Over-hearing confessions

On Ash Wednesday, I heard my first confession.

The scene was the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia.

Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia. Photo by Patrick Murray.

The confessionals there are elegant, free-standing wooden structures with velvet curtains. As you can guess, these are not very soundproof. I know this because of the people in front of me, whose confessions were heard by the priest, and also everyone else in the cathedral.

Short of literally plugging my ears and singing the national anthem, there was nothing I could do. Their sins reverberated throughout the whole church.

It was hard, standing in line, deciding if I really needed to go to Confession and weighing it against the possibility that the whole cathedral would hear my sins. The moment of truth came. I decided to bite the bullet and whisper my sins, probably nearing the limit of acceptable volume for sacramental validity. This mattered not a bit to the confessor, who VERY LOUDLY COUNSELED ME ABOUT HOW TO AMEND MY LIFE.

Photo by BadgerCatholic on Flickr, used under CC license. You can see the whole set on Flickr here, or visit BadgerCatholic’s terrific blog here.

Well, I’m over it now, but I suspect there are lots of folks who would not get over the kind of shame and embarrassment that could result. In fact, many people, faced with the likelihood that their most intimate confessions were about to echo around the church, would nope right out of line and never, ever come back.

Quite honestly, this is the most disastrous situation imaginable.

I’m really not picking on Philadelphia, because this happens almost everywhere. In my life I can think of over ten parishes where I’ve experienced this.

Something needs to be done, pronto.

The problem is that the priests are inside the confessional, so they obviously don’t know what it’s like on the outside.

I don’t know if any clergy read this website, but I hope that you’ll consider sharing this article with your parish priest, and straight-up telling him if this is a problem at your church.

Fathers: take five minutes to examine the soundproofing of your confessionals or reconciliation rooms. Send someone inside to talk at a normal volume, and you stand outside where the line usually gathers.* If you can hear the person inside, well, so can we.

The good white noise machines are $50 on Amazon.

Please. I am seriously begging you to do this.

This is a simple step we can take to make this difficult sacrament less scary. Lent is starting; your parish is probably offering increased opportunities for Reconciliation. Now is the time.

I don’t want to hear any more confessions.