Decline of confession, but also a rise

Decline of confession, but also a rise

Here’s a look at the decline of regular confession in parishes in the Fall River, Mass., diocese attendant with a rise in confessions at other venues.

But since the 1970s, the number of Catholics regularly confessing their sins to a priest has diminished dramatically.

As a result, hours have been reduced at churches over the last couple of decades, and pastors, who these days are usually handling the duties of their parish alone, are relegating only an hour or so a week to confession.

Among the Catholics who still confess regularly, many of them find their way to places such as LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, where the numbers have been holding and even rising some years.

I know lots of people who don’t go to confession at their home parish. For some, it’s because the times are inconvenient, but for many it’s because they don’t want Father to know their sins. As fewer and fewer people go to confession, it’s easier for the priests to recognize the individuals, I think.

I know that I don’t go to my parish for confession, but to the Carmelite Chapel in the local mega-mall. (Yes, you read that right.) Mainly, it’s because I used to live at the rectory with Fr. Murphy and we became close friends, and it would feel awkward to also go to confession with him. I think it might create a funny vibe. Hey, if he were the only priest available, then he would be the one I’d confess to. Fortunately, I have options and I take advantage of them.

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18 comments
  • I think people fear being judged by their parish priest, in which it is the opposite way how priests feel when someone comes forward. I know I’m estactic to hear a couple learning natural family planning, even if they’ve been married for a decade or more.

    Most couples perfer to learn on their own or from a teacher who they don’t know locally. In many of these classes there is candid conversation about previous use of contraception, even though the conversations are confidential it is load of information to be privy to knowing who in your parish was on the pill or an IUD.

  • It doesn’t matter if you don’t go to your parish priest or some other priest who knows you personally, as long as you do continue to go to the same priest each time, whoever he is.  Over time that priest will get to know you and your problems, even behind the screen, even if he doesn’t know who you are.

  • If you find yourself in Back Bay, Boston, try this confessional:

    http://www.stfrancischapel.org/

    The Oblates are very well-trained in hearing confessions, and have what is clearly a God-given gift for giving guidance that is clear, succinct, and memorable.

  • Confession is a sacrament, so any priest is capable of hearing your confession.  I usually go to one or two at a neighboring parish—the same parish at which I attend mass.

  • I go to confession infrequently but I do a very thorough confession. Saturday afternoon is not good for me because of family obligations and activities. I go to the neighboring parish which has confession 30 minutes before daily mass every weekday. There are times of the year when I am free and alone many weekdays. I do a sort of retreat and then confess at 5pm Thursday afternoon.

    My daughter-in-law in RCIA made her first confession last Thursday to this priest. The super-anonimity was very helpful to her.

  • Charles points to Saint Francis Chapel, where I attend Mass during the week, know all the priests, and avail myself of them (I love using words like “avail”) for confession. I also confess to the priests at my parish, who know me well. Frankly, I think this is the best choice for me. Not just for the humility, as Miss Robin points out, but for the very reason that they do know me. They’re aware of my weaknesses (too numerous to account in this space) and therefore can offer guidance to prevent further sins, along with the greatest prize: absolution.

    This is a good topic. I now confess my intentions to steal it. wink

    (By the way, Saint Francis Chapel is also located in a mega-mall.)

  • As a Fall River priest I am aware that the number of penitents are down in my parish and in many other parishes in the area.  However, near my parish is the Holy Cross Community at Stonehill College and the Atonement Franciscan Chapel across the street from the West Gate Mall in Brockton.  Many of my people take advantage of the opportnity to go see these priests.

    This year, however, me and my pastor have started having all of the grades in the religious education program go to confession once a year.  We also encourage the parents and teachers to go to confession.  When we have them for the kids from 6th to 10th grades, we have priests from outside the parish help us so kids who have serious sins may be more comfortable with a priest who is not from the parish.  I would rather be the one to help them, but I am glad they are going.

    This is our first year doing this.  We are going to do this every year.  I think this will work because it will allow the children to become familiar and more comfortable with the sacrament.

    We also have two Reconciliation Services a year and we have two joint parish services with another parish from the same town.  I would like to see monthly reconciliation services.  When you have a couple of religious communities nearby, it makes it a lot easier to do.

  • As a huge sinner, I frequent the sacrement often, hence, I’ve hit all the spots:
    My Parish,
    Carmelite Center, North Shore Mall
    St. Francis Chapel in the PRU
    Attonement Franciscan Chapel, Brockton,
    Carmelite Center, Paramus, NJ Mall
    St. Basil’s
    Some poor priest, unsuspecting in his rectory in Beloit, WI.

    It usually depends on the state of my soul at the time, and whether or not I’m getting on a plane.

    That being said, I believe, when trying to overcome a repetative serious sin, it is BEST to go to the same confessor, and go face to face.  I really didn’t start overcoming my problem until there was some accountability, and nothing like confessing to the same priest over and over the same sin to really drive humility.

    PS.  I’m now working on lack of humility

  • Father Ethan, please keep it up. And I second Jane M. Do it more often if you can!

    I attended Catholic school at my parish from 1st through 8th grade and the only time we went to confession was the first time. After that it was up to the parents to take you. Problem was, I think my parents assumed we were going with the school. Bottom line: it never became a habit. I didn’t go for years and only started going to confession in the past few years. It is much, much harder to form a habit as an adult.

  • I love chapel in North Shore Mall. Pretty good book selection.

    The Franciscan Shrine on Arch Street has confessions for like 8 hours every day. Good resource if you ever just need to go during the week, and don’t want to make an appointment.

  • While many people seem to view confession as “only for big sins” or as the “annual Easter obligation”, such a view doesn’t do justice to the Sacrament. While we certainly must confess Mortal sins – especially if we wish to receive Holy Communion (or to avoid Hell – Duh!) – ‘only’ having Venial sins to confess should not prevent us from confessing regularly. And if the excuse is that we have “nothing to confess” then we haven’t been paying attention (cfr. Examination of Conscience – and St. Ignatius Loyola would be a good place to start!).

    So – why frequent confession? Because we receive an increase of Grace with each reception of the Sacrament. Like a spiritual ‘shot in the arm’ it helps us to resist temptation, combat our faults and grow in holiness (which is what we are all trying to do, right? Right…?).

    I sometimes feel we don’t avail of this sacrament often enough because of an Augustinian “…but not yet, Lord”. We are not as yet fully committed. Deep down we want to ‘be good’ – to follow Our Lord faithfully – but we haven’t ‘let go’ of our faults, large and small. And as that struggle will be a lifelong endeavor it behooves us to avail (I like the word too, Kelly!) of all the assistance God has provided for us.

    If a St. Ignatius could confess once or twice a day in order to grow in holiness, what is our excuse…?

  • Jane M. and Melaniebett,

    We would love to do it twice a year but there are only two of us doing confessions most of the time.  The average grade has 60 to 90 students.  This year is the first year and next year we will see what happens.  In addition to the students, we want the people between the ages of 18 to 45 to start going to confession.  This is the age group we are working on.  We are hoping that by having their children and younger siblings go to confession, they will want to go.

  • I generally do not go to Confession at my Parish. In Lowell, there is St. Josheph the Worker’s Shrine downtown. This is also run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. They offer Confessions daily from 10 – noon and from 4:30 – 5:15. On Saturdays it is from 10am – 1pm. These times are much more convenient for me. I don’t mind going to the same priest, but I would rather not go to my Pastor, or a Parish priest. I can’t help thinking that in our regular interaction he would be thinking, “There goes Dan who does such and such sins.”

  • I second the sentiment put forward by Oremus.  I was in a fairly dead (spiritually) parish once where the parish priest spent hours going out to eat with his parishoners but only 30 minutes in the box.  Sure he would hear anyones confession by appointment or if they came to the rectory, but I being a regular sinner have only done this once or twice in my life—I prefer, as I think most people do, nice anonomous regularly scheduled confession. When this priest went on vacation, his replacement made the mistake of sitting in the box after a daily mass,  like a damm being let loose he spent about an hour in the confessional.

    In the Fall River Diocese in New Bedford, at the Perpetual Adoration Chapel the Fransicans of the Immaculata, who are STRICT confessors, sit in the box all day and seem to me to have a steady stream of pennitents. Sure, maybe they are scrupulous people, but not all are. I personally like them because they provide some spiritual direction in confession and challenge me.

    My basic point is if the people see you in the box, and if you preach occasionally on the sacrament and our need for it, I am sure people will start coming.  The problem is most priests these days are too busy.  Vianney was never too busy, so I would suggest to them, be a slave to the confessional and people will come.

  • On a typical Sunday at Holy Trinity in the South End, at least 45 minutes prior to the Noon Latin Mass there must be 35-40 people at any given time waiting to go to Confession with two priests! Usually, one priest will continue hearing Confessions until the Epistle.

    At times our Administrator seems a bit overwhelmed. Sadly, two years ago he ripped out two historic Confessionals that dated to the construction of the Church and built a “Reconciliation Room”. This mind you was at height of the Sexual Abuse Scandal, when some sectors were calling for “see through” confessionals. You figure!! Nevertheless, these physical changes have not stiffled demand for the Sacrament on a weekly basis.

    Now the second priest hears confession in a pew at the back of the church.

  • Some parishes go out of their way to create a quiet, reverent setting for confessions: Immaculate Conception in Malden, for instance. 

    But don’t get me started on the difficulties surrounding the sacrament!

    When a priest arrives very late for confessions or (God forbid) hangs around outside a confessional chatting with passers-by, he can’t help but undercut the anonymity of penitents. 

    There are other problems largely beyond the priest’s control: sometimes while waiting, one hears the conversation of the priest with other penitents, even at a distance!  One is forced to resort to humming tunelessly.  grin

    I had a new experience a few weeks ago: after visiting a suburban parish on a Saturday afternoon, I found there was a nut across the street shouting at penitents as they left the building.  There’s a new form of mortification for ya!

  • There was one time that the priest ran out of the confessional to go to his office for something he thought would be helpful reading for me. My friend who went in afterward asked me later what I said that made the priest go running from the confessional.

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