by Doug Lawrence
In a recent article, 10 Tips on How to Confess Well Fr. Ed Broom offers a number of useful tips for making a good confession – but one of the suggestions is dangerous, because it can easily lead to a violation of the “seal” of absolute confidentiality of the sacrament of reconciliation – and cause a host of other, totally unnecessary problems, as well.
According to the article, it is suggested that we should “Write down the sins so that you will not forget them once in the confessional!”
Let’s consider all the things that might happen to a written list of sins from the night before, when a complete examination of conscience might have been done – through the actual confession – and afterwards.
Unless you happen to be a hermit, living on a mountain top, or in a cave, and the priest is coming to you – and your list of sins will be dropped into a fire and be instantly destroyed – you run a substantial risk of someone – anyone – happening across your list – learning all the details of your particular sins – and violating one of the most important aspects of the sacrament.
Understanding that the seal of the confessional is binding not only on the priest, but also on any other Catholic who might inadvertently learn of your sins – by whatever means – it’s clear that putting such things down in writing is often dangerous – and generally foolish.
If the list was misplaced or somehow misappropriated – intentionally or otherwise – and the information was subsequently disseminated to others – a number of very negative consequences might result. Here’s just a few of the many possibilities. (If you happen to be a politician, a used car salesman, or a bishop, please pay close attention):
The priest might be wrongly accused of violating the seal of the confessional.
Family or friends might come into possession of the list – before or after the confession – and discover certain things that they should not know. (Did you ever leave something in the pocket of your shirt or pants, and it ended up in the wash?)
Business associates and/or others – particularly your enemies – might come into possession of the list – in which case the possibilities for gossip and other mischief – including blackmail – are virtually without limits.
You might get arrested and subsequently carted off to jail.
Your list might become a near occasion of grave sin – for some yet unknown individual.
You might suddenly begin attract new – and unwanted – friends and followers.
You may find your personal list of sins “Trending Now” on the World Wide Web/Internet.
The entire parish/neighborhood might soon know all about your innermost thoughts and personal weaknesses.
There is also a very real possibility that your friends, family and others could be caught up in any ensuing scandal.
In the confessional, most priests will ask whether you are truly sorry for “these and all your sins” – and that ought to cover anything you have genuinely forgotten to confess. Should some unconfessed sin come to mind at another time, simply confess it at your earliest convenience. God isn’t looking to trip you up!
In these days of information piracy and other forms of electronic mischief – leading to identity theft and all types of related problems – the last thing you need to do is go around making written lists of all the grave sins you have committed – especially since they might somehow end up on Facebook or Twitter, before you know it.
I suggest you do your best to frequently make a good confession – by memory. Treat such information much as you would your social security number and credit card data – taking steps to make absolutely certain it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Otherwise, you risk very serious, unforeseen and totally unnecessary consequences – which were never intended to be a part of the sacrament of reconciliation.