2

Post Traumatic Confession Disorder

I am a cradle Catholic, but my family was not very good about going to confession regularly.  It is possible that because my parish priest growing up was beyond liberal, my parents wanted me nowhere near him.  Or maybe my liberal parish didn’t offer confession regularly.  (The attached school made us say, “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier” when we made the Sign of the Cross because it was “less masculine” so, really, anything is possible.)  Nevertheless, the habit of going to confession often was not one I learned at home.

One fateful day in my freshman year of college at a big Jesuit university I decided that I was going to become a regular at confession.  I marched with faith-filled purpose into the church which had the old fashioned confessionals: three wooden boxes, the priest in the middle, flanked by two penitents.  I waited my turned and then enter the confessional on the right.

Fr. P was the confessor that day.  I did not know it at the time but Fr. P was an old-school Jesuit.  And I mean very, very old.  I am sure Fr. P has long since joined Christ in Heaven.

I confessed my sins, which I thought were pretty run of the mill for an innocent eighteen year-old Catholic girl newly entering the big bad world.  Nothing serious.  At least that was what I thought.

Fr. P fervently responded with these exact words (I could not possibly forget them,) “Young lady, you are no better than a barnyard animal!  You are on an iceberg bound for HELL!”

As he continued on about the blackness of my soul, I thought, “Barnyard animal?  Bound for Hell? My transgressions must have been much worse than I realized.”  Waves of guilt and shame washed over me, pounding my conscience into tiny grains of sand.

At which point, I passed out.  Yep.  My psyche could not handle it and I passed out.  Now, please understand that up until that point, I had never in my life blacked out.  Ever.  Since then I have passed out only once after an extremely long and arduous labor with my first child.

How long I was out, I do not know.  I came to crumpled on the floor of that wooden box with a bump on my head and a realization that Fr. P was still going on about how I was destined for Hell before I had entered that confessional.  He gave me my penance and asked for my Act of Contrition.  Even though I had it memorized, I couldn’t get it out.

In total frustration Fr. P said, “Well you do remember your Our Father don’t you?”  Except, I couldn’t recite that prayer, either.  Fr. P prompted me through it and I stumbled out of the confessional, quite possibly on my hands and knees, and crawled into a pew to complete my penance.

Then, in a daze and as white as a sheet, I walked back to my dorm.  I was greeted by my good Catholic friends who realized that something was very, very wrong.  They said I look like someone I loved had just died. I told them what had happened and they replied with rolling laughter, “You went to Fr. P.  He says that stuff to everyone no matter what you tell him!”

All I could think was that a heads-up would have been nice.  Maybe if I had been a regular confession goer like they were, I would have had that juicy bit of inside info.

While today I can, and do, laugh heartily about that fateful confession, I wish I could say that I left it unscathed.  But, for years after, every time I tried to go to confession, as I approached the confessional, I would get dizzy and disoriented, and then leave.

I realized I had PTCD, Post Traumatic Confession Disorder.  I in no way intend to make light of those who suffer from the much more serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but I think PTCD might actually be a thing.  I have always wondered if there were others out there like me.

A few years later, a friend of mine, worried about the state of my soul, told a priest about my experience and they decided to get me to come back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The priest was very supportive and I got through it. I am happy to say that I am on my way to recovery, although I am still, somewhat confession-shy.  To this day, I have been known to sometimes blurt out to the priest, in a fit of anxiety, “Please be nice to me.  I had a bad confession experience once in my youth!”

This article is courtesy of Creative Minority Report.


Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for six years and is a regular on Catholic radio.
  • Okay I’m laughing now but TOTALLY believe the graveness of this event–how a single bad confession can taint our view of the sacrament. One time I had a priest chuckle after my act of contrition and say, “I love it when they do it wrong!”
    I’ve had at least two priest look at their watches….and the last guy spent 15 minutes rambling on about his upcoming pet project for the parish that had absolutely nothing to do with my confession. I have to believe there are SO many others like us that shy away from the “box” because of incidents like this. I am still working up my courage 🙂
    SO glad you shared this!

  • Jatna Rivas

    I once went to a priest. As I confessed often I only has one thing to confess: lying. So I did, but this priest said that lying was no sin and asked me what other sins did I have. Well, I had confesarla like a day ago or two, I has nothing more, and so I told him. He wouldn’t absolve me. I got up and hurriedly went for the door, away from him, mortified; he followed me a bit, worried about my hurried get up and go and asked me again, looking mortified too buenas my reaction , and I told him again, and he insisted un his point, and I said to him “Absolve me!” (Canon law said that he has to if I asked) and he said “No!” And so I fled from him and for some years I feared going to confession and to hear again that the priest would not absolve me because he thought that what was obviously sinful was not a sin.