Possibly Lying in Confession? Help for the Scrupulous

Put your heart at rest and be at peace!

(photo: Pixabay/CC0)

A reader (who will remain anonymous per my usual policy) writes:

The other day I went to confession and confessed my sins some of which were of a sexual nature. I honestly confessed these sins. However, after my confession Father began to give me advice on overcoming these sins. One thing he said was that I should get a porn blocker for my laptop. I said to him “Okay, Father.”

In reality, I had no plans of putting a blocker on my laptop. I seldom if ever use my laptop anymore. Also, I’ve tried blockers before and end up finding away around them. I didn’t want to go into a whole rebuttal with him, so I just said “Okay, Father.”

As I left the confessional, I started to worry. Had I committed the sin of lying? What if I just invalidated my whole confession by possibly giving him the impression I would put a blocker on a laptop when I was not going to? Can you help me, Jimmy?

Please set your mind at rest.

In the first place, saying, “Okay, Father” is ambiguous in meaning. It can mean, “Yes, I will do that,” or it can mean, “I acknowledge your recommendation.”

“Okay” is an ambiguous word that we use in English as a way of helping conversations and social interactions along. It can even mean, “Please stop talking now” or “Let’s move to the next subject.”

Therefore, by saying this phrase, you may not have been lying. Whether you were will depend on your intention.

If you deliberately intended to cause the priest to falsely believe that you would get a blocker for your laptop then it would be a lie, otherwise not.

If it was a lie, we then proceed to the next question, which is whether this lie would have invalidated the confession.

There are two types of things the penitent says in confession — things that are integral to the sacrament itself (e.g., saying what your sins are)–and things that are incidental to the sacrament (e.g., greeting the priest, asking for advice, acknowledging advice, etc.).

If you did lie, the lie concerned an incidental matter (advice) rather than something that was integral to the sacrament.

We then progress to the next question, which is whether the lie would have been mortal or venial.

Several factors indicate that the lie would be venial:

  1. It doesn’t appear that we have grave matter (i.e., the priest doesn’t have a grave need to know whether you will or will not get a blocker for your laptop)
  2. You did not know for certain at the moment of telling the lie that it would be mortal, meaning you lacked the kind of knowledge needed for a mortal sin.
  3. You did not deliberately tell it anyway despite knowing that it would be mortal, meaning you lacked the deliberation needed for a mortal sin.

We thus lack the needed grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent needed for a mortal sin.

Instead, it looks like — at most — you may have uttered a minor falsehood on the spur of the moment to move a conversation along, not intending to commit an act of grave harm.

This indicates a lack of deliberation about the act, as indicated by the fact you only started worrying about it after confession was over.

Therefore, at most you committed a venial sin on the spur of the moment and on a matter incidental to the sacrament.

Venial sins don’t need to be confessed, and therefore venial sins don’t invalidate confession. This is all the more true when they pertain to an incidental rather than an integral matter.

Therefore, put your heart at rest and be at peace!

Also, consider this an opportunity to figure out something to say the next time you’re given advice you think impractical in confession. “Okay, Father” is possible, but “Thank you, Father,” “Thank you, I’ll think about it,” or “Thank you, I’ll pray about that” might be better (assuming you do intend to do at least a little thinking or praying about it afterward to see if the advice might be practical after all).

Having a response thought out ahead of time will help avoid scrupling in future situations.

I hope this helps, and God bless you!

Duccio’s ‘Pentecost’ (1308)

Pray the Pentecost Novena

The prayer recalls and invites Catholics to participate in the nine days that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles spent in prayer after Christ ascended into heaven.