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Confessional
"Bless me, father, for I have sinned."
— Catholic Sacrament of Penance note 

A scene where a character confesses things to a priest, whether or not they're (implicity or explicitly) Catholic.

This doesn't have to specifically be in a confessional. Deathbed Confessions (of the religious type) should also be included, and any other situation in which a confession of this nature is made to a priest.

As a literary device, there could almost be a subtrope for cases in which the character discovers (usually after making their confession) that the "priest" is not actually a priest. Sometimes they don't discover it. See Bad Habits for impersonation of religious figures generally.

Definitely related to Christianity is Catholic. Lutherans and some Anglican Churches have the option of private confessions, too, though it's seldom exercised. And they don't have formal confessionals. (Eastern Orthodox have confessions much like Catholics do, but face-to-face with the priest—not in the "confession booth" most westerners are familiar with.)

For the reality show equivalent, see Confession Cam.

The booth itself is so very useful to the screenwriter for a number of well-worn reasons:
  1. Similar to placing a character on a psychiatrist's couch - it allows the character to spout emotional or narrative exposition, speedily cluing the audience, while often implying a certain amount of religious angst into the bargain. You don't even have to write characterisation for your protagonist's confidant - a disembodied "Yes, my child?" will do.
  2. It places the confessor - priest or not - in a position of great psychical or very real power (blackmail, intrigue) over the one who confesses and makes for tales of cruel abuse and inspiring integrity.
  3. Can create interesting ethical dilemmas for the priest: when a criminal confesses a crime, usually a murder, to a priest, the information can't be passed on to the police because it's forbidden to divulge the content of a confession. If a priest does repeat a confession, he is automatically excommunicated from the Church and has to confess by the Holy See (i.e. Vatican/Rome) in order to be forgiven. See Confess in Confidence.
  4. The element of concealment allows for shock reveals.
  5. The association with the taboo and ''naughtiness' supplies gag material.
  6. Is a good way to round a character otherwise seen as steadfastly upright and moral. His confession can reveal that he, too, deliberately does things he knows to be wrong and subsequently regrets them, but that those things are simply smaller and less frequent than those of the average person. This makes the point that even the best, most upright people sometimes do evil, but without actually undermining the idea that we should admire characters who do good selflessly.


Examples:

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Real Priest

    Anime and Manga 
  • The yaoi comic Little Lost Lamb has a storyline where a young priest is put on confessional duty and finds himself taking confessions from a young man he's attracted to. The man confesses being attracted to other men and masturbating, and the priest encourages him towards demonstrating such acts before God (including things that should not be done with icons EVER), before finally revealing himself for happy sexy times.
  • In the manga Fist of the Blue Sky, which is a prequel to Fist of the North Star, the priest at the local Corrupt Church is only too happy to dole out forgiveness in his confessional in exchange for fat stacks of cash. Unfortunately for him, the protagonist considers his behavior to negate the protection of clergy.
  • The protagonist in Osamu Tezuka's suspense thriller manga MW is a Catholic Priest who is wracked with guilt because he is unable to tell the police about the crimes that arch villain Yuki Michio has confessed (read: bragged) to him about, including blackmail, robbery, murder, and a plot to steal an American chemical weapon and use it to destroy the world. This despite the fact that he has already broken his priestly vows countless times by taking said arch villain as his gay lover.
    • However in real life, even if he hadn't broken his vows, he could easily go to the police and not break them. If the person in the confessional is not really repentant and brags they can go to the authorities. Even if they were, Genocide is something that isn't really covered by the vows.
  • Mai-HiME: While the confession is given to a nun rather than a priest, Yukariko decides to hear Nao'snote  confession, and after a short time, runs away, screaming that she can't bear to hear any more.

    Comic Books 
  • Hyperion seeks guidance from a priest in a confessional in Supreme Power. The priest's words give him an epiphany... Causing him to storm the US Army base he was kept in before he was assigned a foster family, looking for answers. This was so awesome for the way it ended: "You've got this weird tan, father!" - Hyperion's "flash vision" had flared up briefly during the confession, giving the priest tan lines in the pattern of the booth's screen.
  • Subverted in the original Sin City in which Marv confesses, but it turns out the priest is someone he is looking for and so he interrogates the priest and then kills him.
    • In the movie, played by author Frank Miller. He's in heaven with his whores now.
  • There's an independent comic out there where a gangster confesses to assaulting and disfiguring a priest a long time ago, among many other sins. Guess who was in the other side of the booth.
  • In The Punisher graphic novel Welcome Back Frank, a priest snaps and turns into a brutal vigilante killer from hearing way too many people bragging about their sins rather than confessing them.

    Fan Fiction 
  • DJ Croft in Neon Exodus Evangelion does this, kind of, at an Episcopalian church. He isn't seeking penitence so much as religious reassurance that he's not trying to thwart the divine plan; the priest reassures him, saying, "...if [God] wished to destroy us with the Second Impact, He would have done it right the first time."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In A League of Their Own, before a big game the team goes to a church and everyone goes to confession. After Mae's, however, the priest is in a great state of distress and Mae looks very pleased with herself.
  • The film version of Amadeus uses the Framing Device of Salieri's confession to a priest. (The play version just talks to the audience).
  • The Godfather Part III has Michael Corleone confessing his sins to a priest. The priest considers Michael so evil that this is what he has to say: "Your sins are terrible. It is just that you suffer. Your life could be redeemed, but I know you don't believe that. You will not change." Note that a precondition for the Sacrament of Confession is sincere sorrow and repentance, and willingness to change. A priest has the right to refuse absolution to someone who does not appear to be repentant. Pertaining to this, while the priest does chastise Michael for his lifetime of evil, Michael is visibly sorrowful for his sins, and the priest gives him absolution.
  • In the Movie Adaptation of Ghost Rider, Blackheart goes into a church and says, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned... I've sinned a lot."
  • Used rather badly in the 1994 film Priest. A great moral conflict is created when someone reveals to a priest in a confessional booth that he is committing, and has every intention of continuing to commit, a heinous and disgusting crime. From that point on, the priest is deeply conflicted about whether to reveal this information to the police. The only problem is that the seal of the confessional does not apply in this situation. The seal of the confessional applies to all sacramental confessions, and to sacramental confessions only, regardless of where the priest hears them. Note to future criminals: if you go into a confessional booth and tell the priest that you have perpetrated a crime, intend to perpetrate the crime again, are not sorry or remorseful at all, and are not seeking any advice or counsel, that priest has every canonical right to turn you in to the police.
  • Agent Smecker in The Boondock Saints goes to a confessional whilst very hung over. He realized that the McManus brothers were only killing bad guys who would otherwise get away and asked the priest's advice on whether he should help them or turn them in. The priest reluctantly gives Smecker his blessing, but only because Rocco has a gun to his head (while Connor is holding a gun to Rocco's head at the same time; the brothers do not like it when anyone hurts a member of the clergy, and Rocco had originally wanted to kill Smecker because he perceived him to be a liability, which neither of the brothers wanted either).
  • In A Bronx Tale, the main character (who is 10 years old at the time) witnessed a murder but lied so as not to implicate the Mafia boss who had done it. He confessed his lie to the Priest, who (it is implied) understood who the murderer was. The Priest gave him 10 Hail Marys as penance.
    Calogero: For a murder rap? That ain't bad, Father!
    Priest: What'd you say?!!
  • At the end of The Exorcist, Father Karras commits suicide to get rid of the demon, who has recently possessed him. Father Dyer arrives just in time to take his confession, but Karras is unable to speak and just squeezes Dyer's hand as a confirmation that he repents his sins
  • Soylent Green. It's implied that a priest heard the truth about Soylent Green from the murdered businessman, and he appears traumatised by this revelation. The priest is later murdered by the assassin, who shoots him during confessional.
  • In Dracula 2000, Mina Van Helsing goes to see a priest who is a old childhood friend (played by Nathan Fillion), to confess the weird dreams she's been having about a strange man Dracula and to ask about her mother's dying confession. The orginal Abraham Van Helsing is her father, and since he's been using Dracula's blood to live this long, she's part vampire as well.
  • In Short Circuit 2, Johnny Five finds himself in an unintentional confession, talking to somebody behind some funny window. When the priest realizes he's talking to a robot, he angrily ejects him from the church, not realizing that he's talking to a sentient AI.
    "You can't confess by remote control! Now out! Get out!"
  • In the Grindhouse trailer for Machete, the titular Machete goes to confessional to visit his brother who is now a Priest to enlist his help in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    Priest: I took a vow of peace, and now you want me to help you kill all these men?
    Machete: Yes, bro. I mean, Father.
    Priest: ...I'll see what I can do.
  • Parodied in Hudson Hawk. A nun who's an agent of an undercover Vatican organization goes to confession with her superior, a priest.
  • The movie Heaven Help Us, set at a Catholic high school, has The Bully advising the other boys on how to cut down on their penance by reducing the number of sins they confess to manageable but still believable levels, and then adding one lie to the list.
  • Played with in 40 Days and 40 Nights - the protagonist goes to confession not to seek repentance for his sins, but simply to discuss his sexual hang-ups with the priest who happens to be his brother.
  • Appears in The Conversation.
  • Subverted in In Bruges: in a flashback, Ray is seen going to confession and confessing to the crime of murder. What the priest doesn't realize is that he's confessing to the murder he's about to commit - of the priest himself.
  • In The Mask of Zorro, one of Zorro's allies is a priest, and they use the confessional to collude. After one such meeting just prior to the final battle, the priest asks if Zorro needs to confess as long as he's there, but he declines, saying, "Where I'm going, I'll just have to come back."
    • A similar scene occurs in Tyrone Powers' The Mark of Zorro (1940).
  • In The Ringer, Johnny Knoxville's character is in a confessional and tells the Priest that he's entering in the Special Olympics to pay off a debt with the prize money. The Priest then punches him in the face, through the lattice.
  • Since the eponymous character is a Catholic priest, it is no surprise that the books and films of the Don Camillo series regularly feature confessional scenes.
  • In the Made-for-TV Movie Soulkeeper, the two thief protagonists are pitted against Simon Magus, an Evil Sorcerer who specializes in corrupting souls. A spirit ally tells the two that they need to cleanse their souls to avoid being corrupted by Magus. So they go to a confessional and confess every sin they ever committed in their entire lives. The priest needs aspirin by the time they are done.
  • At the end of The Soundof Music, the two nuns confess to the abbess that they stole the wires from the Nazis' cars, thus preventing them from pursuing the von Trapps. The abbess just smiles.
  • During the Omaha Beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan, the camera passes a dying soldier reciting an act of contrition to a Catholic chaplain: "Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. I detest my sins for having offended thee, O Lord..." This is immediately followed by a shot of a different solider reciting the Hail Mary in Latin.
  • In one scene in Angela's Ashes Frank goes to Confessional for the sin of 'regurgitating God' into his backyard, as he had eaten too much from his First Communion meal and threw up because of it. He's given penance but is then sent back to the confessional by his granny to ask how to clean it up. Upon returning with the answer of 'Water', he is sent back by his granny, again, to know if they are to use normal water or Holy water to clean up the mess. The Priest, frustrated, tells him normal water and to leave him alone.
  • In the Daredevil movie, Murdock goes to church and tries to confess the sins he has committed as a vigilante. The priest denies him absolution on the grounds that he isn't truly repentant, he's just going to put the suit on again and sin some more. The priest does refrain from turning him into the cops for vigilantism, though.
  • Van Helsing has an agent of the church meet his superior, a Cardinal, in a Vatican confessional. Which drops down into a secret chamber.
  • Night on Earth. In the Rome story a cab driver picks up a priest for a fare and insists on confessing despite his objections. Cue a hilarious rendition of the cabbie's sexual history (everything from a sheep to his brother's wife) which causes the priest to have a heart attack.

    Literature 
  • G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown (a Catholic priest and Amateur Sleuth) routinely takes confession from the criminals he apprehends. He also hints that much of his knowledge of the criminal underworld comes from the confessions he has heard in his duties as a priest.
  • The protagonist of Angela's Ashes regularly goes to confession as part of his Irish Catholic upbringing.
  • Subverted in Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist, there's an interpolated tale where a woman has to pretend to complete piety as part of a revenge plot. The Marquis falls madly in love with her (which is basically the point of the plot), and bribes her confessor to share her secrets and influence her in his favor.
  • Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton starts with a deathbed confession. The fact that the confession occurred is actually more important to the plot than its content — while priests in Walton's setting are technically allowed to take confessions, it ruins their reputation if anyone ever finds out about it (as it's associated with the pseudo-Catholic Old Believers). Oh, and they're all dragons.
  • In an old novel about the Wandering Jew set primarily in France (if I remember correctly, it may actually have been titled "The Wandering Jew" and may or may not have been originally written in French), the evil Jesuits plant their agents as confessors to the rich and powerful to gather blackmail and other useful information.
  • The entire plot of Ann Radcliffe's The Italian hinges upon this trope—unsurprising, for a melodramatic (though well-written) Gothic romance/murder mystery.
  • A Prayer for the Dying, a novel by Jack Higgins (later turned into a movie) is about an ex-IRA terrorist whose contract killing is witnessed by a priest. Rather than kill this witness, the killer simply goes round to his church and confesses, knowing the priest will have to keep silent. Unfortunately the crime boss who set up the assassination doesn't believe that the priest will keep his mouth shut, leading to an inevitable conflict.
  • In the sci-fi spoof novel Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison, Bill goes to see the ship's chaplain, who also doubles as the laundry officer as there's not much call for a chaplain on a warship. Bill says that he thinks one of his crewmates is a spy. The chaplain downplays Bill's suspicions and promises to keep the confession a secret, but as soon as it's time to become the laundry officer again he calls the MPs.
  • In the sixth Pretty Little Liars book, Emily receives a picture clue from A showing Wilden coming out of a confession booth with the caption "Guess we all have things to feel guilty about, huh?"
  • Stephen King's story Mute has the traveling-salesman protagonist confessing to a priest about what happened after he picked up a hitchhiker and started venting about his wife's marital and financial transgressions.
  • In Purple Hibiscus, there is a scene with one of these. It's an interesting insight into Kambili's mind: she confesses to, among other things, eating Cornflakes so that her painkiller will work.
  • Features occasionally in the Outlander series, appropriately enough as the majority of characters are 18th century Scottish. The most memorable incident is an instance in which Jamie, needing to divert suspicion for some reason, claims to be in need of confession in the company of several government agents who are noticeably uncomfortable with the subject. Knowing full well they're listening in, he goes on to confess to the priest a sin of lust— describing in detail the sight of a shapely young woman bobbing up and down as she's churning butter. Unfortunately, the protagonist (his wife, and none too young) recognises that it's not just her, but also her butter churn. (Jamie later admits IIRC that he simply wanted something to throw the Regulators off, and he couldn't admit to theft or sodomy, as he might have to do business with them later.)
  • In his non-fiction book on the Iron Cross motorcycle gang Wheels of Rage, author Kurt Saxon tells of how Paranoid George (infamous even among the bikers for his bizarre behavour) goes to sleep in a confession booth and wakes up to hear a woman describing what she did with her boyfriend in lurid terms. Thinking she's coming on to him he naturally propositions her, only to be hauled out by outraged priests, who are startled to find the booth occupied by a crazed outlaw biker dressed as a bat.
  • The very first Don Camillo story is called "The Confession"; Peppone confesses to Don Camillo that he hit him over the head with a club. It would neither be the last story featuring a confession, nor the last time someone used that gambit on Don Camillo, despite the way it turned out in this one.
  • The Ray Bradbury short story "Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned..." opens with a priest in the middle of the night opening his confessional after having gotten a flash of intuition that someone would be there looking for Confession. Lo and behold, there is a penitent there who goes to confess sins from 60 years earlier. As the priest listens, he recalls and tells the penitent that he too had committed extremely similar (even suspiciously so...) sins in his own youth. At end, he absolves the man, and invites the penitent back to the rectory for a glass of wine... only to find nobody on the other side. It's implied that he WAS confessing his own sins.note 
  • In The Great Brain series the Fitzgerald family are Catholic in a small town without a priest, except for a travelling one who comes by once a year to hear confessions. Tom is used to getting a few Hail Mary's at most. Then in The Great Brain at the Academy Tom is sent away to Catholic boarding school and experiences confession with a real dedicated priest, who gives Tom a lot of penance to do.
  • A tiny genre of written/audio pornography consists of a female speaker tormenting a priest by confessing her past sexual sins in excessive detail.
  • Francie, the protagonist in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn goes to confession once. Strangely, although the rest of the family is devoutly Ctholic, only her maternal aunt is mentioned doing so as well.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Prison Break has guilt-ridden Scofield visit a confessional once in the second season, to work out how much responsibility he has for the crimes that the people he helped escape will doubtlessly commit in the future.
  • Jerry Seinfeld only visits a confessional to complain about the dentist who converted to Judaism purely so he could make Jewish jokes.
    Priest: And this offends you as a Jewish person?
    Jerry: No! It offends me as a comedian!
  • M*A*S*H did it a lot without the actual physical confessional, since their Catholic chaplain was a major character and the structure would have been difficult to keep Mobile. Notable instances included the crisis of conscience over disclosing the location of stolen medical supplies.
    • In at least one circumstance, Mulcahy did violate the seal of the confessional, at least technically. In the situation of a soldier who confessed to stealing a dead comrade's identity so that he could go home, Fr. Mulcahy gathered up the dead soldier's letters to give to the trooper to nudge his conscience in the right direction. In real life, he could not even have done that, as any indication outside of the confessional of what was confessed without the penitent first bringing it up is forbidden.
  • On 30 Rock, Jack steps into a confessional purely to please his extremely religious girlfriend. He ends up spilling his guts about a variety of Noodle Incidents and Continuity Nods. The priest is . . . overwhelmed.
    Priest: [sprinting from confessional] "I NEED BACK-UP!!"
  • On one episode of Quantum Leap, a small time mafia hood finds out that the local priest was a Vietnam war veteran... and he wants to kill him because the priest was to be a witness against the hood in trial. He attempts to shoot the priest in the confessional, but Sam took the priest's place and escapes with a minor wound.
  • An episode of Poltergeist: The Legacy had a priest break the secret of the confession of murders and future ones, leading to the killer's arrest and execution. It was justified by stating that the killer didn't actually repent (making his absolution impossible), and was merely trying to "buy" his way out of hell. It didn't work.
  • One episode of Cold Case dealt with the "criminal confesses" dilemma when one of the witnesses - a retired priest - has vital information that could break the case wide open, but since it was revealed to him through a confessional, he couldn't divulge it, even though he was retired.
  • An Immortal confessed an extremely long lifetime of sins on one Highlander: The Series episode. He doesn't seem particularly repentant, and when he's done, he steals from the poor box and confesses for that, too.
  • In the LOST episode "The Moth," Charlie confesses his rock star excesses, such as having "relations" with two women and then watching while they had "relations" with each other.
  • The British comedy series Bless Me Father played with this several times (hardly surprising since the subject matter was Catholic priests). In one particularly notable episode, however, the young curate Father Neil Boyd informs the parish priest Father Duddleswell (played by Arthur Lowe of Dad's Army fame) that the confessionals in the church are not entirely soundproof. Father Duddleswell agrees to invest in new confessionals and a new microphone system at the same time. When hearing confession the confession of an adulteress after Mass, however, he forgets to remove the microphone from around his neck. Hilarity Ensues...
  • In Due South, Fraser visits a confessional when his life begins to spiral out of control (in "Victoria's Secret") and reveals how he met and fell in love with Victoria.
    • In an earlier episode, played for laughs, as Francesca goes to confession to confess that she is going to commit the sin of lust by seducing Fraser. The exasperated priest points out that she can't keep confessing for sins she never commits (all of her attempts to seduce Fraser fail for various reasons, not least of all Fraser's tendency to flee due to his inability to handle Francesca's fowardness. On one occasion, he seizes on an excuse to jump off of a balcony to get away from her.
    • In The Deal, Fraser asks a priest about Don Zucco, a local Mafia boss who happens to be a member of his congregation. The priest replies only that he knows he shouldn't wish harm upon others, and that when he does, he confesses, implying that Zucco is a bad enough character that an ordained priest catches himself wishing ill of him.
  • In Pushing Daisies, Ned unburdens to a priest in "Bad Habits."
  • The final episode of Passions has Tabitha confessing each and every one of her sins so that Father Lonagan can baptize her. Endora speeds it up for everyone.
  • Oz. The confession booth consists of Father Mukada sitting on a bench facing one way, while the confessor sits facing the other way (presumably an enclosed confession booth would have the potential for all kinds of mischief in a prison. note  One comedic situation occurs when Mukada realises the penitent sitting behind him asking about the Eucharist (eating the body of Christ) is a notorious inmate who killed and ate his parents. A more serious incident is when Chris Keller admits to being a Serial Killer. A shocked Mukada says he can absolve his crimes, but Keller must confess to the authorities to show God he is truly repentant. Keller won't, so Mukada refuses to absolve him.
    • Which is forbidden, by the way. A priest can no more compel the penitent to divulge the contents of the confession to someone else as a condition of absolution than he can break the seal of confession himself. Breaking the seal of confession is an offense that incurs an automatic excommunication for the priest.
    • Not quite true; a priest can refuse to grant absolution in the absence of true contrition from the penitent. The sacrament of reconciliation requires that the penitent not only feel remorse for his sins, but also be truly repentant—i.e. resolve to not commit them again. Keller's refusal to come clean is arguably evidence that although he feels remorse for his sins, he is lacking in repentance.
  • The opening scene of Brimstone uses the confessional as exposition that the protagonist has been brought back from the dead to hunt down 113 souls who have escaped from Hell. When the priest demands to know why he's telling this ridiculous story, the protagonist says: "Oh I think you know." (The priest is one of the 113).
  • Father Ted features an episode which opens with Father Ted and Father Dougal gossiping about stuff they heard in confession.
  • BBC's recent Casanova series had a hilarious scene where Casanova reels off his many sins. He starts off just confessing to wanting money so his could marry his True Love but he keeps referring to many "adventures" until the priest has a heart attack. Yes, even that's played for laughs Casanova saves his life, and the priest repays him by making him his heir. It goes downhill from there...
  • The Equalizer. A Polish terrorist confesses to the planned assassination of a Soviet diplomat, then is gunned down on the steps of the church. The priest tries to avert the assassination without revealing how he came to the knowledge. At one stage McCall and Kostmeyer (the priest's brother, who knows something is wrong but not what) ask another priest what someone in that situation could do if they found out about, say, a bomb in a theatre. The priest says: "He could ring the fire alarm, but couldn't tell anyone why. He shouldn't even let anyone see him doing it."
  • Wiseguy. Undercover cop Vinnie Terranova has a brother, Pete, who is a Catholic priest, so naturally the 'confession to an impending murder plot' is used. Pete loses his temper when Vinnie accuses him of leading a sheltered life and partly reveals the confession, then clams up. Vinnie has to avert the murder, and later save his brother from an assassin who tries to shoot him during confession.
  • One episode of Privileged ends with Sage going to confessional and claiming that it's her fault her parents died
  • In Gossip Girl, one of the episodes starts with Blair at confession. Her sin? sleeping with Chuck Bass. The priest is appropriately bemused.
  • Leverage uses this in "The Miracle Job" when Nate enters the confessional (wrong way 'round) with his former priest to discuss both the con he's trying to pull and his grief over the death of his son. When the priest steps out, the mark's beleaguered assistant steps in... putting Nate (still in the priest's side of the confessional) in the right position to sway him into exposing the mark's plans.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? once did a World's Worst sketch for the world worst priest in confession.
  • In one episode of Golden Girls, Dorothy falls in love with a priest who decides he might give up the cloth to date her. Sophia goes to the confession booth to try to talk the priest into not dating Dorothy but gets the wrong priest.
  • Scully is seen going to confession in The X-Files, most notably in the episode "All Souls".
  • One second-season episode of Veronica Mars has Logan and Weevil trying to convince Veronica to bug a confessional, as they're convinced that the priest is involved with a drug ring. She refuses, but agrees — with reservations — to plant a camera with no mic, so they can see if any drugs are being handed off. note 
  • SCTV did an Italian movie parody where the protagonist, in a fantasy where he's (unsuccessfully) trying an extramarital affair, goes to confession. It's been fifteen years, and he warns there'll be some major sins, but it boils down to him "lying to my mother a couple of times...that's about it." The priest gestures for him to lean in, then socks him in the nose, telling him to have some good sins next time.
  • The Borgias, being set at the height of Rennaissance Italy, naturally has a few confessional scenes. The first one involves Giulia Farnese seducing the new Pope, Rodrigo Borgia - by confessing to her abortion of her unwanted child. Repeat after me; It Makes Sense in Context.

    Video Games 
  • One of the errands for the second day in Postal 2 is to confess.
    Postal Dude: Bless me, Father, for I have really sinned. Really. I'm not kidding here. Big sinner. Yep.
    Priest: Did you drop an offering in the box?
    Postal Dude: Yes.
    Priest: Then you are forgiven, my son. Next!
  • The beginning of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, where 47 confesses his sins to the priest of the church he's living in. Said priest is kidnapped right after, forcing 47 to take appropriate measures.
  • In World of Warcraft, Argent Confesseor Paletress hears some of the tournament's confessions, although they're often personal doubts rather than sins.

    Webcomics 
  • In the first true battle in the webcomic Concession, the anti-religious Joel casually walks into a confession booth and confesses his sins (murdering families, forcing a friend to commit pedophilia, etc.) before trying to kill Father Timothy with his alluded-to dark spiritual power. Oddly enough, the Father also has great spiritual power, and they fight to a psychic standstill. While separated by the confessional wall. Matt had also used the confessional earlier, looking for advice on his worries about his sexuality and his budding relationship with Joel. Father Tim warned him to stay away from Joel, but he didn't listen.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons featured Homer discovering confessionals after talking to a Catholic priest. After going through it, he's informed the priest can't really help if he's not Catholic.
  • In the South Park episode "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?", the boys (excluding Kyle) are being prepared for their First Communion; this includes making one's first confession. And Cartman has so many things to confess that Father Maxi loses his temper and rips through the confessional partition to assault him.
    • Then later Father Maxi is caught having sex (with an adult female) in the confessional.

Fake Priest

    Anime and Manga 
  • The plot of Bitter Virgin begins with a girl confessing in a church. She says that she isn't Christian but she hopes the priest hears her out anyway. He does. She confesses that she has been raped and had an abortion. The "priest," whom she can't see, is actually a classmate who wanted to hear an embarrassing little confession to laugh at. Needless to say, he is shocked and regrets having tricked her.
  • In a flashback in Part 6 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the then-altar boy (later Corrupt Priest) Enrico Pucci takes a woman's confession and learns that years ago she switched out her own stillborn son for another baby born the same day. The child she took was none other than Enrico's twin brother. And then later, he finds out said brother is the guy who's been dating his sister. It gets worse...
  • The sequence in Mahou Sensei Negima! where the girls don't do any actual confessing and use it like an advice column. The sequence serves as a major source of humor because while the woman on the other side of the booth is an actual nun, she definitely isn't qualified and isn't supposed to be there in the first place; she was cleaning the confessional when someone got into the other side.
  • The first chapter of Blade of the Immortal has an assassin use this to kill criminals.
  • Wolfwood of Trigun carries around a "portable confessional" with him (which is basically a box he puts on their head)—and charges people for it!

    Fanfic 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet plays with this: in the scene in which Hamlet finds Claudius praying, Claudius kneels at a confessional (sans priest); Hamlet slips into the priest's side of the confessional and contemplates killing his uncle.
  • Cinema Paradiso: The main character, though not a priest, sneaks into the priest side, and the girl he likes comes in the other side to make confession.
  • In the John Carpenter film In the Mouth of Madness, insane author Sutter Cane discusses the power of faith over reality with the protagonist while they sit on opposite sides of a confessional.
  • Happens twice in the Mariachi trilogy:
    • In Desperado, the Mariachi, after cleaning out the Tarasco Bar in the movie's bloodiest shootout, heads to the church to confess his sins, only to find out the guy behind the screen is his good buddy Buscemi, who proceeds to bitch him out about creating another bloodbath and breaks things off with him. Buscemi gets killed shortly afterward.
      Mariachi: "Bless me Father, for I have just killed quite a few men."
      Buscemi: "No shit!"
    • And in Once upon a Time in Mexico, Agent Sands, disguised as a priest, gives the Mariachi his instructions concerning the assassination mission on Marquez. Mariachi then gets involved in a Bloodstained Glass Windows shootout.
  • Sleepers. As children the protagonists hide in a booth to hear the confessions. Their dreams are answered when a woman comes in to confess to an affair, but she shocks them by concluding, "Thanks for listening, kids. I know you'll keep this to yourselves." It's then the protagonists realise they hadn't pulled across the grill concealing the confessor from the priest.
  • Parodied in For Your Eyes Only. When James Bond goes into a confessional to meet with Q, who is disguised as a Greek Orthodox priest.
    Bond: "Forgive me father, for I have sinned..."
    "Priest": "That's putting it mildly, 007!"
  • Another parody, this time in Sleeper (1973). After being captured by the Evil government, Miles Monroe goes to confession. He admits to various minor acts of disloyalty and asks for forgiveness. The priest is revealed to be a robot, which flashes "Absolved" on its screen and delivers a Kewpie doll.
  • In George Lucas's early Dystopia THX-1138, confessions are made to pictures that apparently have tape recorders behind them. One manages a long speech about why buying things is a holy act; the rest play short recorded lines like "Could you be more specific?"
  • In The Mask of Zorro, Elena confesses her lust at seeing the new Zorro for the first time, not knowing she's not in the booth with a priest but with that same Zorro, who's hiding there after being chased by the authorities.
  • Nuns on the Run
  • In The Seventh Seal, the knight goes to confession to discuss his doubt in God, as well as mentioning that he is playing Chess with Death, explaining his next move. Guess who turns out to be in the booth?
  • In the Joe Don Baker movie Final Justice, a fugitive tries to evade cop Joe Don by dressing as a priest. It might have worked, except a distraught old woman then begged him to hear her confession. He attempts to get it over with ("Sure... whatever you want") only to draw more attention to himself.
  • The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. Parodied by Moriarty's coin operated robot version.
  • In the film Little Witches the girls have a running competition as to who gets the most penance.

    Literature 
  • The Sicilian, a novel by Mario Puzo. After the bandit Guiliano foils one assassination attempt, The Mafia send a hitman disguised as a priest, who tries to get Guiliano alone to "hear his confession". Guiliano laughs and points out that his sins are all over the newspapers, so what's the point of confessing them in private? His bodyguard then searches the priest's effects and finds a silenced pistol. The priest assumes that he'll be released unharmed, as the previous assassins were, but Guiliano is infuriated by this violation of the confessional and tells the hitman he's got thirty seconds to make his peace with God before he dies (in the movie the fake priest is crucified and dumped at the Big Bad's door).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - in a flashback, Drusilla is a novitiate in a convent. Afraid of her newfound clairvoyance, she goes to confession. Unfortunately for her, Angelus is in the booth, having fed off the priest, and impersonates him to torment her.
  • Father Ted did a gag where a woman went in to confession to clarify a medical matter. She'd used the morning after pill and, since the Catholic Church considered that an abortion, she had to pay a pretty steep penance. However, the Irish Medical Council had recently ruled that the morning after pill was actually a form of contraception, and so she presumably had a lot of surplus penance. The priest angrily waved her away, chiding her for her suggestion that the Catholic Church and Irish Medical Council were in cahoots. Then we got a shot of the priest, who was wearing a stethoscope.
  • One season 2 episode of Life On Mars has Sam tracking down a bomber that his department believes is an Irish immigrant. Sam slips into a confessional and attempts to unburden his fears that his prolonged coma in 2007 is affecting his judgement in 1973.
    • But he was sort of faking it (or was he?) because he knew the suspect was hiding in the confessional.
  • Shameless: Frank sleeps in a confessional, and wakes up to Mimi describing, in detail, how she took a contract out on her husband.
  • In Carnivŕle (season one, episode twelve), Ben confesses to Scudder his murder of a man for which he was temporarily incarcerated, thinking him to be a priest.
  • In one episode of Forever Knight, Nick is staking out a confessional. Schanke (his partner) goes into the other side, confesses, and figures out that Nick's in the other side. Nick maintains the perfect Irish accent and reiterates his command to say his Hail Marys.
  • A storyline on One Life to Live had a character working for a notorious gangster, in reality working for the police to obtain information for them. He goes to confession to admit to his duplicity and his fear of reprisal. After the man leaves the confessional, the other door opens. . .and the gangster steps out, having heard everything and knowing that his trusted right-hand man is betraying him.
  • Alphonse Gangitano of Underbelly visits ones when he is thinking of his career as a gangster, makes the priest smile at a comment about how long it's been since his last confession, then loses his nerve and leaves. He later returns, wanting to try and find out if he is a monster because of the vicious Kings Street brawl.
  • The Borgias again; in addition to the sort of legitimate version above, Cardinal della Rovere gets caught in a confessional with an assassin who's spying on him - so he stabs the man through the confessional screen, right in the eye!
  • In the opening scene of the pilot of Hell on Wheels, a Union soldier enters a confessional to speak with a priest. The priest turns out to be Cullen Bohannon, who's come to kill him.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The WWE actually subverted this at least once. The storyline was that Booker T was dodging "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and wouldn't give him a match, so Austin would follow Booker around through his everyday life and beat him up wherever he caught up to him, since he couldn't do it in the ring. So, we get to see Booker T in confession, pouring his soul out... and guess who happens to be masquerading as the priest? Cue one of the most sacrilegious brawls in WWE history, as Stone Cold and Booker T fight all around the church, breaking various holy objects over each other's head and shoulders.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • George Carlin, on his 1972 album Class Clown, mentions that, as a child, he could do spot-on impressions of all the priests at his school, and evinces a wistful regret that he never got a chance to sneak into a confessional and perform them. He presumes, reasonably enough, that any confessions he heard, as long as they were sincere (and the assigned penances performed), would have been legitimate, and the sinners duly forgiven.
    • This is actually a very complicated and highly debatable point of Catholic theology, but Carlin's position is actually (probably) sort-of-correct. Sacramental absolution to a fake priest is certainly invalid... but it is generally (though not universally) agreed that if a person believes in good faith that he has participated in a valid sacrament, God will supply the necessary graces nonetheless. Practically speaking, what this means is that anyone who confessed to Carlin's hypothetical fake "Father Burn" would have his sins forgiven by God... until such time as the penitent discovered that the "priest" to whom he confessed was a fake, at which point he would be obligated to repeat the confession to a real priest. It should also be noted that, had Carlin actually attempted this, he would have been instantly and automatically excommunicated... not that he would have cared much.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Beavis And Butthead Do America, the pair mistake the confessional booths for lavatories, and accidentally take confessions, asking for details of the sins committed. They both get struck by lightning when they leave the church.
    Confessor: "How many Hail Marys?"
    Beavis: "A thousand!! And I want you to hit yourself!!"
  • In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Chill of the Night!", Batman disguises himself as a priest to record a mob boss' confession.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Who Shot Mister Burns? Part 2", Smithers, fully convinced it was he, partakes in a confessional (despite not being Catholic) with Wiggum concealed in the other booth. After arresting him, Wiggum notes that "I should do this more often."

    Video Games 
  • In Shadow Hearts, one sidequest involves going into a confessional in Rouen. When you do, a parishoner gets in on the other side and confesses that he lost his wife's wedding ring, at which point Yuri has to decide what to tell him. Do it right (by telling him to be a man and tell the truth to his wife), and you get an item essential to getting a powerful Fusion... as well as the chance at Margarete's Infinity+1 Sword.
    • There's also the part where Margarete confesses to Yuri her respect for his quest and personal decisions. While it's meant to be a fairly touching character development sequence for her, Yuri's reaction seems ... inappropriate, and makes no sense in context, possibly due to a poor translation.
  • There's a confessional in the chapel area of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Sitting in the chair on the left side causes the ghost of a priest to appear; he will nod his head as though listening to confession, cross himself, and disappear, dropping the grape juice item. Alternately, he'll laugh, pull the curtain closed, and try to impale Alucard with a half-dozen pointy objects through the screen.
    • Sitting on the right makes a ghostly woman appear and sit on the left. She will mime a tearful confession and disappear when Alucard gets up. Or laugh, pull the curtain closed, and try to impale Alucard with a spear through the screen. Confessional ghosts are weird like that.
      • Alucard sits up straight, with good posture, on the left side, but does his usual relaxed sitting pose on the right. Confessing is serious, listening not so much.
  • In the beginning of Exmortis 2 the PC stumbles into an abandoned church that the now-extinct La Résistance were using as a base, and is led by a set of bloody footprints into the confessional booth. There, a shadowy figure gives you the task of destroying the Exmortis: unfortunately, the informant is actually the leader of the Exmortis.
  • There is a moment in Silent Hill 3 where Heather finds herself in a confession booth on the priest's side and has to listen to a confession from a woman who pleads to "God" for forgiveness. In a New Game+, choosing to forgive the woman gives you a huge boost towards getting the Downer Ending (since you're acknowledging that you are God).
  • A similar confession booth scene is used in Silent Hill: Homecoming. Whether or not Alex chooses forgiveness for the confessor determines if he chooses to forgive his father right before his dad is killed.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories has a set of missions that start with the character going to a confessional.
    Toni: "Forgive me, father, for I have sinned... a lot."
    • This ultimately becomes a "Fake Priest" example as the pastor turns out to be reporter who was using the missions he sent Toni on to create stories to get scoops.
  • Serious Sam The Second Encounter ends with Sam confessing his sins to Mental

Mixed

    All Media 
  • This trope pops up a lot in Chrono Crusade fanfiction, with both a real priest on the other side and someone that isn't. There are scenes with everything from Chrono, er, having "fun" with Rosette while she's in a confessional with Father Remington, to Chrono going into a confessional and being shocked to discover the priest on the other side is really Aion. Occasionally the trope is played straight, too, as part of Christianity is Catholic embellishments (even though the denomination of the Order is kept pretty vague in canon).
  • In Malevil, Fulbert brings confession back to the World War III survivors. It's almost certain he was not an ordained priest from before the war, but he has taken control of the nearby village. As such, Emmanuel refuses to confess to him, and Fulbert is not pleased.
  • The song "Confessional" by Raine Maida plays with this trope with the singer listing off a series of transgressions with a chorus that begins "these are my confessions" with Ominous Chanting in the background. The song doesn't actually state if the singer is actually in a confessional, however, despite the religious motifs.
  • Gabriel Knight has an odd example. The priest is genuine enough, and you can have Gabriel give a confession (though it doesn't do anything other than provide some atmosphere). One of the confessionals itself, on the other hand, is fake—it's an elevator to a secret underground voodoo hounfour.


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