‘Law & Order: SVU’ Episode 21 Recap: ‘Confess Your Sins to Be Free’

by Suzanne Halliburton
Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Yes, Law & Order: SVU went there. The show asked the question, what happens when a priest takes advantage of what he hears in confession and uses the information to commit a crime.

Like, we’re talking rape. It’s a mortal sin. Married Catholic women, feeling so very guilty, were confessing their affairs to their priest. The women mentioned details about leaving their doors unlocked for their lovers. Somehow, another man showed up. He would rape them and then leave.

And this Law & Order: SVU episode also had a secondary plot point about confession. Burton Lowe, the first love of Olivia Benson, wanted to right so many wrongs he committed while he was abusing alcohol. SVU introduced us to Burton (Aidan Quinn) last October during the show’s 500th episode. We know that Burton dated Benson (Mariska Hargitay) when she was 16 and he was 21. What seemed OK then now looks like statutory rape.

And Burton turned about to be a sexual predator who some would view as merely as a ladies man. Now, after he got sober, he wants to talk to the women and confess the harm he’d done to them. But what happens if one of the women who heard his confession decided she wanted more than words to rectify past sins?

First Law & Order: SVU Confession Involved Carisi’s Long-time Friend

So let’s delve into the details of “Confess Your Sins to Be Free.” As SVU opened Thursday, we went with Carisi (Peter Scanavino) to to his childhood parish in Hell’s Kitchen. There, he’s known as Sonny. He and Father Duffy have been friends since middle school. They played Little League together. Carisi runs into one of his other friends, whose sister Audrey is having marital issues. Audrey confesses her affair, telling her priest that she leaves the door open at 10 p.m. Later that night, a man shows up at 9:30 and rapes her.

Carisi soon figures out that both priests at the parish — Father Duffy and Father Regis — heard Audrey’s confessions. She’s mentioned her affair more than once. But neither priest would confirm or deny, even acknowledge, Audrey’s confession. But it’s likely that one of them raped her.

The SVU team does a sting operation. A female officer, Det. Ruiz, makes the same confession to both priests. She’ll be at an art gallery later that night, waiting for her lover. Then Ruiz, Fin and Velasco go to the art gallery and wait. Father Duffy, wearing a dark hoodie, shows up. As he’s arrested, Duffy swears it’s not what you think. But he won’t say why. He only wanted to protect the woman.

Duffy asks Carisi to trust his judgment. He can’t tell what he’s heard, even if it’s to clear his name. That’s when Carisi shouts at him: “At what point do your vows become more important than your fellow human beings.”

Father Regis Liked to Send White Lilies to His Victims

The SVU detectives do some digging under the theory that Father Duffy heard Father Regis’ confession. They go back to his last parish. It turns out that there was at least one woman who told Father Regis she was having an affair. And then she later was raped when a stranger showed up at her place. Just like with Audrey, that nice Father Regis sent white lilies to her home.

Father Duffy did offer one clue. He said that Father Regis confesses to someone else besides him. That’s his mother. She’s dead. But he goes to the cemetery to visit her twice a week. Fin and Velasco head to the cemetery. And they listen in as Father Regis tells his mother what he did. But he says because he confessed his sins, he was absolved. Yes, he was arrested. He also confessed to seven rapes.

So about that other confession. Burton meets with Olivia, who wanted no part of an easy apology. She tells him to make it right with all the women. So he does. And then he invites Olivia to his six-month clean ceremony at AA.

Afterwards, he tells Benson “Olivia, I really was in love with you.”

Later, a woman named Beverly Morrison shows up at Benson’s office. She tells Olivia she was in the same hotel room she’d been in six months ago. Moments after Benson confronted Burton, he called Beverly, his magazine editor. She came to the hotel room. They were both drunk and kept drinking. Then they had sex.

Burton also apologized to Beverly and basically confessed to what he did. Beverly taped it. And she brought the evidence to Olivia. She wanted to press charges. She was too drunk to give Burton consent. Rather than fighting the charges in court, Burton pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct.

“I wanted to take responsibility for my actions, the harm I caused others,” Burton told Olivia. She tells him she doesn’t know yet whether she’s forgiven him. Then he thanked her for listening.