If the Priest knows the Penitent in Confession


I’m sure this can easily be answered, but I’m curious about whether there is any rule in Catholicism regarding Confession if the priest recognizes the voice of a penitent confessing their sins as belonging to someone the priest knows, whether a friend or celebrity, and vice versa? Would the Confession be just as valid or would it be preferable or required to have another priest perform the Sacrament?


There is no rule that priests may only hear the confessions of those whom they cannot identify. The sacramental seal means they cannot divulge or act on what they hear in Confession – whether they know the person or not.

If I had to only confess to priests that didn’t know me, I would almost never be able to go to Confession. :o



It doesn’t matter, doesn’t change the Confession, and priests generally are professional enough to compartmentalize what they hear in Confession and their interpersonal dealings with the person outside of Confession.

Remember not long ago, Pope Francis went to Confession in plain sight in front of everyone and it was covered in the news? Of course the priest giving Confession would have known Pope Francis. It didn’t matter. Popes in fact have Confessions regularly (Pope Francis I believe does it twice a month; his predecessors tended to do it twice as much). Pope John Paul was known to go to Confession at least once with his Secretary of State. The priests to whom they Confess definitely know the Popes and work for him. But it doesn’t change the validity of anything.

Besides, as any priest will tell you, you can’t Confess anything to them that they never heard before. They’re more than seasoned. So they won’t and shouldn’t really care if they know you from elsewhere.

That being said, it may be preferable for the penitent to have Confession with a priest who is a stranger, just for the sake of the penitent’s comfort.


Once you understand (and trust) the Seal of Confession, having a regular confessor, one who knows you, can be advantageous. It can keep us from deceiving ourselves, and help us to grow in humility. Anonymity can help certain individuals as well, so the Church makes provision for both ways of confessing.


As others have said - no! :slight_smile: As a matter of fact a person can do a face to face confession so there is obviously no guessing who the person is in that case.

I’ve done face to face with our parish priest and not once has he ever brought up anything to me outside of the confessional and the time it was confessed. That being said, my preference is behind the screen but I suspect he still knows my voice and I’m absolutely ok with that.


In the Eastern Catholic Churches, face-to-face confession is the traditional norm.


I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a confessional that doesn’t include a choice of either kneeling behind a screen (hiding the face) or sitting in a chair across from the priest (meeting with him face-to-face).

I always do face-to-face. It’s much more difficult, and forces me to face the shame I have when my will gets weak and I sin.

The sacrament of penance/reconciliation has changed in form over time, and it’s not written in the New Testament how it should be conducted. As it says in section 1447 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this “order of penitents” (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the “private” practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.”

The way Catholic’s sacrament of penance and reconciliation occurs is similar to Leviticus 5 and 7 and Numbers 5, which outlines special cases of purification offerings in the Torah. Unlike Protestants, who say that God forgives us through faith alone in Jesus’ death being for us, and require no other actions on the part of the “penitent,” Catholics recognize the order set forth in the Torah… contrition, confession, and satisfaction (penance).


One of the greatest gifts God ever gave me was a regular confessor, who knows me, and I have even had confession with him in my living room! He knows I struggle with X, have given up even thinking about Y, and that Z is a whole new area of sin for me.

If anything, this intimacy has given me a greater sense of relief, of God’s great mercy, than I ever felt recounting my sins to a stranger.

For anyone with tendencies toward scrupulosity or tender conscience, I strongly recommend this practice.


Thank you all for your well-informed replies.


Indeed it’s beneficial to have a regular confessor who knows you.

And when you think about it: the pope has a regular confessor; consecrated religious usually have the same confessor (in the case of men, usually a priest of the same community).

I personally go face to face. My confessor has heard it all, he’s a Benedictine monk and for a few years was confessor at Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.


I was REALLY nervous when I heard in RCIA that
I have to confess my sins to the priest, I was thinking:
“How can I face my priest after?” Fortunately, I found
another Catholic Church and said my confession there,
but after the first confession, I decided to have my parish
priest as my regular confessor, it helps me to keep from
falling back into sin knowing that they were already absolved.


If it makes you feel uncomfortable going to confession to a priest who knows you, you are free to go to another parish for confession. The priest can be your confessor whether you know him or not. My parish has confession only behind the screen, but the pastor would know my voice anyway since I volunteer in the parish office. So I go elsewhere if I really want to be anonymous.


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