Catholic Girl

Friday, January 14, 2011

Question

My mother takes me to mass with her every Sunday. She wants me to go to confession before I take communion. (I am 13.) She has specifically insisted that if I have any “impure” thoughts or “carnal temptations,” I am supposed to discuss these with the priest. This makes me very uncomfortable. Confession is supposed to be anonymous, but we have a small parish. He will recognize my voice, won't he? Right now I don't even have a sex life so this all feels kind of creepy. Am I supposed to make something up? Our priest is okay, I guess, but he is pretty old and if I did have a problem in this area I don't think he would be a good person to go to for advice.

Answer

My Catholic friends tell many humorous stories about being teenagers and having to make something up for confession. The trick seems to be to come up with things that sound realistic, but not major causes for concern. So instead of talking about carnal desire, maybe you could talk about vanity or pride or being disrespectful to your mother or your teachers. In a small parish, I wouldn't trust the ideal of anonymity to hold true. I understand that you want privacy, and I support this. You are developing good boundaries that will serve you well as an adult.

Your mother probably doesn't understand that by dragging you to mass when you don't really want to go, she is creating resentment toward the church instead of celebration. How can you see anything helpful or affirming in your mom's religious beliefs if she is behaving this way? But you may have to just put up with this until her routine changes or you are old enough to leave home. In the meantime, do some reading and thinking of your own about life's deeper meaning. It is always a good idea to have your own standards for what is right and wrong. You need those ethics to guide your own conduct. But they may not be identical to what your mother or the priest will prescribe. Conflicts like these are very hard on families. Your parents are going to see you as too close to childhood to have a right to your own beliefs. But the truth is, they can't force you to believe anything unless you agree of your own volition. They can make you do certain things but they can't control your heart and mind.

By the way, if a priest ever shows a lot of concern for your sex life and starts quizzing you for details or putting pressure on you to talk about sex, that worries me. It could be an opening for sexual abuse. Simply saying, “I'm too young for that,” “I don't have those feelings,” or “There are other things that are a bigger problem for me” ought to be enough to change the subject. I hope your mom will understand that you shouldn't be alone with a priest who wants to get a young girl to dwell on sex rather than steering her attention in less dangerous directions.

Your mom might simply be hoping that she can avoid educating you about sex by encouraging you to talk to the priest instead. Many parents are uncomfortable having conversations with their children about sexual anatomy, technique, protecting your health, etc. Let me know if there are things you need to know about. If your mom has been a strict Catholic all of her life, there may be a lot of things about women's sexuality that she doesn't know anyway—much less your elderly priest! I hope you can find another adult you can trust who can give you advice, or find accurate resources on the Internet or in the library.

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