Confession and Privacy

Tonight I wanted to go to Confession. At the Church by my house, Confession is offered during Masses on Saturday evening or Sunday, or by appointment only. They are not offered before Mass.

The priest hearing Confessions tonight was a visiting priest. At the back of the chapel, there is a small room off to the right where confession is heard. When you enter the small room, there is a tiny confessional with a screen and if you proceed a foot or two farther, a table where confession can be heard face to face.

I wanted to have confession behind the screen, but the way the priest was sitting at the table (usually the priest waits in the part behind the screen. It is hard to explain in writing, but I didn`t go to Confession because I wanted to go behind the screen, but there was no way to do that without telling the priest, but by that point, we would already be face to face.

Also, normally, the priest hits turns a red light on to signal when someone is giving confession, but the priest didn`t know that, so the green light was on the whole time. I was worried if I entered for confession, someone else would have come in during the middle of it.

If this happens again, is it appropriate to ask a fellow parishoner to go in and ask the priest to sit in the area behind the screen? I know I could have just gone in and had a face-to-face confession, but the table between the priest and where you sit to confess was very small, and it made me uncomfortable.

There is another Catholic Church in Tokyo, but there the confessionals offer very little privacy. Each confessional consists of three small booths, and the priest sits in the middle booth and people waiting for confession sit on either side. I found out the hard way, but when it is your “turn” the priest turns to your side, and opens the screen, and hears your confession. But the person sitting on his other side can hear what you are saying unless you really whisper.

I will go to Confession tomorrow because I do not want to let pride or fear get in the way of receiving the sacrament. But I wish there was more privacy.

There is a definite shortage of priests here. But I am thinking about writing a letter requesting that Confession be heard before Mass. That way I won`t feel rushed since it is during Mass, and maybe there will be a way to address the privacy issue. I know I could call and make an appointment, but what few priests there are, are so over-stretched as it is. Also, when you make an appointment for Confession, how do you make it, while still maintaining privacy? Does the priest simply wait in the confessional?

Part of me is upset with myself that I did not simply go in and have Confession face-to-face. But the room was very brightly lit and the whole atmosphere made me uncomfortable.

On a separate but related note, I understand continuing Confession into Mass when there are still people waiting to confess, but it seems nice to be able to go before Mass, and then celebrate the whole Mass. Plus, it is disruptive to have to get out of the pew to go to Confession mid-Mass,and then go back to the pew. Plus, everyone sees who goes to the confessional. I know everyone should be concentrating on Mass, and I should not be shy about people seeing whether I go to confession or not. I just miss churches where you could pray in a somewhat empty quiet church, and have confession in a more private environment.

There is one Catholic Church in Tokyo that offers Confession on Saturdays before Mass, but I have never done confession in Japanese language and feel nervous about it. I prefer to do it in English.

If anyone has tips on what I should have done tonight, please let me know. I know ideally, I would have just gone face-to-face, but just felt very uncomfortable. I know I am confessing to Jesus, but still have to look at the priest. If the light had been dimmer, it might have felt better, but I felt like the room looked more like an interegation room, than a place to meet Jesus. Alternatively, does anyone have tips on how I can become more comfortable with face to face Confession. I have done it in the past, but just strongly prefer privacy and feel more comfortable having the option to choose. Plus, I prefer to kneel during Confession.

I won`t let my fear stop me, and will go tomorrow, but please pray for me in the interim!



the way most confessional rooms are set up, you merely need to step inside the room, and tell the priest you wish to confess behind the screen, kneel down and do so. from your description I don’t understand why you could not do this, wait a moment for the priest to move, and begin. if you are not confessing because of issues like this, which is basically one of personal preference, that is a more serious problem.

You are right, I should have just gone behind the screen anyway. But the way it was set up, the priest still would have seen me. Since the lights were turned off in that part of the room, I assumed that meant we were`t supposed to use that area. But in hindsight, I think I was overthinking everything. I should not let it bother me if the priest knows who I am.

I get so nervous before confession, and since the room had been rearranged, I was caught off-guard. I will go tomorrow regardless. I will feel better prepared to make a better confession anyway.

The chapel where I went tonight is so tiny, and many of my coworkers go there, which is why I am more concerned about privacy. I know I need to stop being so concerned about keeping my confession private, but it is a struggle.



Sometimes, I really get the urge to confess anonymously. As such, if someone were to ask me to go into the room and ask the priest to wait in the confessional for an anonymous confession, I would understand and, without asking any other questions, go tell the priest a parishoner wanted to confess anonymously, and ask if he would mind waiting in the confessional (without sounding as if I was trying to boss the priest around of course, what I’ve written sounds demanding to me, but I think tone would help ‘cool’ it down).

At the same time however, on those times when I wanted to confess anonymously but decided at the last minute to go face to face, or the Priest saw me first in line so would know it was me anyway, etc. it has never been as bad as I built it up in my mind. And nothing beats the feeling of leaving a confessional, face to face or behind the screen.

On a separate but related note, I understand continuing Confession into Mass when there are still people waiting to confess, but it seems nice to be able to go before Mass, and then celebrate the whole Mass. Plus, it is disruptive to have to get out of the pew to go to Confession mid-Mass,and then go back to the pew.

I don’t know of any parishes in my diocese where one priest is hearing confessions while another is celebrating mass.
In one parish nearby, the priest does hear confessions for a while before each mass, but must end about 15 minutes or so before mass begins. He needs to prayerfully prepare for the mass, and to change into his vestments.

It would be a distraction to the congregants to have confession during mass – all possible distractions to the celebration of the Eucharist are to be avoided.

Remember that the priest hearing your confession rejoices that you are there – and promptly forgets what you confess anyway. : )

I went to a different Church today and made my confession and feel much better!! I went back to the church that has the confessionals on either side of the priest. He slides open a little door when it is your turn, so you can still see each other, but the priest is sitting sideways so doesn`t face you directly (unless you want him to).

I realized that is what made me uncomfortable yesterday. Not so much face to face per se, but that the priest was looking directly at you. I haven`t been to Confession in that manner since grade school, where we had to do confession “out in the open.”

I am very glad I went today and feel a million times better! I am so glad this church still has the traditional confessionals, where you are able to kneel.

We are so luck as Catholics to have this wonderful sacrament. Thank you to everyone for your helpful comments.



Learn to do face-to-face Confession, they are more humiliating.

I actually find confession kneeling to be more humbling and reverant. That is why I personally prefer it. I think Confession is more about reconciling with God, rather than feeling humiliated. Of course, recalling my sins is embarrasing, and makes me feel embarrassed and humiliated before God, but Confession where I go to reconcile with God. I feel more shame when I am recalling all my sins before confession, but when I am confessing them to the priest, I feel relief, rather than shame. (God already knows I committed the sins anyway).

When I kneel, I look down, and am also able to focus better on recalling my sins before Jesus. I feel less distracted that way. But this is my personal feeling and am glad there is the option for both. Regardles of the method, it is important for us to not let pride or fear keep us from confession.



I prefer face to face, in front of the Pantocratnor Icon on the Iconostas, with the end of the priest’s epitrachelion over my head… and in full view of any in the nave. THAT is humbling, and it is very public that you are in fact being humbled. But that’s an Eastern Rite process.

and, failing that, kneeling before the priest, face to face.

Since it was a visiting priest, it’s less of an issue…

You might want to mention to the pastor, though, that it made you uncomfortable. Some (priestless) parishes have an instruction card for visiting priests, especially some in mission territory where the priest is on circuit, showing the features of the confessional space, and which switch is which light.

One parish I attended had a switch in the kneeler, which lit the red lamp; another had a mechanical “flag” activated by the kneeler.

Privacy is a Roman Rite element, and isn’t part of confession throughout the Catholic Church… only the sactity of the confessed sins themselves.

There’s a difference between humbling – which confession always is – and humiliating.

This sacrament is ultimately about God’s love and forgiveness. That should never leave one feeling humiliated, but rather grateful and humble.

This is a very disturbing example of placing an unnecessary burden on someone. A person who has done an examination of conscience and is willing to say the sins out loud to the priest needs no further humiliation. The Church insists that the option of the screen must be provided, for the benefit of both the penitent and the priest.

The choice of face-to-face is completely personal and completely optional and should never be forced on anyone, or even suggested in such a way as to indicate its supposed superiority.

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, wants to welcome us back with His forgiveness, not make it more difficult than it needs to be.


Thank you for taking the time to post this Betsy. It made me feel a lot better since I do prefer confessing behind a screen in most cases. Even if the priest and I can still see each other through the screen, it just feels better.



Yes, the option for anonymous confession must always be provided.
An option for face to face confession may be provided.

A priest may actually offer only the anonymous confessions behind a screen, but he may not offer only the face to face option.

Thanks, I was not aware of this! I hope all priests are.



There may be some places where it is ignored. I had a priest once describe to me his own first confession which occured about 2nd grade in elementary school. For some reason, the times being a little crazy then, the priest in charge had the children gather in a circle to do their confessions in public, then he gave absolution. Because of that experience, he didn’t go to confession for another 15 years! After finding out that he could make an anonymous confession he was greatly relieved, and eventually ended up becoming a priest.

Betsy is producing a nice theory, but it’s not in canon law.

In fact, canon law provides for confession through an interpreter (canon 990, Eastern canon 733).

Says nothing about a screen, but that a church or oratory is the proper place, and exceptions require just cause (Canon 964, Eastern Canon 737).

Since the Eastern Catholic Churches often use only face-to-face, and not even a confessional, she’s quite wrong.

No screen is required. Her ordinary or metropolitan may have made such a requirement, but it is neither universal, nor even practical.

You have a right to anonymous confession. If this is not being offered you should ask to speak with the pastor during normal office hours and explain the situation.

Thank you Br. Rich. That is what I will do.



If memory serves me, the parish I grew up in didn’t even have doors, just a cloth over the Confessional. My brothers and sisters would repeat my entire Confession to me on our way home:mad: (me and my loud mouth).
The interesting thing about the Church I belong to now is, there are four Confessionals, two on each side and two in the back. All have either face to face or anonymous, but the two on the sides are much bigger, more Reconciliation Rooms. The odd part is, whenever we have a large number of priests come for a Reconciliation Liturgy (usually around Lent or Advent), rather than use the back, four priest will sit by the Altar and Confessions are heard right there. Two will usually be in the side rooms, but there is always a long line. Unfortunately, we’ve had visiting priests who are elderly and ask for you to SPEAK UP. I understand now one of the back Confessionals is being torn down and a statue of the Holy Family is going in its place.
I don’t really mind face to face, but face to face surrounded by my neighbors seems a little to close for comfort.

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