Ask Father Josh (Your Catholic Question and Answer Podcast)

Scrupulosity, Bad Confession Experiences, and Young People Leaving the Church

July 16th, 2019

Fr. Josh answers questions about whether bad confession experiences are valid, how to avoid scrupulosity (obsession with avoiding sin), and how to invite people back to the Church.

If you have a question, comment, or response for Fr. Josh, email us at [email protected]. You may hear your question or comment in an upcoming podcast episode!

Snippet from the Show
“The second Peter took his eyes off of God, and fixed his eyes on the storm, he began to sink. The same thing happens to us.”


Glory Story (1:11)
Fr. Josh shares a story about the lay vocation to become a saint!

Listener Feedback (6:15)

Bad Confession Experiences (7:47)
Dear Father Josh, Thank you so much for your ministry. I have enjoyed listening to your podcast and I can tell that you truly take all of our listeners’ questions to prayer seriously and answer them thoughtfully and prayerfully. My question is about what to do when you have a bad confession experience. I’m a lifelong Catholic and I truly believe that the sacrament of reconciliation is a sacrament of healing. I have experienced this love and healing many times over the years, so I believe in its power. I try to attend regularly. My younger brother has autism and had a very negative confession experience many years ago when he was in high school. My dad took him to confession and suggested to my brother that he let the priest know in advance about his autism to help give the priest context. When my brother entered the confessional and started off his confession by saying, “I have autism,” the priest told him that autism is a sin. He didn’t tell our family this happened until much later and he hasn’t been to confession since. This truly hurt my brother’s faith, understandably.

I myself had a negative confession experience when I was in college. I was really struggling and hurting and was truly sorry for the sins I confessed and the priest told me, “I am absolutely appalled by what you have told me.” This had never ever happened to me and I was confused. When I asked for absolution, he scoffed and said, “I suppose!” I was worried that my confession wasn’t actually absolved, so I re-confessed everything to my regular priest and told him what happened. The difference between the two priests was like night and day even though the sins were the same. My regular priest told me that if I ever was made to feel uncomfortable like that again, I had permission to stand up and leave.

I’m sure that everyone has bad experiences like these... I know sometimes people won’t visit certain priests for confession. I understand that a priest during confession is in persona Christi, but how am I supposed to feel when my brother, or a friend, or myself, have a negative experience with a priest who truly isn’t acting as Christ during confession? I have had nothing but positive experiences with the sacrament since that one bad time during college, but it’s always in the back of my mind. All it takes for some people is one negative experience to make them doubt the Church and the healing power of reconciliation. How can a priest truly be in persona Christi if they’re saying hurtful things? Is it ever okay to leave a confessional in an instance like this and can a negative confession experience be invalid?

Scrupulosity (17:19)
Hello Father Josh, I would like to start this email by thanking you for your podcast. It has been extremely helpful to me in understanding the teachings of the Church and applying them to real situations that I face. Your friendly attitude and ability to explain doctrine in an accessible way is refreshing, and I thank God for the gift he has given the Church in you.

I am 25 years old and a cradle Catholic. I attended Catholic school up to 9th grade, although I fell away from practicing the faith in college. One of the main reasons for this was I didn't understand the Church's teachings on subjects like same-sex relationships and contraception, and saw them as out-of-touch and prejudiced. About two months ago I had an experience that brought me back to the Church, and I decided to start intentionally living my faith. This lead me to do research on the Church and its teachings, and I realized I was ignorant of many things, such as the precept of fasting from meat on all Fridays (I have never heard the precepts mentioned in school or church).

What I realized through my research is that my conception of the Church was very different from the reality of it, and the reality is scary. I used to think that Hell was reserved for the worst of humanity, but Jesus himself says in the Gospel of Matthew that “broad” is the road to destruction and “only a few” find the gate of life. This passage in particular absolutely destroyed me. It seems that most of the world is destined for Hell instead of Heaven. Most of this Gospel is Jesus talking about Hell and the many things you can do that will send you there. After finishing the Gospel of Matthew I have been too scared to read the rest of the New Testament.

I follow the Ten Commandments as best I can, and go to Confession regularly. I attend Mass on Sundays and try to go at least one other day a week. I cracked down on things in my life that were near occasions of sin. I pray daily, including a daily Rosary (praise the Lord for that prayer, and for the wonderful gift of our mother Mary). I fast once a week. I give money during the collection at Mass and donate to charitable organizations, and try to give money or buy food for the homeless when I encounter them.

Despite doing these things I am still scared of God’s wrath and going to Hell. I feel like almost everything I do is a sin, even down to buying non-essential items like a roll of film for my camera. This fear is affecting my ability to get through the day and enjoy life, even good things like spending time with my friends. I also work in an industry that is very anti-Christian, and my coworkers are all pro-abortion, pro gay-marriage, etc. I have one friend that is a practicing Catholic, but he lives far away and I only see him in person every couple months.

Returning to my faith helped me with some of the struggles I was facing, but it has also brought a host of new struggles I was not ready for. I desperately want to live a good Catholic life and be with our Lord in heaven, but I feel lost and am scared of ending up in Hell. I have been stuck in this mindset for weeks and don’t know how to get out of it. Any advice or words of encouragement you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Young People Leaving the Church (27:09)
Hello Father! My name is Liam and I have been listening to your podcasts for a while now and they are GREAT! I wanted to start off with a thank you because you have truly changed my life and, from what I can tell, you've done the same from many others. My question is about the future of Catholicism. Catholics I know, my friends, even my brothers seem to be slowly departing from the church. I understand that not everyone stays Catholic when they're older because they somehow don't believe in God or don't care enough to go to Mass, pray, or even acknowledge God. But, my generation seems to have fully departed from the faith for some reason. I don't know if it's just me that's seeing this issue but only very few people I know plan on staying members of the church after we graduate high school. This worries me for the future. What will the Church look like if this continues and how can I help bring these people back into the church without pushing them even farther away?


Universal Call to Holiness
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