Privacy issues with Confession...& a few others

I have some questions about auricular confession (Catholic). I read the chatechism and everything in the code of cannons about confession but still an not sure about a few things.
One is privacy, I know the priest is bound under the seal of privacy and I never heard of anycase myself where it was broken. But I do remember priests, one for example who was very old and hard of hearing. The kid in the confessional opposite to me was confessing sexual sins, nothing unusual but nothing I wanted to hear on purpose, the walls were paper thin and old churches can have an echo. The priest went to give him advice about his sin very loud so that everyone in line probably heard it. I’m sure the priest meant well, this was 15-20 years ago and he died of Alzheimers not long after. However he was not the only priest that tended to discuss people’s sins with them loud enough so that others can overhear it. I know it wasn’t on purpose but still. I live in a close knit area where people tend to know each other and after that I tended to be rather vague about confessing certain sins (the priest frequently knows what I’m talking about anyway). I know that the priest is technically sworn to secrecy and anyone overhearing a confession would have a big sin if they deliberately listened in, but it doesn’t mean that people won’t do it.
After that I would wait until I was on a retreat or out of town pilgrimmage to make a more explicit confession. But what if hypothetically I lived in an isolated area with few Catholic parishes.
Technically we are supposed to to confess all mortal sins in detail (I was jealous of my neighbor 4 times…). I rarely had a problem since half the time the priest didn’t want to know the details, was exhausted, half asleep, or would cut me off and absolve me if I went on for more than 30 secs to a minute. Usually its the Religious priests on retreats that will ask questions or counsel in detail… My issue is not so much shame (I have the feeling priests hear so much they forget what you told them anyway.) but of confidentiality in security. What if the person you sinned against was a violent person and right in back of you in line- I know- It’s hypothetical. Some priests will let you confess general vices or just say which commandment you broke but thats not how church law spells it out and Padre Pio would flip if you did that with him.

I ask, would it be OK if we had a bad feeling about privacy to postpone a certain sin and save it for a better environment.

I heard on an EWTN podcast that if a priest cuts you off before you’re done you’re still forgiven but have to confess it next time. That said can you just confess somethings to God silently-w perfect contrition and then just confess it next time if you can’t word things properly this time? I’m not trying to be lax or minimalist but just honest, practical, and realistic.
Does the church ever address these privacy issues? Do Eastern Christians or strict Anglicans have these same issues?

IN some ways it seems forced enumeration of all sin, though a wonderful sacrament and practice, is like being forced to buy something via credit card online- The site may be trustworthy and be secure and I shop online myself. But security in reality is never 100% perfect and luckily no one is forced to give their credit card online, but we are bound to enumerating all mortal sins to get to heaven.
I hear the model about revealing everything to a physician so they can give right medicine but in my experience the pennances are usually the same anyway. (e.g. 3 Our Fathers for the boys- 3 Hail Mary’s for the Girls, maybe 5 if you robbed a bank.) Of course I’ve only been to Latin Rite confessions. I have also fluctuated between scrupulosity and lassitude in confession and find it hard to get a realistic, reasonable balance…

I also don’t like the old churches or places that are set up where you can hear the priest when there are two confessionals with the priest in the middle. However, while I have heard the priest in this situation, I have not heard the other confessor.

I usually do not go to Confession in an area like this but when I do, I just tell the priest upfront not to discuss anyhting about the sins I am confessing because of my concerns. No priest has objected but if one ever does I will inform him that I would prefer to make an appointment then for a more private place.

Just find places that don’t have Confession in this matter. That is the best option.

Yeah, I would recommend just finding a better way to confess. I wouldn’t postpone going if you have mortal sin on your soul. . Venial sin is forgiven during mass, so you can go awhile between confessions with venial sin. This sounds like something that you just need to mention to the pastor and have that priest have confessions in a more private room. Or call to setup a private time.

I was also thinking along the lines of an appointment for a private confession without others waiting outside. You cannot omit any sin in confession since absolution is given for all sins committed. It is not a partial forgiveness. You either confess all of the sins that you can remember (especially mortal sin) or you must wait until you can. So, again, I would suggest not waiting for a retreat but to call the rectory and make an appointment. God bless you…teachccd

Make an appointment sounds reasonable for rare occasions, but if everybody took that advice I’m not sure if the priests would be happy since many of them pastor 3 parishes… gone are the days where every parish had a pastor and an assistant pastor. Granted I’m fortunate enough to live in a predominantly Catholic area and have a pilgrimage shrine in the general area where I can go to confession and get items blessed within a half hrs drive…not everyday but it’s frequently available. I’m not speaking just for myself though, I don’t think I’m the only one who has these concerns.
I tried to research the Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian churches to see how they view the issue but boy, does it make Latin Rite Catholic confession seem like cake in comparison since they have to confess all sins serious OR minor(at least in theory I don’t know about practice). Many say it’s not legalistic like the West but it sounds far more legalistic on many Eastern websites with heavy penances and temporary excommunication. At least venial sins are easier to confess it could be tedious to count them all.
There is another extreme where people hold up the line and turn it into a counseling session holding up the line (and some of these poor people don’t realize that half the church can hear them). :frowning:
If many Catholics never addressed these issues in the past it may be because many of them don’t do it by the book and confess everything. Many think they do it by the book but have no idea everything the magisterium teaches on confession. I know I havent been perfect about it (I can remember the days of “pick one sin- any sin” but that was later condemned.)
Does anyone else belong to a parish where everyone knows each other and runs into friends, long lost relatives, co-workers, classmates… greeting each other? You’re not supposed to talk but it’s kind of a relief when everyone’s chatting so one doesn’t overhear confessions.

The rule is very simple, if you hear someone else’s confession, you are bound by the same silence as the priest. I have been a translator in the confessional for deaf people. You are also bound to silence. Anything that you repeat, which you heard in the confessional, is an automatic excommunication that can only be lifted by a bishop. If someone feels very uncomfortable using the confessional, you can ask for an appointment to go to confession at the parish office. The priest has to hear your confession. However, he does not have to hear it when you’re available. You have to adjust to his schedule. A priest has to hear your confession either on the day that regular confessions are scheduled or in an emergency, such as a hospital.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Sure anyone who repeats gossip would have a serious sin, but do they know that and would that stop them. Anyone who breaks into my car or house is bound to jail time but it doesn’t mean they won’t do it. Therefore I don’t leave them unlocked.

Even if they don’t repeat it if someone close to you overhears something but only a part and takes it out of context, if can damage a relationship or marriage.

It’s interesting that you translate sign language btw, I always wondered how deaf or mute people go to confession, as well as the mentally challenged or mentally ill.

Breaking the seal of confession is much more serious than gossip. Whatever you hear coming out of the confessional binds you to the seal of confession. You can go to hell for repeating it, no questions asked, unless you’re absolved by a bishop. Even a priest cannot absolve from that sin.

Translating for the deaf is very common, whether it’s for a deaf priest or a deaf penitent. With death priests it’s becoming less common, because there are some very good technological aides now that help you hear, if you have any hearing left. The deaf penitent is a different story. People who are born deaf usually do not know how to speak, even though they may have a voice. They sign. They need a translator.

The mentally ill and mentally challenged go to confession like everyone else. They can speak. The format is simplified for them. Often the priest may use an interview format where he asks questions they answer yes or no.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

This isn’t really a hard issue to solve, is it? If the area set up to hear confessions is such that conversation (confessions) can be overheard, either the penitent or the priest, that should be addressed to the Pastor in a responsible and charitable way. It could be they aren’t aware of the problem.

One step better might be to spend a few minutes trying to figure out an alternative so when you go to the Pastor, you get to present a solution, not just a problem. I’ve known many priests, some better than others, but I can’t say I ever ran across one who would receive information that the private contents of the confessional are spilling out where the congregation can hear them and not do anything about it.

In the church I attended as a young lad, we had one Priest who was physically a large man - about 6ft6in and probably 300lbs or so. Huge. And he had one of those booming voices like a James Earl Jones. In that church was four separate confessionals with an enclosed section on each side, and the priests had their name above the door; their own confessional so to speak. When we would go as a class over to confession, it was a fight to get yourself out of that Father’s section because most could hear him booming a reply here or there as well as each absolution.

One day, in what I thought was an act of wonderful humility, he walked over to a bunch of us boys playing kickball during a recess period. Make a long story short, he wanted to know from us how come he was done all his confessions in about 5 minutes while the other priests still had long lines. One brave soul stepped up and told him it was because his voice was so loud they were afraid others would hear him commenting on something they confessed. He just said, “Oh,” gave us his blessing and left.

Next week you couldn’t hear a peep out of his booth. Those who went to him told us he asked them all, “Am I talking too loud?” and it was in a whisper.

You wouldn’t imagine him, big and loud as he was, to be that sensitive to what was disturbing a bunch of little kids, but you would also be wrong making that assumption. I think most priests will react to an honest feedback of something so serious as the conduct of a Sacrament, but there is only one way to know for sure.

Talk to them about it.

You made an excellent point and I love your example about Fr. Andrew the Giant. LOL My own confessor has the opposite problem. He tries to be so quiet that I often have to ask him to speak up so I can hear him.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Thanks, Bro. JR. Yes, he was an awesome priest, hard to find one made in the same mold today, thought I'm certain they are out there. After serving Mass when he was the celebrant, he'd tell us to make sure we didn't forget to take our cassock and surplice, he didn't want them getting mixed up with his. LOL That would be like mistaking a handkerchief with a circus tent.

All of us kids loved him because he was such a novelty, so big, such a teaser, and that voice of his. If Hollywood had only known about him, they would have him giving Charlton Heston instructions from the burning bush.

Just when you think you know something about someone, their actions teach you something more. Bunch of us were over playing ball in the school playground one Saturday morning, and over walks Fr. Brendon (his first name). He needed a couple of us to help him with something. So two of us go with him and he drives a short way to a fruit and vegetable stand, purchases a couple good sized boxes of stuff, and puts them in the trunk of his car. As we drive off, he tells us he wants us to drop them off on the front porch of a certain house, and we are to do it quickly and in absolute silence. "Don't even breathe 'til you're back in the car." So we run these two boxes of food up to the house and quietly put them on the porch, pivot, and take off. As we do, a voice inside says "Thank you so much, Father!"

When back in the car, he was quite distressed to hear what the voice said. He gave a big sigh and said, "We'll have to be quieter next time." When back at the ball field, everyone wanted to know about our "secret mission." We said we just dropped off some food at a house. Later we found out it was an elderly woman who could no longer drive. Fr. used to go by the house and visit her, check up on her, and bring her communion if her family couldn't get her to church on Sunday. He brought a box of food with him one day and she apparently lit into him about doing that, so he started sneaking the food over there however he could. But there was no fooling her, she knew who was responsible.

Now I've heard many good homilies over the years on charity and works thereof, but I have to say nothing quite drives the lesson home than when you're in the car with someone who spent their money and invested their own time trying to feed the hungry in a way that rejects acknowledgment of those actions in a way that would have made the Mission Impossible team proud. That's a priest that makes young men want to be Catholic!

If Saints can blush, he's probably the color of the Pentecost vestments about now. Don't worry, Fr. B, I won't tell them about putting the incense in the church janitor's pipe. ;)

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