When I confess to someone (like a priest, or police), is there a word in English for this this person?

For example:

"The suspect just made a confession" said Anna.

"Oh", said Bob, "who was [the person who received the confession]?"

In response to a user's request, I will briefly outline my research before asking this question.

I googled "confession receiver" and "definition confession receiver", and was directed to religious and crossword puzzle answers (priest, father, etc.) I also googled "confessee" (and variants) but that did not have even a Scrabble definition. In hindsight, I should have searched for "confessor", but I was not aware that the word had two meanings. Hence this question.

  • 5
    Here's a tip, you were lucky that you immediately received two strong supported answers, those answers kept your question open and made it to the Hot Questions network, which is why your post attracted over 1,000 views. But if there had been no answers, it's very likely that some members would have closed the question for lack of research. Next time, if you can show that you did a “tiny” bit of research, your single-word-requests (why British-English tag?) won't risk closure.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 6:09
  • Criticism appreciated and noted. I chose British-English due to my problem at hand. That is, as a filter.
    – fundagain
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 9:38
  • For pedagogical purposes, please could anyone mind explaining what is wrong with my current formulation, which I made after first being put on hold. I do not know what more to add. Hence am frustrated, and less sure how to use this site. I certainly received the answer I needed, but seem to have made a mistake in my formulation.
    – fundagain
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 14:42
  • I indeed googled those suggested, together with "definition" appended. No go. I of course also tried "confesee" but no go. It turns out that what you need to google is "confessor", which I did not do, I admit, because I thought the confessor gave the confession.
    – fundagain
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 15:37
  • 1
    Please add the research and include your findings in your question, it will make your question all the more interesting for readers, users and visitors alike. (I have deleted the chatty comments)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 19:22

4 Answers 4


Confusingly, this is one of the words that we use for both parties in an asymmetrical relationship (cf. "namesake"): Both the person confessing and the person hearing the confession can be called a confessor. Per Oxford Dictionaries, the term is probably applied more often to the person hearing the confession:

  1. A priest who hears confessions and gives absolution and spiritual counsel.
    . . .
    1.1 A person to whom another confides personal problems.
    . . .
  2. A person who makes a confession.

Some of the example sentences under definition 1.1 suggest a couple of possible solutions to the ambiguity:

‘Confession in the classroom takes many forms; therefore, the identities of the confessor and confessee are not always the same.’
. . .
‘How do we understand, not what is said between the confessor and confessant, but the dynamic that is produced between them?’
. . .
‘Sometimes confessing is better for the confessor than the ‘confessee’ and just makes unnecessary trouble.’

I note that "confessee" isn't in the ODO and still seems a bit ambiguous to me (does that last example really mean what ODO thinks it means?), but "confessant" is in the dictionary and seems more straightforward (if "fancier").

Also, in practice confessor is very often used with a possessive determiner, i.e. "my confessor" or "the penitent's confessor", which generally helps to clarify who is confessing and who is hearing the confession.

One more possibility, if the person is trusted to keep the confession private: Confidant works pretty well for confessions to people like close friends, personal advisors, and spouses. It works less well for a formal relationship like a therapist or priest, and doesn't really make sense for someone like a police officer.

  • Why isn't confessioner a word?
    – Mazura
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 21:26
  • 3
    It is! Or at least, it was; from the OED: An advocate of auricular confession; a confessor. Obsolete now, alas; the only attestations are both from the sixteenth century. Also confessionalist and confessionaire and confessioner and Confessionist, though that one apparently meant someone who advocated confession as a religious feature, plus confessioness and confessatrix. I kind of like the idea of trying to enforce a distinction between confessor and confesser (also in the OED). Or perhaps confeſe.
    – 1006a
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 21:50
  • 1
    You wouldn't use confessor in this sense when referring to a police officer, though. Commented May 20, 2018 at 12:49

I might add Confidant when this is a non-religious confession.

Merriam-Webster definition:

one to whom secrets are entrusted; especially : intimate He is a trusted confidant of the president.

  • 2
    Not applicable when confessing to police.
    – Willtech
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 6:27
  • @Willtech, agreed.
    – App-Devon
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 17:41

As Merriam Webster makes clear the term Father Confessor is strictly applied to a priest, but it is also used extensively to refer to any person who hears others' confidences.

I have also heard the term Mother Confessor used.

  • Thank you for this answer. This usage turned out to be particularly useful to my needs. Appreciated.
    – fundagain
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 23:52

The term “witness” need not only apply to a situation where you watch something. Anytime that someone experiences something, participates in it, and perhaps later can speak for the matter, then they are a witness.

  • True as far as you've gone, but while a person can be [a] witness to an event (or the more active bear witness to an event), and later that same person can give witness to (or of) that event, there is no form which would correlate to the OP's desired answer, i.e. for a person to take witness or receive witness from another person.
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 9:04
  • @O.M.Y. That’s an awfully tight restraint on the meaning. IMO Commented May 19, 2018 at 14:26

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