“Ask a Priest: May I Accompany My Child in the Confessional?”

Q: This is a delicate question, but you are really the only one who can answer it. I am an abuse survivor, but I do not want to abandon the Catholic faith for another religion. My question is, for a survivor who has young children and has obvious difficulty with trust, can the parent be present in the confessional during the young child’s confession? I could see myself doing this until the child seemed mature enough to understand, and agree that I would be right outside the booth, and he/she would know to immediately leave and report anything inappropriate, etc. I apologize for the question, but it’s hard to ask your own parish priest this question in person. -L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear that you have suffered abuse in your past. You are a beloved daughter of God, and this was not part of his plan for your life. It is good, though, that you haven’t left the Catholic faith; Our Lord wants to give you many graces through the Church, especially the sacraments.

A: I am sorry to hear that you have suffered abuse in your past. You are a beloved daughter of God, and this was not part of his plan for your life. It is good, though, that you haven’t left the Catholic faith; Our Lord wants to give you many graces through the Church, especially the sacraments.

Your concern for your children is understandable. In regards to the sacrament of reconciliation, the best and most practical way of ensuring your children’s safety would be to find a church that has either a closed confessional with a wall and screen between priest and penitent (each being in a separate, closet-like compartment) or a confessional room with glass walls, so that you could easily see what is going on. (In some parishes, for example, the “crying room” doubles as a makeshift confessional room.)

If you want to wait nearby outside a confessional, that is fine. Frankly, it would not be a good idea to try to enter a confessional room along with a child. The child has a right to privacy when confessing sins. Moreover, it is not likely that a priest would tolerate a third party being present. The last thing we would want is to turn the sacrament into an arena of conflict. And that wouldn’t help your children.

If your parish is the only practical option for confession, and you aren’t comfortable with the arrangements in the church (say, if it only has enclosed confessional rooms), then perhaps you could ask the pastor for a different venue. Perhaps a kneeler and screen could be set up in a visible area (such as the sanctuary) that is out of earshot of other people.

A positive development in recent years is that clergy have been required to undergo special training in the area of abuse prevention. And there is certainly a heightened awareness within parishes and schools about the need to be on the watch for suspicious behavior and attitudes. All this can contribute to producing a culture of alertness that helps protect anyone who might be vulnerable. I hope that some of this helps. God bless.

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