“Ask a Priest: What If a Confessor Seems Distracted With His iPad?”

Q: Several months ago in confession I could see through the screen the backlight of the priest’s iPad, and that he was scrolling on it during my confession. When I finished with the “And for these and all my sins …” there was an awkward pause that reinforced the impression that he was not listening. It really bothered me. I pray for him and give him the benefit of the doubt, but should I say something to him or someone else so that others don’t have the same experience? I have great respect for priests, so I feel uncomfortable complaining to him or someone higher up, but at the same time, the sacrament of reconciliation is very important to me. Thank you. – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your esteem for the sacrament of reconciliation is admirable. It is good that you are taking advantage of the sacrament. It works ex opere operato, which means the grace of the sacrament is there, no matter the holiness of the minister, since it is really Christ who is working.

It is admirable, too, that your reaction was to pray for the priest.

Perhaps he was listening. Or perhaps he allowed himself to get distracted when he shouldn’t. God alone knows.

If you feel you the need to say something, it would be better to say it to him — but within the sacrament of confession, not outside. A priest can’t say anything about what transpires in the confessional, not even to defend himself.

For the same reason it might not be good to say anything to anyone else; at the very least it wouldn’t be good to name the priest. The person you would tell — a pastor or a bishop, for instance — probably wouldn’t say anything to the priest, because he knows that the priest can’t respond. You get the idea.

Meanwhile, you might consider two simpler options.

First, just move on and try to forget the incident. Perhaps the priest wasn’t really at fault. Or perhaps the iPad incident was a onetime slip.

Second, if the incident bothered you deeply, you could seek out another confessor in the future.

At any rate, keep taking advantage of the sacrament. It is really Jesus who is doing the most important work of grace.

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One Comment
  1. With all due respect for all parties in this sacramental situation. Isn’t silence where a priest is concerned the cause of much scandal in the church. Priest’s make mistakes and when they do they , like everyone else, should be taken to task for that mistake. I am all for giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but this seems to be straight forward in that the priest was not attentive/ present In the confessional. If we are to love as Christ does, then we should help our brothers and sisters to stay on the right track as we hope others will keep us there as well.

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