Ed Condon at The Pillar asks Do the bishops need a document on the sacrament of penance, too?
Had the bishops of previous decades offered an unapologetic presentation of the moral consequences of cooperating in abortion then, when the appearance of partisanship was less acute, the matter would be nowhere near as politically contentious as it is today.
When you kick the can down the road, the can is still there. In this case, the can is now considered weaponized.
The appearance of some bishops to emphasize that we are all sinners almost to the point of inferring that, since all of us are, none of us need to worry about it, can be seen as a real contributor to the current pastoral crisis. This too, has been a generational problem for the U.S. bishops, born out of an ecclesial culture of the 1970s, which bought into a wider popular cultural ridicule of so-called “Catholic guilt.”
The deemphasis of the Sacrament of Penance over at least the last fifty years has its foreseen results. This, combined with cultural Pelagianism and the loss of the sense of sin, is a toxic cocktail within the Church. The loss of the understanding of sin means that there is no need of a savior. We don’t need to be saved from our sins if we are “only human” and thus imperfect. We acknowledge our failings and want to do better but have lost the connection in how we have offended God. We are trying to put band-aids on problems instead of addressing that our wounds are healed by the wounds of Christ in this sacrament. We were created to give glory to God and our very telos (perfection) is to do so. The grace given us in confession when our sins our forgiven help us to realize our utter dependence on God for everything. We can develop gratitude and thankfulness, which enables us to enter into worshipping God more fully. In turn we can also enter more deeply into the great mystery of Jesus in the Eucharist.
The USSCB has been planning over the last year for a multi-year National Eucharistic Revival (details). This is partly in response to polls taken on belief in the Eucharist among even Mass-going Catholics. I am not aware of polls regarding belief in the Sacrament of Penance and its necessity, likely they would be even more dismal. Possibly, we also need a National Confession Revival. The Pillar article asks if the conference should write document on the Sacrament of Penance? Consider me skeptical regarding USSCB efforts in the first place. I can’t think of any of their documents or efforts that can be categorized as brilliant successes. The more visible Fortnight for Freedom program had no apparent effect during the President Obama years to curtail the assault on religious freedom. Maybe this would have been worse without it?
Most Catholic here are unaware, for the most part, of these conference efforts. Usually, it is only Catholic policy wonks, such as myself, who even read their documents. Bishop conferences are historically a relatively new thing and so far we have no examples of them sparking a revival. It has always been saints that have done so. Individuals or small groups have called others to personal revival through their example and holiness. Still, I wish them luck as possibly it can inspire individual bishops and individuals to focus on the reality of the Eucharist. We should be praying that God raises up saints for us for such a revival.
“Now in history there is no Revolution that is not a Restoration. Among the many things that leave me doubtful about the modern habit of fixing eyes on the future, none is stronger than this: that all the men in history who have really done anything with the future have had their eyes fixed upon the past.” – G.K. Chesterton
So a new document on confession should at least be seen as part of the same effort for Eucharistic revival. My opinion is that primarily confession needs once again to be more visible. “If you have it, they will come” is my “Field of Dreams” theology here. In most parishes, as far as I can tell, confession is available publicly sometime before the Saturday Vigil Mass. So for many Catholic it is hidden and out of the way. Many will not see people in line to confession as a regular occurrence. In the parish I came into the Church in, they have confession before every single Mass. My current parish has it available every day. It gives me a feeling of joy to see people in line for confession. It is both a reminder of my own need for the sacrament and a feeling of joy knowing others are having their sins forgiven and given grace. The Church builds on the constant conversion of each of us.