Confession and its role in scandals


Let me start by saying that I’ve always been a firm believer that the Sacrament of confession is a treasured gift from God. Confession is part of our Catholic identity, and we need it now more than ever before.

Unfortunately, after reading some accounts of abuses by our clergy, it appears that some opportunistic predators have defiled this blessed sacrament as a means to take advantage of their victims.
This violation of the sacred trust with one’s confessor is psychologically difficult to reconcile for many faithful Catholics.

Aside from the physical opportunity of being alone with a predator during confession, there are also the psychological and emotional aspects of sharing one’s deepest and darkest secrets with a person who may use them for blackmail. This aspect is especially frightening for parents sending young children into confession.

Countries are beginning to attempt the passage of laws to break the seal of confession and require confessors to report instances of abuse that have been confessed to them, and I’m not sure if this would help or hurt in the long run.

Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen floating around which may address these issues:

-Returning to traditional confession booths with partitions (may address some of the physical issues?)
-End face to face confessions (may restore some anonymity)
-Having a third party present during confession (could be optional, for parents or caregivers?)
-Allowing recording devices to be present
-Making use of the telephone or internet for remote confession and absolution (may also help make confession more accessible)

At a time when confession attendance is at an all-time low, what can the Church do to restore people’s trust in confession?


3-5 are non-starters. They violate the seal of confession.


I’m not sure if this could ever be possible as I’m not a canon lawyer, but I suspect it could be for two reasons. I don’t see why at least multiple priests couldn’t be present to hear a confession–they already concelebrate masses. And interpreters I recently learned from another commenter here, are allowed, but the seal extends to them. In fact, if you’re waiting for confession and you accidentally hear something, it extends to you too.

This brings up a problem for me when it comes to parents sitting in. They have to hear their child’s sins and then can not act on what they hear in any way. I frankly don’t see many parents observing that. The last thing we need is a bunch of parents excommunicating themselves by breaking the seal. The thing we need even less is a generation of kids terrified to be honest in confession because of their parents being there. Helicopter parenting is bad enough these days.


None of this is possible—priests can’t even share what they’ve heard with other priests. Two of them can’t sit in.

Obviously, parents and caregivers can’t be present.


I believe a third party deliberately listening to a confession would be automatic excommunication for the listener, so someone else in the confessional is a non starter.

What is revolting to me is hearing about phony confessions being made by abusers - they “confess” not for absolution but to permanently silence the confessor on the subject due to the seal of confession. That is pure evil and nothing else.

To me it sounds like ending the practice of face-to-face confession might be a no-brainer.


This seems to be the best idea I think.
Our confessional is a very small room attached to the Sacristy and our priest sits opposite the person confessing. However confession time is a half hour before Mass and a server sits outside in the Sacristy mostly always. It works.


Well, that only applies to what the priest learns in confession. Not what he learns elsewhere.


I think you bring up some great issues, but I don’t think the issues with confession are quite what you believe. Bringing back the confessional booths won’t protect people in my opinion. I live in the Phoenix area where Dale Fushek was active with the Teen Life Program that resulted in such abuse. Generally, his modus operandi seemed to be to pre-condition teens through confession. Asking them probing questions about their sex life, either with the intention of getting off, or to identify those who might be easy targets for manipulation in other events and situations. I don’t think the physical abuse occurred during confession. It was the means by which he identified who he wanted to target.

So from that standpoint, the confessional booth doesn’t offer a physical protection, because the abuse usually occurred later. And, I think anyone who has ever used a confessional booth, let’s be honest, priests get to know their parishioners. The confessional booth is of limited value for someone who uses it frequently.

The real problem is that the seminaries have been coopted for quite a while by predatory people in positions of power. And as a result, there are probably many men being ordained that have no business being ordained. I think that’s where reform needs to start. Just my opinion.


There are instances when a third party can listen in with consent of the penitent. One of the most common examples is when an interpreter is necessary. In such case the interpreter is bound by the seal just as much as the priest is, as is anyone who accidentally overhears a confession.


The use of the internet and telephone has already been studied and deemed invalid. The sacraments are meant to be tangible and personal encounters with God’s grace. The only exception is matrimony, which can be contracted by proxy in certain extreme circumstances.


I doubt the seal holds if there is no intention of seeking forgiveness.


Give General Absolution at the Penitential Rite at the beginning of every Mass

Those who need spiritual direction from a priest can make and appointment with the priest.



Nope. If there is any confession, even if the penitent is not absolved because he indicates he has no repentance whatsoever, it counts and the Confessor is bound to secrecy.


NOPE these should NOT EVER happen


I need a little info here. If abuse hasn’t happened in confessionals why aren’t safeguarding techniques working? Ie priests etc are not allowed to be alone with someone or out of public view etc. I can see how that might be difficult in a situation whereby there is an emergency of some kind which requires a priest.
If it has happened in a confessional would anyone really mind the sacrament being conducted in say a sound proofed transparent booth?


Confessions, celibacy, ANYTHING but addressing the actual problem

Its like telling a smoker “just eat better and get more sleep” without telling him to stop smoking cause it will hurt his feelings…just madness.


Ok. It’s complex. So if a priest can’t be wired and his conversations recorded* on Church equipment and we can’t use transparent confessionals and safeguarding is inadequate then I don’t see how it can be prevented.

Are they carrying out heavy duty psychometric testing on seminarians?

*with the exception of confessions.


Is there not any advice information about what to expect and what not to expect in confession which people could be armed with priorly?


The root cause of the problem is severely morally corrupt priest.
It should not be difficult to root these guys out of the priesthood, if
we have the will to do it. It will be painful. Short of that actions are akin to rearranging the deck chairs in the Titanic!


What cradlecatholic is talking about seems to be a great idea, but i also think that if they consult on this it would be possible to devise a psychometric test, if one doesn’t exist, to reveal otherwise hidden tendencies.* That would be something that all existing priests and seminarians could be required to submit to.

I don’t see how we can completely eliminate risk though. I suppose the penalties could be increased somehow since eternal damnation doesn’t seem to work on priests who have obviously lost their faith or indeed are suffering from psychological problems.

*the fear of such tests revealing such tendencies could be enough to provoke some to retire or quit, which could also help reduce the problem.

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