Only a full confession works

Note to Catholic penitents and spiritual advisors

confession-440x264The following comes from a Jan. 24 story on

Admitting to part of a lie does not help to relieve guilt, and may even increase anxiety and shame. Coming completely clean is the best approach, said researchers in a new study.

Investigators found that people feel worse when they tell only part of the truth about a wrongdoing compared to people who fully disclose their transgressions.

Cheaters who confessed just part of their wrongdoing were also judged more harshly by others than cheaters who didn’t confess at all, according to five experiments involving 4,167 people from all over the United States.

The research is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Confessing to only part of one’s transgressions is attractive to a lot of people because they expect the confession to be more believable and guilt-relieving than not confessing,” said lead author Eyal Pe’er, Ph.D.

But our findings show just the opposite is true.”

Confessing to some bad behavior was more common than making a full confession among those who cheated as much as possible in the study.

But only telling part of the truth, as opposed to not confessing at all, was more likely to lead to increased feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety, the research found.

In other words, it’s best to commit to an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to confessing, said Pe’er, who conducted the research with Alessandro Acquisti, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, and Shaul Shalvi, Ph.D., from Ben-Gurion University in Israel….

Previous studies have focused on confessions as an “all-or-nothing” decision but this new research shows that the extent to which people are willing to come clean varies depending on the consequences of the decision, according to the authors.

“Paradoxically, people seeking redemption by partially admitting their big lies feel guiltier because they do not take complete responsibility for their behaviors,” Pe’er said.

“True guilt relief may require people to fully come clean.”

To read the entire article, click here.


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  1. Father Karl says:

    Before Vatican II, most Catholics went weekly to confession, and there was no need for psychiatrics. After someone confessed and received absolution, the person had a clean conscience. When Ann Landers and Dear Abby became popular, these two self proclaimed gurus gave advice which was considered Gospel, and priests stopped heraring confessions, so people began flocking to their shrink. Today, there are huge lines to receive Holy Communion, but hardly anyone confesses to a priest. The sacrament of Penance confers grace, something which is terribly lacking in today’s world. Scripture tells us that the righteous man sins seven times a day. Without God’s grace, how many times a day does the evil man sin? Only by reconciling oneself to God and His Church can one expect forgiveness for unabsolved sins and receive the peace of mind and the healing that the sacrament of Penance confers.

    • Clinton R. says:

      Amen, Father! Thank you for the good you do as a priest of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church.

    • Ann Malley says:

      I would like to add, Fr. Karl, that before VII most priests used to actually understand and accept what constituted sin. They were taught. And they passed on what they were taught. (They still are passing on what they are taught which is ambiguity and nonsense in many cases.)

      My most recent experience in the Novus Ordo confessional was being told, “You must be one of those ones that still receives communion on the tongue. Come here. Give me your hands.” (I’d accidentally slipped into the face to face confession option)

      Upon ‘trusting’ and giving my hands over to this priest, he continued his patronizing and undermining of common sense saying, “God trusts these hands to do the right thing.” Subsequently I was instructed that the ‘sins’ I mentioned, something I knew full well to be sinful – tut tut – were not sins at all.

      The priest then told me he wanted me to list 3 things I’d done that were positive that week followed by the holy instruction that if I wanted to be a good example to my children I should become an ecumenical minister. That is I should go from receiving on the tongue out of reverence to Our Lord to handling the Sacred Species with unconsecrated hands.

      That was my diocesan parish. The ‘rightful’ place where my children were expected to receive instruction. No thank you. For if God trusts us so much to do the right thing, how is it that He was willing to suffer so grievously for the sins we commit when willfully opting for the wrong thing? Makes no sense and I wasn’t about to expose my children to it as ‘trust’ was being grossly misapplied so as to infect a psychology spirit in lieu of grace.

      Even so, I bless that priest for being honest about who and what he is. A devil with horns on is far easier to recognize than one with a business suit and a good job offer.

      • When speaking to a Bishop or Priest who is in error regarding sinful acts – use the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” to show him his errors.
        Make an appointment to teach him.
        You may save his Soul and the Soul of others.

        • Ann Malley says:

          God bless you, Chris. This sounds good in theory. But much as the lay faithful have been told that *they* need to get out and evangelize, the only evangelization that we can really do with priests and Bishops is to educate them on the reality that faithful Catholics are fed up with ‘pastoral’ nonsense dished out at the expense of our souls and those of our children.

          Don’t kid yourself into thinking that priests and Bishops do not know full well what constitutes a sin in the old sense – that is when there was a sense of sin. THEY DO. They also know better than we what is in the catechism unless their seminary days were spent making paper airplanes out of their catechism texts while studying Freud. (Even if a seminarian isn’t *required* to read the Catechism in seminary, common sense would demand that he do so. Much like it demands Catholics educate themselves beyond passing the Confirmation test. And priests are educated men.)

          So while in theory, I could help them save their soul, more likely I would be adding to their culpability as they intentionally withhold Truth in favor of pop-doctrine. That would earn them nothing but a worse spot in Hell.

          God bless.

      • Steve Phoenix says:

        Wow. Another reason never to go to a N.O. confession unless u are sure of the priest.

    • Tom Byrne says:

      Father: “no need for psychiatrics” goes too far. There are genuine organic disorders with psychological consequences and individuals whose psyches were deranged by the sins of others (e.g. those raped in childhood) or traumatic events such as war, who need psychiatric as well as spiritual support. It was when psychology was substituted for spiritual reflection, repentance and reform for average folks not suffering from such conditions – when the couch replaced the confessional, in Fulton Sheen’s words – that the present silliness began. Bishop Sheen, by the way, respected the genuine insights of psychology.

  2. Doesn’t full confession also mean confessing ones sins, receiving absolution and penance in a confessional ?

  3. Terrific article!
    It’s good to use the various disciplines (e.g., science, art, music, physchology, history) when they can help promote and explain the benefits of our Catholic faith.
    And of our Catholic practices, such as a full confession.
    “Confession is good for the soul.”

  4. CCC: ” 1484 “Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession.” There are profound reasons for this. Christ is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner: “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
    He is the physician tending each one of the sick who need him to cure them. He raises them up and reintegrates them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church.”

    CCC: ” 1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance:
    All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue;
    for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly.
    When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know.”

    • CCC: ” 1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.
      Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.
      By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful: Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear “man” – this is what God has made; when you hear “sinner” – this is what man himself has made.
      Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. . . . When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.”

      The CCC is a product of Vatican II, and is from the Magisterium of the Church. It contains the entire Doctrine of the Faith.
      Unfortunately, many US Diocese Bishops do NOT actively encourage people to study the CCC at home or anywhere else, even though Popes Francis, Benedict and John Paul II have asked us to do so.
      This is a major failing of US Bishops and their Priests, staff, and Catholic educators.
      People can not live by what they do not know.
      We should all encourage all literate persons to read/study the CCC.

  5. What I find sad is when a communal penance service is held during Advent or Lent. In a church close by where I live people are told to confess only a limited number of sins so that things will move long faster. May I recommend St. Joseph Cafasso’s book ” The Priest The Man of God His Dignity and His Duties” by TAN.

  6. Ann Malley:

    That is a stunning report. I hope you don’t tar all diocesan parishes because of the nutjob priest-confessor you encounter. I take it from your comments that your children are not enrolled in Religious Ed at that parish. Very prudent on your part. You’re also right not to bother to try and correct the erring priest. Assuming that he’s not going into senility, he won’t listen.

    • Ann Malley says:

      Thank you, Fr. Michael, for replying. No, I haven’t tarred all diocesan parishes due to this particular example. I have, however, had a variety of questionable experiences when it comes to various parishes and, I’m sorry, pastors. My husband’s work moves us frequently across the United States which has afforded me too much of a view at times.

      The children are older now and I used the Baltimore Catechism to teach them myself. Better that way anyway as their education is/was my primary duty. But I learned much in the teaching hence the futility of correcting an erring priest.

      Free will. Can’t get around it.

      God bless and thank you for posting…. and for keeping the Faith!

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