Too ashamed to go to confession?

I saw an article at CNA which had a great point in it.

[Fr. Fortea] also noted the importance of ensuring truly anonymous confessions. In each city, he said, “there ought to be at least one confessional where instead of a grill, there is a metal sheet with small holes, making it totally impossible to see the person making their confession.”  [That’s why even when there is a grill, it is good to have a thin cloth as a “curtain” over the grate.  Which also keeps Father from being coughed on, by the way.]

The person confessing should not be visible to the priest as they approach or leave, he continued. If there is a window on the priest’s door, it should not be transparent.

“With these measures, the vast majority of the faithful can resolve the problem of shame,” Fr. Fortea said.

The issue of anonymity is HUGE.  Fathers, think about this and take measures.  Bishops, remind your priests about good confessional practices.  This is important.  For example, Fathers, when coming to and going from the confessional, keep your eyes down.  Don’t look at people who are waiting or coming in.  Don’t talk to them.  Don’t greet them.  Don’t even look at them.  EVER.



Sure, it can be hard sometimes.  That’s okay… accept that it’ll be hard and just do it anyway.

Review my

There is no sin that we little mortals can commit that our all-powerful and loving God will not forgive, provided we ask for forgiveness.

The Sacrament of Penance was established by Jesus Christ.  He intended that the sacrament by the ordinary means through which we return to the state of grace.   No matter what you have done, Christ – in the person of the priests in the confessional – washes that sin from your soul with His own Blood.

Once you have received absolution, those sins will not be held against you.  They are gone.   You will remember them, but their guilt is no longer with you.  You have to do penance for them, but the sins are removed, they are eradicated from your soul, they are no more.


“I absolve you from your sins…”

When was the last time you heard those words from the priest after confessing all your sins in kind and number?   Hmmm?

While we live we have the chance to get things right with ourselves, our neighbors and our God.

Get things right.


Fathers, if you don’t now offer decent times for confessions in the parish entrusted to you and if you don’t preach about this important sacrament and about sin, you are probably going to go to Hell.

Merry Christmas.

You had better go to confession, too.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, GO TO CONFESSION, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Z., you just reminded me of a question I have had for a long time.
    If those sins are gone, why do we have to review them at the particular and general judgment? It seems to me they are gone only temporarily! I never understood this. [All our actions will be exposed, because they all have an effect on everyone else. And God’s glory will be increased because we will also see how they resolved according to His will. It’s all a matter of justice.]
    Can I just say a word to encourage my fellow penitents? It is simply the best feeling in the world to hear the words of absolution, the best. It is truly like a weight that is lifted. You leave the Church feeling clean as a whistle. It is not easy to admit our sins, it can be really hard to do that, but do it! Father’s heard whatever sin you and I confess. We didn’t invent anything new. Your minor discomfort is something to offer to God, and Father will do everything possible to help you if you just ask him.

  2. Sword40 says:

    Please explain Sins against the Holy Ghost. I’ve read that these cannot be forgiven. What are they?

  3. jdt2 says:

    Thank you, Father! I went to Confession today, in no small part to this blog. Confession is never discussed in my Parish; and it is so very helpful to be given clear instruction on what is required for our salvation.

    Merry Christmas!!!

  4. Ed S says:

    In our small parish, confessions are infrequent and irregular. Even trying to participate in the Five Saturday Devotion is difficult due to the challenge of going to confession. I am active in the parish and find it difficult to confess when I am sure that I will be recognized by our pastor. I know that is a weak excuse, but that is my challenge.

    I go to confession at a parish about 20 miles away because it is offered several times a week and for an hour before weekend masses. In fact, we are considering changing parishes for the simple fact that confession is readily accessible and it is easier to go to confession when there are more opportunities which make it harder to find excuses not to go.

  5. fishonthehill says:

    I just renovated my church. Before the renovation I had big confessional rooms. The new Confessional boxes have heavy velvet drapes with sound deadening material sewn within the velvet as entrances. Inside each confessional is a sliding window with non transparent material… the penitent can’t see me and I can’t see them… and the nontransparent materials permits speaking soto voce. If they so choose, they may request that I open the screen…. it is rare they request I do so. I hear more confessions than before the renovation.

  6. GrumpyYoungMan says:

    Such a good reminder. I travel often, and receive this sacrament on the road from time to time.

    I recall in the burbs of a major city a couple years back – I walked into the “Reconciliation Room,” and saw Father sitting behind the grille. It was one of those portable types. He was seated, I was walking in, so we could make eye contact above the top of the grille. He said, “Hi,” and smiled as I walked in.

    Why even bother with the illusion of anonymity like that? I felt like I should have just been face-to-face (shudder) at that point.

  7. gracie says:

    Ed S,

    “I . . . find it difficult to confess when I’m sure that I will be recognized by our pastor. I know that is a weak excuse, but that is my challenge.”

    If it helps, I don’t think it’s a weak excuse at all. Human nature being what it is, it’s quite possible that if a priest knows who you are when you are confessing to him then your Confession may flash through his mind when he next runs into you. The reality is that it may color his perception of you. It’s not that he’s trying to have this happen to him but it may occur despite his best efforts. Or at least in your mind you think it will which is just as bad. This was never a problem in the past when the priest and penitent couldn’t see each other and their voices were muffled. The best way around this is to go to a priest at another parish for confession.

  8. Front Pew View says:

    Two points. First, I think the benefit of anonymity runs both ways. I’ve heard that confessors often receive the grace of forgetting confessed sins. Nevertheless, priests are human, and the measures suggested here will probably benefit confessors as well. Relatedly, were a confessor ever pressed under law to break the seal (something that should not happen, but one never in this day), what a great defense to truly not know who visits the confessional!

    Second, a good friend once observed to me that confessions should be like a drive through–fairly transactional and rote, and the “window” is appropriate for such an analogy. The “face-to-face” format simply invites the penitent (and often the confessor) to make confession into a counseling session. Fine if a penitent needs that, but then make an appointment. Kind of maddening where there are 10 people in line for the _only_ 30 minutes of the week scheduled for confession, as seems to be the case in most parishes these days.

  9. Jack in NH says:

    Hey Fr. Z!
    I never get to hear “I absolve you from your sins…” because Fr. is talking in some sorta furrin’ language… sounds like Latin, or something… ;^)
    Merry Christmas, Father.

  10. acardnal says:

    The use of a photo of the pope reminded me of two of his good points: he’s been a big promoter of the sacrament of penance and he’s spoken of the existence of Satan.

  11. Bob B. says:

    While teaching 7th and 8th grade Religion, I found that not one of my students had gone into the box before. To rectify this, I took them over to the Church and had one of the rooms opened so I could explain how/what to do.
    I should have known things had gone too easily because the principal demanded to know what I was doing. Asking the principal if we still wanted them to go to Confession, and if so, then they needed to know how to do it outside of the two times they go during the school year.
    It was not to be. Since it is the parent’s job to take their children to Confession, we would continue the face-to-face method that my students hated.
    While the principal was at it, I had to stop teaching my students to serve Mass, no more reading of a Catholic novel in class, and I was to stop trying to teach Latin.
    The principal’s “ace”, however, was to tell me that my classroom was “too Catholic.”

  12. Mariana2 says:

    Everyone who can go to confession anonymously is very fortunate. In this Lutheran country (Scandinavia) I am fortunate indeed to be living in a town where there is a Catholic parish (there are all told eight Catholic parishes in the country), and of course there aren’t many priests. So our Parish Priest knows us all and there is no anonymity. (The PP in the nearest Catholic parish, two hours away, is a former chaplain of ours, he too recognises our voices.)

    So the instruction I was given, when taught about the Sacrament of Penance, was that I should confess all my sins but that I had ‘a right to my good reputation’, and didn’t have to confess embarrassing ones. The Swedish prayer book also says to make an examination of conscience, and then mention the principal sins to the priest.

    I’m beginning to think all of this advice was wrong.

    When accepted into the Holy Catholic Church I actually asked the PP if he remembers what people told him in confession (as it is a Lutheran idea that Catholic priests have their minds poisoned by all the ghastly things they hear). He said that as a very young priest he was sometimes surprised at what he was told, but quickly things started to go in by one ear and out by the other, and he doesn’t remember what people tell him in the confessional anymore.

  13. rtjl says:

    This is my biggest pet peeve. In my city opportunities for confession are offered sparingly and when they are offered, there is zero chance of anonymity. And then priests wonder why no one goes to confession. They then offer as reason for not offering confession that no one goes. Sheesh.

    This is not a problem for me peronally. I have picked out a regular confession time that works for me and I don’t care about anonymity. I am known well enough to most priests I would confess to that they would recognize me by my voice anyway. But I can absolutely see that many others would be discouraged by the lack of anonymity.

  14. pjsandstrom says:

    Just a comment from one who ‘has heard confessions’ both in and outside the box. If there is complete anonymity with nothing but the voice of the penitent — there is sometimes (perhaps often) impossibility with out some notion of age and even sex (?) of the penitent to discern the sinfulness and to respond appropriately. One, as I have often done when there is no evidence of age or sex, have prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance — which is not a bad thing. However, the poor confessor is often left in the position of ‘the wizard of OZ’ — which is often not helpful to the penitent. [Or… it can be helpful to the penitent.]

  15. pjsandstrom says:

    A second comment from a ‘working confessor’ about anonymity. The image of the Pope going to confession is in one of the Basilica’s in Rome where the ‘old common custom’ is and was for the men to kneel in front of the priest in the middle of the confessional — therefore, ‘face to face’, and I think that the two sides traditionally used by the women have ‘rather open grill work’ with no curtains. [Not really, no.] This means that the women also go ‘face to face’ — but have the ‘guard’ of the grill to avoid ‘scandal’.

  16. APX says:

    Please explain Sins against the Holy Ghost. I’ve read that these cannot be forgiven. What are they?
    The unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost has been interpreted by the Fathers of the Church as final impenitence. It’s not that God can’t forgive the sin because he is unable, but rather because the person refuses to give up his sin and bring it to God’s ineffable mercy.

    Fathers, if you don’t now offer decent times for confessions in the parish entrusted to you and if you don’t preach about this important sacrament and about sin, you are probably going to go to Hell.

    Merry Christmas.

    You should send that to Hallmark for one of their Christmas card greetings. It would go nicely with my Thank you card message, “Thank you for spending countless hours roasting in the confessional so that we won’t have to roast in Hell”.

  17. KAS says:

    Here we have wonderful confessionals, one side is face to face, the other has a kneeler and a several layer plastic perforated screen, the holes do not line up–so while you can see by the light that the priest is there, you cannot see him and he cannot see you, beyond being able to see that some person is there.

    I prefer the screen and kneeler, although a chair is there too in case the penitent is unable to kneel.

    I love that “Hallmark” shared above, “Thank you for spending countless hours roasting in the confessional so that we won’t have to roast in Hell.” I’ll second that! I am very grateful for the Sacrament of Penance.

    Our parish has scheduled hours M-W-F and Saturday, in the evenings before the evening Mass. Sometimes on Saturday, our second priest will stop in the check the line and if it is too long to finish in time for Mass prep, he will open up the second confessional. :) I feel very blessed to be where I am–even if the music is still horrid half the time, and ranges from marginal to good the rest of the time, and we only get the Novus Ordo–but that is mostly handled with reverence too. I read how the faithful are suffering in other places and thank God for the priests at our Parish!

  18. Fr. Kelly says:

    The Southern Nebraska Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Lincoln published a good column in answer to a question in the column “Ask the Register” yesterday.
    The question is:
    Q. It has been a really long time since I have gone to confession. I am nervous that I am not going to remember what to do when I get there. Also, because of my situation, may I go to confession during the regular hours, or do I need to make an appointment?
    For the full answer,:

    A. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are always on the road to deeper conversion. Every day we try to conform ourselves in a greater way to the person of Christ. Jesus won for us our salvation through his Paschal Mystery: his suffering, death and resurrection. We receive the fruits of the Paschal Mystery for the first time through Baptism. However, conversion is an ongoing process. We don’t always accept God’s love perfectly. Sometimes, we might even outright reject God’s love through mortal sin. Thus, we all need the sacrament of penance or confession.

    During his public ministry, Jesus forgave the sins of individuals through a real, human encounter with them. Jesus, of course, is divine and so he has the authority to forgive sins. The leading men of Jesus’ times were often critical of his claim of authority to forgive sin. This is one of the reasons that his forgiveness of sins was accompanied by a miracle of physical healing. For instance, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus saw the faith of a paralytic man, and because of his faith he tells him that his sins are forgiven. But, knowing that in their minds the scribes and Pharisees considered Christ’s forgiveness of sins to be blasphemy, he proved his authority through a miracle. He told the paralytic to pick up his mat and walk, and the paralytic was healed (Lk 5:17-26).

    When penitents approach the sacrament of confession today, they confess their sins to a priest who has the authority to forgive sins, not through his personal holiness, but by virtue of his ordination, which changes the very being of a priest to be able to act in the person of Christ through the administration of the sacraments. Thus, the sacrament of confession remains a real encounter with Jesus through the priest. Our spiritual lives benefit when we hear the words of Jesus through the priest, “I absolve you of your sins.”

    It is understandable that you are nervous to go to confession. That is normal. When we approach this sacrament of mercy, we are admitting sins that we are not proud of, or perhaps bad habits that plague and embarrass us. However, the Lord wants us to be free from our sins. He wants us to know that his mercy and love—not our sins to which we are attached—bring us peace and happiness. In a private revelation, Jesus told St. Faustina about his great desire to bestow his mercy, saying: “My heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners… I desire to bestow my graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them.”

    Don’t worry about forgetting what to do in the confessional. The priest will assist you, especially if you ask for help. However, do prepare for your confession. Remember to examine your conscience ahead of time. Usually there are examination of conscience sheets or pamphlets that can be found in the back of the church, or they can be obtained online. To receive absolution of our sins we must confess our sins with humility, be contrite of heart, and practice satisfaction (penance).

    If we are aware of any mortal sins, sins that are of a serious matter, done with sufficient reflection and full consent of our will, they are to be confessed in kind and number.

    Contrition means that we are truly sorry for our sins, and we are to have a sincere desire to avoid these sins in the future. Satisfaction is the penance that we perform after our confession. Our sins have a bad effect on the entire Body of Christ, the Church. While we can never completely undo our past sins, we do our penance in reparation for them.

    If you are concerned with the length of your confession, you may make an appointment with a priest. You may keep your anonymity even in this manner by agreeing to meet the priest in the confessional.

    However, no matter how long one might be away, you may go to confession during the normal times, for we remember that in making a good confession, one only needs to confess the essentials of the sin. After all, our Lord already knows our sins, we simply need to admit of them—not make excuses for them or mention the faults of others.

  19. PurrPurr says:

    Dear Mariana2,
    The teaching given to you about not having to confess sins that may hurt your reputation or embarrass you is WRONG. The idea that you need only confess your principal sins is also WRONG.
    God have mercy on the souls who promote such heresy. And I shutter to think of how many invalid confessions, and thereby, invalid declarations of absolution have occurred in your country.
    Go as far of a distance as necessary to find a priest who will not recognize you, and make a full, complete confession, including every mortal sin you have committed but have not confessed. One of those sins may be the sacrilegious reception of Communion since one cannot receive the Eucharist with an known, not confessed mortal sin on her/his soul.
    Find a devout, faithful, traditional priest with whom to discuss this. In other words, although I believe I am correct, I am not a theologian. You deserve to know the Faith in its true fullness, not someone’s opinion about it.

  20. majuscule says:

    I had not gone to confession for many many years when I came back to the church. It took me several months of attending Mass and a desire to receive the Eucharist to make myself go. My confession was truly the most difficult thing I have ever done.

    I did not make an appointment, I just showed up for the short once-a-week Saturday 45 minutes. The devil kept whispering in my ear as I sat in the parking lot beforehand: You don’t have to do it. No one will know! I went ahead into the church. The devil put up more stumbling blocks that I won’t go into now. I am just thankful that I went into the screened side of the confessional.

    The relief I felt after absolution wiped away all the fear and anxiety I’d felt leading up to confession. Getting through this most difficult ordeal has helped me face other struggles in my life. (And made frequent confession easier.)

    Fortunately the priest was visiting from another country and left for home the next week. God does work in mysterious ways!

  21. frjim4321 says:

    In addition to having the largest Lenten Communal Penance Service in the county, we also have the most priests, and the most stations with screens (either permanent or temporary). I do not like that most penance services seem to expect face-to-face, with pairs of chairs scattered throughout the church. I also do not like the fact that nearly all Communal Penance Services do not conform to the Rite: (1) They do not include the Lord’s Prayer; or (2) They do not include a global Act of Contrition. Even though it’s clear to me that the communal form is the preferred one, (SC27) you could almost convince me that it should probably almost never be done, because it is almost never done correctly.

  22. David says:

    Penitents certainly have a right to remain to remain anonymous in the confessional. On the other hand, I have found that priests who have heard my ‘anonymous’ confessions regularly and know perfectly well who I am, are remarkably good in social contexts at never giving the slightest impression of knowing anything personal about me. I really do have the feeling that it’s Father X at the parish social but Christ in the confessional.

    [My experience is that confessors don’t remember much from confessions.]

  23. NancyP says:

    We were blessed to live for two years at an overseas military duty station. Our Catholic chaplain, who was a military reservist, was wonderful about sharing the basics of sacraments and liturgy with our faith community. He took the children to a local church every year for a church tour, since military chapels lack many of the architectural and sacramental details (relics, for example) that traditional churches have. One of the most wonderful things he did was to preach on the topic of confession. He told us that God gives His priests the gift of forgetfulness; what they hear in the confessional does not encode itself into their long-term memories.

    When I think about it, this makes sense. No human could bear the weight of listening to the sins of so many people, so Christ carries that cross for our priests. (I have been the recipient of one person’s Vietnam War stories – horrific ones – and so I have a tiny inkling of what it feels like to hear things one does not want to know about. What a blessing it must be to have those memories taken away by Our Lord!) I am so grateful for the time our local priests devote to hearing confessions – every year it seems as though there are more opportunities to receive this sacrament on a regular basis.

    Thank you, Father Z., for encouraging all of us to confess our sins!

  24. Patrick L. says:

    “Once you have received absolution, those sins will not be held against you. They are gone. You will remember them, but their guilt is no longer with you. You have to do penance for them, but the sins are removed, they are eradicated from your soul, they are no more.”

    I am not sure I understand that, if these confessed sins won’t be held against a person, then why does he still have to do penance for them? Are there consequences for not doing penance for these sins? If so, then wouldn’t that imply that the sins are being held against him? If not, then does that mean that the penance isn’t necessary?

    [It’s a matter of justice. You still are obliged to make reparation of some kind for the harm done to God and neighbor.]

  25. Patrick L. says:

    Thank you for educating me. I realized after posting my question that it may have elicited the response, “Of course we have to sincerely intend to do the penance that the priest gives us.” But there has been another question in my mind about whether the penance that the priest gives a person is sufficient for the remission of all temporal punishment from all his past sins. [No, unlikely.] From my other readings, I had concluded that it isn’t sufficient, but I still wasn’t entirely sure if I had concluded correctly about that.

    [Review the Church’s teachings on indulgences.]

  26. RAve says:

    Merry Christmas, dear Father Z. I sit here, freshly shriven after Advent Sunday Mass, waiting to attend Midnight Mass, having refrained from reception of Holy Communion this morning for good reason. Last year I would have just rationalized the situation and gone to Communion. I have you to thank for my new outlook and habit toward these sacraments and my more frequent Confessions. What a lovely Christmas gift. May God protect and defend you from all evils and perils, and may he continue to use your priesthood, and your selfless acts in service to that priestly ministry, to draw people closer to theord God Almighty. Amen.

  27. bobk says:

    Orthodox layman here, the difference in approach kind of surprises me. We have no anonymity. It’s our priest, we love him, he loves us, we know God loves us, that’s why the whole thing is there. I can’t imagine pretending my confessor “doesn’t know” it’s me. He received me into the Church, gives me and my family (hears them confess too) communion every week. When I receive communion he knows it’s me, he calls me by my name. If he didn’t know I had been to confession of late, why would he let me receive? I wasn’t married by a priest who couldn’t see me.
    I don’t go to a physician or dentist anonymously. They’re worried for *my* health and it makes sense that they know what hurts *me*. Confession is not fun. Having to admit my faults and what an unlovely creature I am is embarrassing. It always will be. St. Peter denied the Lord three times in public and it appears in roughly a “public” setting he was reconciled with Him. I can’t expect to be better than he was and I know the same Lord knows me and receives my confession with my beloved father confessor, who I trust. Have a blessed Nativity! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

    [In the Latin Church anonymity is not obligatory. However, it is an option that should be provided.]

  28. Mariana2 says:


    Thank you very much!

  29. Patrick L. says:

    I remember listening to a homily by Fr. Wade Menezes, and reading writings by Fr. John Hardon and passages in the Catechism about this teaching: that through absolution, the guilt of sin is removed, but temporal punishment can (and, I gather, usually does) still remain. I had some difficulty with understanding this. I think the reason I had difficulty might be because in our nation’s system of justice, one is either guilty of an offense, in which case punishment is due, or one is not guilty, in which case punishment is not due. In contrast – if I understand the Church teaching – following absolution, one is no longer guilty, but punishment can still be due. I think that maybe a distinction I wasn’t realizing is that in our nation’s system of justice, there is no corresponding situation in which a person was guilty of the offense but is no longer guilty of it (maybe a pardon? But even in this case I am not familiar enough with the act of pardoning to know whether this removes the guilt or just the punishment. In any case, it seems that with pardoning, the punishment is removed, unlike with absolution).

    I’ve sometimes heard this teaching explained like this. Imagine you are a child, and you break a window. Your parents might forgive you, but you still have to pay for the window. But this analogy I guess breaks down, because even in this case, after your parents forgive you, you are still guilty of breaking the window. Whereas, if I understand the teaching of the church, following absolution, one is no longer guilty of the sin.

    Thinking through this teaching, I think it naturally leads to the question: well, if the removal of guilt does not remit the punishment, then what does it actually do? If I understand my readings of Fr. Hardon on the topic, I believe the answer is that the forgiveness restores Grace in the soul.

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