Confession outside of a confessional



If any priests are reading this, I’d love if you could answer this. I remember reading a quote in Canon Law that said “Confessions may not be heard outside of the confessional without just cause” or something like that. What is a “just cause”, and if there’s no “just cause”, is a Confession heard outside of the confessional licit/valid?

I have attended retreats where there were Confession opportunities. There were no confessionals, but priests were hearing confessions. Was that OK?

Also, there have been times when I’ll stop a priest and ask him to hear my Confession. Sure, we could have walked to the confessional, but sometimes the priest will hear my two-minute Confession on the spot. To my understanding, that doesn’t affect the validity, but it may be “illicit”.

I’m going on several retreats this year, and I know they’ll have opportunities for Confession, and there probably isn’t going to be a confessional. If I knowingly go to Confession outside of a confessional, is it still valid? How “illicit” would it be?


For what it’s worth, I have had many confessions that never took place in a confessional. It’s common, at parish penitential services, for priests to hear confessions in various places around the church, including side chapels, private offices, and the sacristy. On one occasion the priest and I were walking and talking at the same time - this was at a youth retreat and we went outside behind one of the buildings. At other retreats, I have gone to confession in a specially designed booth in an exhibition hall, and even a quiet area on a lawn with chairs set up.

I don’t expect there would necessarily be a problem with it, but then again I have never heard that there was a canon law or teaching on the subject. As long as sufficient privacy is maintained I don’t see why there would be a problem.


Just cause is interpreted very broadly. And, yes it is valid.

To understand the current code of canon law, one must also understand the former code and the specific language regarding the hearing of women’s confessions. And, one must also know that there are norms for the United States that diverge from the universal code.

If one is interested, there is a whole page devoted to what this means in the commentary on the code of canon law.

Bottom line: trust your priest to know what he is doing and how to properly hear confessions

It seems you are implying the priests do not know what they are doing. Do you not trust priests to know how to administer the sacraments?

No it is not “illicit”.

It is valid and not illicit.

If you worry overly much about this, perhaps you should talk to your priest about scrupulosity (I’ve noticed several of your posts are of the “is this a sin” variety).


And, confessionals must be made out of wood, painted white, with metallic privacy screens, or the sacrament is invalid…I think…I’m not sure…but I heard it said.:smiley:


They confession is totally valid, I cannot tell you all the strange places I have had them.


Heretic! The confessional booth must be natural wood, not painted, and the outside curtain must be penitential purple, else…:D:D


Remember many of the apostolic Churches have never used confessionals and within our own Church the Eastern Churches largely do not use them.


[INDENT]For people who want to make an extended confession, it can be done in the priest’s office, as long as there is sufficient privacy. It’s just the same as any other face-to-face confession.



The point of the confessional rule is that penitents must have the chance to receive the Sacrament in total privacy, since it does involve potential embarrassment, gossip, and even mortal danger for some penitents. That’s why there’s no rule that everybody has to go to Confession totally in public.

OTOH, there are lots of good reasons not to have Confession in a confessional. If speed and ease of access are more important to the penitent than being hidden and avoiding surveillance, the priest and penitent have the right to go with the pastoral priority.

All things being equal, however, the privacy and secrecy right supersedes every other consideration.


Exactly, I’ve never been in, or seen one, that is painted any color. Must be one of those new fad, hippy things. :smiley:


The requirements for the interior are even more important.

It ***must ***be a screen, with a grill and dark curtain, with the priest seated on one side, and the penitent kneeling on the other.

Some confessionals these days allow the penitent to sit opposite the priest for a so called “face to face”, which is just another fad, hippy thing too. :rolleyes:While such confessions are both “licit” and “valid” ***technically ***no knowledgable Catholic would use them, or if they had to in an emergency would repeat their confession in a ***real ***confessional ASAP - just to be sure.


Here is the actual canon.

CAN. 964 §1.† The proper place to hear sacramental confessions is a church or oratory.
§2.† The conference of bishops is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely.
§3.† Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause.

Listen to what paragraph says. Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause. Now The interpretation of just cause is not very specific. In this instance You would go to your local bishop conference USCCB for people in this country.

Based on my very limited knowledge of canon law, but still some knowledge of it. Confession outside of confessional is allowed, if there is a just cause.

There are many examples of this in how I understand it.

  1. A large gathering of youth, who would want to participate in the sacrament. It wouldn’t be just to deprive them of the sacrament because there was no fixed confessional on the campus grounds they are having the gathering. Measures should still be taken to make sure that a way to make the confession private behind a grill.
  2. Any emergency situation, canon’s usually get thrown out the door, not really but many laws can be ignored if an emergency is taking place. For example, confession usually takes place during the sacrament of the sick.
  3. Poor Churches who have no fixed confessional because they either converted an old building or they didn’t have the money to build confessionals.

I could come up with other situations, but it is simple confession in ordinary circumstances should be done in the confessional. But in extraordinary circumstances it is fine.


I actually disagree on your last point

privacy and secrecy are not primary and doesn’t supersede every consideration. What si most important is that a person has the opportunity to go to confession, it should be private to protect the seal of confession, but in many situations privacy can’t be fully obtained, of course there should be enough privacy to where people can’t hear you. But if someone seeks a confessional in an airport in the corner of a terminal, than they should be able to receive it. Someone being purified of their sins is more important than keeping privacy. Both are highly important, but I would never say as a future priest. “I can’t hear your confession because I can’t find a place that is private enough.”


Ha ha!!! I tried to be funny, but you win the humor prize!


I understand your concern and please allow me to side track a bit to illustrate my point. Have you received the Holy Eucharist outside the church building? I bring up “building” because we Catholics tend to be fixated on structures. If allowed by Canon Law and authorized by the Bishop or Arch-Bishop, holy sacraments may be allowed outside the church building. I’ve received the Holy Eucharist during the celebration of the Mass under open skies. If we may receive God Himself “outside the church”, why not the sacrament of absolution? Trust in the church and the church’s local representatives (the priests). They won’t lead you astray. Have a Blessed Day.


privacy and secrecy are not primary and doesn’t supersede every consideration.

That’s why I said, “All things being equal.”

If Confession is available and accessible,
and you can also provide secrecy and privacy without any problem,
then all things are equal, and you make sure you can provide privacy.

If privacy is more important and vital for the penitent,
then the priest bends over backward to do that.

If accessibility is more important and vital for the penitent,
then the priest bends over backward to do that.

But yes, private Confession is really vital. The Church tried Confession without privacy, and got pretty worried about it by the fifth or sixth century. Roman law had broken down. So a lot of queens and normal wives got murdered because going to Confession without privacy, and a lot of men and women got imprisoned to prevent them going publicly, and a lot of men and women both ended up not being able to go to Confession when their sins were embarrassing to other people. A lot of priests bit the dust, too.

The secrecy of the confessional protects the priest and the penitent. You can’t try torturing a priest to get him to break the Seal of the confessional if he doesn’t know who the penitent was.

Yes, it is exactly like being in a resistance group. There’s a reason for that.

We don’t have canon law just for fun. The history of canon law is basically written in the blood of ordinary Catholics whose Christian rights were drastically violated by their families, friends, and governments. Canon law exists so that people can worship and receive Sacraments with a reasonable expectation of security.

And don’t say it can’t happen in the US, because every year or so, some genius decides to try bugging the confessional in some town somewhere. Imagine what it’s like in really tyrannical parts of the world.


What makes you say so? :confused:



How some one who can not get to a church that has a confessional or maybe in a wheelchair that does not fit into a confessional? :confused:


I simply have to say this. The grace of the sacrament is primary and nothing else matters, even with all things being equal. If privacy makes it more difficult to make it to confession, or to hear everyone ones confession, sometimes you have to make sacrifices is that situation. Now obviously every church should be as private as possible. But sometimes circumstances call for there to be less privacy, so that more people can receive the grace of forgiveness.

The classic example I can think of is a youth conference at a basketball arena. Thousands of teenagers who have just been moved to confess their sins. In order to provide for this need you are going to have situations where you will have to walk a few feet in front of confessions going on, because of limited space, people are going to see you confessing. Now everything is done to make sure no-one hear’s what is going on, but sometimes circumstances call for privacy to be limited. But these are extra ordinary circumstances, normally, confession should take with a screen available, in a place where you won’t be heard, and actually too, won’t be seen.


You sound like you have been to Stubenville.

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