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Our readers asked:

My priest yelled at me in confession because I had pre-marital sex – is this objectionable behavior and should I report him if it is?

Neela Kale Answers:

The sacrament of reconciliation celebrates God’s boundless mercy and love — no matter what we have done, God always gives us a fresh start if we express sorrow for our sins and a desire to amend our lives. There is absolutely no place for recriminations during confession. The priest may ask questions to help you thoroughly examine your conscience, and he will encourage you to true conversion of heart. But he is not there to scold you because of what you have done. Instead, his words and his tone should convey that he wishes to welcome you back into God’s loving embrace.

If you begin a confession and feel you are not being treated well, it is best to leave and to seek another priest at another time. You are always free to seek out a priest who can help you feel comfortable during reconciliation. If you have serious concerns about the priest’s behavior, call the representative of the priest personnel board (find contact information on your diocesan website). The seal of confession is extremely sacred, which makes reporting about something that happened during reconciliation very delicate. The representative can help you determine if any further action is necessary.

The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Pixie

    Once upon a time, I was forced to go to confession (by an elementary school teacher) at a church I didn’t belong to. I didn’t know how to do confession, so I winged it and told my priest my sins. He yelled at me for never going to church. He proceeded to tell me I was going to hell- he knew this for a fact, because a young girl he once knew never went to church, died, and then went to hell.
    True story. (The whacked out priest, that is.)

    • MisaoAkiOlivier

      someone is asking a serious question. take your immaturity elsewhere

  • Jack Florenz

    I assure you there are priests who are abusive in the confessional. Some even ask for inappropriate and salacious details of particular sins.
    If this were not a problem,Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, Vatican expert on confessions, would not have issued these instructions to priests:
    “Priests hearing confessions need to replace any negative or aggressive attitudes with meekness and mercy toward the penitent. The Sacrament of Reconciliation sometimes turns into a unilateral overemphasis on the accusation and listing of sins. The end result is that the thing that is absolutely central when listening to sin, that is, the blessed embrace of the merciful Father, is put on the back burner. Isn’t it true perhaps that at times confession takes on the semblance of a prosecuting tribunal rather than a celebration of forgiveness, and that the conversation takes on inquisitorial, or, in any case, indelicate tones? A priest is first and foremost a father who welcomes, listens and engages in dialogue. As priests we are called to show mercy and hope, to be fathers more than judges, to take on the penitent’s pain and listen with much patience. Priests must carefully control their reaction, including facial expressions and gestures, when hearing confessions. The priest should imitate Christ’s gentleness and never display a sense of shock, no matter how grave the sin. The priest must never pry for personal details, never show impatience or be in a hurry, and should instill an awe and reverence of God, not terror, and should condemn the sin, not the sinner. Penitents open their heart and soul to the confessor because they see him as being God’s minister, and if instead they find in him severity, not mercy, or doubts and obscurity and not the light of truth, they will have been truly deceived.”

  • Polz

    I moved to the other parish. That priest is just one priest among many great ones.

  • kristy

    @ Kevin..HUGS!!

  • kristy

    Please post this edit…. Thanks
    I can’t believe anyone could defend that..No one will ever go back?? That is terrible..really..You are in a vulnerable place confessing your most intimate secrets to God and you get yelled at?? No wonder I’m no longer part of the church. Geeeeez

  • Kevin

    I have been a priest for 28 years and couldn’t on my worst day imagine even coming near to yelling at a person in the Sacrament of Reconciliation! When I was a young priest, I remember hearing confessions of folks who had been away for many years because a priest had yelled at them in confession. I my mind, those priests will have far more to answer for in the next life than any person who honestly and openly confesses their sins.

  • richard schickel

    When will people just grow up and kearn that God does not care about your sex life- if sex is done with love and between consenting adults it falls under the “Love Your Neighbor” clause. We are living with the New Testament- not the Old Testament. If the Church does not wake up soon- it will go the way of ancient Rome.

    • BlameTheFed

      Yes, it DOES matter what we do with our bodies. We are made in the image of God and are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We must use our bodies as God designed and intended, as a reflection of the total, self-giving love that is God. This is only possible in the holy sacrament of marriage that is open to life. Pope John Paul II’s revolutionary “Theology of the Body” explains the “spousal meaning” of the body and why fornication, adultery, masturbation, homosexuality, and contraception are gravely disordered and sinful. An excellent introduction is Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body for Beginners”. This book has changed my life.

  • AnitaH

    Referring back to the survey conducted in the Newark diocese in the last year, being yelled at in confession was one of the top 3 reasons people left the Church. I quit attending Mass regularly for 3 or 4 years and didn’t attend confession for 12 years because a priest yelled at me in confession. I left confession that day feeling ashamed, miserable and unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness.

  • Sierra McConnell

    I, too, wonder what the full story is. With the day being so filled with sex and sexuality, I wonder if she was one of the ones who continued to sin, and came back each week with the thought she could merely ask forgiveness. It doesn’t work that way. If you sin with the thought you can ask forgiveness, forgiveness will not be given to you.

    • Camilla Marie Rygh van Goudoev

      Of course it will. It doesn’t matter what you thought when you sinned. What matters is what you think when you go to confession.

      • brit

        You will always be forgiven.. but you may have added a few years extra in purgatory for continually offending God.

    • richfire

      what about the the 77th times rule of forgiveness?

  • Elizabeth

    I think the answer Neela gave is spot on – the priest has no right to ‘yell’ at anyone in confession – in doing so the priest is interfering between the confessor and God. The priest cannot account for God or accurately represent Him, and needs to remember the confessor is there to ‘see’ God and not the priest.

  • Michael

    Did the priest really yell at the person? Unless it was a private appointment, the priest would certainly have known that anyone else waiting in line at the confessional would have heard the incident. Not saying that it couldn’t happen… just saying.

    On the other hand, I do know of a situation where a person I was sponsoring to come into full communion with the church had a difficult time admitting that pre-marital sex was even wrong – and she herself was involved in such a relationship. I counseled her about this as best I could, holding firmly to the teachings of the Church. When I accompanied her to the Lenten penitential service where she went to individual private confession, I never saw her after I myself went to Confession. Come to find out that she had left the church in tears. She later confided in me that she expressed to the priest in the confessional that she could not admit that pre-marital sex was a sin. She said that the priest was nice and tactful, but he refused her absolution. I charitably stated to her how could she expect anything less? You cannot repent from something you don’t believe is a sin, and you cannot obtain absolution if you are demonstrably unrepentant. She has since (slowly) come around.

    • richfire

      In our church set up the priest can actually yell if he want for it is a private room… exclusive for priest and the one who confess.. the others will wait for their turn in the outside of that room.

    • BlameTheFed

      No one can fault the priest for this. He was kind, but how could he offer her absolution if she was unrepentant of a clear sin? Christ gave his apostles the power to forgive OR retain sins.

  • Fr Jim

    I have, in my 13 years of priesthood – never once “lost my cool” or even come close to that and can never imagine such. In such a vulnerable place where a person is laying out their painful failures, yes, it can be challenging at times to delicately lead them to deeper conversion, but in the end, I always remember how many good priests have demonstrated the patient generous love of Christ to me. How could I do anything but the same?

  • dee

    I’m wondering if there is a larger issue here, namely that we believe that we have a right not to be made to feel uncomfortable and, sadly, that anyone who makes us feel uncomfortable is wrong.

    Please understand that I’m not defending the priest’s behavior but I don’t think it should overshadow the fact that the writer was availing his/her self to the sacrament of Reconciliation.

    What’s the greater transgression in this scenario–the sin or the confessor’s behavior? Is it possible that, in reality, premarital sex diminishes the person and society to such an extent that anger (or “yelling,” as the writer puts it) is the appropriate response?

  • Dominic, OP

    I too am a priest and have come close to loosing my cool a couple of times. I would have a hard time imagining yelling at someone for something like premarital sex, however. These are traditionally known as the “hot” sins like drunkenness and gluttony. They can still be serious but are understandable because they’re basically appetites run amuck. I’m not convinced, however, that it’s never appropriate to be forceful in the confessional. “Cold” sins which are more calculated and exploitative, especially when they involve using the confessional to justify repeated behavior deserve to be met with some kind of reproof, whether it’s scolding or not. A person who confesses spousal or child abuse, for instance, who comes in every Saturday so that they can receive Communion on Sunday with the family needs to be set straight, or a business owner who has developed a cycle of exploiting workers. But normal sins, mortal or venial, these should always be met with compassion and great love.

  • Mike

    Arturo, I suspect that Father covered the no premarital sex part pretty thoroughly in the confessional.

  • Mark

    I am a priest, and when we were in theology, our professor told us that if we became angry or raised our voices in a confessional, quite simply we were wrong. Sometimes we get tired or agitated by the way someone tries to use confession, but it still doesn’t matter, we should be as the answer said, welcoming. I’ve gotten upset a couple of times in a confessional, but mostly because there was little that I could do to absolve someone who had no purpose of amendment. But even then, I’ve not yelled. But I also know that it is important to know my attitude when I go to hear confessions, to get my rest, and to remember it is not me (about me) but about helping people encounter Christ.

  • Arturo

    Great answer. The only thing that is missing, I think, is:
    “By the way, stop having pre-marital sex”

  • Brian Scott-Preston

    He’s probably jealous.

  • hugh davey

    whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven whose sins you shall retain they are retained. Jesus gave this power to the apostles…now do you think He would have yelled at you NO WAY.we are Gods little children—theres is the Kingdom of Heaven.Priests are human beings and they are not faultless neither are we.but if this is what he did im sure his superiors weould put him right if you contacted them.a visiting priest was at our parish recently and i asked him to hear my confession we sat down on a bench in church and i went to confession.do not be afraid god loves us go to a different priest.and remember theres more rejoycing in heaven over 1 sinner that repents than 99 who dont need to repent.and when we receive absolution in confession our slate is wiped clean every time .in 72 years i have never been yelled at the sacrament——and i am no saint…lets pray for each other and those you know.a few months ago a bus driver took us on pilgrimage he hadnt been in church for 15 years and said he would never be backinside a church again.he told me they had lost a baby some years back,,i dont know maybe this was his reason.i asked the mother of a 7 year old girl that was with us if she would ask the bus driver if he would go into church to light a candle with her HE DID their baby had been named HOPE we need each other in the church even those who are on leave at present DG

  • Wonder How Many Have Been Hurt by This?

    I have learned recently that this is the reason a few people I know left the church – they were yelled at in the confessional and were so disturbed by the incidents that they never went back to confession or to Mass.

    One is now attending Mass again after decades, but doesn’t expect to ever fully reconcile with the Church and has not received the Holy Eucharist because this person has not stepped foot in a confessional again.

    • Constance Chapman

      I wish you would find my priest. He is wonderful confessor.

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