Is Confession Dead?

The confessionals are empty. The sinners have gone away. Or should I say, “sin has gone away.” Not to be judgmental, but rather to be observant, I sense poignantly a lack of what I would call “sin awareness” among modern Catholics. We seem to have assimilated the secular notion that the concept of sin places outdated, even psychologically damaging restraints on people, or that the feeling of guilt for wrongdoing (or wrong-thinking) is emotionally debilitating. Thus, we see in society the virtual elimination of the word “sin.” We don’t want to hurt anybody’s self esteem. Catholics, perhaps innocently, have bought into this nonsense.

Cohabitating young adults are seen going to communion with apparent impunity. Our children are taught in public school health classes that masturbation is “normal” (as if a mathematical average equals absolution). They are told that abortion is a legitimate medical procedure, as if “medical” means okay. Some adults with decades-long resentments against others apparently have no problem allowing these self-destructive feelings to fester and to ignore the basic Christian concept of unconditional forgiveness.

Our young appear to have almost universally adopted the idea that pre-marital sex is acceptable. Pro-choice Catholic politicians take the sacraments in a blatant display of hubris, arguing ignorantly that abortion is a matter of conscience. Football fans cheer when a member of the opposing team has his head nearly separated from his body. Marriage seems in many cases to be about as serious as “going steady” was when I was in high school. And on and on.

Our pope is emphasizing the need to welcome the disaffected and to affirm them as Catholics. Fine, but we need also to reaffirm doctrinal truth. These objectives are not at loggerheads; both are mutually, authentically Christian. In making Catholicism a living faith for sinners of all stripes, we must also meet the challenge of truth telling and not lower the bar for re-entry.

We are weak, all of us, and in constant need of the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation. I am a sinner, and as such I have a need for the confessional at least monthly. Not because I have a scrupulous conscience or because I’m “hard on myself,” but because I believe human frailty to be a constant state requiring constant vigilance.

I suppose with a profoundly informed conscience many of us could survive spiritually with a once-a-year confession. Not I. I know myself better. I would become lazy, apathetic, and removed from the spiritual world. From a purely selfish standpoint I am spiritually refreshed by the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s not a question of merely “staying out of Hell this week.” Rather, it is a moment of understanding of my potential for some degree of holiness and a realization of the nature of God’s mercy.

"Return of the Prodigal Son" by James J. Tissot, 1862
“Return of the Prodigal Son” by James J. Tissot, 1862

I want to be straight with Him. I want to thank Him for his mercy. Thank him for His Cross. Ask Him to shape me up. Give me more self-discipline. Respond to His will. This is when I am most happy, most optimistic and most confident.

Why have we forgotten these things? Have we been so misguided by warped interpretations of Vatican II that we think that serious sin has disappeared? Do we even know what is venial and what is mortal? Do we think that examination of conscience and an act of contrition are always enough to prepare for the Eucharist? Do we really understand what is sin and what isn’t? Are we so naive as to think that secular psychobabble can replace doctrinal truth?

If the laity can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, why shouldn’t we expect our clergy to answer them – the same clergy that would admonish us to take advantage of a confessional that may be open, in most cases, no more than forty-five minutes to an hour each week? My pastor is pretty good at this. His message is strong and fairly frequent. But I have lived a long life as a Catholic, lived it in nine different parishes, and have seen the sure but gradual decline in the use of the confessional.

How can Catholics take the confessional seriously when they do not have the answers to these questions? When a parish of 3,000 people produces fifteen or twenty penitents at the confessional each week?

The problem of a seriously diluted sacrament lies as much with the clergy as with the laity. Not to be hard on the clergy, who have probably become discouraged at the dramatic downturn in confessional visitations, but the educational problem (from the pulpit) is theirs to solve. And in the process, as the British would say, they need “to put a little stick about.”

I am sure there are some priests who believe that the confessional, for a time, had become a Jansenistic ritual of scrupulous excess, that we needed to “loosen up, ” and know that we are all basically good and needn’t be too worried as long as we haven’t created a major “separation” from God. Like what? Murder? Adultery? Coveting my neighbor’s goods? And any number of other sins, great and small, that have not disappeared from human hearts or the world.

If we are going to argue historically that private confession only appeared after several Christian centuries, we had better still today know exactly what would take its place. Because what we seem to have at present is Eucharistic anarchy: “I’m a good person. I can go to Mass and Communion any time I want.” So why, exactly, did Christ have to come into the world and die a horrible death on the Cross?

Terence K. O'Leary

Terence K. O'Leary

Terence K. O’Leary is the retired President/CEO of a Boston marketing and communications company and a former board member of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

  • Manfred

    Thank you for your column, Mr. O.Leary. I see you worked in the private secrtor, as do I.
    Your column is spot on. Fr. Robert Barron has stated consistently that while we must believe that Hell exists, (it is de fide), we do not have to believe that anyone is there. In fact he goes further and insists that very few souls, if any, are there. The TCT columnist yesterday wrote a piece on Fatima without ever once mentioning that the Mother of God allowed three children, the oldest was nine, to see Hell, the sight of which completely terrified them. Mary consoled them by telling them that they would never go there. All of these beliefs have been removed from the catholic (sic) psyche by the leaders and teachers of the church in the last fifty years.
    Mary warned at Fatima that most souls in Hell are there due to “sins of the flesh”, and yet we have a Synod of the Family promoting (that is the operative word) Communion for the divorced and remarried (without annulment) who are living in a permanent state of ADULTERY, and attempting to legitimate HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS. Sodomy has been called an abomination which “cries out to Heaven” for thousands of years of Judaeo-Catholicism and yet this pope and hierarchy are insisting that God’s immutable laws can somehow be altered to solve individual circumstances.
    The definition of scandal means leading or abetting others to sin. It was Christ who said “Woe to him who scandal gives, for it would be better that a millstone be tied around his neck and he be cast into the depths of the sea.” The reason confessions have declined is due to the fact that this church is not the True Church.

    • Howard Kainz

      “The reason confessions have declined is due to the fact that this church is not the True Church.” So where is the True Church, in your opinion?

      • RaymondNicholas

        The parable of the farmer sowing seed came to mind when you asked this question. Some of the seed fell on barren ground and never sprouted; some fell on shallow ground in rocks and died in short order; some seed became deep rooted but uprooted later on by outside forces; and some seed fell on fertile ground and it blossomed and grew. We cannot be tempted by the first three possibilities and so destroy our faith. If we find that the True Faith is being distorted to the point of heretical preaching and practice then we must move on to another, more traditional parish, and pray, pray, pray. While this may solve the immediate problem, it does not do anything for the souls left behind in the old parish who have no means of leaving. This is the scandal of the modern Church in the internet age: we know the dirty wash in churches around the country because it’s being reported in blogs and news reports that cannot be contained. If we believe in one universal Catholic church, then scandal in one part is scandal for all. At some point how can the frustrations of the laity not erupt?

    • Jim Flynn

      Timely and well stated article! To Manfred: could you give a few references to back up your claim that Fr. Barron believes few if any are in hell. I read and listen to him frequently and have not picked that message. Three or four of his references would be helpful.

      • hssuzanne

        I post a reply with links, Jim, before I remembered TCT doesn’t allow links.

        I too was disappointed in Fr. Barron’s comments on Hell, simply because they skated on the thin edge of being heresy without being heresy, and probably confused many good people who didn’t have the skills of discernment to really understand what he was saying. Sigh.

        If you google “Father Barron Hell is empty” you will get all the links you need to see what is being referred to.

      • “Fr. Robert Barron has stated consistently that while we must believe that Hell exists, (it is de fide), we do not have to believe that anyone is there. In fact he goes further and insists that very few souls, if any, are there.” How presumptuous. Some people including priests have some inane compulsion to opine on spiritual matters on what only God knows, and to what end? To confuse and weaken faithful Catholic’s who believe as the Psalmist says, “Fear the Lord”? Not servile fear but the child-like fear of offending the God he loves.

    • Patti Day

      The Catholic Church is the True Church. She may not be the spotless bride Our Lord meant, and means, her to be, because men in their sin and silly foibles have mucked her about, and tried to conform her to their individual interpretations, even from the beginning. But the Holy Spirit has and will send faithful sons and daughters like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Sienna to guide her back. Like you, I am deeply concerned about where our Church seems to be headed. Even if she is changed to the point where you and I don’t recognize her, Christ does and will, and she will remain, even if only a small remnant, the One True Church.

    • Bill E.

      Make no mistake….Pope Francis condemns the homosexual “lifestyle”, but not the homosexual, as the Church rightfully teaches us to do.

    • Denis Nolan

      Pope John Paul II called Medjugorje the confessional of the world, and said that if he weren’t pope that’s where he would be living as a priest helping to hear confessions…

  • Michael Dowd

    Good article. My guess the reason for lack of confession is sexual sin which priests are loath to talk about perhaps because: a., they really don’t believe they are sins, e.g., contraception; b., their Bishop told them to lighten-up as folks will stop contributing; or c., they have their own problems with this. Then to make matter worse for years we have a whole lot of nothing coming from Rome on sexual sins; everything is Social Justice. But recently Rome seems to be coming up with a better idea: sexual sins are no longer sins. How brilliant! Lord have mercy on us all.

  • Chris in Maryland

    The very first thing established by “the risen Jesus” on Easter Sunday was the ministry of confession – he gave the apostles his power to forgive sins.

    And we, who call ourselves Christian people, choose to ignore the first reason for the Incarnation: the forgiveness of sins.

    This is because of the idols we worship: appearances, convenience, money, power, pornography, entertainment, etc, etc, etc.

  • Dave

    Karl Menninger wrote about this phenomenon, from a psychiatric perspective, in the 60s, in his book “Whatever became of sin?” I find it interesting that his book appears just after the Council, when the lines began to dry up. Whatever became of confession? The Church stopped teaching about mortal and venial sins. The Church — Rome — silenced Cardinal O’Boyle when he enforced Humanae Vitae. The Church stopped forming priests who were qualified to hear confession and offer real spiritual direction. The Church allowed, and still does, notorious sinners amongst “Catholic” politicians to receive Holy Communion with impunity — need those Federal dollars for Catholic Charities and other works of mercy, and can’t have those taps dry up, can we? But I want to come back to the notion of spiritual direction: it is disheartening for people to confess the same sins week, month, year, decade in and out with no growth in the confidence of God’s mercy because of no real change — conversion — that leads to the newness of life that Christ promises in the Gospel. So there are, broadly, two types of Catholics who don’t go to Confession — the self-satisfied, lax nominal Catholic, and the disheartened.

    Those who want spiritual direction and confession can find it: God is still faithful. But he needs faithful ministers of the sacrament and faithful spiritual directors who can help people discover the union with the Blessed Trinity that the Faith promises. Without those ministers, the Faith becomes a cultural artifact: useful to mark the big occasions of life, or as a weekly touchstone to remind us of who God is and what life can be or could have been, but not a source of living waters.

    God raise up many priests, and send us the Holy Spirit for the renewal that your people cry for. God raise up laity who want to discover the joys of the Faith and who will bear the Cross, come what may. We get the priests we deserve! So if we want more confessors, more directors, more pastors of souls, we have to pray for them, fast for them, and offer our own lives and work for them. Then we will have the springtime of Christianity that Pope St. John Paul II foretold.

  • RaymondNicholas

    Not a better description of the present mindset of many priests and laity have I found. But will your voice reach those who need it? It reminds me of the parable of the farmer sowing seed: some will fall on barren ground and die, some will fall on stone and grow a little and die, some will be torn from their roots after a time and so die, and some will grow and bloom in solid ground. That sounds to me like only a one in four chance of folks staying in the Faith…

    • Depends on how much good ground there is. We laity can help prepare the soil by removing stones and weeds and fertilizing.

      • RaymondNicholas

        Have you ever tried debating with a liberal/potentially heretical priest? It is rather difficult since they hide behind their collar and claim they know infinitely more about the Church than you will ever know. I’ve resigned myself to keeping the sacraments, dealing with my weaknesses, a tough chore, applying my own interpretations of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and learning the Faith. For example, I do not give to any catholic entity that directly or indirectly supports the active gay agenda, contraception, and abortion, no matter what other good works they do. I do give to a food and clothing pantry run by a group of local Protestant Churches, which includes some Catholic volunteers. If I read about Church scandal anywhere on the internet I write and complain. I think as laity we can apply our diverse skills to keeping the Catholic Church Catholic, starting with remaining true.

        • If you can find it, read Fr. Bryan Houghton’s Judith’s Marriage, in which such a priest, Fr. Cromer, becomes a traditionalist. If you can’t find it, try to find and write to me. (Will delete this last sentence in a little while.)

  • Florian

    March 1: I am so grateful to read this – to know others are concerned. When you speak of a ‘pro-choice’ person blithely walking up to receive the Eucharist I believe it’s worse than that: public figures like Nancy Pelosi are not simply ‘pro-choice’ – Nancy Pelosi publicly and aggressively and consistently promotes the killing of preborn babies in the womb and she receives large sums of money from planned parenthood. And she publicly mocks the Bishops and the Church as being out of touch with the times. Who knows how many she has brought to her side, to join in aiding and abetting these mass killings of millions of human babies in the womb? And because she is permitted to consider herself a Catholic in good standing with the Church and receive Holy Communion she is being affirmed in her sin and denied the catalyst for conversion. Pope Benedict wrote a letter, to be shared with all Bishops, to Cardinal McCarrick some years ago informing them that public figures who promoted abortion should not receive the Eucharist. The Cardinal never shared that letter with the Bishops, only his interpretation of it. So the evil is not just in the one promoting these mass killings, like Nancy Pelosi, but worse in Shepherds who do such grave harm to their flock.

  • There can be no repentance without sin. The horrible truth is this is what happens when the charitable interpretation meets academic freedom.

  • kathleen

    In my diocese the bishop has asked that all parishes have Confession for one hour in the evening – 6-7pm during Lent. As far as I know most if not all parishes are following this instruction. However, so far I haven’t heard a sermon from the pulpit on Confession and the need for it. I never hear about mortal or venial sin, or Hell or Purgatory. That is where the real problem lies – no preaching or teaching on Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.
    In the old days, parishes used to have visiting priests come in to preach on these things. Nowadays, if we have a Parish Mission the priest who comes preaches all about love and social justice. And God’s Mercy – not a hint about God’s Justice. Yes, the need to pray for good, holy priests has never been more urgent. And it is incumbent upon us to do just that. Our Church is in trouble, and we need to pray for Her. She is our Mother, and we must not abandon Her. We pray, we fast, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Jesus did tell us that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against Her. After 2000 years the Church is still here, and will be until Gabriel blows his horn.

    • Patti Day

      Several years ago we had a priest from the Redemptorists preach on the Four Last Things. The last evening we had about fifty people in attendance (a crowd for our small church) and I believe every last one of them went to confession. It was amazing

  • Gsimjohnston

    Cardinal O’Connor of New York once quipped that there seemed to be a widespread impression among Catholics that Vatican II had abolished sin.

  • Grn724

    I have come to some conclusion that the hierarchy of the church whether it be Rome, the USCCB or local Dioceses, made a decision some time ago to stop teaching about our sinful nature and what the solution is available to help on our journey to the Kingdom. I know a priest who did weekend missions at parishes around the country, and in one particular city while being picked up at the airport, the first thing the Bishop asked not to do was speak about sin, for his parishioners were “good people.” I also have come to believe that Dioceses I belong to, have been instructed not to talk about sin for fear of driving the people away, this is coming straight from a priest lips. And the reasoning given for the instruction was, we need their money.
    Mass serves us on many levels, but there are certain “non-negotiable” items, like Communion, Liturgy and sermons on sin and repentance thereof. I am not perfect in the practice of my Faith, but God knows my heart, and it is for this very reason I need a clear conscience. I good to church to be healed of my infirmities and that is a lifelong process.

    • “the hierarchy of the church whether it be Rome, the USCCB or local Dioceses, made a decision some time ago to stop teaching about our sinful nature ”

      This is somewhat of a head-scratcher for me. Hasn’t Pope Francis been continually promoting confession and the graces we receive there? Wasn’t a proper understanding of man in relation to God central to the magisterium of both Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II?

  • JGradGus

    A traditional/conservative Catholic from Boston??? What is the world coming to??!!

    Good essay Mr. O’Leary. The challenge is getting this message to all the heterodox Catholics out
    there. My wife, who has taught CCD for almost 20 years, says the general consensus among Catechists is that only about half of the kids they teach actually go to Mass every week. This is their parents’ fault of course, especially in suburban and semi-rural parishes.

    What is the real root cause of the Church’s problems today? Is it V2, or did V2 only exacerbate the already growing problem of secular progressivism? Or did secular progressives highjack V2? Have
    U.S. Bishops really told their parish priests to ease up so as not to hurt contributions, or is it that too many parish priests are just not sure about how to address the problem of dwindling Church attendance? Or is that today’s priests are products of the modern secular-progressive-relativistic
    culture? Or is it that the devil is just really good at sowing the seeds of doubt, dissension and confusion? I’m going with the last one.

  • Patti Day

    My parish is small and rural. There have been few homilies during the six years I’ve been here related to sin, and the only time I recall confession being mentioned is in regard to the once-a-year duty. Confession is offered right before Mass on Sunday if one asks, but it is so rushed that invariably everyone is already seated and the people in the pews are looking around to see who and what is responsible for the holdup. On occasion it has been me, and I’ve seen the eye rolls of some of the congregation as I return to my seat. If that’s not a sure way to discourage confession, I don’t know what is. I will say that I have never been denied when I asked for confession, whether before Mass or by appointment, but the less convenient (no actual scheduled confession time) it is made for someone to go, the more likely they are to become discouraged or indifferent, the message being confession is unimportant and in fact causes disruption.

  • In fact, there are two (and only two) sins today for which we need absolution from somewhere: intolerance and being judgmental. Sigh.

    • Bill E.

      Hopefully, we are intolerant of SIN…..and judgmental of words and actions (the “heart” being left to the Lord).

  • helensatmary

    I am afraid we have lost our way….Liberalism once again taking the reins of the Church. It is really scarey!!! God please help us. Come to our rescue soon!!!

  • Fr. Kloster

    I was a priests in the USA for 16 years. I’ve now been in the Archdiocese of Guayaquil Ecuador for 4 years as a pastor of a large parish.

    My first year here, I heard more confessions than all of my previous 16 years in the USA. It’s also the first time I’ve been a pastor and gotten to decide the schedule. I hear 6 hours of confessions weekly. It’s quite a sight to behold my 10:00am Mass with about 1000 people in attendance and only about 250 coming for communion. The confession lines are long and the communion line relatively short; the way it should be. I use a communion rail and have no laity helping with communion (I am the only priest in a parish with over 28,000 Catholics). There’s obviously still a lot of work to be done to overcome the spiritual devastation of the two preceding generations.

    It really does come down to preaching and offering the varying scheduled confessions. The people will come when they are properly trained in the sacramental life. We don’t just have a lot of confessions in my parish, it is widely practiced in the Archdiocese. I give all the credit to the Archbishop and many of the priests who have been here over the last 12 years. This Archdiocese really has been transformed. It would be a faster recovery, in my opinion, if more than just three parishes here offered the Traditional Latin Mass.

    • ForChristAlone

      And in your priestly witness,the Holy Spirit is sowing the seeds for more vocations like yours.

    • Albee

      Something happens to the soul when one kneels before God and receives His Precious Body on the tongue, instead of standing and receiving Him in the hand.
      Thank you Fr., for all you do!

  • Antonja Cermak

    In my experience, most of the young Catholics who are cohabiting prior to marriage or otherwise engaging in pre-marital sex are not attending Mass and therefore not receiving Communion. Young people seem to understand what hypocrisy is and that they should not be hypocrites.

  • bernie

    “Repent and believe the Gospel” is a lifelong personal project in keeping with, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Repentance means sin, and sin means penance, and penance means sincere confession, and confession means avoidance of sin, and avoidance means also the occasions of sin, and occasions means the personal and private advice of a Confessor – i.e., objective judgment not ignorance and subjective excuses. If a priest is no longer willing to spend his time at this I think he ought to begin again reading the first words of Our Lord in the Gospel, addressed to him and everyone else. “Sin” is a generic expression dealing with our “fallen nature”. “Sins” are personal and in need of personal forgiveness. When the priest uses the singular in the text of Mass, pray for him, admonish him and, if necessary, consider another setting for your participation.

  • bernie

    “Repent and Believe the Gospel”, Our Lord’s first recorded words, are later followed by “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” Repentance means sin, sin means penance, penance means confession (for a Catholic), confession means objective judgment not personal excuse, excuse implies avoidance of the occasions of sin, occasions implies advice, advice means personal guidance. If a priest is too busy for this, he is too busy. And if he uses the singular “sin” instead of “sins” in the Mass, perhaps he needs to reflect on his own condition – one is generic and reflects everyone’s fallen nature, whereas the other is personal and particular, i.e., where we all are.

    • Grn724

      Repentance does not mean sin. Repentance means a change of mind, of way, of direction. It means turning away from sin, which we all fail in one way or another, thus ass Jesus tells us in the Lords Prayer, we forgive, first, then we are forgiven.

  • TBill

    Long lines here in North central Virginia.

    • Gil_Rivera

      God be praised. Same at my parish, St. Margaret Mary in Oakland, CA. There are always two priests at Mass on Sundays and one is in the Confessional. Teenagers line up! †

  • yes indeed

    Niebuhr so memorably described as, “A God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1959), 193.).

  • Manfred

    “By their fruits you shall know them.” These words were a warning from Christ to his flock.
    The True Church exists in those small Catholic communities which teach those truths which have “always and every where been taught.” (Vincent of Lerins). No authentic Catholic authority would ever teach that the serious evils of adultery and sodomy can in any manner be diminished or be condoned. Allowing a person in that state of sin to receive Communion would be an outrageous Eucharistic abuse.

  • Don

    Last year I returned to the church after dropping out after Vatican II. I went to a small church several miles away. One day I asked the priest if I could set something up with him to hear my confession since it was many years ago that I had been to one. He looked a little nervous and told me very few people in his church actually go to confession here since the church is so small. He actually talked me out of it, suggesting I go to a larger church in the big city a few miles away. I know some are to going to have a hard time believing this. I couldn’t believe it either. Here was a priest encouraging me NOT to go to confession. Vatican II was one big, big, big mistake.

    • Gil_Rivera

      I am truly sorry to hear your story. Do not give up. Confession is great. This poor priest you mention and others were not harmed so much by VII as by the culture (of Kinsey, Hefner, and Oprah). Bishops allow priests to watch TV, that conduit for the memes of Satan. Many have bathed in mental manure too long and their minds have to one degree or another been colonized by this culture of death,

    • Don,
      You should be outraged that any priest would refuse to hear your confession which has nothing to do with the Second Vatican Council. I do not know all the details but on the basis of what you report I would contact that priest’s chancery or bishop and require an explanation. Every good priest who is worth his salt would affirm his belief in a merciful God by hearing your confession or any other penitent’s confession — a shared act of contrition, humility and elixir for the soul. Shame, shame, shame from one priest of Jesus Christ to another.

      • Mark

        Hi Fr. Tom I went to face to face confession about 8 months ago and told all my sins that I could think of (some from decades ago) however I was wondering if all the sins That I had ever committed , were forgiven,at that confession. as (I actually thought of some other similar sins that I had committed years ago afterwards ) I have been to the third rite of reconciliation since and confessed in my conscience .

        • RDPaul

          Confession removes all sins so long as you candidly confess all the sins you are aware of with contrition.

        • Mark,
          God knows all our sins before we confess them as well as those that may be committed in the future. From what you tell me your confession was not defective. It’s our honesty,and sincere contrition of amendment of life which elicits God’ forgiveness and grace as long as we give our preparation its due diligence. Whatever sins you may have forgotten God knows. Forgetting is not a sin. We all forget one time or the other. You may or may not at your next meeting with Christ in the confessional mention the sins you forgot or not. In any doubt just tell the priest and be at peace.

  • Jim Flynn

    to Gary Lockhart: thanks for your references on Barron. Am I missing something here? Doctrinally we are bound to the Gospels; Jesus is quite clear in his teachings that many are called, few are chosen; those who chose the easy path and wide gate leading to destruction are many. Those who chose the path with obstacles and the narrow gate which leads to … are few. The church never says WHO, the Gospels seem to say they are there.

  • Gil_Rivera

    Great essay. A sin that even readers of this good Catholic site may have a hard time recognizing is that of the eyes. Anyone who watches TV or movies (beyond G) will be bombarded by mental manure—real poison. Even G movies and cartoon often have entry level eye poison. TURN OFF THE TV!

  • Veritas

    There is an obvious problem the writer points out of the invisibility of sin in modern culture. Some things are clearly a sin to almost everyone, such as murder…. But for most of society the definition of the immoral has changes substantially. The blame for this is on all of us, even the writer and those who observe a traditional interpretation of morality.
    If we are to say to someone today, that this or that is a sin, we must be willing to explain in clear terms, why such a thing is a sin. What makes a certain action immoral? It is an offense against God, because it is an offense against love. How then, to the laundry list of sins observed in the essay, do we explain each as a sin against love? We had better have better answers than the excuses of the culture. It is not vatican II but laziness that has brought us here, because the world was given vatican II but the west has lost its morality.
    Be prepared to explain why cohabitation and masturbation are an offense against love… Why abortion is as well, and be prepared to,answer the tough situations athat pull at people’s sympathies for “choice” like rape, or poverty.
    Until we can all explain and help people understand why sin is sin, we are all part of the problem, even if we continue to confession, because if we cannot explain such things, we must ask ourselves if we truly understand our own failings.

  • Jerry Staker

    I loved the sincerity of the author’s comments. They were genuine, personal, and heart-felt. Christ atoned for all the sins of mankind. He asked us to follow Him, to love Him, and to keep His commandments. He has a process to reconcile us to Him, and confessing our sins is part of that process. While I am not a member of the Catholic Church, I do know the Savior’s love, and being humble and having genuine faith in Him, will always lead to repentance. It always will. Jerry Staker

    • Yankeegator

      Jerry you are probably more Catholic than millions and millions who actually claim the name…

  • Gina

    This Writer is sincere in his faith, and I do not “judge” him, but it appears to me he is “off center” in his personal understanding of the “Catholic Faith”, especially in his statement of his so-called qualifications! All Glory belongs to God, not to him or his personal faith.

  • Thomas J. Hennigan

    I am a priest and have served in a total of eight countries. In the U.S., Ireland, Spain and Chile very few approach the sacrament. In some cases people come convinced that they have NO sins. It seems that they equate sin with crime. They have never been accused of any crime, so they think they are sinless. In Argentina, Peru and Italy the situation is much better and many do come. I also understand that in Mexico and Columbia also. What is the reason for this? In many cases, no times are set aside by priests for confessions so people don’t know when a priest is available. Others don’t like to confess in their own parish, so they go to some Church in the city centre. I have seen this in Dublin and New York, or maybe they take time for it during lunch break as there are places like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Franciscan Church near the Empire State where priests are availaibe the whole day. Likewise in Dublin, there is the Pro-Cathedral and the Carmelite Church of St. Teresa of Avila. In Spain celebrations of the Second Rite did get more people in as the priests invite priests from nearby parishes to help especially at Advent, Lent and Patronal Feasts. In some places confessionals have been removed, which seems to be an indirect indication that the Sacrament is no longer important. I have been in confessionals where in a whole hour or more nobody has come and I have prayed many rosaries there. When I was in Argentina, if I went to the Church to pray the Divine Office, I couldn’t finish becuase people would come in as they saw a priest there and ask for confession.

    I teach in a seminary and I tell the seminarians, when they are ordained, to always give priority to the Sacrament of Penance as nobody else can administer it. A few years ago, Pope Benedict gave a talk on the “Pedagogal value of the Sarcament of Penance for priests”. An interesting point.

    • RDPaul

      I remind people of their obligation to make their “Easter duty” and often they come to the I regularly remind people of 1 Jn1:8. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Usually if you help a penitent make a good examination they can make a valid confession.

  • DeaconEdPeitler

    How much does anyone want to bet that there is a direct and robust correlation between the number of people at a parish frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the frequency of the priest(s)’ receiving the Sacrament themselves?

    I would also be interested in knowing the percentage of priests who confess at least quarterly to their own personal confessor.

    Let’s face it, no one practices what they do not preach.

  • Edward Teller

    The number of Catholics routinely going to confession would double, at the very least, if actual confessionals, meaning ostensibly private and anonymous booths, were mandatory in all parishes, instead of pretending that people will just as readily sit in a chair out in the open face to face with a priest and spill their guts out.
    Arguing that that kind of naked “confessional” like we have in our parish, is ok is beside the point. If you want to stop people from going to confession, no matter how much they might otherwise want to, that’s has been the most effective way to do it. The author is correct in his descriptions, but forcing people to sit out in the open and bare their souls, as if they were on Oprah or Jerry Springer has been as big a cause for abandoning the sacrament as anything else he mentioned.
    There are millions of people you will never get back to Confession if you don’t bring back anonymity to the process, like it or not. Arguing with this just makes priests part of the problem.

  • Grace

    I love the Sacrament of Confession and go every week. I need all the help I can get and thanks be to God; He is waiting for me, ready and willing to forgive me and help me to grow stronger and move closer to Him! We go to the same Priests regularly but living in a large city there are
    options daily. Shrines offer more Confession times and if the Jesuits are around – daily.
    I was honored to help my father get back to this Sacrament before he died. After Vatican II so many fell away and never went back. I enthusiastically talk about Confession to people, using a few moments to teach, inform and encourage. Then I step out of the way and let God do the rest. I’m not waiting for the Priests. God bless you all!

  • old bird

    Our parish here in Corvallis, Oregon has l-o-n-g lines for confession every week. The St John Society priests have come here from Argentina and are assigned to our parish. They are truly holy men and that has a huge effect. We do have the option for a “naked” confession as Edward Teller describes it, but also, in that same room, it is possible to kneel behind a screen for privacy. I thought that all parishes provided that choice. If not, why not!

  • old bird

    Our parish here in Corvallis, Oregon has l-o-n-g lines for confession every week. The St John Society priests have come here from Argentina and are assigned to our parish. They are truly holy men and that has a huge effect. We do have the option for a “naked” confession as Edward Teller describes it, but also, in that same room, it is possible to kneel behind a screen for privacy. I thought that all parishes provided that choice. If not, why not!

  • Fr.Duffy Fighting 69th

    I go to Reconciliation once every two weeks at the most. And I see the same few faces. Not just at one Parish, but at the several I attend. I think those Catholics who expound on the “Francis Effect” and their anecdotes about “long lines” are being myopic. And I reckon legitimate polling data would show the serious decline in the number of people participating in this Sacrament, second in importance only to the reception of the Eucharist. For those with the courage to see, it is obvious we are living in the Great Apostasy, a time when “sin” no longer exists…

  • Daniel H Benson

    The “great falling away” (apostasy) as talked about in 2 Thes 2. is already begun. A church filled with relativism, ecumenical-ism, abortion and embracing of homosexuality, is quickly losings it’s way. We now practice a religion that is focused on man and his needs and agenda and not God’s will and purpose for our lives. We were created to glorify Him, we live our lives to seek His will. But we want to be the pilot of our own airplane and relegate Jesus to our navigator, when he needs to be the pilot and navigator (our all in all) and we need to get out of the cockpit and take a seat. Jesus preached about the cure for anxiety in Mathew 6:25-34. The key is, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” We have now got it backwards, we are seeking first a resolution of our problems and then God and His righteousness, and somehow we just never get around to the second part. And Satan just laughs.

    • Yankeegator

      Absolutely true brother!!!

  • B. Polus

    “SIN” = Romans 14:23 Anything that is not based on faith is sin.” – Good News Bible-Catholic Study Edition

  • B. F.

    The confession line where I go to church is always long. It may have fallin’ away in some places; but is not dead. But that does not mean we should be complacent.

  • GreatLakesMulcahy

    It would be virtually impossible to overstate the value of Confession. Love this Sacrament; it will do
    profound good for you. It will lead you to Heaven.

  • MAJohnson

    The problem is that the Church has embraced an error of the world where each person places his own Free Will above all. The human conscience is worshiped like an idol. It’s a world where man is made God. The problem is that most people aren’t even aware of the error they’re practicing. If you try to educate them on sin, which is an error of conscience, your words fall on someone who is deaf and blind. This person is never wrong. They simply adapt their conscience to each situation. It is a conscience that has replaced humility with narcissism. This form of idolatry is subtle, but very very destructive. I’ve been a victim of it myself to a degree, until I read an article about it by a blogger. It was a Eureka moment for me and has been a great source of spiritual growth. We need to navigate with God’s Will, not our own. By the way, this is a fantastic article! Keep up the very good work!

  • Frank Cm63

    The absence of confessions looks like 2 phenomena — 1. Opportunities for confessions, or a penance service with confession, are sparse, generally one hour per week unless you drive to a church with a dedicated priest., and 2. People see the unethical behavior on the part of those in charge of the church, in light of the personal behavior of some priests, and the way they were not disciplined those in authority over them. Such unethical behavior contributes especially to the younger generations falling away from the church. many people cannot stand the contradiction of what is done and condoned (or left uncommented about) vs. what is assumed to be a “core” of principles.

    The church has slipped in providing spiritual renewal for the faithful. There is a concern over keeping the financial contributions coming in, and managing scandals and conforming with the culture, instead of simply doing the right thing all of the time to provide decent spiritual support and guidance. If you provide the spiritual support and opportunities for worship and sacraments, the faithful will come, and be strong. If the church stays largely silent as the culture descends into paganism, and traditional values are not defended in the church (or practiced in some cases), expect an accompanying decline in dedication to personal faithfulness in practice.

  • Laura Y.

    Where the existence of sin and the immensity of God’s mercy are preached, people are going to Confession. In nearly every homily at our church, the priest reminds us of our need for repentance and the path to it: the Confessional. Confession is offered every day – even on Sunday – and there is a line. There are only 2 priests in this parish and they work themselves to the bone, but they are present to the faithful. Where the shepherds are speaking the Truth, you will find people going to Confession.

  • MichaelR

    I went to confession a couple of weeks ago, the first time in over a year, and I felt wonderful afterwards. Also, I had been having disturbing dreams and they have stoped since that confession. I do intend to go much more often from now on. Confession is a great treasure of our church and it is tragic that it has become almost redundant in many parishes. I live in England and we Catholics semmed to lose our sense of being Catholic in the 1970’s. Today, there are very few people at mass aged between about 14 and 60 ( I am 56). Sadly, our liturgies are often dull and the sermons very uninspiring. Can the church recover? I really do not know.

    • Pigseye

      One soul at a time.

  • Eileen Turner

    Try and find Confession to go to??? Four Parishes in one and try to guess where Confession will be held. Our Priests are Golfing on the Week-ends. No time for Confession. And when you do go, your told that your Sin is not so bad??? I know it is bad, that is why I’m there!

  • jdumon

    If Vatican II’s confusing interpretations led to these tragic outcomes, then Vatican II must be overturned.

    I was apalled by the last sunday mass where my first grandson and a dozen of kids made their first communion. The church was overfilled. More than one half of the attendants had no idea what was going on. When the priest began to give the communion, everybody went to take it anyways, a good number not knowing what to do with…

    • The intent of Vatican II was the destruction of the Church, make no mistake about it. The United States is going through the same thing right now. The purpose of liberalism is always, as President Obama puts it, to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ what has been infected by it.

  • God has given us a gift. It is ours, and we can do with it as we please, as God has also give us free choice.

    • Terik123

      Many times it is not the sacrament per set but the Irish monks of long ago who designed books containing all possible sins and penances for each…this tends to destroy the reconciliation factor….if sacraments do not change from the moment of institution like marriage…baptism…ordination….which retain ancient form….why not look at reconciliation as exemplified in Acts?

  • stella

    Not at our parish, St. Patrick, in Dallas, TX, every weekend the lines are long and our pastor had to set another day, Thursdays, for another opportunity for confession. During Lent, there were multiple opportunities to go to confession and each time the lines were long. New people and old members. Many in this parish seem to take the opportunity for the Sacrament of Confession

  • Lorraine Teager

    If pastors would start having confessions before all masses, they’d pack them in. Most people just don’t want to come in on Saturday or make an appointment to make their confession. We have confessions before all our masses at my parish, and the line is always substantial.

    • Greg Broussard

      I couldn’t agree more. Confessions should be heard on Sundays …. The line would be perpetual.

    • Marioluiggi

      This is how it is in my parish and worked wonders for confession!

  • Blobee

    “When a parish of 3,000 people produces fifteen or twenty penitents at the confessional each week?”
    And, you should have mentioned, EVERYONE goes to communion on Sunday at Mass!
    Used to be, long lines at confession, many people holding back from going to communion. Hmmm.

    • RDPaul

      Preaching about confession, needs to be paired with preaching about not receiving communion sacrilegiously. Also, quite frankly, communion lines produce a herd mentality about receiving communion, I have found in countries where people come up for communion in a much more haphazard way there is not so much pressure for everyone to receive.

  • Yankeegator

    Not with me… I am there every month or sooner if need be… Not a long wait though…

  • Peatbogjeff

    This is a find and true essay…

  • IntheDioceseofSt.Petersburg

    Our pastor (sadly he is being transferred) hears confession everyday for 30 minutes before daily Mass. We are a small parish, but there are always people going everyday. Did I mention we have DAILY Mass and DAILY confession. He will be missed tremendously…

  • Thank God for Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX is all I have to say..

    • anthonypadua

      No kidding. It’s a nice way to avoid the Modernist nuttiness of Vatican II. Even Pope Paul VI remarked that “…The smoke of Satan has entered the sanctuary.” (July 29, 1972). And the Church has been blinded by that smoke ever since.

      • John Germain

        This is just your way of justifying your own sin against the Vicar of Christ and the one true church. There are communities such as the FFSP (and others) under the pope who worship in the same manner as the SSPX. The SSPX no longer has a valid reason to deny the unity that Christ expects of us. Had the SSPX reunited under pope Benedict many Catholics would have left their parish for a SSPX parish, the Novus Ordo would have died out and the renewal would have happened much quicker. The SSPX is simply making things worse for those of us who desire the change but know that disobedience to the church is a serious sin. When some evil bishops hijacked the vatican Council Lefebvre should have stayed to battle from within, (as did Cardinal Ratzinger) not leave and make the battle more difficult because there are now less fighters. They left the battle like cowards. Christ gave his authority to only one church, Lefebvre is not Christ and simply cannot just start his own church as did other protestants, and expect Christ’s authority to be in it. Division and disobedience is always a sin whether from Luther or from Lefebvre. Trust that Christ will correct all in his own time, is what is needed, but I think the SSPX missed the opportunity with pope Benedict only to make things worse because now you have no vote in the councils, no vote for electing a pope, and no possibility of one of your own to become the pope, how does loosing your votes help? Lefebvre made an irrational decision and your current leaders are compounding the error. And as time passes sin only gets worse. The SSPX just had it’s own spit, as soon as people disagree they leave, just look at how many splinter churches exist from the one spit Luther caused (over 33,000). Christ founded and gave His authority to only one church, all others are invalidly man made.

  • Anita

    Last Sat, at the Divine Mercy vigil Mass, there were at least 50 people if not more at confession. The priest need to promote and encourage confession. Problem is that the average person thinks they are not sinning, because they are all not committing mortal sins. They don’t realize that any sin, no matter how small is still an offense against the Lord and we need to dispose of it, in the confessional, any chance we get.

  • Thomas

    Come to Texas, I waited an hour in line 2 weeks ago.

  • RDPaul

    My experience is that in parishes where the priest preaches about confessions and offers them most Catholics respond….the problem is that most never hear about confession in a credible way.

  • FrJoseph

    We had 5341 confessions counted at our parish during Lent, not including the some 500 or so for Divine Mercy Sunday.

    We regularly have about 30 hours of confession a week at Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara, CA, have had that for many years. People come if you preach about sin, repentance, healing and mercy.

    Our diocese this year had a “Light is On” campaign every Wednesday during Lent thousands came out across the diocese! The diocese had all the parishes count them for the campaign.

  • Ramanie

    Thank you. a very valuable post. May God bless you. Our parish has three wonderful holy priests from the Community of St John. They have confessions daily 30 minutes before Holy Mass and also more times before and after Holy Mass on Sunday. They also have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament twice daily which gives us so much spiritual nourishment .

  • Mal

    I have a strong feeling that this suggestion concerning the sacrament of Reconciliation will not go down well with many Catholic but I urge people to give it some thought, especially during this Year of Mercy and the few months leading to the Synod.

    I believe that the emphasis in this spiritual exercise should be shifted from the listing of SINS to the commitment of the sinner to be or to remain RECONCILED to God. After all, it is this commitment to confess sincerely our love for our Lord and out acceptance of his teachings and his Church. The story of the Prodigal Son should provide a good blueprint. The son confesses his sinfulness (not the sins and the father joyfully welcomes a sinner back home.

    The individual seeking to make his peace with God makes a good examination of his life – his thoughts, words and deeds. He then prayerfully tells God that he is sorry for his sins and asks for forgiveness and the grace to go forward in fellowship with him. He then goes to the priest, in or outside the confessional room, and declares his commitment to be reconciled to God.

    Whereupon the priest asks the penitent: 1) Have you examined your conscience and are you sorry for the sins for which you want forgiveness? 2) Do you believe in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit? 3) Do you fully accept the teachings of Jesus and his Holy Church, and 4) Do you commit yourself to a fellowship with Jesus in and through his Church. If the penitent answers yes to all the questions, the priest says the prayer of absolution.

    During a Reconciliation service for the congregation, the first three questions can be answered while in the pew and only question four is asked when the penitent goes to the priest.

    The emphasis on a loving commitment will bring many back to this sacrament and since no sin is mentioned politicians cannot put pressure on priests to divulge information.

  • christopher

    You cannot be Catholic without confession. Every single Saint even though each had their own personality and character followed the same path of mass, confession and prayer.

    Speaking from experience I can confidently say that part of the problem today is that most Catholics sadly believe that all sin is venial and that it is acceptable to participate in the I Confess In Almighty God at mass as an effective way to remove the stain of sin. Unfortunately this is not the case because the Saints that were only committing venial sin still went to confession.

  • John

    Parishioners have become discouraged and disallusioned by the mass closing of parishes, senior clergy who hold themselves above reproach and the numerous scandals within the church. Penitents often feel the priests in the confessionals are harbouring more sins then themselves. Trust has broken down in a very serious way.

  • John

    I think that the ‘core’ issue is that most Catholics either no longer believe in, or would rather not think about the Churches teaching on Purgatory.
    The ‘presumption’ that we all go straight to heaven when we die is prideful at the very least. I hear it said often said about people’s loved ones that “they are in heaven looking down on us”. In other words, they are ‘canonized’…right???
    The fact is that we are either going to confess ALL of our sins and ‘see’ the damage that they have wrought in this life…or when we die. It’s our option.
    I asked God to allow me to be ‘purged’ here and now many years ago, as I have a ‘clear’ understanding of the doctrine on Purgatory. Pay now, or pay later.
    The souls in Purgatory can no longer even pray for themselves. The suffering they endure is huge! I cannot imagine dying with the ‘need’ to confess my sins, and never being able to do so again. Sounds a lot more painful than doing frequent confession here an now…at least to me!!! Praise Jesus!!!

  • Sandoran

    7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn outlines why to go – and its compelling. See his interview on youtube. If this was better understood (maybe in weekly sermons?) there would be a lot more participants. However – many priests are not treating confession properly either – for example – if you confess you were angry – they may suggest counseling or ask if you are bi-polar! Completely inappropriate for what you are there for.