary says:

    Another thing encountered is when the priests–it seems to be the retired ones–that really do like to chat. I try to avoid that! The “How’s your children” or other such questions need not be asked. We had one dear older priest who would go off topic and chat about something totally unrelated; I would be kneeling there as he talked on and wonder how in the world to reign him back in and not be rude about it.
    I think many of you may sigh here but we have two parishes with confessions either 6 or 7 days a week! I almost always go midweek so the folks who cannot do that will have the weekend times. It seems to me a great loss when a large parish only has Saturday afternoon confessions—those were tough to get to as the family grew up.

  53. fatherpalka says:

    Though done for other reasons, renovating the old confessional and using it instead of the “reconciliation room” worked wonders in this regard. Sitting in a comfy chair speaking face to face with another in a comfy chair lent itself to both confessor and confesser going off on tangents. Now that I am in a small box and the confesser is kneeling behind a screen in another small box the unforeseen but beneficial result was quicker and more precise confessions with quicker and more targeted advice. Better confessions. Happy “customers.” Shuda done it years ago.

  54. Priam1184 says:

    This is a great post Father because I think it means that a good number of people are coming back to Confession, and that is something to rejoice over. I even noticed in the bulletin of one of the more ‘liberal’ parishes I ever attended in town expanded their Saturday Confessions to one hour from the thirty minutes it had been for years (when it was available). Despite all of the stupidity of recent years and decades I think that there really is a desire to get back to the Sacrament. Thank you to all of the Fathers who kept the light on in the Confessional during those dark decades and thank you Pope Francis (and Father Z) for not shutting up about people going to Confession.

  55. cicada380 says:

    I’m so glad you posted about this Father. It is a wonderful thing to see many people coming to this sacrament. However, may I bring up another issue with very slow lines for confession? In the past year, I’ve developed health issues that make it impossible to stand for long periods of time. It makes it very difficult to go to confession when I need to stand for at least 45 minutes waiting (even when arriving early or on time). This made me think about all those who have trouble standing for long periods – health issues, age, injuries, etc… Penance for myself is one thing, having someone scrape me off the church floor is a bit too much penance to ask of another. Other than making an appointment to see an already overwhelmed parish priest once a month (and hopefully more often) for confession, does anyone have any ideas for those with health issues like this? It has kept me from confession and I’m sure it keeps others away as well.

  56. FrAnt says:

    No Church of Nice here. Responses are always clear, to the point, and pastoral, for both laity and clergy. Keep up the great work.

  57. FrAnt says:

    I just remembered an experience. I had been away from confession for many years. After some real soul searching I thought it time to go to confession. I got up the nerve to go and waited on line. The person before me went in and was in the confessional for 25 minutes, but I stayed. I wasn’t going to let myself off that easy by leaving. When the person exited the confessional she was followed by the priest, who looked at me and said, “Too late.” The lady went to do her penance and the priest ran out the door. There is a funny ending to this story. On ordination day I was given my parish assignment with the same priest as my pastor. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

  58. RichR says:

    I nominate fatherpalka for “Post of the Day”

  59. APX says:


    Aside from Opus Dei spiritual direction (which is only permitted in the confessional with a screen for women), I don’t think that really applies anymore. It’s not particularly practical. I think policies, prudence and common sense is used more these days. For example, generally speaking, the FSSP does not permit its priests who have been ordained for less than 5 years to give spiritual direction to women. It’s not the “let’s have a cup of coffee” type of thing in any sense (at least in my experience).

  60. Supertradmum says:

    I am really surprised by some of the comments. May I offer some insights?

    1) Many people have to go to Confession before Mass or not receive Communion. Can there not be a longer time before Mass, or Confessions on Saturday, which there are not in many dioceses?
    2)Most people cannot find spiritual directors, or good ones. Therefore, questions concerning habitual sins or the predominant fault must be brought up in the confessional. Cannot people be patient?
    3) I used to be impatient until a friend confided in me the horrible situation of her marriage. She only had the priest to talk to as she had no one else to help her. Be patient. You have no idea what suffering is attached to certain sins which needs context.
    4)Pray for more priests. If we had what we did in the old days, two or three priests hearing confessions on Saturday afternoon, the lines would not be so long.
    5)Realize that there are many people suffering from habitual addictions which are sins, which the priest might have to give advice about in the confessional.
    6) Be thankful you have confession and a priest…many people do no have access to confession.

  61. Peregrinator says:

    “The confessor should never worry about the ones waiting in line for confessions. As St. Francis Xavier said, it is better to hear a few confessions well than to hear many which bear little fruit. Confessors sin if they come across an indisposed penitent and immediately tell him to leave the confessional, for fear of wasting time with him. Learned theologians have said that, when a penitent comes indisposed, the confessor is obliged as far as possible to dispose him for absolution. To do this, he could tell the penitent, for example, how much his sins have offended God, how great is his danger of being condemned to hell, and so forth. And it makes little difference if others are waiting or even if they leave without going to confession, for the confessor is responsible not for them, but for the one who is here and now in the confessional.” — St. Alphonsus Liguori, Praxis Confessarii

    [Great quote! Kudos. None of which, however, means that either he or the penitent need to take a long time. Furthermore, the conditions of hearing confessions have changed since the time of the great moralist and doctor.]

  62. Rachel Pineda says:

    Oh Priam, what a breath of fresh air. Thank God for all the priests who hear confessions and repentant sinners who want to start over. For all of the priests who sit in the box for hours patiently or not, may God reward them in Heaven.

    I think I may have a simple solution to the problem, get there earlier or better yet, do not sin.

    Reading through the complaints of priests about penitents and penitents about each other is a very good reminder to me about why saints and saintly souls have said it is very imprudent to speak about your confessions. Glad to see nobody here falls into that grievous sin of being “that” penitent or “that” priest with plenty of examples to prove that point.

    Being brief, blunt and gone is still very good advice. We all need to unburden ourselves and seek our Lord’s forgiveness from the mess (es) we got ourselves into this time. I would just like to caution about being, brief and blunt to the point of rattling off your sins in a way that teeters on irreverence for the sacrament to say the least. Some of the deepest sorrow has no tears and very brief words but it is never irreverent. Focusing on true repentance and not other peoples confessions is a good start to having a very good confession.

  63. Supertradmum says:

    PS. to above comment– Many of the commentators assume people can get spiritual direction or talk to a priest during the week. As one living mostly in rural areas with great priest shortages, one simply cannot talk to a priest during the week. They are not even in the same area.

    I worry about those in urban areas judging those who live in places where the priest shortage demands that a priest covers four or five parishes, a hospital and a college chaplaincy all in one week.

    Even convents do not have regular confessions anymore in Europe because of the priest shortage. I am grateful to wait, rather than not have confession at all.

  64. mattwcu says:

    As was mentioned in the original post, the writer said the longer confessions were typically women. I have noticed, unfortunately, that is the case most of the time where I go. It has became so bad in one of the places I frequent that if the line is mostly women, I will not go or will jump the line to another confessor if there is one. The confessional is not face-to-face.

    It is possible that some people use the confessional (and not just women) as a relationship replacement. If you are reading my comment and thinking “Oh Gosh, that might be me!”, please don’t shorten your necessary confession, but be courteous to others too. Some of us just want to get absolved, though.

  65. Nicholas says:

    My high school has a rector chaplain who is available everyday after school and occasionally at lunch, but I do not know how long it takes with him as this is only the second day of school and i have not yet gone to him. However, having him available is a HUGE blessing.

    The suggestion of using the screen also works well, which is what I use at churches, though my school only uses the confessional at the Lent and Advent confession services.

  66. Stvsmith2009 says:

    “An express line confessional (15 sins or less!)?”

    I had to laugh Father. Thanks, I needed a laugh today. The only thing is, there would always be someone who ignores the “15 sins or less” sign, and has 20 or 25…

  67. truthfinder says:

    I always get a bit antsy whenever I see someone going into the confessional with a notebook – I understand laundry lists on small scraps of paper, but notebooks scare me. Even my longest confession was probably five minutes, and only because the priest thought I hadn’t examined by conscience well enough, and started asking questions. I have found that more priests are finally recognizing that confession is for sins, and appointment is for spiritual direction, mostly because of some others who have shared being told this in the confessional.

  68. Doug R says:

    Applause! I have been trying to go to Confession weekly over the noon hour at a Parish near where I work. I’ll frequently get there a few minutes early and be 4th or 5th in line, and it will still take 45 min. Although in this case, I suspect the Priest who generally hears Confession at this time is largely at fault, as he gives a 5-7 min. homily with each Confession.

  69. Cafea Fruor says:

    I, too, am bothered by confessional hogs. I know other people may not have been back to confession in years, so I try to be benevolent. But I’m a bus rider and I can’t risk missing my bus because someone’s going on and on and on in the confession. If I’m going to evening confession in a less-than-stellar part of the city, and it’s going to be dark by a certain time, I have GOT to be out by that certain time in order to catch my bus so I’m not standing around in the dark waiting for the bus. Schedule is everything when it comes to safety.

    Earlier this summer, it happened such that I was maybe only #5 in line, but 2 people ahead of me took FOREVER. That confessor then had to step out to vest for Mass, so the rest of us had to walk across the church to get in line for confessor #2, but confessor #2 already had a long line, and so I ended up being something like person #20 when I’d been #5, and several of those people took forever, and I missed at least one of my buses home. Now, in the summer when it’s light in the evening, this isn’t so bad. But in about a month or so, this situation = young woman standing alone at the bus stop and/or walking in a rougher neighborhood in the dark. Not cool.

    So I’ve recently resolved always to get to confession rather early and have my conscience examined and my list ready to go before I step foot in church, get in line right away so I can be first or second when Father starts confessions, be as quick as possible in the confessional (I’m always about 3 minutes) and scoot. If I get there really early, I can just pray vespers or my rosary while standing there.

    Maybe I should feel guilty for wanting to be first all the time, but I wouldn’t have to do this if more parishes in safe neighborhoods would have confession on weeknights or on Sundays. Around me, it’s only the parishes in bad areas or far from bus routes that do. And the Saturday only-once-an-hour bus schedule makes a trip for a 5-minute confession take up to 2.5 hours, so weekday evenings it is. And I’ve never seen anyone else at confession join me at the bus stop, so I’m pretty sure I’m the only one under this sort of time crunch.

  70. @cicada: depending on your priest and the setup of your church, you might have a word with him about setting up the following arrangement which was used at a church where I used to go to Confession.

    The church was a traditionally-shaped one, in that there were two confessionals at the rear. The line for Confession formed in the rear pew closest to the confessional in use. In this way, those who weren’t physically up to standing for any length of time could simply sit in the pew, while those of us who wanted to kneel to pray prior to Confession but didn’t want to be a near occasion of sin or physical injury to the people who might stumble over our outstretched legs in the aisle could kneel without worrying about tripping or irritating someone. When the line was long, it simply stretched into the next pew down. As the line moves, of course, the kneelers and sitters would have to scoot down the pew or kneeler, but I should think that doing so while standing in line is just as distracting to one’s examination of conscience or prayers as the pew setup would be, and the pew setup offers some distinct advantages.

    In another church I attended, there were some folding chairs at the back that someone unable to stand for the time necessary to be in the Confessional line could unfold and bring with them down the line, so to speak, though I could see where this could become an issue for a person with a cane, crutch, or walker.

  71. praiseofglory says:

    Perhaps it is reflective of many decades of little, poor, and no catechesis? Could help a immensely for the priests in these times to give a “how to go to confession” sermon a couple of times a year.

  72. APX says:

    Maybe those who know they will take awhile could be courteous and let everyone else go ahead of them? I know this doesn’t work too well when confessions are before Mass, but if confessions are sometimes scheduled in the evening or after Mass, it seems to work fine. I don’t think people should have to make an appointment if they’re going to take awhile.

    When I was coming back to the Church and was looking for a place to go to confession, the only option where I was living was “by appointment” and I was too scared to make an appointment. I ended up going to another city in another province to go to confession only to not have the priest show up, and was unable to get to another parish for confession since they were all at the same time. I was feeling desperate, so I mustered up the courage to go to a parish with a vigil Mass and ask the priest to hear my confession after Mass. I went super early before Mass to ask, but he wasn’t there, only the deacon. I explained to him the situation and he got so excited that he called the priest to get to the church early to speak to me and that I should ask him then. The priest came and I explained to him the situation and he flat-out refused to hear my confession because it was outside of a time when he schedules confessions and that if I wanted him to hear my confession, I needed to come to confession when it’s scheduled, etc etc.

    I ended up in search for a priest from the FSSP to go to confession to since the Internet said I would have a higher success rate. Sure enough, after driving to another city where the FSSP were, I found a priest from the FSSP in the confessional during the scheduled time and a line up of people, with more still arriving. I was so scared and I guess people noticed my pacing back and worth wearing out the new carpet, because they started talking to me and trying to calm me down. I just let everyone go ahead of me and went to confession last. I was able to get through 10 years worth of mortal sin in under 15 minutes, most of which was the priest giving me counsel on literally every single sin I confessed and gave me what seemed like a massive penance at the time.

    Also, I really think that people who tend to ramble or tell stories should write out their sins and just read what they wrote.

  73. Packrraat says:

    I just went on retreat this past weekend. Made a general confession covering the past 60 years and was done in less than 10 minutes.

  74. Random Friar says:

    I have been tempted against charity more than once, when a penitent would come in and say something akin to, “Father, there’s nobody behind me in line, so I’m going to do a general confession/get spiritual direction with a life problem/have a question on a deep theological subject…”

    People tend to come in waves here and there in most places, whether due to traffic, sporting events, whatnot. Please do not presume that because it’s empty now, that it will remain empty. I have been tempted to say “Fine, but your penance will be one rosary for every person waiting outside when you leave…” at such occasions. But I did not give in.

  75. kurtmasur says:

    I especially agree about different priests having different confessional speeds. At my local parish, there is a young priest (late 20s/early 30s) who gives you a long counseling session before giving the absolution, and often followed by heavier penances, usually a rosary. Then there is the older priest (50s/60s), who is very terse. He treats the confession as what it really is, a tribunal. Fr.: “Tell me your sins”… me: (I say my sins)…., Fr.: “anything else?”…me: “No”…. Fr.: (gives absolution) and then “go say 3 Hail Marys and 3 Our Fathers”. And that’s that, end of story. As you can imagine, I always prefer to go to the older priest :-)

  76. RafqasRoad says:

    Chris at #36, you wrote,

    “He included the prayer at the end “… whatever good work you do, whatever suffering you endure…….”
    This evening, Fr. R. was on duty in the confessional at the church over the river. I have never confessed to him but have wanted to (his church is 30 mins away from Parish HQ up some truly dreadful mountain roadways that upset me concerning the fact he’s still driving them at 70 with less than good health – pray for him) but I counted myself truly blessed to be able to confess to him. He concluded with the abovementioned prayer. Beautiful!! he also made the observation that confession is always threefold; 1. We are confessing our faith in Christ and His sacraments by the very fact we have fronted up, 2. we are confessing our sins, and 3. we are confessing our complete and utter need for Christ’s strength and guidance in our lives to obtain holiness – i.e. we’ve tried in our own strength but fallen over, and can only succeed with Christ who strengthens us – thus open to this sacrament.

    Fr. R. is a true gem in our parish. He’s not well and the likes of him will be a rarety if such does ever come about again. What a blessing!!

    I thank all the priests who read and comment here, of all stripes, who offer such a rich gift of grace as is found in confession to their parishioners. Do it often, do it always. As one who is a convert to Catholic Christianity of less than three years, you can’t underestimate the power of this sacrament to step by step transform and advance the spiritual life of the penitent along the path of sanctification!!

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