ASK FATHER: Father told penitent to go to a different priest

12_08_16_confessionFrom a reader…


Last year during Advent, my parents went to a Confession service at a parish different than theirs and my dad had an unusual situation. This particular parish has a large Hispanic population, so they had several bilingual priests available. My dad entered the confessional and he barely got through saying Bless Me Father, when the priest informed him if didn’t speak Spanish he should go into another confessional even though this priest spoke English just fine. My dad was rather upset about this. Should the priest have heard his confession, even if my dad had unknowingly entered the Spanish line?

Would that we all spoke Latin so that we could understand each other, worship in one language, and read Leo the Great, Augustine, and Lee Child in the original language. Sad, but it is not so.

There could be circumstances whereby a confessor might ask someone to go to another confessor, if there were a language barrier.

In this case, it seems that the confessor didn’t have difficulty communicating in English (though he might have). It might have been the case that there was only one priest at the Penance Service who was fluent in Spanish, and with a preponderance of Spanish speaking penitents it made sense to reserve his confessional for the merely Spanish speaking sinners.

Still, that seems a little blunt for a confessor. He caused the penitent some embarrassment (having to leave the confessional and then immediately get into another line).  Also, this sort kind of experience could provides people with an excuse to avoid the sacrament altogether and also bad mouth priests.

Fathers, welcome penitents into your confessional. Don’t shoo them away!

I hope your father got over whatever anger or embarrassment he may have felt and that he found another priest to shrive him.

Remember that priests, too, are people, and sometimes have bad days.

Don’t let Father’s bad day, or bad temperament, or silly comment imperil your eternal soul!

Review, please, my 20 TIPS.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The twenty tips are helpful, mind if I print them?

    If the priest gives too easy a penance (i.e. 5 Aves to one who says multiple rosaries a day)
    may we ask for a harder penance ? Thanks

  2. mschu528 says:

    In these situations there is a simple preventative solution: a sign on the confessional door indicating what language(s) that priest speaks. I’ve seen them used here in the States for English/Spanish, and in larger European churches (especially touristy ones) they are ubiquitous. Simply look for the confessional indicating the language you are most comfortable with, and… problem solved.

  3. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    I don’t have this problem now, but what if confession isn’t heard behind a screen, or the situation of having multiple languages available at the same time is theoretical instead of actual?


    I’ve always understood that, except in the case of the penance one didn’t understand (read Scripture and think about what it means in your life) or of being told to do something immoral, part of the efficacious reception of the sacrament was the submission of the will to that of the confessor.

  4. APX says:


    One is free to ask the priest for more penance. Our priest encourages is to ask for more penance to make up for those who can’t do more penance. On the other hand, there is also great merit in humble obedience to one’s confessor and accepting the smaller penance with humility, keeping in mind that the priest giving you that penance is sitting in the person of Christ, and just because we think we’re capable of doing more, maybe we’re not that good at doing more. Maybe if we do more, we might not do it as well as if we had done less, but with more attention and devotion, thus actually merited less than if we would have accepted the smaller penance.

  5. LarryW2LJ says:

    I am second generation American. All four of my grandparents came from Poland. In an effort to assimilate, whenever the family (both sides, my Mom and Dad’s) were out in public, English was spoken. But at home, amongst themselves, Polish was spoken. My Dad grew up in Pennsylvania and went to St. Stan’s parish in Shamokin, PA. I guess they only spoke Polish within the parish, as that’s the only way my Dad knew how to make his confession.

    When he was in the Army during WWII, the priests listened to his confession in Polish, even though they didn’t understand a word of it. Maybe because it was wartime, that merited the exception, but my Dad said those Catholic chaplains had no problem giving him absolution.

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