ASK FATHER: Priest attacked me for how I made my confession.

From a reader…


Today, I went for confession to the capuchins like I usually do. The priests there tend to be great confessors. However, today I had quite a bad experience.

I confess in kind and number and I keep a list with me to make sure I don’t forget anything. It is what works for me, but today the confessor I had made it a point to attack me about my style of confessing. He said that he thought that I live (and confess) in a too rigid way and that he thought that I had no life energy, no happiness, in me despite my young age. I was quite shocked by his words and I immediately felt down….

He used an ad-lib style of absolution which did include the essential words. However, as you might imagine, I feel miserable. I know how the Sacraments work, but I don’t think I am worthy again to approach our Lord in communion. Would it be a sacrilege on my part to visit another priest to confess my sins and receive absolution again, despite the (valid, but illicit) absolution of today? My soul feels lost and it hungers for closure. What to do father?

I would really appreciate your advice.

First, I am really sorry.   I would like to apologize to you for every stupid thing he said and did.  I will do some penance in reparation for his bad treatment of you.

Second, lay people don’t have to take this mistreatment.  I suggest that you write a brief letter to that Capuchin’s superior, either in the house in which he lives or his provincial.  Keep it very brief.  Start with the facts.   Conclude with how you felt about it after.  Make it much like the note you sent to me.  However, include the place and time and the NAME of that priest.  Send a copy of that same letter to the local diocesan bishop.   Also, add a statement that you realize that, because of the Seal, that priest is forbidden to talk about that particular confession or any other.  You write to let you know what YOUR experience was, apart from what that confessor might respond.

I think you should write not just because this priest acted like an oaf, and he did, and a superior will recognize that.  He also didn’t stick to the form of absolution.  That’s serious.  Who knows what he is doing?

If the superior or the bishop write back with something stupid, save it and consider sending copies to the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome.

We don’t have to take this from confessors.  They are not our overlords or judges.  Christ is the Judge and they sit in his place especially to exercise mercy.  They are not our accusers: WE ARE.  We are our own prosecutors in the confessional.

“Life energy.”  What a load of rubbish.

Yes, if you are not sure about having been validly absolved, you can by all means go to another confessor.  You can go and relate the experience to another confessor as well even if you think you were validly absolved.

Alas, friends, any one who reads this: sometime we run into these dopey priests.  Most of them are not malicious.  They think they are really onto something!   They have a rather high regard of themselves, which is not necessarily a good thing in a confessor, who ought to receive confessions in a state of confident humility.

Never let a bad confessor keep you away from going to confession regularly.   As a matter of fact, what I would hope you would all do in these cases is,

  1. leave the confessional with the resolve to avoid that one, except in urgent need
  2. say a prayer for the confessor as you knock the dust from your heels
  3. go straight away, if possible, to another confessor and, even if you don’t need to confess because the idiot gave you valid absolution, tell that priest thank you for hearing confessions.

Yes, the idea is: fight back by getting right back up on the confession horse again.

Don’t take it lying down.  Don’t be silent about it.  Don’t let it slow you down or discourage you.

Everyone… pray for confessors and …

everyone together…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, GO TO CONFESSION, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Sometime around 1980, when I was a child, I was actually discouraged from making my confession one Saturday when I went to confession. The priest seemed very impatient with this confession business and said he wanted to hear what GOOD things I had done. I was very surprised, as this was not at all what I expected. No doubt he had pastoral theories of his own, but I was left unsettled by the experience and did not make much of an attempt to go to confession for years after that.

  2. Oh my! I will pray for this person who was treated so badly by a “priest”. Can you imagine going to Confession with all the best intentions of spilling your guts in whatever way spills them for you and then get this treatment? Shame on Fr. Whoever!

    If the the person with the question is reading this, please don’t feel bad because you did nothing wrong and are innocent of any of the things he made you feel like you are guilty of. It makes me wonder who was really sitting on the other side of the grate. Doesn’t sound like anything a faithful priest would say. Can you just imagine Jesus saying that to Mary Magdalene? NOT! As to the “life energy” bit. HOG WASH!

  3. iPadre says:

    How accompanying of him.

  4. SanSan says:

    Thank you Father. This post made me cry. I have had this type of experience and by the grace of God, I was able to seek out holy priests that could help me.

  5. zag4christ says:

    I went to Confession this past Saturday. Normally there are two priests, but there was only one. The priest who was hearing confessions is relatively new. He was ordained 5 years ago. His previous occupation was US Army Special Forces. It was one of the most profound experiences I have ever have had. Praise be to Jesus Christ for the His Glory, and for the shepherds He has called, and as Fr. Z says, “Go to Confession”.
    Peace and God bless

  6. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    I had an interesting experience recently. I realise a confessor might ask questions to aid a good confession, but post-absolution he began asking lots of questions about my accent (I was behind the grill), where I’m from, how long I’d been ordained. If I’d wanted a chat, I wouldn’t have gone for the ‘anonymous’ option. Plus, when I finally got out, I got a few glares from the long line waiting for the only English-speaking confessor on duty.

  7. Elizzabeth says:

    The worst one that happened to me (30 odd years ago, and I still remember where!) was when the Priest butted in before I could finish with the “Bless me Fa..” saying ‘we don’t use formulas any more, just confess’. Of course I was totally thrown, and couldn’t remember my sins. His whole attitude was unpleasant, and I was glad to get away. I never went back; but do you know Fr Z? I’ve never thought to pray for him, so thanks for the reminder! As I get older things keep coming up from my memory to nudge me about my less than charitable responses to situations in my past!

  8. FrCharles says:

    I apologize on behalf of the Capuchin Order. Please don’t be discouraged.

  9. HeatherPA says:

    I just want to say that after years of reading your blog, Fr. Z, and seeing these posts come up time and again, I have finally been able to not fall apart because of a bad Confessor but reflect on the myriad of posts and advice you have given, and act according.
    You are heard and do a great service here. Keep these coming.
    Thank you.

  10. Benedict Joseph says:

    Were such a man practicing another service — shall we say medicine — with the same regard for the simple standards common sense provides, he would be out on his ear. And perhaps with a court suit on his back. At the rate we are going this “confessor” could easily rise in rank and authority. He requires not only prayer, but a boot.

  11. Hidden One says:

    Penitent, take courage! Clearly Our Lord is confident enough in you to let you suffer in this appalling way. He is with you, even when His representatives do such reprehensible things.

  12. siculocatholic says:

    I feel for you. I had the same thing happen to me at a popular Franciscan Shrine in Boston where they hear confessions for a good portion of the day. The particular day that I went in, I was feeling very down about what had been going on in my life. While I confessed, the priest interrupted and said something so lewd that I was speechless. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t answer. I just said to him to continue with the absolution which he did correctly and I left.

    I called the Shrine of the Oblates of the BVM and discussed what had happened and went and confessed again. The priest there did not say that it was a sin to confess again and counseled me in my dilemma. As a result, I would never go to the Franciscan Shrine again unless there were absolutely no other options.

  13. Pius Admirabilis says:

    I also was once deeply hurt by a confessor (also a religious priest): I usually confess once per week, or at least every two weeks, and so my list wasn’t quite as long (thank goodness). But when I began to name my sins, he would interrupt me after every sin and give me a little sermon. That made me really uncomfortable, but the really bad thing was: He told me “those aren’t sins”. I, of course, can’t say what sins I have confessed. Only that those weren’t per se mortal sins, but they laid heavy on my conscience. And so, when I go to the Sacrament of Mercy, I am confronted with a priest who tells me that I am being too rigid, too childish (I ate chocolade during Lent, and I confessed that; his answer: “That’s what children do, you are a grown up, and you should do other forms of penance!”), and that my sins weren’t sins at all. I must say that his words wounded me, and I, despite being a manly man, felt like crying. I wanted absolution for my sins, and I didn’t get any, because my sins weren’t “grave enough”.

    My very simple solution: Get a Father Confessor, a spiritual guardian and director, whom you can trust. Look out for one, or maybe even two or three priests that you can work with, and then go to them exclusively. That is what I am doing, and I couldn’t be happier. My FSSP priest who very regularly hears my confession, is a blessing.

  14. If it won’t cause too much upset, I’d like to take a different tack on this.

    Is it possible the confessor was dealing with a penitent who was in the grip of scruples? Or perhaps he thought he was? Scruples is a real problem, and one of the things that a confessor will do to help the scrupulous penitent is to encourage a different manner of confessing. I am not excusing the manner of this priest — and he certainly shouldn’t take liberties with the form of the sacrament — but I wonder if that was a factor here?

    Also, I would note the penitent here acknowledged the absolution s/he received was valid. In that case, I would discourage repeating the confession. This, too, is something that afflicts those with scruples: they wonder if they really were absolved, or if they need to re-do their confessions.

    Of course, I don’t know this penitent, so I can only speculate and I may be off the mark here.

  15. Joy65 says:

    THAT is why we MUST pray for ALL Priests, Religious Brothers & Sisters, Deacons, Seminarians, our Pope, Bishops, Cardinals and all discerning vocations to and preparing for the Priesthood and Religious Life. They are human beings just like us and they have bad days just like us. But they carry a LOT more on their shoulders than most of us do, especially these days.

    WE NEED good holy devout Priests because without them we have NO Mass, NO Eucharist, NO Sacraments. They need our UNceasing prayers for God’s grace to do what they need to do and to do so with humility, wisdom, kindness, TRUTH and charity. I pray that Father Son Holy Spirit, Blessed Mother Mary, All Holy Saints and Angels surround and protect them all from satan and all his evil ways.

  16. LarryW2LJ says:

    “Rigid” is really making it into the lexicon, isn’t it?

    Well then ……. Happy All Rigids Day, everyone!

  17. pray4truth says:

    That similar nonsense has happened to me, also, more than once. I’ve had enough, so, now when the priest is off track, I speak up respectfully. Just a few months ago when I went to confession, we had a substitute priest who tried to give me a flakey, vague penance that would’ve drug out over the next week. I politely and calmly replied, “Father, I prefer a penance that I can do right after confession so I know it’s done and I won’t forget about it, so can you please give me something like that?” He said, “Well, I want something that’ll mean something, not just a few easy prayers.” I said, “That would be great and it WILL mean something!” I waited through his eye roll, head shake, sigh/grunt, and silence while looking him in the eyes (yes, it was the horrid face to face)… but he finally, reluctantly granted my request. I smiled and said, “Thank you, Father, and God bless you!”

  18. pray4truth says:

    p.s. I do pray and sacrifice for priests, especially the naughty ones. I hope they will do the same for me, too :-)

  19. Thorfinn says:

    Variety in the confessional is extremely disconcerting for the penitent.

    Pastors especially, please, I beg, have handouts and/or signs explaining what to expect. Consider posting the basics up in the confessional, including an act of contrition. I’ve never seen this and I don’t know why; surely this would help keep penitents on track and provide fair warning about any elements that could be surprising to the average penitent off the street: “What do you mean how many – 15 or 20, who knows – I don’t actually notch my bedpost!”

    But absolution is absolution – I take it and run with it, or fly more like.

  20. bibi1003 says:

    Earlier this year I made my confession at a different parish. I couldn’t remember all the words of the Act of Contrition so part way through I stopped and said I was sorry but I had drawn a blank and couldn’t remember the rest. The priest told me that if I couldn’t say it from memory, I didn’t really mean it.

    [Look. Priests can have bad days, but that is reprehensible. Heck, even priests of several decades can freeze up during a prayer they say everyday. Don’t let that yahoo bother you. Do your best in the confessional. If you want, you can bring a printed text of the Act with you.]

  21. Hb says:

    While the priest’s approach to confession here is cringe-worthy, I found myself initially disagree with Fr. Zs recommendation of writing a letter of complaint. It was a gut reaction. This is mainly because a priest cannot respond or defend himself to any charge regarding the Sacrament of Penance. Strictly speaking, we should not even acknowledge that we heard a particular person’s confession.

    On my second reading, I changed my mind because of two essential and objective issues. First, the priest seems to discourage confessing in kind and number, which is required of us (as best as we can remember)regarding mortal sins for a valid confession and confessing venial sins that way certainly wouldn’t hurt. Secondly, the priest did not use the proper form. A superior can easily address these two issues with the priest without asking about any particular confession or placing the priest at risk of violating the seal. If the priest persists, his faculties should be removed.

    In the seminary, I went to confession to a priest who insisted I didn’t confess any sin. I’m not scrupulous and insisted that what I confessed was objectively sinful, so he gave me absolution for whatever sin is there even though he didn’t believe what I confessed was a sin. Leaving the confessional, I felt unsure of his intention to absolve what I knew to be objectively sinful. No Catholic should be subjected to this professional incompetence. It is shameful that the fella who wrote Fr Z was subjected to this nonsense too.

  22. Hb says:

    Oh my, reading some of the stories about priest behavior in the confessional is making me cringe too. Wow.

  23. maternalView says:

    “Earlier this year I made my confession at a different parish. I couldn’t remember all the words of the Act of Contrition so part way through I stopped and said I was sorry but I had drawn a blank and couldn’t remember the rest. The priest told me that if I couldn’t say it from memory, I didn’t really mean it.”

    WOW. Then there are those who don’t even ask for the act of contrition (I always said it silently as they did the absolution). I too as an adult of many years once drew a total blank on it. The priest said that’s ok I’ve had people say their dinner blessing! He told me just to do the best I could in saying I was sorry but I was so rattled I couldn’t even do that so he helped me out a bit. Now around parishes by me they have it taped to the kneeler.

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