Children’s confessions are just as real as adults’

Recently, I’ve come across several instances of people taking the seal of confession lightly. Not priests, thank God (although I have heard priests disclosing things that skirted too close to the line), but laymen — specifically, laymen talking about their children’s confessions.

(Before I go any further, here is my vital reminder: If you do encounter a priest who has broken the seal of confession, or if you find evidence that this has happened, SAY SOMETHING. Tell his bishop, and demand a response. This is a big stinking deal and you should make sure it gets addressed. A priest who breaks the seal of confession needs to be stopped ASAP.)

Carelessness around children’s confessions represents two failures: A failure to take confession seriously enough, and a failure to take children’s spiritual lives seriously enough. Both can be disastrous; or, at very least, they can erode our understanding of what sacraments are for, and therefore erode our faith.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

I feel like I should note that I was a little crankier than absolutely necessary while writing this. Sorry about that! 

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7 thoughts on “Children’s confessions are just as real as adults’”

  1. So true! I think besides disrespect, parents can easily fall into being too nosy about their kids’ confessions partly out of good intentions, from feeling they’re responsible for their kids’ spiritual formation. After all, if we’re responsible for making sure they do go to Confession regularly, just as we make them go to Mass, we can get fuzzy about the line where our authority stops. So a reminder is good.

    I even seem to remember a piece at Crisis Magazine years ago (by Marjorie Campbell, I think?) arguing that parents should be present at kids’ confessions. Can you imagine? I wonder if they ever retracted or corrected it…

      1. It’s such a short jump from “I care for my children and would do anything to protect them” to “My children are my property and aren’t entitled to basic human dignity.”

      2. Right! Although to be honest, I wasn’t even thinking of that. I was just remembering how stifling it felt to be a child, with my (loving, non-abusive, but domineering) parents monitoring my every action. If they had felt entitled to monitor my thoughts, feelings, and spiritual life too? Unbearable

  2. Two questions: First, if you were little crankier than absolutely necessary when writing this, how do you measure the exact right amount of crankiness necessary? Asking for a friend.

    Secondly, and this is a more serious question, I have often heard priests speaking in very general terms about what they learned in the confessional, not any details that could possibly connect a person with the sin, but more general things, such as a priest once told me that in a parish where he was assisting he became very worried when a number of people confessed to using witchcraft for vengeance. I did not think at the time that he might be violating the seal of the confessional, and I do think that he is a good and holy man who takes such things very seriously, but I am wondering. Or, could a priest speak to an older, more experienced person to say something like “A person confessed such and such to me, and I did not know what to say. Can you advise me if I get another such penitent?”
    I priest I met when he was very old (and this was 40 years ago, so events in this story are now very, very old) told me that his first parish assignment was in a place far from home for him, where he was unfamiliar with some aspects of the culture. He was confused when several young women confessed to taking an elevator ride. Only after some time did he learn that it they believed that an elevator ride would induce miscarriage, so these young women were confessing to being pregnant out of wedlock and attempting an abortion.

    1. I think, but am not completely sure, that they are allowed to make reference to things they have heard in confession, as long as there’s no way of connecting it with particular people. I don’t know how they are supposed to get advice from other priests without getting too specific, though.

  3. Simcha, thank you for recognizing and sharing the respect that we need to have for the spiritual life of children. Children and other vulnerable people are very close to our Lord. Jesus encouraged us to be like little children in the way in which we believe – absolutely and totally. We need to show them the respect that they deserve and never to diminish their spirituality in any way.

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