Answer: There are three reasons for this. First, because the sense of injustice committed, which is the primary stimulus to repent of one’s sins, is not strongly felt by many when they engage in such unlawful sexual acts. Second, there is a greater sense of shame when committing certain impure acts and hence greater difficulty confessing them in the sacrament of confession, or even repenting of them in one’s heart. Our Lady of Fatima revealed to us that “More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” Sr. Lucia of Fatima said this refers primarily to sins against chastity, also called sins of impurity. The reason for this statement is not because sins against chastity are the most grievous sins, but the most common and because of conscience. Why? “Because of conscience,” sins of impurity are less likely to be repented of than other sins.
St. Alphonsus: “He who has offended God by mortal sin has no other remedy to prevent his damnation but the confession of his sin. "But, if I am sorry for sin from my heart? If I do penance for it during my whole life? If I go into the desert and live on wild herbs, and sleep on the ground?" You may do as much as you please; but if you do not confess every mortal sin that you remember, you cannot obtain pardon. … Accursed shame: how many poor souls does it send to hell! St, Teresa used to say over and over again to preachers: "Preach, O my priests, preach against bad confessions; for it is on account of bad confessions that the greater part of Christians are damned."” (The complete ascetical works of St. Alphonsus, vol 15, p. 546)
Third, sexual activity of all kinds is presented by our post-Christian or even anti-Christian popular culture as natural and good, and sexual abstinence is even taught to be unhealthy.
The sixth commandment, relating to chastity and purity, has always been referred to as “the difficult commandment” by many people. Today, with pornography everywhere and women and girls dressing more immodestly than ever before, for many it may indeed seem as “the impossible commandment.” However, Jesus assures us: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) We may add that all who invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary for help in overcoming sins of impurity will receive the grace to do so, as she herself has revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden and various other saints. But those who strive to live chaste lives know from experience, when sins of impurity are humbly repented of and confessed, that a great burden is removed from our consciences, and we experience that peace of soul that the world and carnal indulgence cannot give.
All who through shame hide or omit their sins in confession are damned
St. Alphonsus speaks in great detail concerning the shame that is inherent in confessing and how this shame makes many people commit sacrilegious confessions, and he shows quite clearly how all those who fall for this sin of omission are damned.
St. Alphonsus, On the Ruin of Souls who through Shame omit to Confess their Sins: “In the missions we should moreover strongly and often inculcate the necessity of overcoming the shame that one feels in confessing one’s sins. Those who are experienced missionaries know that this cursed shame has been the cause of the loss of many souls. It follows that as the principal fruit of the missions consists in the remedy that they apply to this evil, they are not only useful but even necessary for country places; for as there is only a small number of confessors, who are very often the relatives or friends of their penitents, false shame has more force in making the people conceal sins in confession.
“V. False Shame in Confession.
“It is a pity to see how many souls the devil gains by this means, especially in matters concerning impure sins; for he makes them lose shame at the moment of committing them, and gives this shame back to them when there is question of mentioning them in confession. St. Antonine, speaking of this matter, relates that a holy hermit, seeing one day the devil in the church going among those that wished to confess, asked him what he was doing there; the evil spirit answered: "To induce these people to commit sin. I have taken shame from them; now I return it to them in order that they may not confess it." St. John Chrysostom also says: "God has given shame to the commission of sin, and confidence to the confession of it. The devil inverts this: he inspires him who sins with confidence, and him who confesses with shame."
“Alas! Christian soul, you have sinned; if you do not confess your sins you will certainly be damned. Why then do you not confess your sin? You answer: I am ashamed. Hence rather than overcome this shame you wish to be condemned for all eternity to the fire of hell? It is a shame to offend so good a God who has created us; it is not a shame to confess to have offended him. But since you do not wish to manifest your sin, refrain at least from going to confession. To the sin that you have committed do you wish to add the sacrilege of a bad confession? Do you know what you are doing when you commit a sacrilege? For the sins on account of which you have deserved hell there is no other remedy than the blood of Jesus Christ, who will purify you if you confess it well; but by concealing your sin, you even tread under foot the blood of Jesus Christ.
“The present mission is for you a good occasion for making your confession to a priest who does not know you, whom afterwards you will see no more, and who will no more see you; if you do not wish to profit by this occasion, God will perhaps not grant it to you again, and you will be damned. Remember that if you do not confess now, the devil will gain absolute sway over you, and then perhaps God will abandon you, and there will be no more hope for you. Courage, then! go to confession immediately.
“What do you fear? Ah! here are no doubt the pretexts that the devil will suggest to you:
“1. What will my confessor say when he hears that I have fallen in such a way? Well! he will say that you have been weak, as happens to so many others who live in this world; he will say that you did wrong to sin, but that you afterwards performed a noble deed in over coming shame to confess your sins.
“2. At least he will not fail to give me a scolding. Oh no, why should he scold you? Know that confessors cannot have greater consolation than when they hear a person accusing himself of a sin that he has committed; for then he can securely absolve him and thus deliver him from hell.
“3. I have not enough confidence to manifest this sin to my spiritual Father. Well! go to confession to an other priest of the place or to a stranger. But if my confessor hears that I have gone to confession to an other, he will be offended, and will no more hear my confession. And you, in order not to displease your confessor wish to commit a sacrilege and to damn your soul? If you go to hell, will your confessor be able to talk you out of it?
“4. Who knows whether the confessor will not make known my sin to others? What folly to think that a confessor could wish to commit so great a crime as to break the seal of confession by manifesting your sin to others! To how many confessors are you to declare your sin? It suffices that you tell it once to one priest only, who hears your sin as he hears a thousand others in other confessions. But why have you so many unreasonable fears, and have not the fear of damning your self by not confessing your sin? This should deprive you of all consolation and all peace; for, if you do not confess your sin, there will remain in your conscience a viper that will gnaw your heart during your whole life in this world, and after death, during all eternity in hell.
“Well now, let us take courage, and make known to the confessor the recesses of your conscience; immediately after confession you will find the peace that you have lost, and you will ever thank God for having given you the strength to overcome the devil. Hasten, therefore, to be delivered from this viper that causes you so much pain, and become reconciled with God. … Speak thus [asking the confessor for help in confessing your sins that you are ashamed of mentioning], and then it will be the confessor’s duty to deliver you from the serpent that torments you as if you were one of the damned, although you are not yet in hell.
“I have wished to mention here in a practical manner those pretexts which induce so many poor souls to conceal their sins and are the cause of their damnation. As this cursed shame is everywhere prevalent, especially among women, we must make them understand the answers given above to the false pretexts which the devil puts before them in order to make them conceal their sins.
“It is true, I am well aware that, in the missions, usually a special sermon is preached to move the hearers not to hide any sin through shame; but I say that this point is so important that even an entire sermon is not sufficient: first, because it may happen that souls needing it most are not present; secondly, because for persons who have concealed their sins for a long time, it is not enough to hear the remedy spoken of but once; the preacher should often insist upon this matter, which I regard as the most important that one has to treat in the missions; for even in the missions many persons, although they have been present at the sermons, have continued to hide their sins. This is particularly necessary when one preaches in conservatories in which many girls and women are living together. As the occasions of sin are more frequent there, sins are also more frequent; and for persons that live in these establishments it is more difficult to have a confessor to whom they would confess with less repugnance; hence we should oftener speak to them about false shame, which causes them to conceal sins in confession, and it is very useful to make a deep impression upon their minds by relating to them melancholy examples.
“In all the missions given by our Congregation it is customary for him who explains the catechism to relate every day one of the terrible examples of persons damned for having concealed sins in confession. Many of these examples are found in good authors, and I have given some of them in my treatise INSTRUCTIONS TO THE PEOPLE ON THE COMMANDMENTS. I think the preacher would do well to put to a profitable use similar examples. They may be of benefit not only to him who preaches the sermon, but also to him who gives the instruction or meditation, and even to him who gives the exercises to priests; for among them are often found parish priests, preachers of Lenten sermons, and other ecclesiastics who are anxious to preach in a profitable manner.” (The complete ascetical works of St. Alphonsus, vol 15, pp. 316-320)
Sacrilegious confessions leads to Hell
In another part of the same work, St. Alphonsus gives us some very horrifying examples of the death and damnation of those people who hide or omit their sins from the priest and God in the sacrament of confession.
St. Alphonsus, Of Persons Who Have Made Sacrilegious Confessions: “I. IN the chronicles of St. Benedict it is related that a solitary named Pelagius, who kept sheep for his poor parents, led a life so exemplary that all called him a saint. He lived in this manner many years. After the death of his parents he sold the little property that they had left him and retired into a hermitage. He, unfortunately, consented once to an unchaste thought. After this sin he fell into a state of great melancholy because he would not confess it, lest he should lose the good opinion of his confessor. While he was in this state of melancholy a pilgrim who passed by said to him: "Pelagius, confess your sin: God will pardon you, and your peace shall be restored." The pilgrim then disappeared. After this Pelagius resolved to do penance for his sin, but not to confess it, flattering himself that God would perhaps pardon him without confession. He entered into a monastery, in which he was immediately received on account of his reputation for sanctity, and there led an austere life, crucifying himself with fasts and penances. At last the hour of death came: he made his last confession; as he had always through shame concealed the sin during life, so he also concealed it at death; he received the viaticum, died, and was buried, with the reputation of a saint. On the following night the sacristan found the body of Pelagius out of its grave. He buried it again; but on the second and third nights he found the body out of the grave. He called the abbot, who, in the presence of the other monks, said: "Pelagius, you were always obedient during life; be obedient now also in death. Tell me, on the part of God, if it be the divine will that your body be kept in a particular place?" The deceased, howling, said: "Alas! I am damned for having concealed one sin in confession. O Abbot, look at my body!" And behold! his body appeared like red-hot iron sending forth sparks of fire. All fled away; but Pelagius called back the abbot, that he might remove the consecrated particle that still remained in his mouth. The abbot removed the sacred host. Pelagius then told them to take his body out of the church and to throw it on a dunghill like a dog. It was done as he desired.
“II. In the annals of the Capuchins we read of one who was esteemed a saint, but made bad confessions. Being seized with a grievous illness, he was told to go to confession. He sent for a certain Father, to whom he said, "My Father, you tell me to go to confession; but I will not make any confession." "And why?" said the Father. "Because," replied the sick man, "I am damned; for I have never confessed all my sins; and now God deprives me of the power of making a good confession." After this he began to howl, and to tear his tongue, saying, "Accursed tongue, that would not confess sins when you were able." And thus, gnawing his tongue to pieces, and howling, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of the devil. After death he became black as a cinder, a terrible noise was heard, and the room filled with an intolerable stench.
“III. Father Seraphine Razzi relates that in a city in Italy there was a married lady of noble rank who was reputed a saint. On her deathbed she received all the sacraments, and died with a high reputation for sanctity. After death her daughter, who always recommended to God the soul of her mother, heard one day, while she was at prayer, a great noise at the door. She turned round, and saw a horrible figure all on fire, and exhaling a great stench. At this sight she was so much terrified, that she was on the point of throwing herself out of the window; but she heard a voice saying: "Stop, stop, my daughter: I am your unhappy mother, who was considered a saint; but for some sins committed with your father, which I was ashamed ever to confess, God has condemned me to hell. Do not pray to God for me any more; for you only increase my pains." She then began to howl, and disappeared.
“IV. The celebrated Doctor John Ragusino relates that a certain very spiritual woman practised meditation and frequented the sacraments, so that she was considered by her Bishop to be a saint. The unhappy woman looked one day at a servant, and consented to an unchaste thought; but because the sin was only one of thought, she flattered herself that she was not bound to confess it. However, she was always tortured with remorse of conscience, and particularly in her last illness. But even at death she concealed the sin through shame, and died without confessing it. The bishop who was her confessor, and believed her to be a saint, caused her body to be carried in procession through the whole city, and through devotion got her buried in his own chapel. But on the following morning on entering the chapel he saw a body above the grave, laid on a great fire. He commanded it in the name of God to tell what it was. A voice answered that it was his penitent, and that she was damned for a bad thought. She then began to howl and to curse her shame, which had been the cause of her eternal ruin.
“V. Father Martin del Rio relates that in the province of Peru there was a young Indian called Catharine, who was a servant to a respectable lady. Her mistress induced her to receive baptism, and to frequent the sacraments. She often went to confession, but concealed some of her sins. Just before her death she made nine confessions; but they were all sacrilegious. After her confession she said to her fellow-servants that she concealed her sins. They told her mistress, who, on questioning her, found out that these sins were certain acts of impurity. She therefore told the confessor, who returned, and exhorted his penitent to confess all her sins. But Catharine obstinately refused, and got into such a state of desperation, that she turned and said to her confessor, "Father, leave me; take no more trouble: you are only losing your time;" and then she turned her face to him and began to sing some profane songs. When she was near her end her companions exhorted her to take the crucifix. She answered: "What crucifix? I know not Christ crucified, and I do not wish to know him." And thus she died. So great were the noise and stench during the night, that the mistress was obliged to leave the house. The deceased afterwards appeared to one of her companions, and said that she was damned on account of her bad confessions.
“VI. Father Francis Rodriguez relates that in England, when the Catholic religion flourished in that country, King Augubert had a daughter, who, on account of her rare beauty, was sought by many princes. Being asked by her father whether she wished to marry, she answered that she had made a vow of perpetual chastity. The father obtained a dispensation from the Holy See, but she resolutely refused to accept it, saying that she wished for no other spouse than Jesus Christ. She only asked of her father permission to live a solitary life in his house. The father, because he loved her, complied with her request, and assigned to her a suitable maintenance. In her retirement she began to lead a saintly life in meditation, fasting, and works of penance, frequenting the sacraments, and frequently going to the hospitals to attend the sick. While she lived in this manner she fell sick in her youth and died. A certain lady who had been in her governess, while at prayer one night, heard a great noise, and saw a soul in the form of a woman in a strong fire, and bound in chains, in the midst of a multitude of devils. The soul said, "Know that I am the unhappy daughter of Augubert." "What!" replied the governess; "are you damned after a life so holy?" "Yes," replied the soul; "I am justly damned through my own fault. "And why?" "You must know that in my youth I took pleasure in listening to one of my pages, for whom I had an affection, reading a certain book. Once, after reading the book for me, the page kissed me; the devil began to tempt me, till in the end I committed sin with the page. I went to confession, and began to tell my sin; my indiscreet confessor instantly reproved me, saying, "What! has a queen been guilty of such a sin?" I then, through shame, said it was a dream. I afterwards began to perform penitential works and give alms, that God might pardon me without confessing the sin. At death I said to the confessor that I was a great sinner; he told me to banish the thought as a temptation. After this I expired, and am now damned for all eternity." She then disappeared amid such noise, that the whole world appeared to be falling in pieces, and left in the chamber an intolerable stench, which lasted for many days.
“VII. Father John Baptist Manni, of the Society of Jesus relates that a certain lady had for several years concealed in confession a sin of impurity. Two religious of the Order of St. Dominic passed by the place. The lady, who was always waiting for a strange confessor, entreated one of them to hear her confession. When the Fathers departed, his companion said to the confessor of the lady that while she was confessing her sins he saw many serpents coming from her mouth, but that there was a large, horrible-looking serpent, whose head only came out, but afterwards went back entirely into the lady’s mouth. He then saw all the serpents that came out return again. The confessor went back to the house of the lady, and on entering heard that she had died suddenly. Afterwards, when he was at prayer, the unhappy woman appeared and said to him, "I am the unfortunate person that made my confession to you; I committed one sin, which I voluntarily concealed from the confessors of the place. God sent you to me; but even then I could not conquer the shame of telling it. He therefore struck me suddenly dead when you entered the house, and has justly condemned me to hell." After these words the earth opened, and she fell into the chasm and instantly disappeared.
“VIII. Saint Antony relates that there was a widow who began to lead a holy life, but afterwards, by familiarity with a young man, was led into sin with him. After her fall she performed penitential works, gave alms, and even entered into a monastery, but never confessed her sin. She became abbess. She died, and died with the reputation of a saint. But one night a nun who was in the choir heard a great noise, and saw a spectre encompassed with flames. She asked what it was. The spectre answered, "I am the soul of the abbess, and am in hell." "And why?" "Because in this world I committed a sin, and have never confessed it. Go, and tell this to the other nuns, and pray no more for me." She then disappeared amid great noise.
“IX. In the annals of the Capuchins it is related that a certain mother, on account of having made sacrilegious confessions, began at death to cry out that she was damned for her grievous sins and for her bad confessions. Among other things, she said that she was bound to make restitution to certain persons, and that she had always neglected to do so. Her daughter then said to her, "My mother, let what you owe be restored;
I am satisfied to sell all, provided your soul be saved." The mother answered: "Ah, accursed child! I am damned also on your account; for I have scandalized you by my bad example." Thus she continued to howl like one in despair. They sent for one of the Capuchin Fathers. When he arrived he exhorted her to trust in the mercy of God; but the unhappy woman said: "What mercy! I am damned: sentence is already passed upon me, and I have already begun to feel the pains of hell." While she spoke thus, her body was raised to the ceiling of the chamber, and dashed with violence against the floor, and she instantly expired.” (The complete ascetical works of St. Alphonsus, vol 15, pp. 571-578)
“A similar misfortune befell a sinner who was damned on account of having deferred his confession. Venerable Bede relates that this man, who had been fervent, fell into tepidity and mortal sin, and deferred confession from day to day. He was seized with a dangerous illness; and even then put off his confession saying that he would afterwards go to confession with better dispositions. But the hour of vengeance had arrived: he fell into a deadly swoon in which he thought that he saw hell open under his feet. After he had come to his senses again, the persons who stood round his bed begged him to make his confession, but he answered: "There is no more time; I am damned." They continued to encourage him. "You are losing time," said he; "I am damned, I see hell opened; I there see Judas, Caiphas, and the murderers of Jesus Christ; and near them I see my place, because, like them, I have despised the blood of Jesus Christ by deferring confession for so long a time." Thus the unhappy man died in despair without confession, and was buried like a dog outside the church without having a prayer offered for his soul.” (The complete ascetical works of St. Alphonsus, vol 15, p. 528)
“In the life of Father John Ramirez, of the Society of Jesus, it is related that, while preaching in a certain city, he was called to hear the confession of a girl who was dying. She was of noble birth, and had apparently led a holy life; she went frequently to Communion, fasted, and performed other mortifications. At death she confessed her sins to Father Ramirez with many tears, so that he was greatly consoled. But, after returning to the college, his companion said that while the young lady was making her confession he saw a black hand squeezing her throat. The Father immediately returned to the house of the sick lady, but before entering he heard that she was dead. He then returned to his college, and while he was at prayer the deceased appeared to him in a horrible form, surrounded by flames, and bound in chains, and said that she was damned on account of a sin committed with a young man, which she voluntarily concealed in confession through shame, and that at death she wished to confess it, but the devil induced her, through the same shame, to conceal it. After these words she disappeared, amid the most frightful howling and terrific clanking of chains.” (The complete ascetical works of St. Alphonsus, vol 15, p. 548)
“Tell me, my sister, if, in punishment of not confessing a certain sin, you were to be burnt alive in a caldron of boiling pitch, and if, after that, your sin were to be revealed to all your relatives and neighbors, would you conceal it? No, indeed, if you knew that by confessing it your sin would remain secret, and that you would escape being burnt alive. Now, it is more than certain that, unless you confess that sin, you will have to burn in hell for all eternity, and that on the day of judgment it will be made known to the whole human race. "We must all," says the Apostle, "be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ" (i. Cor. v. 10). "If," says the Lord, "you do not confess the evil you have done,I will proclaim your ignominy to all nations; I will discover thy shame to thy face, and will show. . . thy shame to kingdoms" (Nah. iii. 5).” (The complete ascetical works of St. Alphonsus, vol 15, pp. 549-550)
“The following fact is related by Father Martin del Rio, from the Annals of the Company of Jesus. It is an apparition that occurred in 1590 and was vouched for by trustworthy witnesses: Not far from Lima, dwelt a Christian lady who had three maid-servants, one of whom, called Martha, was a young Indian of about sixteen years. Martha was a Christian, but little by little she grew cool in the devotion she had at first displayed, became negligent in her prayers, and light, coquettish, and wanton in her conversations. Having fallen dangerously ill, she received the Last Sacraments. After this serious ceremony, during which she had evinced very little piety, she said, smiling to her two fellow servants, that in the confession she had just made she had taken good care not to tell all her sins to the priest. Frightened by this language, the girls reported it to their mistress, who by dint of exhortations and threats, obtained from the sick girl a sign of repentance and the promise to make a sincere and Christian confession. Martha confessed then, over again, and died shortly afterward.
“Scarcely had she breathed her last, when her corpse emitted an extraordinary and intolerable stench. They were obliged to remove it from the house to a shed. The dog in the courtyard, usually a quiet animal, howled piteously, as if he were undergoing torture. After the interment, the lady, according to custom, was dining in the garden in the open air, when a heavy stone fell suddenly onto the centre of the table with a horrible crash and caused all the table settings to bounce, but without breaking any article. One of the servants, having occupied the room in which Martha had died, was awakened by frightful noises; all the furniture seemed to be moved by an invisible force and thrown to the floor.
“We understand how the servant did not continue to occupy that room; her companion ventured to take her place, but the same scenes were renewed. Then they agreed to spend the night together there. This time they distinctly heard Martha’s voice, and soon that wretched girl appeared before them in the most horrible state, and all on fire. She said that by God’s command she had come to reveal her condition to them, that she was damned for her sins of impurity and for the sacrilegious confessions she had continued to make until death. She added, “Tell what I have just revealed to you, that others may profit by my misfortune.” At these words she uttered a despairing cry and disappeared.
The fire of Hell is a real fire, a fire that burns like this world’s fire, although it is infinitely more active. Must not there be a real fire in Hell, seeing that there is a real fire in Purgatory? “It is the same fire,” says St. Augustine, “that tortures the damned and purifies the elect.”” (Rev. F.X. Schouppe, S.J. The Dogma of Hell, Chapter VII, The Pains of Hell)
Question: In what detail must one confess to a priest the sins of impurity or other sins that one have committed? When you quote Jean Gerson, you say that one must confess every single detail, but I don’t agree with this.
Jean Gerson, Oeuvres Complétes: “What a young boy should tell in confession: I sometimes stroked myself or others, urged by disorderly pleasure; I fondled myself, in my bed and elsewhere, something I would not have dared to do if people had been there. Sometimes the priest cannot absolve such fondling. If they are not confessed and the details given, whatever the shame, one cannot be absolved, and the confession is worthless: one is destined to be damned for ever in Hell. The action and the way it has been done must be told.”
This is not justice and the Church does not teach this, and God does not require such details to be given, since the one confessing could think that his confession will tempt the priest, or that this priest is a pedophile, or that the priest will tell the sin to others, or he could forget his sins, or many other reasons, and so, one is not obligated under pain of sin to confess all the details.