A reader sent me this story from the Washington Post on confession that like most media coverage of religion manages to mix in a lot of nonsense. Though there are certainly some good aspects in the article. The title is "A Call to Confession, for It Is Fading" is rather dumb since if anything the sacrament is making a comeback from a lower ebb in years past.
Priests and sociologists of Catholicism have theorized about the drop for years. Is it because of a culture that tells us we aren’t responsible for what we do wrong? Or could it be something less dark: that the traditional Saturday confession time has simply been gobbled up by youth soccer leagues and errand-mania? Or maybe something more dark: that we don’t even know what sin is anymore?
Surely it is all the above and more. The lack of the sense of sin is a large contributor, but the fact the confession has been put on the back burner and relegated to a short block of time on Saturdays certainly doesn’t help to offset this.
The campaign, the first big public endeavor by the new archbishop, Donald Wuerl, is timed to start with Lent, the 40-day period of reflection and penitence that started yesterday, Ash Wednesday. The 100,000 brochures that parishes are distributing lay out rules for the rusty, complete with a pop-out, wallet-size card ("Step 3: Confess all of your sins to the priest. If you are unsure or uneasy, tell him and ask for help."). Starting Wednesday, all 140 churches in the archdiocese will be open for confession from 7 to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Lent.
Bravo Archbishop Wuerl.
Parishes have been cutting back the time they set aside for confessions for years; many now allot only 30- or 45-minute blocks or ask for appointments. Years ago, lines at confessionals were long and priests listened for hours.
My parish still has long lines and confession before every Mass and as I have said before – if you offer it conveniently they will come.
Also known as the sacrament of reconciliation, confession involves several mandatory steps: being sincerely contrite, articulating to a priest (who stands in the place of Jesus) what was done wrong, apologizing, receiving an assigned penance and being forgiven.
Not bad for an MSM piece.
But the biggest changes, church historians say, came in the 1960s, when clergy began preaching more about the sins of racism, militarism and environmental degradation. The ’60s also brought the Second Vatican Council, which said — among many other things — that eating meat on Friday was no longer a sin.
I wonder if a political reporter said that in 1960 that some such law was passed and it never happened would he get to keep his job? What if he made these same types of mistakes repeatedly? Though if your are a religion reporter you can consistently make all kinds of blunders. The truth is Vatican II did no such thing. What actually happened was that 1983 Code of Canon Law said:
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
Thus in those diocese where the bishop’s conference has mandated a Friday penance such as abstinence then eating meat on Friday would still be sinful. In the United States where the Bishop’s conference has not mandated a penance for Friday’s during the year, during Lent on Ash Wednesday and Friday’s eating meat is still sinful for those that are to required to abstain.
Vatican II also made a slight change in the confession rite that emphasized a moment at the start of Mass in which parishioners, together, take a moment of penance.
Which is another bit of conscience. The Confiteor is not exactly a new addition to the Mass. "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" anyone?
Matthew Gallaugher, a government technology worker who lives in Foggy Bottom, said he experiences a "lighter, supernatural feeling" after confession, which he attends at least once a month "to clean out the gunk" of regular life: the bickering with his wife over who would make the bed, the little snip to someone at work.
"I want to become holy, I want to be transformed, to be Christlike," the slim 30-year-old said yesterday outside the downtown church St. Stephen Martyr, where forehead-smeared parishioners poured in at noon for Ash Wednesday Mass.
Beautifully said Matthew.
Clergy say the rise in therapy and self-help may be a contributing factor in the decline in Catholics’ going to confession. And though they praise the advancement of mental health care, they also worry that people are forgetting that confession involves more than, well, confessing.
You do wonder about the connection between Catholics not going to confession and more and more people needing psychiatric help is. Maybe if priests started charging $100 an hour more people would go. Proof though that some of the best things in life are free. As much help as some psychiatrists might give you just won’t hear "I absolve you in the…" at the end of the session and you will still be in your sin.
According to Gibbs, the archdiocese spokeswoman, watching Internet pornography is the most commonly unloaded baggage to priests, who have been protected under civil law from having to reveal confessions.
How exactly would the archdiocese spokeswoman know this? Are they filling in surveys of "commonly unloaded baggage" now after hearing confessions? Though while this is something that can be easily extrapolated from the culture, it is not something the spokeswoman should have any first-hand knowledge of. As you would expect the article ends on a down note.
Damiana Astudillo, 33, a researcher who lives in Mount Pleasant, said she hasn’t been to confession in a decade because she is turned off by what she sees as paternalism among church leaders.
"The Catholic Church is unwilling to adapt to the modern world. They’re still hung up on the dogma of ancient times, and life is very complex today," she said yesterday on L Street NW. "I’ve grown to believe a priest is a man, and he doesn’t have the power to forgive. Confession and a prayer? That doesn’t work for me anymore."
Oh yes "the dogma of ancient times." Why hold to to a authoritative doctrine that is old? Doctrines are only cool if they are fresh. All doctrines come with a shelf life – an expiration date stamped right on them. "Best if believed by …" Though once again the master Chester ton already spoke to this conscience in Orthodoxy. "You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays."
I was also amused by the reporter’s observation that those “pouring in” for Mass over the noon hour already had their foreheads “smeared.” This diocese must be proud of its exceptionally devout parishioners, all of whom apparently attended morning Mass (at which the ashes would have been administered) and then came back for more a few hours later!
Anyone could see that the researcher mentioned in the conclusion was merely going through a period of spiritual dryness. ( Any point in recommending that this person read Mother Angelica’s Dawn on the Mountain? ) As such, it is not concerned with Confession exclusively, and printing that only inidcates that the paper is concerned with a “PC balanced view”. The conclusion of any article has a great impact on the reader, and this one leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Is this what the paper intended? The stuff about “ancient dogma” is the same old recycled rant. When will the newspapers tire of printing these?
The Reader’s Digest did a feature on Our Lady in October 2006, and the conclusion of that article was really good. Read it if you can find it.
Since I’m not from the US, (I’m from India) there’s something I do not understand. Why is a non-religious newspaper doing a story on Confession? I’ve never seen our papers do such a story. Is it that they have run out of secular articles to print? And why is the article so badly researched? ( Even though, in fairness, they have indeed tried to do a good job, and even half succeeded ) Is this the usual journalistic standard of this newspaper?
Yours in Christ,
It might be good to remember that Chesterton became a Roman Catholic for the sake of this sacrament:
When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, “Why did you join the Church of Rome?” the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, “To get rid of my sins.” For there is no other religious system that does really profess to get rid of people’s sins. It is confirmed by the logic, which to many seems startling, by which the Church deduces that sin confessed and adequately repented is actually abolished; and that the sinner does really begin again as if he had never sinned.
[GKC, Autobiography CW16:319]
Yay! Another fan of GKC!
In continuation, an atheist friend of mine, (who is from a Hindu background) has told me more than once that he considers the Catholic Sacrement of Confession to be a very beautiful and profound concept.
As GKC said in the first chapter of The Everlasting Man,
Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard. …..
….It would be better to see the whole thing as a remote Asiatic cult………
…..Then at least we should not lose our temper as some of the sceptical critics seem to lose their temper, not to mention their wits. Their anti-clericalism has become an atmosphere, an atmosphere of negation and hostility from which they cannot escape. Compared with that, it would be better to see the whole thing as something belonging to another continent, or to another planet. It would be more philosophical to stare indifferently at bonzes than to be perpetually and pointlessly grumbling at bishops. It would be better to walk past a church as if it were a pagoda than to stand permanently in the porch, impotent either to go inside and help or to go outside and forget. For those in whom a mere reaction has thus become an obsession, I do seriously recommend the imaginative effort of conceiving the Twelve Apostles as Chinamen. In other words, I recommend these critics to try to do as much justice to Christian saints as if they were Pagan sages
I’m fortunate to count several priests as friends, and they’ve indicated that pornography is indeed a piece of “commonly unloaded baggage.” (FWIW.) And I don’t fault the reporter for being imprecise about Friday abstinence; unfortunately, the way she describes the rule is the way it is treated in most dioceses by people in positions of authority.
I’ve met Michelle Boorstein and was interviewed by her about a year ago when she was putting together a story about men’s vocations in the DC area. Sadly the article has yet to see print. In all my dealings with her she was very fair and interested in what I had to say and very open minded. I think she can be forgiven for some slight misunderstanding because the Church’s teachings and traditions are not the easiest things to understand for an outsider.
As a revert it has taken 4 years of in depth study to start to get a handle on stuff, but there is still a lot of the “cultural” aspects of our Church that I have yet to fully grasp. So, I can understand if she doesn’t totally get it, especially since she is assigned to the religion beat where she writes about all the religions in the DC area.
I’m just happy that an article from the Post had ANYTHING nice to say about the Church, particularly when this paper has such an anti-church, anti-conservative, pro-abortion slant.
I was told, before I came to my current parish, that the people here didn’t go to confession. It was a little slow at first. But, I preached about it repeatedly. We didn’t just rely on the twice a year penance services, but scheduled several hours a day during Holy Week and the week before Christmas. Within a year, I had to expand the Saturday time availible to one hour and ten minutes. I am seriously considering adding another half hour and a half hour on Wednesday evening before Mass. (I am rarely in the Confessional Chapel long without a penitent.)
What is necessary to revive this Sacrament is for priests to preach about it AND make themselves availible.
As to the dippy woman quoted, it isn’t the man who is forgiving you. It is God through the man. Go directly to remedial Catechism. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.
When I lived in Northern Virginia, we often heard from the priests that porn was an increasing concern. There was a huge flap when one priest gave a fiery homily on the subject during the Christmas Eve “children’s Mass”. At any rate, beyond this sort of anecdotal stuff, I can imagine the diocese being aware of something like this as commonly confessed. Perhaps the priests have asked for more and better materials to combat the problem, or have inquired about possible programs to help people overcome these addictions. Things like alcohol abuse, infidelity, crime, etc I suspect have in the past both been more widely talked about and have not experienced such a “boom” as the internet has provided for porn. Just speculation.
Check out Bishop Loverde’s “Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God”
They handed out the ‘Reconciliation Guide’ the article mentioned at all the Masses today (at our parish at any rate). I was very impressed by the Examination of Conscience that was included. Whoever wrote it minced no words and included such things as supporting and encouraging abortion, using artificial contraception, and viewing internet pornography as sins needing to be confessed. Thank you, Archbishop Wuerl!
The increased reliance on psychology to explain away all our ills (and all our sins) is no joke. Along with that guide we should give out Peter Kreeft’s “Back to Virtue” so that we can remember the sins that psychology has washed out of our societal conscience.
In lieu of that, I can attest (repeatedly, I know) to an amazing benefit of Reconciliation! Even if you go IN to the confessional sorry for the virtues the world hates, your conscience will have begun to heal by the time you’ve completed your penance and the Lord will show you what you SHOULD have been sorry for! Given what we have been taught about absolution, it should come as no surprise to me that my actual past offenses don’t pain me once I know what they were, but I am always awed by the mercy of our God Who truly does not punish our sincere ignorance and Who does give us understanding according to the sacrament and not our confessional “skills”.
I think this is worth mentioning to people because many people honestly do not know what their sins are anymore. They just know (especially if they are ill, disabled, or have ever been the victim of anything)that they have sinned despite the world’s continual assurance of their innocence. And most of us do believe that we are required to be sure of our sins in order to receive the sacrament.