The sin list

I was on these forums a little bit ago and I saw that someone said that there priest made a list that if you wanted you could have him read and just say “yes” or “no” to each sin. Is this allowed?

here is the link to the list, I don’t remember the thread though

The “List” is from Fr. Larry Richards from the Diocese of Erie Pa. He has many Lectures that you can download. I have hear his talk on Confession and from my perception it is a tool that can used when conducting an examination. To remind one of sins to confess, not so much, No, No, No, Yes, No, No type of a confession.
Very good speaker you can download many of his Lectures for free from the


The danger about having a list is that it might run the risk of violating the seal of confession if it is not properly disposed. I am not a fan of carrying lists. Just ask God’s help in remembering your sins as honestly and as best that you can.

A list cannot “violate” your seal of confession. First, if you make the list prior to going to confession, it has nothing to do with the confessional at all, it’s just a list you’ve written at home and has no sacramental significance. Second, anyone can break the seal of his own confession – there is no prohibition whatsoever on telling the whole world what happened when you went to confession. Whether you break it intentionally (e.g., by telling your spouse about it; by posting your list on the internet) or less intentionally (by telling your spouse about it in a public place where others can hear you; by leaving your list in a place where someone else will find it) makes no difference.

This is an interesting point I had never thought of before. The penitent, of course, is not bound to secrecy as to what he confessed. The priest confessor wouldn’t be in any danger of violating the seal, unless he was physically given the list. However, as you say anyone who happened upon the list (assuming it was checked off) would be subject to Canon 983 §2:

The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.

benedictgal may not have been precise in her wording, but a list can lead to violation of the seal as I described in my last post. If the list is dropped by someone leaving the confessional, and some of the items are circled with number of occurrences next to them, that would seem to be a good indication as to what was confessed. Now it’s true that a penitent could choose not to confess some of the sins listed on the worksheet, or change his opinion about the quantity, but that would be unlikely.

The canon is written fairly broadly, and does not seem to require detailed or full knowledge of the confession - a comparison with the Latin might clarify if that’s true. I’ll grant that the doubt you’ve suggested is present may be enough canonically to spare the confessor (if involved) from excommunication, or another party from a severe penalty.

Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.

§2. An interpreter and the others mentioned in can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication.

Irrespective of canonical penalties, I think one would be guilty of a mortal sin if he knowingly shared what was indicated on the list.

What you say makes some sense. However, the prohibition (and this is true in the Latin as well) is not on saying things that occurred at someone’s confession, it is on “violat[ing] the sacramental seal.” If I come home and tell you “Hey, I confessed that I stole five dollars from the collection basket,” you have not learned that information within the sacramental seal, so for you to repeat it could not violate that seal even though for the priest or interpreter to repeat the same information, learned in the confessional, would.

The sacramental seal exists to protect the penitent, and it places no burden whatsoever on the penitent. I don’t like the idea of someone chiding, “You can’t prepare for confession that way, you risk the seal getting violated.” To that I say: prove it.

Not to detract from the way this thread is going, but I looked at the list and saw “Despair” as a sin that needs to be confessed. I have to say that I am troubled that someone who has fallen into the wretched pit of despair should need to confess this. If anything, this is not something that needs to be absolved, but rather the despairing party needs counsel and reassurance from a priest or loved one that there is no need for despair. Having been in a situation where I was utterly despairing, in complete and utter sorrow twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for about a month and a half to the point where suicide became a legitimate option in my mind, this is NOT something that one has deliberately chosen to conform their mind to in defiance of God’s will. It is a serious mental and spiritual problem that must be dealt with with compassion. Unfortunately, because of the nature of my despair, I had to battle it on my own.

Does anybody have a rational explanation for why despair would be on a list of sins to confess? I am at a loss as to why it would be considered a sin. Anyone who has ever been in that pit knows that it is not something someone deliberately enters. I cannot even fathom why it would be considered venial, let alone mortal.

In this sense, despair does not refer to mental anguish, but to the assertion that one no longer has the hope of heaven because God cannot or will not forgive his sins.


Next to despair is a definition: “to believe that God will refuse to forgive you”. This isn’t the same thing as the despair you may feel while suffering with a mental health issue like depression. It’s along the same lines as presumption: saying that God must forgive you. It’s on the list of sins because it goes against the fact that God will forgive our sins if we are truly repentant. It’s like you’re telling God what He will / will not do, or should / should not do. Being human, you don’t get to tell God what to do.

As I do an examination of conscience, I write out a list of what I need to confess. I take the list into the confessional with me, read through the list to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, and take it with me when I leave – the priest never touches my list. If I lose the list along the way, it doesn’t violate the seal of the confessional because I have no obligation to keep secret whatever I tell the priest.

But, if you happen to leave that list in the confessional, you might run the risk that the person behind you could read it. Worse yet, that person could be someone who knows you. For me, it’s better to walk in with no list.

To explain “The list” further. Fr. Richards, who posted the list, has a great lecture on Confession. Both the list and the lecture are available at,
Fr. Richards spiritual director had, a list of questions that he asked all penitents.
He gave no history except that. A theory, St Francis de Sales in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, St Francis went to great lengths to explain how to conduct a true examination of conscious. Thus, a true Confession. The point Fr Richards explains is that some penitent do not even realize some of their actions were sins. The list is only meant to be a tool in order to help one conduct an examination.
The Seal of confession could be broken if one left the list, dropped the list etc. some responsibility must rest with the penitent in guarding the list. The Priest is bound not to break the Seal even up to death and becoming a martyr. But, the penitant would have to leave the list and have something on the list, a name, email address etc, which would allow someone to determine whom it was from.
I asked my own Spiritual director about the Seal. He explained to me that the Seal cannot be broken even to another Priest or even the Pope. Because, a fear that a friend of mine had was, the “Priest water cooler”, and his fear that Priests would stand discuss confessions amoungst one another. Or what if Priest A (who they feel comfortable with) tells Priest B what I confessed. My Spiritual director explained that, not even two Priests can discuss specifics of a persons Confession. Even though in this instance both Priests are in the same Parish.
In a nutshell you can be confident that your Confession is between you, the Priest and, God. Noone else. And the Priest who heard your Confession cannot discuss it with anyone. Not between Priests or even the Pope. At times during Homilies you may hear a Priest talk of a Confession but, this should and will be done only to help make generalizations. I.e. as Fr. Richards explains very well in his lecture so many Catholics are unaware that purposely missing Mass is a Sin. Purposely meaning you could have gone but chose not to, you chose to sleep in, or plain did not want to go for whatever reason. But, he also explains if you have a loved one who is sick or yourself were ill but go to Mass faithfully, that you are in no grave sin as these circumstances were not of your choice.
Again, a great tool to use when doing an axamination, fully. But as Benedictgal points out. Should not really be necessary every time you enter a Confessional. Pray, that God will allow you to know what needs to be confessed. It is meant to give one a good place to start with an examination.
I hope this explains it a little further.

I take great care to put the list in my pocket before I leave the confessional (I’m kinda OCD about it, actually.). Honestly, I wouldn’t care if someone else read the list – even if they know me – because the list is ‘just’ venial sins in areas that I am particularly weak (things like impatience, procrastination, failing to work out, not taking my medications when I should, daydreaming, etc.) and need God’s grace to improve. I don’t have a problem remembering my mortal sins, and don’t need to write those down.

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