First Penance for Children

Last week I attended a First Penance Service for children. There were only a few children so there was only one priest. He does not like to use the confessional so he set up 2 chairs on the altar and put a kneeler behind one chair. He asked parents to bring the children to him and introduce them when they approach him for confession. Everyone sitting in the pews had full view and watched the children as they confessed.

The DRE spent a lot of time at a parent meeting talking about anonymity and the seal of confession, about not taking pictures at the Penance Service (we could after, but not during because of the seal and anonymity).

I am confused. Do children have the same access to an anonymous confession as adults? Do they have the same right to the seal of confession?

What’s a DRE?

Was it their first actual confession or a fun practice go to get them used to it?

To be honest I do not remember my first confession and I was almost ten when I was baptised, I do remember my first Holy Communion, it was very informal.

They have the same right to anonymous confession and to the seal of confession.

The set up you describe is used in our parish also. It’s due to a combination of reasons.

*]Sadly, It’s a reaction to the cases of abuse.
*]It’s often also due to having only a Reconciliation Room and no confessional. A Reconciliation Room may have a privacy curtain to allow for anonymity but it’s still 2 people in one room. (Our diocese has mandated that Reconciliation Rooms are to have a window in the door so that the penitents are visible at all times).
*]The priest wanting to be very visible when being with children.
*]Parents not wanting their child alone in the Reconciliation Room with the priest.
*] Wanting to make the child’s first experience of Reconciliation a positive one without the fear of going into a dark confessional that some of us remember from our childhood.

DRE = Dir of Religious Ed.

Yes children have the same seal of confession as adults as well as to be anonymous. It is my understanding that children have face to face confession the first time, then after that they may go to the confessional and be behind the screen (or face to face) if they choose.

As far as the pictures, I think its absurd to photograph anyone at confession. We had our penance service for the children last month and it was my daughter’s first confession. The amount of people taking photographs was insane! Like some sort of circus. Our DRE never said anything about it prior, but to me it should be understood that is not something that should be done.

I would say from my observation it was mostly the parents of kids in CCD that don’t go to Church regularly and likely will not even follow thru with their children other than the Sacraments, then nothing. Sorry I realize I went off on a tangent there! :slight_smile:

This was their actual confession. There were some confirmation candidates there, too, who were also required to be presented by their parents and introduced by name when they went to confession.

Parents were also “invited” to introduce themselves and go to confession but we all declined.

Thank you, Phemie, for making me aware of what might have been on the priest’s mind. I don’t know why, but that reasoning doesn’t comfort me.

Really, the parents could have refused to do it that way and asked that their child be allowed to confess anonymously. In fact, if it was a ‘Penitential Service’ they could have all attended and opted to confess at a later date and they would have been within their right.

But, my experience in recent years is that parents simply don’t want their child out of their sight. And that has as much to do with helicopter parenting as it does with a true fear of abuse.

Sadder still is that for a large number that’s the last confession they’ll see for years and years.

Very, very true. :frowning:

(And can we make a good case, based on this, for the old-fashioned confessional? My parish has “open air confessions” for adults, and the church I attend in my home town has kneelers inside what look like telephone booths. Either would probably be quite unnerving for a child or adolescent.)

As Phemie answered, of course they have the right to an anonymous confession.

I don’t understand your question on the seal. Face to face, behind a screen, on a battlefield or in an office, the seal applies. And remember that not only does it apply to the priest, but to anyone else who overhears someone else’s confession. It is for this reason that when we do PREP confessions or have a penance service where we need to have additonal priests using the pews, our pastor makes sure there is plenty of space around each so some form of privacy can be maintained.

Not judging anyone, but judging actions -what a wasted moment here! The opportunity to “practice what we preach” and model behavior that shows our children (1) we are all sinners and need God’s healing and (2) penance is not a “once and done” sacrament but something we need all our lives.

The reason for introducing the children preparing for Confirmation and First Communion is to ensure that the children are actually preparing for their sacraments and not just showing up for classes.

Many churches now have open confessionals due to the abuse scandal. Doors have been removed from the room/booth, priest now sit in a back row when hearing confessions, especially when children are involved.

I’m not sure why parents would decline going to confession. It would be a wonderful example to the children to see that parents also receive this sacrament. I realize that most parents don’t, or at least not very often, and most of these kids won’t confess again until they are preparing for Confirmation so it really doesn’t surprise me that none took the priest up on his offer.

This was completely inappropriate and I would have had no part of it.

Correct, pictures at confession is not appropriate.

Yes. Face to face or “behind the curtain”, know or anonymous, is ALWAYS the right of the penitent to choose.

I got in a fight with my former pastor over just this issue. We have reconciliation for the kids during CCD time during Advent and Lent. Father brought in a neighboring priest and that priest was in the confessional (we only have one) and Father was in the sacristy with a chair, face to face.

Well, the line for the confessional was longish and only a few kids and teachers went to our priest in the sacristy. So he came out and told me to go get some kids out of line and bring them to the sacristy, and I told him no. Our pastor was quite a bully and he yelled at me for it. I told him that the right to confession behind the screen was a right under Church law and it is always the penitent’s choice and I wasn’t going to make kids go to him face to face. I refused. P*ssed him of, but he knew I was right so he dropped it.

This is a violation of the children’s canon law rights. Frankly it is abusive.

That’s what the DRE said when she was re-teaching Penance to the parents! that it is our choice to go to anonymous confession or face-to-face, that canon law provided only for “the screen” and that the priest could also decline face-to-face. She really focused on the Seal and that the priest and anyone else who might accidentally see or hear can’t tell.

That’s why I was so confused that we had to give our children’s names! And that’s why some of us declined. I don’t want to tell the priest my name and I don’t want to confess while it looks like I’m on stage. I go to monthly Confession on Saturday at a neighboring parish because their time works best for me, right after morning mass!

Children do have the right to anonymity and should be allowed to have it if they choose. I think it was wrong that this was not provided for the children. As far as picture taking that should never be allowed and frankly, I am not sure why anyone would even think of doing so. I am glad the Director of RE. advised against it, but people should know better in the first place.

Let your Priest know you disagree with him about the face to face option only set up. Children are nervous about his penance anyway and should have the choice to use the screen.

As a kid in 70’s the lack of anonymity is what caused me to stop going to confession. Now as an adult, I go face to face, but as a child it was very difficult for me. Not giving children a choice is just wrong.

Not quite. The priest can’t force the penitent to confess ‘face-to-face’ but neither can the penitent impose that on the priest. The priest is always within his right to offer only confession behind a screen.

Why, oh why, did so many parishes get rid of the old confessionals? There was a screen and no possibility of physical contact between penitent & confessor. You’d think people would be clamoring to bring that back.

Sure it was dark. The option could have been as simple as installing a light that the penitent could turn on if it suited him/her.

At least in my home parish when they took out the confessional (which had only curtains to shield the penitent from prying eyes) in the nave they built one with doors in the sacristy. In my present parish the confessionals became a utility room and a bathroom. But they hadn’t been in use for many years before that happened as the priests had more and more made use of the Reconciliation Room, which did offer a possibility of anonymity.

When we were having information sessions with the diocese to tell us what the new safety policies were going to be, a young priest stared at me in disbelief when I objected to the new confession set up based on anonymity. “But I have to know who the person is to give proper counsel!” It never occurred to him once that some people want to confess anonymously and he was obviously oblivious to the lengths to which people were willing to go to avail of that even back in the ‘old days’. I know my parents preferred not to go to confession in our home parish. At least one Saturday a month we made the trip to town to all go to confession at one of the two parishes there.

The situation described sounds crazy to me. Admittedly I grew up in the medieval period, but this is how our first confession (in the second grade) went: We had prepared for the sacrament during our religion classes. When we had first confessions, it occurred during a normal school day. It was not an “event.” No parents or relatives were invited. (Does any kid invite his parents to his confession?) We all went over to the church and lined up in front of the confessionals. The confessions were private and anonymous. After confessions were complete, we went back to school and continued the school day.

I don’t understand why the child abuse cases should prevent the use of confessionals. No one can be abused during confession in a standard confessional. In our church, the confessionals have doors with no windows. The priest has no access to the penitent’s part of the confessional, nor can he see the penitent. There is more chance of abuse in a “reconciliation room.”

PS–I notice that whenever we have a communal penance service with five or six priests scattered at various locations around the church, including two in confessionals, people always make a bee line for the confessional. They have the longest lines—even though a priest sitting at the altar rail not looking at you can hardly be called ‘face to face.’

Many parishes have no ‘confessionals’ proper. They only have a reconciliation room with a curtain to allow penitents to confess anonymously.

Honestly, I’ve been in on these discussions with catechists. The idea is to make the child comfortable and feel like he’s meeting a friend and not to make it a frightening experience.

Oh, BTW, your first confession mirrors mine. School day, with the Sister chaperoning us.

Personally, I love a Penitential Service. It gives me time to reflect, examine my conscience and make a good confession. I also prefer to confess anonymously, although in my parish that’s a myth. Oh, there’s a curtain in the room (or rather a half-wall with at grid) but the priest doesn’t sit in the room, he sits in the church for the hour and waits until someone who wants to confess comes and asks to have their confession heard. Though I suppose it’s better than the one we had as pastor from 2003-2007 who categorically refused to set a regular time for confession because he didn’t want to waste his time waiting for penitents who never came.

Our closest Catholic school is over an hour away. So, no one around here can do it during the school day. If kids aren’t in public school, they are attending a non-Catholic private school.

Sunday School classes last only an hour, not enough time to get an entire class through Confession.

So what else is there? “An Event.” A time with all of the children show up, and their parents show up too. Otherwise how would the children get there? Heck, a lot of the time, the parents haven’t been to Confession in a while and inviting them to go is a great way to reintroduce the sacrament to them.

Exactly. It is also why the DRE was “re-teaching” the sacrament to the parents. Lots of people need to be invited before they decide to go to confession. Some if us had bad experiences in confession at Catholic schools as children and don’t go again for years. By seeing my oldest son go in a similar manner when he was in 2nd grade and taking the priest up on his invitation, I got over my fear of confession. I could see that not all priests go ballistic at the “sins” of a child and being outside of a closed box made me comfortable enough to try it out again, and comfortable enough to let my learning disabled child try it at all.

If you prefer a confessional, good. But not everyone has fond memories of Catholic school and confession. Things can and do go wrong in confession, no matter where or how they are conducted. It’s probably why so many people decide not to take advantage of this sacrament as regularly as we should.

Well, maybe it is true that some people fear the confessional, though I can’t figure why. Our confessionals are roomy, well lit, entirely anonymous and private. I would venture that there are probably more who stay away from the sacrament because they don’t want to go face to face with a priest they know, than who stay away because they don’t like to go into a confessional. And how many would want to go to confession on a stage with a lot of people watching? And taking photos?

Also it has to be remembered that anonymous confession is the standard; face to face is an option which may or may not be offered.

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