Modesty for Women in the Confessional?


I’m a protestant, and have a question. It is indeed a question asked out of curiosity, and practicality as well. I offer Christian Counseling for individuals and couples, and my Masters degree is in Counseling psych, so I know about people sharing intimate details with relative “strangers” for good to come of it. Some people in my field will only see clients of the same sex, or see couples, or children. In my practice right now, that is how it is; I’m a female, and I only see females, children, or couples.

How does the idea of modesty interact with women confessing their deepest sin to single males (priests)? We Christian women are taught modesty and how to act modestly. Is there a kind of disconnect between teaching a woman to be modest around men and then to go to confession with someone of the opposite sex who is not their husband?

How does the RC handle this? What is told to a female going to confession as to what to share or withhold because of modesty?


That’s one of the reasons that confessions are “behind the screen”. A woman can always choose to confess in a manner that she remains anonymous.

Everyone (men and women) are encouraged to confess sins with enough detail to identify the sin but there is no need to go into explicit (or immodest) detail.


As another post indicated, there is always the opportunity to give one’s confession behind a screen, which prevents the one giving their confession being seen by the Priest.

When confessing one’s sins no sin can be intentionally omitted out of embarrassment or some other reasoning. To do so invalidates the Confession and adds the sin of Sacralige, (spelling??) which is viewed as a serious sin. (Sorry about the spelling.)
It is not necessary to go into detail that would prove immodest. It is expected that we are embarrassed about our sins, which is a small price to pay when one considers the possibility of lost salvation.


Hypothetically, I would say, “I’m a married woman and I committed adultery” (or whatever). No details, unless they change the nature of the sin; for example, the adultery was committed with a minor, a member of the same gender, a relative, etc.

If I had to confess the sin of masturbation and I didn’t want to use the “m” word, I could say something like “I was impure with myself” or something like that. No details are wanted.


hmm good question in the united states I attended a very relaxed catholic parish so there was no latin mass no dress rules girls came in short shorts and sexy spaghettie straps and normally no line for confession well confession wasnt behind the screen it was a small room and you were face to face with the priest I found it humiliating to confess sins so openly especially since once a young visiting priest had a habit of holding hands while you confessed very uncomfortable and I could have seen an immodest young lady being an occasion of sin for the priest in a face to face confessional like that

Luckily I now attend a traditional catholic church that has confession behind the screen and confessing is much easier yet that being said it shouldnt matter if its face to face or behind the screen going to church you need to cover up at least wear some pants and a blouse that covers your arms and chest


Another thought is that you seem to be concerned about the possibility of an intimate relationship developing when one shares intimate details as can happen in counselling etc. While all Catholics are required to confess to their priest they are not absolutely required to seek counselling, even spiritual counselling from a priest. While confession is sometimes used as an opportunity to also receive spiritual counsel that is not the purpose of confession. I am a woman and the vast majority of times I go to confession it is a simple matter of following the formula “Bless me father for I have sinned, its been x long since my last confession and these are my sins _____, ______, ______, and ______. These are all I can remember and I am sorry for all of my sins.” Then the priest will give me a penance, sometimes give a very short piece of advice such as work on daily prayers, and give me absolution. It is quite formulaic and not a place where I come to confide in the priest and receive counsel, but rather to admit my sins, list them out so that I will receive forgiveness from Christ. Rather than helping to develop a close and intimate relationship with the priest this develops a more intimate relationship with Christ.


The system of confession has been in place for about 2,000 years, now. Though you may never have tried it, or benefitted from it, there are many others through the millenia who have. There have even been those in some of the 12-step programs who did not want to want to share intimate, personal details of their lives with people privately, only wanting to admit this, anonymously. The Roman Catholic Church provides for this option, or face-to-face, whichever the individual feels more comfortable with, generally.

The Church has had not only Catholics using this sacrament of reconciliation but also non-Catholics!

As to priests all being male, Christ, when he breathed on the Apostles (all male), he said to receive the Holy Spirit, that what sins they forgave would be forgiven. In that moment, he gave them the power to forgive sins, and I maintain that he gave it to them in order for them to use it.

As to these males being single, Christ encouraged people to stay single, where possible. He spoke of people being eunuchs for the kingdom. I think Paul, likewise, encouraged men trying to spread the word to stay single, if possible.

Now, some of your secular counselors surely are single, and male. It’s never prevented people before from speaking about their sexuality or anything else, before. Why should it suddenly become an issue, now?

It was CHRIST’S idea to have all men for his apostles, not ours. Christ did not ordain any women to act as confessors. Neither do we.


something that no one has mentioned yet is that priests when hearing confessions or celebrating mass are acting “persona cristi” meaning in the person of christ. or in better terms, christ is acting through them. so it is not really the priest you are confessing to but Jesus himself. he just chose to use a human intermediate so that it would be more tangible and relatable for us. and the other are right, you don’t have to go in to detail. it is perfectly acceptable to just say sexual sins or something of that nature.


Hi Kliska. As many of the posters have pointed out, what you are describing regarding your role as a counselor does not exactly share the same characteristics as a priest’s role in the confessional. Each Catholic diocese has, at its disposal, counselors on all types (family, marriage, spiritual advisers, etc.) to foster growth within the Christian community. Generally speaking, should a parishoner need such as service, their priest would help them get the help they need. So in comparing your responsibilities to a Catholic setting, a counselor at a diocesan office may be a more appropriate gauge for you.

The role of the priest in the confessional is to be “in persona Christi”; to be used as an instrument to loose or bind sin according to God’s mercy and to, at times, offer suggestions to help someone who might be perpetually struggling with the same type of sins. Whether man or woman, sin is sin; neither gender escapes it, and all are in need of forgiveness.

It is possible to excuse not admitting to sin by citing modesty, when it is simply a feeling of embarrassment to the sin. If adultry (or any sexual sin) is commited, then it was. It doesn’t matter whether a man or woman committed it. Since the sin is immodest by its character, of course admitting to it would inspire a shame. Marital impropriety is equally sinful for man and woman, and (I am sure) equally embarrassing to have to admit to. But the role of the priest is to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation; a more long term necessity for guidance would then require a counselor.


Thank you all for your replies, I appreciate the different perspectives and different opinions. I may have made it a bit confusing talking about offering Christian counseling. I don’t believe confession and counseling are comparable, but rather, I was offering that to say that I understand that some (even in my profession which can be far more detailed and intimate) believe it is perfectly acceptable for a single man to counsel a single woman, or vice versa.

I do understand the RC view of the role of the priest in this instance as being in the person of Christ, but there has always been an understanding that the priest, as priest, is still present, his ears are hearing the confession and his brain is processing the information. Perhaps my perspective is too rooted in Puritanical protestant ideals. I just find the idea of confession of sin between the sexes to be a bit of a conundrum where modesty is expected as well.

BTW, I agree with the idea of dressing modestly in those situations too. Unfortunately I’ve witnessed first-hand female counselors counseling teenage boys wearing inappropriate clothing and then complaining that the boys don’t seem to be listening. :rolleyes: Anyway, that’s a different thread. lol


When a proper examination of conscience is done before a Catholic Confession (Which is required) and the Confession is made in a traditional Confessional, modesty does not enter into the equation. It has nothing to do with the Sacrament of Confession.
The only caveat to this would be if the Confession were in the modern, face to face format. Then, it would be incumbent on all females to be appropriately dressed out of respect for the Holy nature of the Sacrament.


:rotfl: They were listening to the body language.

As far as confessing sexual sin to the opposite gender…this does not eliminate the awkwardness, but it may help to know that, unless a priest was recently ordained, he has probably already heard everything so many times its just boring. :stuck_out_tongue:

Also, I suppose it depends on the man, but I have heard several priests say that when they are hearing confessions, they are filled with a sense of respect and compassion toward sinners which they had never expected before being ordained.


I know the Vatican has its own dress code:

Other than that, I’ve only seen only one Catholic Church in all my time which has tried to have a dress code. I’d love it if more churches would do like the Vatican, but that’s not a popular view right now.

Otherwise, the Bible, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and saints have all told us to dress “modestly”. Seems one of the problems is that people get hung up on the actual definition of the word “modesty”. We have had a lot of difficulty in this day and age coming to a consensus. Even when we do, it goes against fashion, and a lot of people don’t want to comply, even so.

A lot of people today seem to think God has bigger fish to fry and could care less about what they wear, since they figure he made them naked to begin with! (Not that I’m one of them).


As I understand the question, the immodesty would come with describing a sin in lurid detail. That’s not what happens in a confessional (or shouldn’t, anyway.) It’s as simple as saying, “I struggle with chastity.” Or, “I had impure thoughts.”


With mortal sins the church does require the penitent to divulge mortal sin in kind and number…
With sins against chastity…it may not be enough to just confess “I struggle with chastity” there a great number of mortal sins against chastity. That could mean anything from
—the penitent masturbates twice a day
—or the penitent has slept with her boyfriend once
—The penitent is watching pornography daily
—The penitent is having an adulterous affair against her husband for the last 6 months.
—The penitent is visiting male prostitutes once a week
—The penitent is in a lesbian relationship for the past year

All of these are sins against chastity and are also mortal sin. So it is not enough to just confess “I have sinned against chastity” both women and men need to be clear as to what kind sin they are commiting. Because it shows different disorders that are afflicting the soul. When you are in confession you are revealing to the priest an illness that is injuring and poisoning your soul.
No you do not have to go into the lurid details but the penitent does need to specifically be clear about their sins…
So a teenage girl who has had sex with her boyfriend does need to confess “I had sex my boyfriend once”

I myself have commited and confessed “sins against chastity.” and very many times have felt “immodest”.To make it easier to confess my sins I have chosen a regular priest that I confess to. It makes it so much easier to confess mortal, immodest sins if you have a regular confessor. My priest knows my sins, he knows what is afflicting and injuring my soul. To have a regular confessor does make it so much easier to overcome embarassment in confession.


I would actually be the first to agree with the original poster that we Catholics could learn from other faiths with regards to modesty. There might be some other faiths who are aware of the exact scripture passages, put them into practice, by having parishioners dress modestly.

If you have been able to achieve that, I commend you! If that’s the case, we could no doubt learn from you on that!

I guess I will have to agree with the OP that sometimes we do seem to have a disconnect on the issue of modesty…not only in the confessional, but out in the world at large.

However, I still think it’s okay for us to confess to male priests.

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