Is it wrong to take a list of sins into confession?

Yesterday I went to confession with, unfortunately, quite a long list of sins. When I got into the confessional I told the priest I had a lot to say, but that it shouldn’t be more than 15 minutes. He then asked me if I had a list, to which I responded yes, and he told me that was not okay because it would encourage scrupulosity, and that I needed to put the list away and just say what was bothering my conscience. I’m not great at remembering things on the spot, so I consequently forgot the vast majority of what I had on the list. Other priests I’ve confessed to have had no problem with me bringing in a list.

Soon I hope to get into the habit of weekly confession, and when I do that I hope to not have so many sins that I need a list anymore … but until then, I still find myself remembering lots of sins from my life of years past that I want to confess and don’t think I can manage without a list. Should I avoid that priest for future confessions or was he right and I shouldn’t have a list?

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a list, especially when preparing for a first confession or for a general confession. (A penitent should take care to destroy such a list after confession to ensure the privacy of his confession.) But, in ordinary circumstances, “logging” your sins on a list – so much so that you thought you needed at least 15 minutes, while others were presumably waiting outside for their turn to confess – is indeed problematic because it can aggravate scrupulosity.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that “sin logs” and weekly confession tend to increase scruples rather than to alleviate them. I can only tell you what worked for me, but I’ve found that less frequent confession – about once a month or so, but no “set date” – and minimal examination of conscience (i.e., basically speaking “from the heart” as the priest encouraged you), reduced my scruples considerably. Of course, it should also be said that those who do not suffer from scruples would do well to consider having a regular appointment for confession and doing a careful examination of conscience prior to confession.

Do not worry about “forgetting sins.” If you have honestly and sincerely confessed all that you remember and do not deliberately omit any mortal sin, you have made a good confession. If you realize later you forgot a mortal sin, realize it was forgiven and say a quick prayer to God to help you remember to mention it at your next confession. And, although the Church encourages the confession of venial sins, it is not required to confess them.

Recommended reading:

Understanding Scrupulosity by Thomas M. Santa, C.Ss.R.

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