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KJs_Dad
01-04-2009, 05:42 PM
I'm not Catholic. but I'm working on a story where a priest hears a confession to murder, but doesn't know who is making the confession (and neither does the reader). I've done some digging online, but haven't found all the details I need. I know there is a screen that the person can pull in place so the priest cannot see them. I've seen confessional booths with a little light above each door, indicating someone is in the booth. Is this how a priest would know there is someone waiting to make confession? Would the priest say anything when first entering the confessional booth, or does he wait for the other person to start ("Forgive me, father, for I have sinned...")? Any other details about the process that I should include?

Thanks in advance!

KJs_Dad

Corpus Thomisticum
01-04-2009, 11:39 PM
In the R.C. church, confessions are scheduled for specific times, although some of the more flexible priests will also allow you to schedule an appointment "outside of regular hours". Since confession is a part of one of the holy sacraments, it is sacred and therefore secret -- i.e., between the confessor, the priest and God. That's why the light's on when a confession is underway, to let all others know not to disturb these particular confessional boxes.

Although you can probably manipulate it from the confessor's side, the priest controls the screen between them. For your story, a priest cannot divulge anything learned from a confession to anyone else, including to his own bosses, so it would actually be irrelevant whether they knew who had confessed the murder or not. When I was a young kid in Catholic school, our priest "wow-ed" us by telling us that he had heard every crime that he knew of in confession.

Horseshoes
01-04-2009, 11:40 PM
The priest and penetant can see each other, though there's a heavy screen between their booths and it's perfectly feasible the priest cannot see well enough to ID the person (the person can look down, wear a hood/hat/sunglasses--you're fine there).

Strongly urge you to traipse over to your nearest cathedral. Sensory details that occur to you at first blush are better than a msg brd.

shakeysix
01-04-2009, 11:53 PM
if you don't speak right up the priest will say "do you have anything to confess?' of course that was back in the eighties. haven't been for a while---s6

citymouse
01-05-2009, 12:00 AM
Typically the priest is seated in profile to the penitent. The grill, either incised of cloth covered, is at head level. The light inside is dim. The penitent kneels facing the priest.
Here is a scene I wrote for my third novel. It may help you understand more.

Victor knelt in the half-light of the tiny box, which to him felt like a coffin turned on its end and said, “Bless me Father for I have sinned.”
He stumbled on the next line of the old rubric—it has been X number of days, months, years since my last confession. A tense pause folded over him as he struggled
to recall the last time he had ventured into a church—any church—much less a confessional.
“Go on my son."
No response.
“Are you there my son?”
Victor whispered a quiet, “Yes... I’m here...”
“How long has it been since your last confession?” the voice prompted.
“I can’t remember.”
“A year?”
“More.”
This time the priest’s voice was tinged with mild reproach. “Two years?”
Victor groaned. “I said I can’t remember—let’s just say it’s been a long time.”
“Then my son we’re going to be here for a while.”
The minutes stretched into an hour and Victor was still reciting a litany of wrongdoing that would have made a Mafia hit man look like a church social worker. His mouth was dry and his words faltered and finally faded into fractured phrases.
“My son, you’re stalling.”
“What!” Victor almost shouted his indignation.
He couldn’t see the priest’s indulgent smile through the thin black cloth that separated sinners from absolution.
The priest said, “I do this for a living, my son. I can recognize when a penitent is confessing something in order to avoid a more urgent issue.”
“I see… Yes…, you’re right.

This scene is quite lengthy. I've only included a portion here. The tension a penitent, especially a lapsed one, may feel is real. The patience of priests is the stuff of legend but that too can be tested.
Good luck.
C

cbenoi1
01-05-2009, 12:02 AM
Maybe you could go to the nearest Catholic church and interview the priest? Or the nun that happens to run the office in his absence? Just 'confess' you're writing a novel...

-cb

johnnysannie
01-05-2009, 12:52 AM
I'm not Catholic. but I'm working on a story where a priest hears a confession to murder, but doesn't know who is making the confession (and neither does the reader). I've done some digging online, but haven't found all the details I need. I know there is a screen that the person can pull in place so the priest cannot see them. I've seen confessional booths with a little light above each door, indicating someone is in the booth. Is this how a priest would know there is someone waiting to make confession? Would the priest say anything when first entering the confessional booth, or does he wait for the other person to start ("Forgive me, father, for I have sinned...")? Any other details about the process that I should include?

Thanks in advance!

KJs_Dad

In many newer Catholic Churches, the traditional "confessional" like often seen in movies has been long since replaced with a simple "Reconcilation Room" in which you confess face to face with the priest. In my experience as a lifelong Catholic worshipping in several different states, only older, larger churches still offer an old-fashioned confessional with a screen and privacy.

Technically it isn't "Confession" any longer but the Rite of Reconciliation.

johnnysannie
01-05-2009, 12:53 AM
Maybe you could go to the nearest Catholic church and interview the priest? Or the nun that happens to run the office in his absence? Just 'confess' you're writing a novel...

-cb

In the current Catholic realm, few priests have a "nun who runs the office". Most have a professional office staff consisting of lay people.

maryland
01-05-2009, 01:12 AM
You could go into a Catholic Church and have a discreet look -or find out when they are cleaning it. The "new" Catholic sacrament of reconciliation is/was quite a shock - Iwalked into a well-lit room where the priest was sitting on a chair. There was a half-screen at one side (for old-fashioned chickens like me!) But obivously you had been seen face to face. Not a situation that encourages the confession of anything serious, or a place for the shy.
In the older versions the confessional booth had an unlit side(the penitent's) and there was a wire screen about A4 size,at face height as you were kneeling, with a dark purple or black curtain on the priest's side. There was often the rustle of paper as he was reading (praying? saying his office? Saturday evening football results?)
His greeting was/is "Yes, my child?", whatever the age of the penitent.You come out walking on air, reborn.

AZ_Dawn
01-05-2009, 04:51 AM
My dad told me about the confessionals in his hometown's church in the 40s and 50s. There was the screen between the priest and the penitent, but there was a curtain instead of a door between them and the church. I can't say whether anyone tried to listen in, but the occasional "YOU DID WHAT?" from the hard-of-hearing old priest would ring through the building. Dad's a deacon now, and he tells this to kids who are making their first confession so they know how luck they are to have those thick wooden doors.

KJs_Dad
01-05-2009, 05:02 AM
Thank you to everyone for their responses. Just to clarify a bit, I work as a wedding photographer, and I've been in enough empty Catholic churches (before the rehearsal, or the ceremony itself) to have a good grasp of the physical layout and ambiance. Here in Pittsburgh even the newer churches still have a booth rather than a room. What I was looking for was information on the sequence of events leading up to the actual confession.

I realize that there are normally scheduled times for confession, or you make an appointment, but neither works for my story idea. If a priest were in the Sacristy or the altar area, and heard a door close, and saw the light lit above the penitent's door, would the priest go and hear an "unscheduled" confession?

Thanks again!

KJs_Dad

citymouse
01-05-2009, 05:19 AM
I realize that there are normally scheduled times for confession, or you make an appointment, but neither works for my story idea. If a priest were in the Sacristy or the altar area, and heard a door close, and saw the light lit above the penitent's door, would the priest go and hear an "unscheduled" confession?

Thanks again!

KJs_Dad

KJ, If a priest heard or noticed someone near or perhaps near the confessional he would investigate.
If someone were asking for confession the priest is obligated to hear it unscheduled or not. The key phrase that any penitent would use if a priest were hesitant is, "Father I am a soul in distress."
Part of a priest's duty before God is to hear confession, admonish, and to absolve.

Then there's the one about the man who keeps confessing that he's been stealing lumber from the local Home Depot. After four sessions with the priest realizes that more than the traditional penance is needed. Exasperated he says, "My son for your penance I want you to make a novena."
The man relies, "Father I don't know what that a novena is but if you've got the plans, I've got the wood!" :)
C

KJs_Dad
01-05-2009, 06:03 AM
KJ, If a priest heard or noticed someone near or perhaps near the confessional he would investigate.
If someone were asking for confession the priest is obligated to hear it unscheduled or not. The key phrase that any penitent would use if a priest were hesitant is, "Father I am a soul in distress."
Part of a priest's duty before God is to hear confession, admonish, and to absolve.

Then there's the one about the man who keeps confessing that he's been stealing lumber from the local Home Depot. After four sessions with the priest, Father realizes that more than the traditional penance is needed. Exasperated he says, "My son for your penance I want you to make a novena."
The man relies, "Father I don't know what that a novena is but if you've got the plans, I've go the wood!" :)
C
Thanks Citymouse! That was what I suspected, and this is definitely a soul in distress. Loved the Home Depot story...

KJs_Dad

GeorgeK
01-05-2009, 05:50 PM
In the R.C. church, confessions are scheduled for specific times, although some of the more flexible priests will also allow you to schedule an appointment "outside of regular hours". Since confession is a part of one of the holy sacraments, it is sacred and therefore secret -- i.e., between the confessor, the priest and God. That's why the light's on when a confession is underway, to let all others know not to disturb these particular confessional boxes.

Although you can probably manipulate it from the confessor's side, the priest controls the screen between them. For your story, a priest cannot divulge anything learned from a confession to anyone else, including to his own bosses, so it would actually be irrelevant whether they knew who had confessed the murder or not. When I was a young kid in Catholic school, our priest "wow-ed" us by telling us that he had heard every crime that he knew of in confession.

Actually, there is a wide variation of the practice within America, ranging from posted confessional times where people come in and the priest just waits around inside his dark and shadowy side of the confessional with a fixed screen that can not be opened without damaging it, for the older traditional variant to the newer face to face scheduled meetings. Also the priest's confidentiality is much like a doctor's confidentiality. If a penitent or patient divulges something that makes them an obvious risk to society they can divulge it to police and are legally prosicuteable if they don't. (Of course if there is no record of the "confession", then the police would have a difficult time in making any charges stick) Even if you had an old die hard priest who felt he couldn't divulge, he could always (and would have been taught to) make it part of the rite of reconciliation for the pennace to be to turn themselves in to the police. If they don't, then they are not repentant and the priest is no longer bound by confidentiality. The Hollywood stories about a serial killer taunting a priest is an urban myth.

emandem
01-05-2009, 06:33 PM
Been a Catholic all my life and it would be highly unusual for a priest to wander through the church and notice a light on above the confessional booth, then even less likely for him to go in to investigate/hear a confession. Actually, even if the priest saw the light on, he'd prob think to himself, "Hmm, it's not a scheduled afternoon for confessions--I've got other things going on right now." (Perhaps I've just known less involved priests)

It would work better for your story for the MC to walk into the church when, coincidentally, the priest happened to already have an open afternoon scheduled for hearing confessions. There would be a few scattered people in the pews praying quietly before/after their confession. If the priest got tired of waiting in the confessional during "slow" times, he may be sitting by himself in one of the front pews, "training" his ear to listen for someone to go into the confessional, but not wanting to face them as they enter the church (to allow some privacy).

johnnysannie
01-05-2009, 07:43 PM
Been a Catholic all my life and it would be highly unusual for a priest to wander through the church and notice a light on above the confessional booth, then even less likely for him to go in to investigate/hear a confession. Actually, even if the priest saw the light on, he'd prob think to himself, "Hmm, it's not a scheduled afternoon for confessions--I've got other things going on right now." (Perhaps I've just known less involved priests)

).


I have to agree.

AZ_Dawn
01-06-2009, 02:26 AM
Also the priest's confidentiality is much like a doctor's confidentiality. If a penitent or patient divulges something that makes them an obvious risk to society they can divulge it to police and are legally prosicuteable if they don't. (Of course if there is no record of the "confession", then the police would have a difficult time in making any charges stick) Even if you had an old die hard priest who felt he couldn't divulge, he could always (and would have been taught to) make it part of the rite of reconciliation for the pennace to be to turn themselves in to the police. If they don't, then they are not repentant and the priest is no longer bound by confidentiality.

Actually, no. The priest has to take the secrets of the confessional, no matter what they are, with him to the grave; whether or not the penitent is truly repentant is immaterial. He can't even say who went to confession or mention the sin outside the confessional if it would identify the penitent. Even a newbie priest knows that outing penitents will send him to Hell. I think he would at least be relieved of his priestly duties, if not outright excommunicated. This may seem harsh, but consider that staying out of Hell requires a lack of serious unforgiven sins and go to Heaven immediately after death requires a complete absence of unforgiven sin. Who's going to go to confession if there's a possibility that the priest would turn them in or make them the subject of his next sermon?

To show how serious business the Seal of the Confessional is, here's a link to an article about a lawsuit concerning taping confessions (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_/ai_19174189).

ETA: Confirmed! (no pun intended) (http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0059.html)

What happens if a priest violates the seal of confession? The Catechism (No. 1467) cites the Code of Canon Law (No. 1388.1) in addressing this issue, which states, "A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if he does so only indirectly, he is to be punished in accord with the seriousness of the offense." From the severity of the punishment, we can clearly see how sacred the sacramental seal of confession is in the eyes of the Church.

citymouse
01-06-2009, 03:17 AM
AZ wrote: Who's going to go to confession if there's a possibility that the priest would turn them in or make them the subject of his next sermon?
Typically no one would know that in advance. If a priest does violate the seal of the confessional the sin is on him and does not vitiate the sacrament for the recipient.
C

Corpus Thomisticum
01-06-2009, 07:12 AM
Actually, there is a wide variation of the practice within America, ranging from posted confessional times where people come in and the priest just waits around inside his dark and shadowy side of the confessional with a fixed screen that can not be opened without damaging it, for the older traditional variant to the newer face to face scheduled meetings. Also the priest's confidentiality is much like a doctor's confidentiality. If a penitent or patient divulges something that makes them an obvious risk to society they can divulge it to police and are legally prosicuteable if they don't. (Of course if there is no record of the "confession", then the police would have a difficult time in making any charges stick) Even if you had an old die hard priest who felt he couldn't divulge, he could always (and would have been taught to) make it part of the rite of reconciliation for the pennace to be to turn themselves in to the police. If they don't, then they are not repentant and the priest is no longer bound by confidentiality. The Hollywood stories about a serial killer taunting a priest is an urban myth.

I'm not originally from America. It may indeed be somewhat different in practice here in the U.S.; I must confess -- no pun intended -- to being a lapsed Catholic who has only attended a few masses here, and those in non-American Catholic churches. I do know that by strict Church doctrine, the act of confession is inviolate, though of course whether any particular secular government is willing to recognize that as such is another matter. Again, traditions within the American church(es) may vary. I do recall though a British comedy from the early 1970s, Bless Me Father, about a Catholic priest in overwhelmingly Protestant Britain, which made fun of this inviolate nature of confession so the traditions I grew up with appear to have been fairly universal in Europe at least.

GeorgeK
01-06-2009, 06:20 PM
Actually, no. The priest has to take the secrets of the confessional, no matter what they are, with him to the grave; whether or not the penitent is truly repentant is immaterial. He can't even say who went to confession or mention the sin outside the confessional if it would identify the penitent. Even a newbie priest knows that outing penitents will send him to Hell. I think he would at least be relieved of his priestly duties, if not outright excommunicated. This may seem harsh, but consider that staying out of Hell requires a lack of serious unforgiven sins and go to Heaven immediately after death requires a complete absence of unforgiven sin. Who's going to go to confession if there's a possibility that the priest would turn them in or make them the subject of his next sermon?

To show how serious business the Seal of the Confessional is, here's a link to an article about a lawsuit concerning taping confessions (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_/ai_19174189).

ETA: Confirmed! (no pun intended) (http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0059.html)

That's not what I was told at the seminary. I got as far as Grand Knight of the Altar. (that shows how long ago that was. I haven't heard that term used for 30-40 years.) I didn't stick around for any of the overnight stays or anything other than "prospective" weekend classes. I wasn't willing to be locked in a room with all the other prospectives. A lot of them gave me the Heebie Jeebies. Over the years, I've noticed that "catholic" doesn't mean as universal as we were taught and that there is a decided variance from bishopric to bishopric and seminary to seminary in terms of what is taught as canon law. There was a time when I was literate in Latin and felt deeply and personally disheartened at how horribly the American Catholic bishops had translated Vatican 2. So I do not doubt for an instant that you were taught something different than I and that you probably also were taught by someone who should have been an authority.

I agree about the taping though. That would be a No-No. However, a priest can (depending upon how the priest interprets the teachings and whether or not they feel comfortable with discussing it with the local bishop) speak to the police about hypotheticals without divulging specifics of the individual.

"Theoretically, Detective, would you be inclined to go to confession every Thursday at 3 PM if you thought that a man claiming to be Jack the Ripper and always smelled of cheap whiskey had the same habit? Oh look, they have pie today."

The difference from what I was taught, was whether the person was a penitent. One of the basic tenets of the Catholic Church is that Evil as a personified enity exists. By extention, there may be evil people posing as penitents just to try and poison the soul of the priest. The sanctity of the confessional is based on the premiss that the person is repentant and not lying. "Go and sin no more," was always the last line of absolution. Granted it is a slippery slope situation, but...

citymouse
01-06-2009, 07:13 PM
GK, Sounds like we come from the same tradition. Way back in the late 60s I was one of a dozen people who were challenged by the bishop, certain we would never succeed, to collect names of those in the diocese who still wanted and would attend a mass offered in Latin. In one week we delivered 1000 names and addresses of men and women within his own cathedral parish supporting a Latin language mass.
Furious, yet still unmoved he announced he would offer the mass himself at the cathedral on the last day of the month. That day we experienced one of the area's fiercest snow storms on record. The bishop was taken aback when he saw a standing room only congregation waiting for him. Later his right hand man, a monsignor, assured him not to worry because the novelty would soon were off. The bishop then said that he would authorize a Latin mass at the cathedral but the congregation would have to supply the priest and he doubted if we could find any in the diocese who would be available. We had a different priest every sunday for one year. At the end of his sermon one priest thanked us for providing him the opportunity to offer, once again, the mass in the language of his ordination. He was promptly transfered to a mission church way out in the boonies. Then the bishop assigned one priest to offer the mass. After a year this priest made the mistake of saying that, since he had never had a parish of his own, he had come to regard this this congregation as his parish. Bang! He was reassigned and we never heard from him again. I think the bishop ate him! We were then told no more cathedral. Go find your own damn church. That was over 40 years ago. The Latin mass is still celebrated. Sandwiched between to "regularly scheduled" masses in an inner city church. They don't like us being there but they love our envelopes stuffed as they are with lots of suburban dollars.
When asked what he thought of the Christian concept of brotherly love, Gandhi replied that it sounded like a good idea.
C

emandem
01-06-2009, 08:09 PM
Citymouse, it's a shame how one person (or one bishop) can negatively affect a church parish containing good priests and good people. Unfortunately, like many other areas of society, it "only takes one bad apple to ruin the barrel." I have friends who turned away from Catholicism b/c of the actions of one church leader or other--it can really test your faith. And in a very "old" religion like Catholicism, there is still a lot of bureaucracy and red tape to fight that has built up over years and years.

Today, it seems I know less and less people who adhere to 100% of what the Catholic church (or even other churches) teach as we realize that our leaders are not infallible. I think some Catholics make the mistake of forgetting that priests and bishops are human also... It is a shame about losing the Latin Mass, b/c it is a beautiful thing.

johnnysannie
01-07-2009, 02:38 AM
Excellent points about inviolate confession. The most a priest can do is to urge someone who commits murder and confesses is to go to the authorities.

I also miss the Latin mass although they have not been common since my childhood. Under the "new" Pope, some of the old Latin has been re-introduced (such as the Kyrie)

AZ_Dawn
01-07-2009, 08:54 AM
That's not what I was told at the seminary.

Hope I'm not being too harsh, but The Catholic Encyclpedia from 1913 (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/The_Law_of_the_Seal_of_Confession) strongly disagrees with your teacher. No mentions are made of exceptions for false penitence.