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confession, in law, the formal admission of criminal guilt, usually obtained in the course of examination by the police or prosecutor or at trial. For a confession to be admissible as evidence against an accused individual, it generally must have been procured voluntarily after the person was informed of his or her right to remain silent and right to consult an attorney (see Miranda v. Arizona). If a confession is obtained through torture, threats, prolonged interrogation, or false promises of immunity from prosecution, it is inadmissible, but law enforcement officials may and do use psychological pressure, which can lead to false confessions. A signed confession is presumed to be voluntary, and the accused must introduce proof that it was extorted in order to prevent its introduction at the trial. In 1981 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that murder defendants should be informed of their right to remain silent during interviews with psychologists, who might later testify for the prosecution that the client was “dangerous” and thus deserving of a stiff penalty. A 1986 ruling stated that a criminal defendant entering a plea of “not guilty” had the right to describe to the court how his confession was obtained by police. The ideal of a voluntary confession was upset recently, however, in the case of Arizona v. Fulminante (1991). There, the Supreme Court ruled that coerced confessions do not invariably nullify a conviction, but can be regarded merely as “harmless errors”—at least where additional incriminating evidence is available. Usually, a person who does not plead guilty cannot be convicted solely on the basis of his confession.


See P. Brooks, Troubling Confessions: Speaking Guilt in Law and Literature (2000).

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Confessional inside the Cathedral of St. Pol-de-Leon, Brittany, France. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A Christian "confession" carries with it the meaning of agreeing to a particular statement of faith. For example, the minister sometimes invites a congregation to read the Apostles' Creed (see Gnosticism) by saying, "Let us together make our confession of faith." But perhaps the most familiar meaning of the word refers to the Catholic tradition of confessing ad auriculam, "into the ear of" a priest. The practice began in the medieval church. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 declared confession had to be at least an annual event if the confessor wanted to receive the host during Eucharist. In the sixteenth century, in order to provide privacy and a more substantial ritual, confessional stalls began to be used. It has always been the law of the land that anything said to a priest was absolutely confidential. The priest took a holy vow that he was bound not to reveal anything told him in the confessional. But recently, as a result of child-abuse scandals in the Catholic church, state legislatures are beginning to question the practice of excusing priests and ministers from lists of people, such as doctors and social workers, who are required to report instances of child abuse. In May 2002 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for example, eliminated from the list of exceptions ministers of denominations who did not use confessionals by tradition.

Terrorist threats raised more questions. If a terrorist, seeking to save his soul after committing murder, confesses to a priest bound by the power of the confessional, is the priest obligated to remain silent?

It remains to be seen how long the Church will be able to hold out from social pressure requiring, for the public good, at least some confidentiality to be discarded.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

confession, confessio

1.The tomb of a martyr or confessor; if an altar was erected over the grave, the name was also extended to the altar and to the subterranean chamber in which it stood; in later times a basilica was sometimes erected over the chamber and the entire building was known as a confession.
2. The space immediately below, or in front of, the primary altar of a church.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Christianity Chiefly RC Church the act of a penitent accusing himself of his sins
2. confession of faith a formal public avowal of religious beliefs
3. a religious denomination or sect united by a common system of beliefs
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
(36.) After Allen, there were several Chinese introductions to Augustine that appeared at the beginning of the 1900s, such as Timothy Richard's "Biography of Augustine" (1901) and Hu Yigu's translation of the Confessiones (1909).
GHERRO (cur.), Confessione e dichiarazione delle parti nelle cause canoniche di nullita matrimoniale, CEDAM, Padova 2003, 99-145; tambien en btcaev.
Linda Olson in a series of articles--"Reading Augustine's Confessiones in Fourteenth-Century England: John de Grandisson's Fashioning of Text and Self," Traditio 52 (1997), 201-57; "Untangling the Thread of Internal Progress in a Benedictine Community: An Abridgement of Augustine's Confessiones from Medieval Norwich," Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History 3rd ser., 1 (2001), 41-79; "Did Medieval English Women Read Augustine's Confessiones?
Professor Nightingale's discussion of time in Augustine justly centers on Confessiones XI.
Algunos lo han pretendido: Confessiones de Agustin es el intento de clarificacion de la interioridad como paso previo a la especulacion, el recorrido de la interioridad en su status empirico y en su relacion constituyente con el mundo, ?que soy en conexion con lo que he sido y sere?
Olson's essay considers written sources as well as visual representations of Monica and argues that she is depicted in these medieval sources far more frequently than would be suggested by her presence in Augustine's Confessiones. Monica is an important spiritual leader in her own right, and Olson is justified in hoping that this essay will help to draw her "once again from the enormous filial shadow where scholarship has too frequently and too complacently left her" (42).