How do we keep kids safe in confession (and everywhere else)?

I made my first confession in a parking lot. It was the early ’80s, and that was how they arranged things — lined up in a parking lot across from the church, with a couple of folding chairs set up on the hot asphalt, parents clustered around just out of hearing distance.

Everything was done as casually as possible at this time, as part of an overall effort to demystify and desanctify the Church. I also remember them painting over the midnight blue sanctuary with the gold stars, and making it beige instead.

As foolish and unpleasant as their likely motivation was, it wasn’t actually a terrible system for first confession. I thought of it the other day when Chris Damian asked on Twitter: “How can Catholic parents responsibly send children to confession, knowing that for half of the last century about 1 in 25 priests was a sexual abuser? And that the Church structured itself to hide this?”

You can quibble about his numbers, which he says are based on the John Jay Report; but I believe it was a good-faith question.

It is undeniable that some priests, just like some men in every profession, are sexual abusers, and that they use their spiritual authority and the privacy of the confessional to prey on vulnerable people.

So here’s my answer:

I thought first of what I taught a class of 8-year-olds when I led a confession preparation class. We learned four basic things about safety in general and not just confession. It occurred to me that these rules didn’t change for older kids. They just need elaboration.

One: My body is made by God, and I’m in charge of it….Read the rest of my latest for OSV.

Photo by cottonbro studio via Pexels

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6 thoughts on “How do we keep kids safe in confession (and everywhere else)?”

  1. This is really helpful guidance, which does indeed apply in almost all contexts. Thank you! My oldest is 9 and I hate that I have to bring these things up at all, but, here we are.

  2. Some women in every profession abuse too. And boys and men are far less likely to report it.

    In our parish, on the big confession days (before Easter and Christmas, and the parish school’s first Confession), there are always some priests from the surrounding parishes. In addition to the Confessional boxes and rooms, there are two priests up on the altar in plain site. We’ve told our kids repeatedly that they’re not allowed in the rooms. Always go in the box or on the altar.

    We’ve taught our kids that anyone can be creepy – priests, nuns, teachers, doctors, etc. And they should honor their feelings if someone creeps them out. And honoring those feelings will never get them in trouble with mom and dad.

    There’s a famous story in our family when an older woman asked my 4 year old son to give him a hug. He politely said, “No, thank you.” She leaned over to give him a hug anyway and he popped her one. “He hit me!” She yelled. He ran over to me in tears and I picked him up and hugged him and said, “It’s ok. You said, ‘No, thank you.'” She was not happy with him. Or me. But too bad. My kid says don’t hug him. Don’t hug him. End of story.

    1. You can start by doing away with face to face confession. No reason for it. We go to the Latin Mass, so 90% of confessions are in a confessional or out in the open, in plain sight, like on pilgrimages or during the pandemic. On the few occasions that there was confession alone with a priest in a separate room, not visible to others (which infuriates my husband, especially with children), we told our kids not to go.

      1. Piggybacking off of this comment, if you’re ever in a confessional and a priest leans around the screen to see you, it’s a major boundary violation and they might be grooming you for an assault.

        Found that one out the hard way. That one goes for grown-ups too.

    2. Your son definitely shouldn’t have hit that woman, it shows bad upbringing and sets a dangerous precedent of resorting to physical violence in unnecessary situations. What he should have done is say “no thank you” and walked away. I doubt that woman would have chased after him for that hug, that would’ve been the end of it.

      1. Just seeing this now. Hard disagree. Everyone has a right to defend himself. And being hugged against one’s will is just cause for self defense.

        On the other hand, if we’d taught him to say no thank you and run away, we’d have been teaching him his words have no value. She COULD have and SHOULD have honored his wishes, but chose not to. No means no. She had it coming.

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