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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Asking Questions During Confession


My husband went to confession last week and the priest asked him very direct questions about whether he had watched pornography. My husband was not very bothered about the question but I am unhappy. I feel that priests should not ask questions to get you to admit sins. Now I feel uncomfortable at church. Is this a normal question for a priest to ask?


First, it is best that penitents not discuss their confessions with others because a priest is under the seal and cannot defend himself.

Second, if he told you what transpired, then you have a certain liberty to talk with him or to anonymously explore the issue; however, if it be something you overheard while your husband was in confession, then you would be under the seal as well (and could not bring it up).

Third, the questions that a priest asks are often based upon the sins normally confessed. A priest might ask about pornography because many other sins are associated with it. Withholding a mortal sin is also a mortal sin so the penitent would best confess such a sin without too much prodding.

Answering your question, yes it is an appropriate question. The sins we are uncomfortable in admitting are precisely the sins that should be confessed to a priest. He wants to insure that the penitent makes a good confession.  Purposely retaining a mortal sin would in itself constitute sacrilege which is also mortal. Be thankful that the priest helped your husband to receive God’s mercy.  This is far more important than any embarrassment or discomfort you might now feel in church.

2 Responses

  1. Once a confession is discussed in confessional is it appropriate for the priest to ask questions regarding the situation at a later date not in the confessional setting?

    FATHER JOE: While the confidence has not been shared with another, it endangers the seal. What if he mistook you for someone else? I would urge confessors against doing so. I try to forget everything I hear. Indeed, I have become so accomplished at this that penitents have become perturbed at me when they want to start off in a new confession where they left off in a previous one. They cannot believe that I have little or no recollection of what they told me before. But I feel this is for the best. A priest should not violate or strain the seal by word or intimation.

  2. My 12 year old son went to confession and was asked by the priest if he watched “inappropriate websites or porn”. My son came home and immediately told us that he was asked that direct question. He said it made him feel weird because his confession of sins had nothing to do with anything like that, but the priest asked him that question anyway. I am fully aware of the accessible nature of these types of things in our digital society, however, asking a child this type of question is highly inappropriate.

    FATHER JOE: Young people can be quite embarrassed by such matters and there is a danger of a bad confession. Knowing that there is an epidemic regarding pornography and how it targets children and teens, the priest probably wanted to make it easier for such a matter to be confessed. Questions about pornography, masturbation and other sexual activities must be tactful; however, they are within the proper scope or purview of what a priest-confessor might ask. There is nothing here of sinful seduction or voyeurism. You both should be aware of this as ordinary confessions should not be generally discussed. The priest is under the seal and cannot defend himself.

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