ASK FATHER: Confessor interrupted and I didn’t get to confess everything

italian confessional pilgrimsFrom a reader…


This Sunday I went to Confession for the first time in ~2 years. As you always say, I tried to make a good examination of conscience.

One problem is that Father chimed in with comments or advice as I was trying to work my way down my rather long list and I have run into this before. Result: after leaving the confessional I realized that there were several sins I didn’t confess.

I am sorry to sound critical but I’m sure I am not the only person whose concentration is easily broken.

First, good for you for going to confession.  It sounds as if you did your sincere best.  Don’t worry.

If there is something pressing on you, mention it next time you go to confession, which should be regularly from now on.

That said, my Spidey Sense suggests to me that perhaps, friend, you may have been rambling a little.  In the situation where you have a well-intentioned but somewhat chatty confessor, together with a penitent who provides too much detail … well… sometimes things can go off the rails.

When people start to ramble or repeat themselves, a confessor can get the impression that there isn’t anything else of substance that needs to be confessed.

When confessing your sins, it is best to be concise.  State your sin, the number or frequency you committed it (or omitted doing what you ought), just enough circumstantial details that may exacerbate or mitigate the sin, and move on.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I make a list. I prepare what I am going to say before I go in. A daily examen helps concentrate the mind. Confession is not spiritual direction. Most priests do not have time for spiritual direction in the confessional anyway.

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I’m a convert and at my very first confession the priest interrupted me before I got to the “big” stuff that was most embarrassing to mention. I eventually confessed those things and it was very helpful to me.

  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    O HOW I WISH CONFESSORS WOULD CUT OFF CHATTY PENITENTS. I sat/stood in the Confession line for an hour and twenty minutes recently. The priest got through seven, maybe eight, penitents in that time. When he had to leave to say Mass, at least 10 us were left stranded, some of whom had been in line longer than I was. I see this frequently. It absolutely drives me nuts!!

  4. capchoirgirl says:

    Oh, it’s not just chatty penitents. It’s priests who use the confessional for spiritual direction sometimes, too. We have a priest at our parish who takes 10-20 minutes with each person. Not kidding.

  5. Darren says:

    My biggest wonder sometimes is whether I give enough detail, rather than say too much… …but sometimes a certain priest takes even the slightest pause to mean I am done. Sometimes I am just inhaling… so I continue with the little that remains. It’s a rarity, and typically only one priest, but it happens. I do try to be as concise as possible.

    However, I recall a couple times when a certain woman has gotten into confession with a particular priest ahead of me… … and I hear all sorts of laughter between the two… and then she comes out after about 10-15 minutes.

    Some priests tend to go on and on after you are done confessing… and it is very nice what is said, but it seems better for a sermon or a one-on-one conversation outside the confessional. There was once a priest at a parish near me who averaged 7-10 minutes with each penitent. If you had 4 or 5 people ahead of you, you knew you would be there a looooooooooooooooong time! Sometimes it is a very chatty confessor.

    Last Friday I went to a church near my workplace for confession during my lunch hour. I thought I would have to leave and go back to work because he was spending so much time with each penitent. I like how the priest says Mass, and what he says to the penitents is very good and helpful, but I think I would suggest he try and shorten it up a bit. Thankfully another priest eventually came and he was through 4-5 penitents in the time the other priest was done with one… and he wasn’t rushing people through at all.

    There are chatty penitents, and there are chatty confessors…

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    capchoirgirl, I agree. It can be priests who do not fully understand what Confession is, and isn’t. But my hunch is, it’s more likely penitents. Just a hunch.

  7. Yes, we priests can be talky, I readily concede.

    But, yes, so can penitents, who sometimes feel a great need to explain. I understand, and I sympathize, but really, almost no explanation is necessary — or, to be honest, desirable. And I mean for reasons other than time.

    There is the temptation to justify or to excuse ones sins; sometimes people say more about what other people did, than what they did in response. And I think there is a temptation to imagine I am some sort of unique sinner. And there is a tendency to seek over-refinement in naming our sins. Some of this is necessary and helpful, but going too far can lead to scrupulosity.

    One other thing I would suggest: when you get to the end of your sins, tell the priest that’s all. If the penitent just stops talking, especially if the penitent is anonymous, the priest can reasonably wonder; is the person pausing to think? Or feeling some emotion? Of course, the priest can ask, “is there anything else?” But I think some people find that intimidating, as if the priest thinks there is something else.

    Another random thought. I sometimes offer advice, other times, not. Aside from the obvious reason — the knowledge that there are many people and time is short — I’m not entirely sure why I do this. Sometimes it’s just an interior “nudge” — I hope it’s the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it’s something someone says, that either seems to tell me, “this person seems on the right track, nothing for me to say here,” or nudges me to offer a suggestion or even a question.

    Giving advice is tricky, because priests are supposed to offer counsel, and we know this may be our only opportunity, even though I frequently tell people they are welcome to see me outside confession, and they don’t need even to say they came to confession — they can just come see me to talk about a problem.

  8. JPD says:

    I once saw a Priest and listed my sins in kind and number, and then he proceeded to provide a homily that lasted for at least 20 minutes (did the same for other people I know). Some of his info contained heresy, although not about sin, but grace, sanctification, and eschatology. He had a somewhat Catholic/Jansonist/Protestant view of the faith. What would have been the best solution given that he could refuse absolution? My typical confession lasts a few minutes, get in, say sins (kind and number – or make it clear they are numerous if I cannot remember, and with my head down out of embarrassment and shame of my offence), hear some words of advice, receive absolution (God willing), and leave.

  9. JPD says:

    I know I sometimes commit sins while just waiting in the confession line especially when someone is inside for a long time, lots of people are waiting, and the time is almost coming to an end.

  10. JPD says:

    I have a canonical question: Is the seal of confession also applicable to spiritual direction, which is the internal forum?

  11. Random Friar says:

    Minor peeve: Folks who begin by “Father, there’s no one behind me in line…” and then proceed to launch into deep psychoanalytic mode.

    One’s entry into the confessional does not somehow magically bar other people from entering the church for the purpose of confession.

  12. Sonshine135 says:

    I appreciate the insight of Father Z and the other Fathers. My church, thanks be to God, has regular confession on Wednesday nights, but I can be 5th in line, and it can take a half an hour to see the Priest. Other days, I can be 10th in line and see the Priest in 20 minutes. I have a hard time understanding why it takes so long in a confessional, because even when I went to confession irregularly (once a year), I would be in and out in at most 5 minutes. I guess the moral of the story is that the Priest isn’t your psychologist.

  13. Quoting a priest friend here:
    ‘Be brief, be blunt, be gone’.

  14. Priam1184 says:

    I made the mistake this morning of trying to explain one of my sins in the Confessional, but the priest charitably cut me off and told me to get moving. Thank you Father.

  15. JBS says:

    Father Maurer,

    In Medieval England, it was “Be brief, be brutal, and be gone.”

  16. Supertradmum says:

    I blame psychology and trendy pop-psychology, as too many people want to explain away sin, really and not just say, “I lied”, but instead “I lied because since I was a little girl…” and so on.
    I know this from speaking to converts who shared about wanting to make good confessions and got stuck, like the Brer Rabbit in the Tar Baby, with too many excuses and explanations.

    A list contains just the fact, M’am. Also, I do not want ooey-gooey feel good stuff from a priest. Just absolution and such. The best confessors, imho, are Opus Dei priests, who have gone through purification themselves and are serious about being saints, and want one to become holy. They get to the point in a few words, and out you go…..

  17. JBS says:

    Some penitents omit their state in life. Most neglect to give a number for each mortal sin (sins freely and knowingly committed against the Ten Commandments). Some penitents neglect to indicate when their confession is over. Many penitents list the incidents and situations that make them feel bad, despite the fact that how one feels is not always an accurate indicator of sinfulness. Some penitents confess the sins of their spouse or children. A growing number of penitents neither know nor have a copy of an Act of Contrition (how can this be?). Many penitents confess a sin, but then tell the confessor why it was not really a sin. All of this, added to the biographical confessions, makes the confessor’s job difficult, requiring him to interrupt to penitent.

  18. Elizabeth D says:

    Fr Fox, I think you are good to make yourself available to talk with people about their problems outside the confessional, I can find no availability of priests for this in my location. I am reasonably well trained as a confessee and generally to the point, but when there is no reasonable expectation of being able to discuss something with a priest at other times there can be a serious temptation of trying to bring other things into confession other than a cut and dried expression of one’s sins and contrition.

  19. APX says:

    I have a canonical question: Is the seal of confession also applicable to spiritual direction, which is the internal forum?

    No. If you want something under the seal of confession, you have to actually make a sacramental confession.

    I frequently tell people they are welcome to see me outside confession,
    That’s generous of you. Our priest will only meet with women once every four months because he doesn’t want to be a sounding board for women to talk about their feelings because their husbands won’t listen to them.

  20. magistercaesar says:

    Tomorrow is my university’s Lenten Penance service given by our Catholic Student Association. If it’s anything like last year’s, there will be 5-7 priests hearing confessions from 7:30 pm ~11:00 pm. It’s quite a sight seeing maybe more than a hundred college students in line for confession.

  21. capchoirgirl says:

    Oh, Dr. Peters, you’re totally right. TOTALLY right. It’s 99% of the time, the penitents, who are using it as a counseling session.

  22. Prayerful says:

    A confession of the kind of sin and the number of times they were committed rather than a shapeless narrative history of my sins seems correct.

    Before the Confiteor a person will say: ‘for these, and all sins I cannot remember I humbly beg pardon of God, and penance and absolution of you, father.’ That will cover slips of the mind. I am mindful there are others behind me, and that the priest will be giving communion at one or other of the altar rails. I hope I make a good confession.

  23. Jon says:

    There should be two doors for penitents, one marked “Men,” the other marked “Women.”

    It works like this:

    There are twenty people in line for confession, 8 men, and 12 women.

    The first door will allow penitents to enter for fifteen minutes, at which time all male penitents will no longer be in line.

    The second door will permit penitents for forty-five minutes, after which the remaining 10 women can come back tomorrow.

  24. mysticalrose says:


    I have had the exact opposite experience of priests of Opus Dei. Usually, I find they take 20-30 minutes per person! People sit down in line instead of standing because it takes so long. But at least, they don’t usually leave until everyone is confessed.

  25. Peregrinator says:

    One other thing I would suggest: when you get to the end of your sins, tell the priest that’s all.

    Like the old handmissals would say: “For these and all the sins of my past life, I am truly sorry and beg the pardon of God and absolution from you, Father.”

  26. Peregrinator says:

    I wonder if priests and penitents would be less chatty if there were always a barrier between them? Does face-to-face confession encourage priests and penitents to be chattier with one another?

  27. Mary Jane says:

    Jon, I am trying to see the humor in your comment (because I think you meant it to be a joke) but I am failing miserably.

  28. capchoirgirl says:

    Mary Jane, so am I….I will admit that it’s older women that I see using the confessional as “therapy”, but I am always fast.I have done an examination of conscience beforehand, I do kind and number when applicable, and I don’t chit-chat. It usually takes me three minutes, if that–unless the priest wants to chat.

  29. Aquinas Gal says:

    I’ve been going to confession at a certain church where the same older priest is usually there and he’s very good. But I think he may be having some cognitive problems because once he started to give absolution as soon as I got in the confessional, before I said anything! So I had to tell him after that I hadn’t confessed my sins yet. And another time he forgot to give absolution so I gently asked, “Father, what about the absolution?” And he said, “I’d better give it!” Another time I had to ask for the penance because he forgot that too. He’s a wonderful priest and I admire him so much for dedicating himself to the confessional. But it does raise the question of what to do if a priest starts to lose his cognitive powers. Other people might not realize they didn’t get absolution if he often forgets.

  30. New Sister says:

    @ Gregg the Obscure, always put the ‘big’ things first, & per Fr Z’s tips, “just say it.”

  31. cpttom says:

    To ensure proper “Brief, blunt and gone” confession I first prepare by a proper self examination before while waiting and follow the following formula during:
    “Forgive me Father for I have sinned, it has been x weeks (months) since my last confession.” Worse sins first, then the minor, number and kind of each then finish with “For these sins, and those sins that I have forgotten, I beg for your forgiveness.” (to let Father know I’m done, and just in case I forgot any, and asking for forgiveness). Wait (hopeful) for absolution and penance. Say the Act of Contrition, thank father and leave.

    I use the “box” instead of face to face. I don’t want to see the priest, and it makes it easier to confess completely. I dislike face to face, as it seems that both parties (Priest, penitent) become chatty and forget what it is they are doing. I think face-to-face should be abolished as it contributes to much of the problems of confessions taking so long and getting too much like counselling . I suppose in a parish were not many people want to go to confession this seems okeedokie, but if you’re a parish like mine where there has been a push to encourage regular confession it causes problems.

  32. cwillia1 says:

    Someone who is confessing two years of sins should probably make an appointment, confess and then practice more frequent confession. Many people simply don’t know how to confess their sins. They need practice. The instruction they may or may not have had years ago is just not enough.

    Speaking from personal experience, there can be an element of pride in doing a good job in the eyes of the priest. So one can delay confessing until one has the time to put the story together. Recently, I find myself bringing any sins that trouble me to the priest before Divine Liturgy. We stand together before icon of Christ at the iconostas, I confess, am absolved and we embrace . It is simple, short and sweet. It is also public, not the content of my confession but the fact of my reconciliation with Christ and with my brothers and sisters.

  33. St Donatus says:

    At our parish, we have confession before and during every Saturday and Sunday Mass. There will be confession all night during Passion and Holy weeks. The priests will spend about 1o minutes per person. We recently had a homily where they said that part of what we need to determine when preparing for confession is what we can do to change our behavior to avoid the sin. They said that the primary purpose of Confession is obvious but we need to be working out our sins. The priests generally will pick some sin when we are done with our list, and focus on how we can overcome this issue. Yes, this is bordering on spiritual direction, but the priests don’t have time to meet with everyone who wants an appointment for spiritual direction (we were also told this). In fact, I have tried for about two years to get in for an appointment for spiritual direction and have yet to get together with one of them.

    So personally, I appreciate the ten minutes per penitent and would certainly not give it up because it has helped me grow spiritually and overcome doubts due to wholesale destruction of the faith in the last 50 years and the many troubling problems in our Church leadership these days.

  34. Lili of the fields says:

    I agree with many here: it’s better to be prepared with a list containing all the necessary details and the act of contrition if you don’t know it by heart. I never had any problem in the confessional since I applied that method. All priests I have met in a confessional were nice and patient regardless of my capacity to impress them with a concise confession.
    In my little part of the world, a pamphlet is available for parishioners who seek to go back to confession after long time. It outlines the steps for a good confession and is free. We can also find similar information online.

  35. Supertradmum says:

    If one goes once a week or once every two weeks, as I did before I had to move to the suboonies, one has a shorter confession…

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