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Catholic confession has evolved over time
Seattle Post Intelligencer ^ | November 21, 2003 | VANESSA HO

Posted on 11/25/2003 7:54:28 AM PST by Land of the Irish

Catholic confession has evolved over time Fewer attend, and emphasis now is on spiritual guidance

By VANESSA HO SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

In the late '60s, when the Rev. Jan Larson was a new Roman Catholic priest, he would sit in a dark confessional for hours and listen to people rattle off a "grocery list" of sins. They had impure thoughts, said "damn" three times or chewed gum during a fast.

Today, he's lucky if two people show up for confession at his Snoqualmie parish, and the sins he absolves are more complex. Yet, he sometimes hears about the small stuff, especially from older people who might say they skipped Mass.

Scott Eklund / P-I Nick Coffman, 19, prays near the entrance to the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University yesterday. University officials say they've noticed that more students are going to Mass and confession than in the past. "I do find a healing and a merciful forgiveness," Coffman said. "I always ask why, and they say, 'Oh, well, I had pneumonia.' And you want to snap, 'Why are you bringing that here? It's not a sin if you have pneumonia. God wants you to stay at home.' "

In the span of a half-century, the sacrament of penance, as confession is officially called, has evolved drastically, from a rigid, foreboding ritual to a looser, therapeutic practice. Instead of a fearful cataloging of sins, it now emphasizes spiritual guidance and mercy. And it no longer occurs in the booth.

"I'm just waiting for Hollywood to get it right. They always have the dark box, and the gangster gets in, and the grill slides open," said Roger O'Brien, a retired priest who is writing an article about the sacrament for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Confession, which is often called "reconciliation," now takes place in a quiet, well-lighted room or chapel, in which a parishioner faces a priest. (If they want to remain anonymous, however, they still have the option of kneeling before a screen).

The changes have occurred as the number of Catholics attending regular confession has declined. In 1965, nearly 40 percent of American Catholics said they went to confession monthly, according to the National Opinion Research Center. Today, sociologists estimate that fewer than 25 percent of Catholics regularly go to confession, and that nearly 60 percent never or almost never go.

"One thing you hear about confession vanishing is if Catholics have lost their sense of sin. Well, I don't think so," said Larson, who also ministers to parishes in Duvall and Carnation.

He noted that communal services on forgiveness, similar to those offered by many Protestant churches, are often packed. He said Catholics have more options for absolution, because church officials now say forgiveness can come through Mass or private prayer, instead of only through one-on-one confession.

And some religious experts say there is a resurgence in confession-going among young Catholics, who are praying the rosary and doing other devotional acts that their baby-boomer parents abandoned.

"Most Catholics who grew up in the '50 and '60s would rather go to the dentist than confession," said Greg Magnoni, Archdiocese of Seattle spokesman. "But today, that's changed, and the sacrament of reconciliation is a celebration of God's grace and mercy."

On a recent Saturday, the traditional day to confess, Keith Abrahams let in a gust of cold air as he rushed inside St. James Cathedral to wait for a priest. He joined about 10 people, who sat in silence, bundled in coats.

A retired mental-health therapist and former Army first sergeant, Abrahams said he goes to confession every two weeks and that it helps him understand and forgive himself. He likes the modern way of facing a priest, viewing it as a spiritual therapy session.

"It helps me to avoid doing the same things over and over again," said Abrahams, 62. "I feel relief and forgiveness."

Nick Coffman, a 19-year-old Seattle University student, waited his turn nearby. Longhaired and dressed all in black, Coffman plays guitar, studies philosophy and would be right at home in a hip coffeehouse.

He grew up Catholic, but was an agnostic for a while in high school. Now he works as a sacristan, or a chapel assistant, and goes to confession every two weeks.

"I do find a healing and a merciful forgiveness," Coffman said. "Really, it speaks to my whole person." But he recognized that going to confession is difficult.

"It really requires looking at yourself and asking where you can be more virtuous, where you can positively embrace God's love," he said.

At Seattle University, administrators say they've noticed that more students are going to Mass and confession than in the past. Many of the students grew up with parents who offered a "smorgasbord approach" to religion or told them, "When you're old enough, you can choose for yourself," said Sheila Barnes, the school's faith-formation coordinator.

Those students are now searching for more meaning in their faith, she said.

"For a lot of young Catholics, there's a feeling that Catholicism has been watered down, and it's gotten really confusing what it means to be Catholic," said G De Castro, the school's chapel coordinator.

He said going to confession and doing other traditional religious practices are "kind of an attempt to solidify the Catholic identity in an external way."

Religion experts say the overall decline in confession-going stems from a broader notion of sin. In the past two centuries, Catholics were less educated and didn't distinguish between small and big sins. So, in order to avoid going to hell, they confessed often and to everything.

Now, "people are more likely to make personal judgments about their sinfulness, rather than going off and running to confession," Larson said.

He said many people who go to confession tend to be at a crossroad in life and need both forgiveness and counseling. In the past, when a parishioner said, "Father, I drink every other day, and I'm drunk at home," a priest would give him penance for committing "the sin of drunkenness," he said.

Now, Larson would help him find community resources to fight addiction. Priests also advise parishioners to do acts of contrition, from saying prayers to contributing to a charity.

In a few weeks, when Advent, the penitential season before Christmas, starts, parishes will prepare for their communal absolution services. The Vatican wants priests to offer one-on-one confession time as part of these services. But many priests, particularly those of large parishes, say they can't accommodate everyone.

One local priest says that tension between the Vatican and some parishes is a "landmine." And some hard-liners say the communal services -- without individual confessions -- offer "cheap grace."

But O'Brien said the services are powerful, with songs, homilies and prayers.

"They're healthy," he said. "That's an encouraging thing for us to experience that sacrament that way."


TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic
KEYWORDS: catholic; confession
In a few weeks, when Advent, the penitential season before Christmas, starts, parishes will prepare for their communal absolution services. The Vatican wants priests to offer one-on-one confession time as part of these services. But many priests, particularly those of large parishes, say they can't accommodate everyone.

Amchurch doesn't obey Rome.

1 posted on 11/25/2003 7:54:29 AM PST by Land of the Irish
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To: Akron Al; Alberta's Child; Andrew65; AniGrrl; Antoninus; apologia_pro_vita_sua; BearWash; ...
Ping
2 posted on 11/25/2003 7:55:25 AM PST by Land of the Irish
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To: Land of the Irish
Kind of a confusing article, at least to me. I found it all over the map... but maybe it's reflective of Catholic society.

FWIW. A lot of Catholics think that attending one of the Reconciliation Masses equals going to Confession. An assumption that is not clarified from the pulpit.

3 posted on 11/25/2003 8:05:43 AM PST by american colleen
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To: american colleen
Are you talking about Reconciliation Servies where there are five or six priests hearing individual confessions afterwards?

That is what we have scheduled in our vicariate/deanery, and it seems to work very well. The priests from the local parishes travel around to the individual churches to do this. BTW, confessions are also heard on these evenings in Vietnamese and Spanish.
4 posted on 11/25/2003 8:21:13 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: .45MAN; dansangel
Ping!
5 posted on 11/25/2003 8:21:50 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Land of the Irish
Yet, he sometimes hears about the small stuff, especially from older people who might say they skipped Mass.

Since when is a mortal sin "small stuff"?

6 posted on 11/25/2003 8:25:57 AM PST by conservonator
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To: Land of the Irish
"Religion experts say the overall decline in confession-going stems from a broader notion of sin. In the past two centuries, Catholics were less educated and didn't distinguish between small and big sins. So, in order to avoid going to hell, they confessed often and to everything."

And what is wrong with that?

And don't you still have to go to one on one confession?

My opinion is that most of those receiving communion on a Sunday do not know what a sin is and how a sin is committed. Is it the Church's fault for preaching a social gospel and eliminating sin from the homilies?

Yes it is good to commune with God as a group but much better to commune with Him one on one.
7 posted on 11/25/2003 8:27:11 AM PST by franky
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To: Land of the Irish
To be honest, there is so much of a variety in confessing styles, I don't think there is a way to pinpoint it the way the author wants to. Yes, there are some parishes with the room and the little screen. There are also churches with the old-fashioned module sorts of confessionals with the curtains and the wall/screen. I go to confession at one such place and honestly, the screen side to face to face ratio is about 10 to 1. I think there is something about being anonymous that makes confessing the deep, darkness of the soul so much easier.

It's not so much that it's a personal counseling session as there are things we do that we know are wrong and we have to let that out and tell God, yes, we know we did wrong and we're very sorry. Personally, I find that I usually walk in there with something on my mind and just have to say it and hear the forgiveness.

The one thing that does bother me is when the priest, usually the young ones, start to patronize you when you're finished in an effort to try and make you feel better. So, I usually go to the older ones and really the pastor might not be a good homilist, but he's great in confession.
8 posted on 11/25/2003 8:29:04 AM PST by Desdemona (Kempis' Imitation of Christ online! http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imitation.html)
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To: Land of the Irish
The Church I go to doesn't have regular confession times, rather you schedule one with the priest, and of course the aformentioned communal penance service. I generally go elsewhere for penance, because I don't like face to face confession, I just feel really uncomfortable, but when I do, I get something out of it, however, at the same time, I do feel rather uncomfortable. But I agree completely with the article. Penance has completley fallen off the Radar Screen, my CCD class hasn't been to confession since First Reconciliation. I know a fair number of my fellow Catholic students who have reembraced this sacrament. IMHO, I WANT THE BOX. God Bless
9 posted on 11/25/2003 8:37:00 AM PST by StAthanasiustheGreat (Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit)
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To: All
Don't rely on this article to get an accurate summary of Catholic doctrine. What a mess.
10 posted on 11/25/2003 8:38:24 AM PST by polemikos
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To: Salvation
Thanks for the ping.. Strange article.. communal reconciliation as a norm

I don't believe that this is true, I might be wrong but If i remember this can only be used when there are extenuating circumstances

And some hard-liners say the communal services -- without individual confessions -- offer "cheap grace."

I don't believe that it offers any grace.

Sounds to me like the lines to get into heaven in the future are going to be very short. "I didn't know" or "it wasn't my fault" just isn't going to hack it. Purgatory is going to have a waiting list and the other place is installing more entry gates for the larger crowds.....

11 posted on 11/25/2003 9:04:11 AM PST by .45MAN
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To: .45MAN
Within the past 2 years the pope issued a letter condeming general absolution. It is to be used in life and death matters only! Each Parish has to have at least a private screened box. Yes, face to face must be offered, but the private box must be in every Church.

As we all know, confessions are rarely discussed at mass. The Eucharist is stressed solely.

This article is misleading to say the very least.
12 posted on 11/25/2003 9:35:08 AM PST by johnb2004
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To: .45MAN
Our priest laughingly but seriously says that communal Penance services are for when we're about to be hit by a nuclear bomb and obviously don't have time for individual confessions.
13 posted on 11/25/2003 9:54:32 AM PST by tiki
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To: Salvation; .45MAN
As someone who will make their first Confession in over 25 years next week, I find this article very ambiguous. It's strange, too, because when I asked the priest-in-charge for a face-to-face Confession (feeling it would be better handled this way after so many years) he patiently explained that it is done both ways, now, by request. But still one-on-one. Now, from this article (and from speaking to my mother) I find that some parishes have done away with one-on-one Confession altogether. On whose authority?

Such ambiguousness and waffling on important sacramental issues is part of what drove me away in the first place. I really think it would be best if the Church adhered to the Vatican and did not cave into instituting touchy-feely stuff to their numbers up.

We belong to a very Conservative Roman Catholic Church and its numbers have swelled so much there are plans to build a bigger Church. Conservatism obviously does not drive the faithful away.
14 posted on 11/25/2003 10:02:39 AM PST by dansangel (*PROUD to be a knuckle-dragging, toothless, inbred, right-wing, Southern, gun-toting Neanderthal *)
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To: Land of the Irish
"For a lot of young Catholics, there's a feeling that Catholicism has been watered down, and it's gotten really confusing what it means to be Catholic," said G De Castro, the school's chapel coordinator.

This statement just about sums it up in my opinion. Too many younger Catholics do not go to Confession often enough if at all. The fault lies mainly with their parents, but also with whatever religious education they might have had. I know of at least three Catholic churches in my area where the children receive their first Reconciliation a year AFTER they receive their First Communion. This is nuts because you have a whole generation of youngsters who have no sense of sin.

My mother (God bless her) brought us to Confession once a month whether we needed to go or not. She always left the door open for frequent Confession for her children which is one of the many wonderful things she instilled into our religious upbringing. To this day I have such a sense of what "sin" is, even the venial sins. I have such guilt when I do something wrong and always feel the need to ask Our Lord for forgiveness. Today's youth may have some guilt associated with their wrongdoings, but they feel like all they need to do is say a prayer and God will forgive them.

Lastly and in trying not to judge, I am always saddened to see so few people at Confession on Saturdays. Even worse is the emptying of pews at Mass on Sunday for Holy Communion.

15 posted on 11/25/2003 10:04:30 AM PST by Gerish
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To: conservonator
Since when is a mortal sin "small stuff"?
You read my mind. Nice catch.
16 posted on 11/25/2003 10:14:45 AM PST by el_chupacabra (I'm glad you were born.)
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To: .45MAN
**communal reconciliation as a norm** It isn't true. Check the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the approved form of Confession

However, in a grave emergency a group absolution could be given.

Think of the priest who was on the scene at 911.

17 posted on 11/25/2003 10:28:35 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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Comment #18 Removed by Moderator

To: tiki
**Our priest laughingly but seriously says that communal Penance services are for when we're about to be hit by a nuclear bomb and obviously don't have time for individual confessions.**

Exactly!
19 posted on 11/25/2003 10:29:42 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: dansangel
Check out #17
20 posted on 11/25/2003 10:31:18 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: dansangel
**I really think it would be best if the Church adhered to the Vatican and did not cave into instituting touchy-feely stuff to their numbers up.**

And you are totally correct!
21 posted on 11/25/2003 10:32:51 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Land of the Irish
They can't accomodate everyone, my left buttocks! What they really mean is that they starve the parish for reconciliation, only offering it between 4:00 and 4:08 in the middle of Saturday afternoon, and when they finally do offer it, they, lo and behold, they can't finish it in a mere half hour!

I believe the priest's inattentiveness to the sacraments is the worst evil to enter the church in ages. And if anyone is shocked that that downplays the pedastery scandals, don't be: I consider the pedastery scandals to be the direct and *predicted* result of the loss of the sacraments.

The most laughable Hollywood cliche is that the priest is *always* in the confessional, at all times, day or night, 24/7... unless he's just been murdered, in which case it's a fair bet the murderer happens to still be in the confessional.
22 posted on 11/25/2003 10:33:34 AM PST by dangus
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To: sandyeggo
Thank you ((((sandyeggo))) - and let me add that I am a frequent lurker to the Catholic posts and enjoy your contributions.
23 posted on 11/25/2003 10:35:58 AM PST by dansangel (*PROUD to be a knuckle-dragging, toothless, inbred, right-wing, Southern, gun-toting Neanderthal *)
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To: Salvation
Think of the priest who was on the scene at 911.

Absolutely. There will always be (unfortunately) extenuating circumstances.

24 posted on 11/25/2003 10:38:04 AM PST by dansangel (*PROUD to be a knuckle-dragging, toothless, inbred, right-wing, Southern, gun-toting Neanderthal *)
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To: Salvation
And you are totally correct!

Thank you ((((((Salvation)))))) - for *everything*.

25 posted on 11/25/2003 10:39:00 AM PST by dansangel (*PROUD to be a knuckle-dragging, toothless, inbred, right-wing, Southern, gun-toting Neanderthal *)
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To: Land of the Irish
He said Catholics have more options for absolution, because church officials now say forgiveness can come through Mass or private prayer, instead of only through one-on-one confession.

Thanks to this mentality, sacrileges abound. I have a friend who wrongly believes that she gains absolution through her mere presence in the Novus Ordo liturgy and uses that as an excuse to approach Our Lord in Communion withouth confessing her mortal sins first. Does no one understand the destructive nature of novelties?

26 posted on 11/25/2003 11:38:32 AM PST by Fifthmark
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To: american colleen
Kind of a confusing article, at least to me. I found it all over the map...

I think it is more reflective of the reporter not really knowing anything about the topic.

27 posted on 11/25/2003 12:45:01 PM PST by FormerLib
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To: Desdemona
So, I usually go to the older ones and really the pastor might not be a good homilist, but he's great in confession.

Umm, I'll be frank. You're setting yourself up here.

28 posted on 11/25/2003 12:49:05 PM PST by TotusTuus
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To: Salvation
Are you talking about Reconciliation Servies where there are five or six priests hearing individual confessions afterwards?

That's perfectly acceptable. It's some areas that have started to offer "absolution" to all without any private confession of sin, through ad hoc group "liturgies."

As others have noted the idea of group absolution is valid only in true emergencies. The last I've ever heard of in my area is when Three Mile Island was happening and some churches in the area held such services.

What needs to be understood is that if the emergency passes, you need to "follow up" with a genuine individual confession.

I find it funny that priests here can get together in neighboring communities to offer 5 or 6 priests at one place, but those in some diocese are "too busy" for such a thing. Yes, priests are busy, but isn't ensuring those in your community are spiritually prepared for Christmas and Easter kinda a big part of a priest's job?

SD

29 posted on 11/25/2003 12:51:06 PM PST by SoothingDave
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To: Land of the Irish
Amchurch doesn't obey Rome.

These American bishops believe that what they possess here is a franchise that they can manipulate any way they wish.

They're so busy empowering priests to hold whatever "service" they desire, or to allow young girls to servce at mass that they haven't time for the important things of saving souls.

Recently I found my bulletin stuffed with three bulletins admonishing parishoners to stop eating Taco Bell products. I wrote the following to the Bishop of Venice (Florida) and have yet to receive an answer.

Bishop John J. Nevins, M.S.W., D.D.

Diocese of Venice in Florida

1000 Pinebrook Rd.

Venice, FL 34292

RE: Diocese’s Action Toward Just Wages For Farm Workers

Excellency,

Picking tomatoes is not rocket science; therefore, the tomato pickers need to seek other employment and, if they’re not citizens, perhaps in their own country.

To encourage the boycott of a company that isn’t in the business of growing tomatoes to force those that are in the tomato business to the bargaining table appears unfair. Further, it reveals the Church to be a needless meddler.

In the undated “letter” issued by the “Peace and Justice Office,” (whatever that means) a reference is made to the similarity of this “movement” and that of Cesar Chavez, an avowed socialist and probably a communist whose goal was to bankrupt grape growers and who couldn’t have cared a fig about those migrant pickers.

If as much effort is expended on the original role of The Roman Catholic Church and less on lending the church to socialist and unfair causes, we’d have a church that has returned to its sacred mission.

I strongly believe that the Church’s role in promulgating programs such as this is humanist and not ecclesiastical. It makes as much sense to get behind a movement to return American manufacturing jobs and attendant manufacturing base back to this country.

Unfortunately, I realize that the Church is following the new wave of political correctness and believes that by encouraging parishioners not to eat tacos It is accomplishing the Lord’s business.

I, for one, as a practicing Roman Catholic believe there is other important business to which the Church needs to attend.

Respectfully yours,

30 posted on 11/25/2003 1:16:21 PM PST by JesseHousman (Execute Mumia Abu-Jamal)
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To: TotusTuus
Hey, there's a wall in between remember?
31 posted on 11/25/2003 1:25:51 PM PST by Desdemona (Kempis' Imitation of Christ online! http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imitation.html)
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To: Fifthmark
"Does no one understand the destructive nature of novelties?"

Yo.
32 posted on 11/25/2003 6:11:42 PM PST by dsc
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To: dansangel
*everything*.

And (((((Hugs)))) to both of you too!
33 posted on 11/25/2003 8:18:15 PM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: SoothingDave
** It's some areas that have started to offer "absolution" to all without any private confession of sin, through ad hoc group "liturgies."**

As far as I know this is not allowed. Makes me wonder if the Bishop is aware of what is happening in this parish.
34 posted on 11/25/2003 8:20:05 PM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation
" Makes me wonder if the Bishop is aware of what is happening in this parish."

I would very much like to think he is unaware.

On the other hand, do you really think that a priest would stick his neck out to violate church law in a serious matter without at least the tacit approval of the guy who signs his paycheck?

35 posted on 11/25/2003 8:43:56 PM PST by rogator
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