The Problem With Confession Booths

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The Problem With Confession Booths

Hemant Mehta ( ,

If you grew up Catholic, then you’re familiar with the Confession Booth. That’s when you’re supposed to go on a regular basis to confess all the sins you’ve committed since the last time you were there. These could be smaller sins, like you cheated on a test, to unforgivable sins, like “I’m gay and my boyfriend and I got it on and it was amazing.” Seriously, the Catholic Church says that act is “intrinsically disordered”

Anyway, the priest hears you out, and then suggests a way to make amends for your sins. It could be as simple as saying some prayers, some Hail Marys or Our Fathers. It could be telling you to volunteer at a soup kitchen. The idea is, sure, Christ died for our sins, and sure, you have to genuinely be repentant, but you should also do something else to make up for what you did.

But here’s the really important thing about Confession. It is a secret between you and the priest. The priest cannot tell anybody what you told him. That’s part of the deal. Priests are bound by the Seal of Confession. They promise to die before revealing what you told them, and to break that would mean getting kicked out of the Church. Which sounds great to me, but they wouldn’t want that.

It’s that promise that’s been a problem for Catholic priests lately. In South Australia, for example, they just passed a law requiring priests to go to the authorities if someone confesses, for example, that he molested a child.

And the priests don’t want to do it. They say secular law is not as important as the Seal of Confession.

The irony in this situation is that the acting archbishop who said that got his job because the actual archbishop was convicted of covering up child abuse.

In another case, a priest named Michael McArdle apparently confessed to molesting kids 1,500 times, to 30 different priests, over 25 years. No one reported him to the police. He was just forgiven 1,500 times.

That’s what the new law is designed to stop.

So the question is: What should take precedence: Religious beliefs or secular law? It’s the same argument we have when a pharmacist doesn’t want to give a patient birth control because he thinks it’s abortion, or when a baker won’t serve gay customers because it’d violate his conscience.

Just like in those instances, secular law has to win. We are not governed by religious rules no matter how seriously some people take them.

I used to be a teacher, and if a student confided in me that she was cutting herself or I noticed marks on her arms, I had a legal obligation to tell her counselor about that. It didn’t matter that I was breaking a trust. And that makes sense. My silence would have meant more harm to that student.

Priests should have that same obligation. No number of Hail Marys is as important as stopping an abuser before he commits another crime.

To paraphrase an Australian TV host, by staying silent, they’re just protecting predators in God’s name.

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39 thoughts on “The Problem With Confession Booths

  1. I’m a fairly socially isolated Christian and I was wondering what the view of non-catholic denomination was in the atheist community. My main disagreements are (in reference to the Catholic Church) are making presets remain single, as we all know this is the main contributor to child abuse cases, transubstantiation because I believe communion is a metaphor, and a few others to putt it briefly. Thank you for any input -jack

  2. The argument isn't as simple as you put it.
    Should priests in the past (when homosexuality was unlawful and considered as bad as pedophilia) have told police that someone had confessed to being gay? Should priests do that now in homosexual-intolerant countries?
    Even your example of school teachers has a complexity to it. Where should the line be drawn in regard to possibly discouraging a student from telling the teacher a problem? Obviously, the school situation is a little different because there its a 'public' setting with an inherent public duty and also the duty of care, but there are critical situations (for example, suicidal thoughts) where students need to be able to talk to someone confidentially, otherwise they won't tell the teacher anyway. The same goes with church confession – people won't confess if it's not confidential, so the law in most case will have little effect.

  3. I understand your thoughts but i'm highly offended that you stereotype a whole group like saying all christians or Catholics act this way or think this way which is like saying all atheists think the same way. Not all Catholics think being gay is a sin and a lot of us actually think it is just fine.

  4. I love that a church commercial is on before your video. Hope You get coin for this. 5 minutes of giggling. Thank You for all you do for us .

  5. >"secular law must win"
    >"therefore the decision to make a law interfering with Church practice is a good move"

    This is why I stopped taking atheists very seriously, especially ones like this guy. The law violates the separation of church and state (the "secular law" you claim to like so much) but in the reverse order. Instead of the church making religious ethics into law and using the State to impose it on the public, hat's happening is the State is using consequentialist ethics (utilitarianism) to make laws which they will, by their own authority, impose on the church. If you're going to be consistent in your insistence on separation of church and State then this law ought to be just as objectionable to you as any religiously motivated law.

  6. Being gay is NOT an unforgivable sin. From where did you get this crap? Stop spreading rumors. Your loosing credibility. If your an atheist, at least have the decency being good at it.

  7. Without confession, child molesters would never tell anyone at all, so how is that better? Also if you never confess sins, you start to make your behavior relative and start to justify everything: porn, divorce, nuclear war, gay marriage, abortion, etc. It turns society towards individualism and to everyone focusing on their own hobbies and what feels good. Look at divorce rates, climate change, depression, drug use, and suicides as evidence against modern living without God.

  8. Mr Hemant ;
    You are the wisest and most reasonable man Ive ever seen .
    I think that if the religions wouldnt be created we would have a so much better world by now .
    Religions are stopping people from thinking clearly .
    Im an exmuslim
    Please tell us more about Islam contradictions and its failures

  9. Hi, I don't know if you've covered this topic or not, but I would like to watch a video on how mental illness and the devil/demons aren't connected and how it's not a punishment from God.

  10. English is not my first language, but you speak very adequately slowly and clearly that I am able to catch up onto every word without turning the subtitles on. Thank you for making videos, I'll be looking forward for more

  11. First of all – that’s their job. No one would be confessing to them if they are going to tell someone else about their sins. Also, isn’t the identity of the confessor hidden. Maybe I’ve been watching too many movies but don’t they do this in alittle box with a screen that has many holes? 🤨

  12. Every time I try to remember how Hail Mary goes I think of the Biggie line. “Hail Mary, full of grace. Smack the b***h in her face, took her Gucci Bag and her North Face off her back.”

  13. I don't think it is the same thing as a baking a cake – confession is seen as sacred, and that law would simply prevent people from making a full confession which is a deadly sin. Who would confess if he knew that it won't be a secret? What authorities want to gain? Do you really think that pedophile will confess knowing this new law? Is it hate against religious people or what? Because I can't imagine how it will help anyone.

  14. I’ve been in the confession booth before. I am very familiar with it. Sometimes we go behind some window thing and tell the priest our sins or just sit in front of him.

  15. Fellow Catholics prepare for persecution because it's closer than it seems. For we won't be persecuted in full for having religious beliefs, but because we are radical fundamentalist, because we protect rapist (We don't we want them out of the church these are men who have no real faith in God). But the main reason we will be persecuted will be because we are enemies of the state.

  16. Oh god damn i hated these confession booths. I would rather talk to my priest in public and not be pressured into it. Also my priest convinced me to pray and do non profit services

  17. Guess my religion is so stupid because dinosaurs were supposedly on no was arc but it’s recorded history of any human beings around the time of dinosaurs I just find it stupid that people still believe the story of Noah’s ark because that’s what we find seashells in rivers all the time over 2000 B.C.E. years old and the reason why I find it so stupid that people actually believe in this crap is I have to stories are not even believable in the holy Bible holy Bible is an even holy it’s just a waste of paper hurting our environment when they’re trying to help supposedly and I hate it when they say oh we’re going to pray for you you’re going to find your faith forgot you’re just like my mom who freaking if your’s and I am done with it. We have proof that there is no existence of God!

  18. Hi, how can you and other atheists get rid of the bad priests from catholic church? The bad priests are not following Christian teachings and doing evil things. Some teaching heresy. This has been going far too long due to the lukewarmess of the laity. Nothing is being done.

    Btw, your take on confession is cynical. There is a profound reason for confession that you refuse to talk about, which is understandable considering your philosophy.

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