The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) is an area of Church life approached with great suspicion by some. With some justification, many of those who have not experienced the benefits of this sacrament take the view that "Catholics go to confession on Saturdays to confess their sins, and then spend the rest of the week doing exactly the same all over again".
There are some who argue that they confess their sins to God and that they have no need to confess to a priest and ask his forgiveness. There is, of course, no suggestion of asking the priest's forgiveness, and it is arguable that penitents do a much more thorough job of confessing to God if they have regularly undertaken the discipline of self examination in order to make a detailed confession in the presence of a priest. Muttering the words of a general confession during public worship may not help us to confront the things which are wrong in our lives and think about how to put them right
Whatever you confess to a priest is entirely confidential. In most cases a priest will try to forget your confession as quickly as possible so there should be no need to be embarrassed about what you have told him if you meet him in the supermarket or the pub.
The priest will offer you advice (if you wish it); he will suggest a penance, which might involve making some attempt to put right the wrongs you have done or the suggestion that you reflect on the words of an appropriate hymn or psalm, and, most importantly, he will assure you of God's forgiveness (sometimes something we find it difficult to believe unless we have someone to reassure us). Confession should be a joyful and uplifting experience as we are given the opportunity to put past wrongs behind us and make a fresh start again.
If you find the prospect of confessing in privacy to a priest daunting, just think about the alternative. In their eagerness to get rid of anything they saw as 'Catholic', the Reformers put an end to private confession and introduced public confession instead. Up until as late as 1835, those who were believed to be sinners were expected to confess in public. Oliver Cromwell, himself was forced to make a public confession in 1626 of defamation of character and incest. Perhaps this helps to explain his hatred of bishops.
The public hearing of confessions may not always have been as entertaining as the Jerry Springer show. An entry in the parish register of a Cornish church from 1672 reveals that "John Taprill, clerk, asked forgiveness of Rd Grills Carpenter, within the parish church of Southill, upon a Sunday forenoon, after morning prayer, in the month of December last past, for reporting things not proven. Whereupon the said Taprill, longing to be revenged, did sing some psalms as he thought fitting to lamentable tunes for sorrow of his disgrace" - making the congregation share his penance!