From a reader…
Hi Fr. X: [I’m sorry. Fr. X is not available right now. May I be of help?]
I have a question for an Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist. [You’ve come to the right place.]
I think I read someone where once that it was permitted for a penitent to omit confessing mortal sins during confession if his/her confession could be heard by other people. Is that true? I ask because the church where I confess my sins has one of those open style Italian confessionals and the church being old and small, and formally Anglican, thus not being built with one, anything, even a whisper can be heard from the confessional by anyone else in the church.
First, that situation in that church where confessions, even very quiet confessions, can be heard really ought to be addressed right away. I don’t believe that “anyone else in the church” can hear even a whisper from across the church, unless the place is a “whisper gallery” which would be silly.
Also, this reminds me of times when I have told penitents to lower their voice and whisper so that no one outside can hear what they say. Some times kids, others too, come in and it’s,
“BLESS ME FATHER I HAVE SINNED IT’S BEEN….”
“Do me a favor,” quoth I, whispering. “Speak very quietly so no one outside can hear you. I’m right next to you and I can hear you just fine if you whisper. Can you do that? Okay?“
“Alright, go ahead with your confession.”
“BLESS ME FATHER I HAVE SINNED IT’S BEEN….“
If there is a situation in which everyone can hear everything, such as in a hospital ward, etc., and there isn’t a way to have even a moment of privacy, a priest can give absolution to a penitent whom he is convinced is truly sorry for her sins and intends to amend her life. This is a kind of “General Absolution”. This is particularly done in the case of danger of death. However, at the earliest opportunity that person should make a regular auricular confession of all mortal sins.
However, in this case where there is no danger of death, but rather just danger of being overheard, I would either go to another place for confession or make arrangements for confession at another time, when there is nobody in church.
You might bring your concerns to the pastor. Perhaps he can designate a place for the waiting line to halt that is far enough away to preserve privacy. No one will object to that.
And, to all you sinners out there, if you overhear something in another person’s confession you are BOUND not to reveal it. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? (Note well that I did not whisper that.) Also, if you realize that you can hear the content of the confession, then move away or block your ears or something. OKAY? CAN YOU DO THAT?
GO TO CONFESSION, even if it has to be in some other place for a while.