Efforts to Stimulate Interest in Reconciliation
By Father John Flynn, L.C.
ROME, 8 OCT. 2007 (ZENIT)
Confession is undergoing a revival of sorts
after a long period of neglect. There has been a spate of recent press
articles on the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation, as it is
On Sept. 21 the Wall Street Journal reported that more than 5,000 people
turned up at a Reconciliation Weekend held in March in the Diocese of
A column dated March this year by Bishop Thomas Wenski, posted on the
Orlando Diocese's Web page, spoke about the need for confession. The
loss of the sense of sin was termed "the spiritual crisis of our age,"
Last year, the bishop noted, he wrote to the priests of his diocese,
asking them to make more time to hear confessions. This year he
explained that a number of parishes were going to organize a special
Reconciliation Weekend, just prior to Holy Week.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal article explained that interest in
confession is rising among some Protestant denominations. This summer, a
North American branch of the Lutherans passed a resolution at a meeting
supporting the rite of confession, after more than a century of neglect.
Some of the Protestant versions of confession being popularized are,
however, notably different from the Catholic sacrament. The Wall Street
Journal mentioned practices such as individuals coming clean in videos
that are even posted on sites such as YouTube, for all to see.
Other initiatives include a confession Web site, set up by an
evangelical congregation in Cooper City, Florida, which according to the
Wall Street Journal has postings from 7,700 people who list their
The rising interest in confession marks a turnaround, the article
observed. A 2005 survey reported that only 26% of Catholics in the
United States went to confession at least once a year, down from 74% in
the early '80s.
The revival in confession, particularly of the public kind, can take all
sorts of forms, as is evidenced in a Reuters article from Sept. 27. The
agency reported on a new Web site set up by a major publisher of
romantic fiction, Harlequin Enterprises. People will be able to confess,
anonymously, their sins online, with others being able to read their
More news on varieties of confession came in a major feature article,
published Aug. 31 by the Los Angeles Times. The paper gave details about
a number of Web sites where confessions can be made. One of the sites
even allows other persons to comment on and give advice to those who
Turning on the light
The Catholic Church is also trying to promote interest in confession.
This year some dioceses launched campaigns to encourage use of the
sacrament in the period prior to Easter. In Washington, D.C., for
example, all the 140 churches of the archdiocese opened for confession
every Wednesday evening.
The effort was part of a campaign titled "The Light Is On for You."
Included in the campaign were radio and billboard ads, and a Web page
set up with a variety of material encouraging participation in the
sacrament. In addition, 100,000 printed guides in Spanish and English
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl also penned a pastoral letter, "God's
Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance," as part of the campaign.
"Despite our best intentions, each of us has experienced personal
failure," he noted in the introduction to the letter. We are aware,
explained Archbishop Wuerl, "that a part of us is determined to do good
while at the same time an element within us continually turns away from
the good we know we can do."
God does not leave us alone in this situation of our human weakness and
the ever-present reality of sin, the letter added. "Jesus gives us
newness of life in grace that begins to restore our relationship with
God which will lead to full communion with God in glory."
This power to forgive sins was extended by Jesus to the Church and is
administered through the sacrament of confession.
"It remains one of the great marvels of God's love that God would make
forgiveness so readily available to each of us," Archbishop Wuerl
"The sacrament of reconciliation is the story of God's love that never
turns away from us," he said. "Like the father in the parable of the
prodigal son, God waits, watches and hopes for our return every time we
Not all are convinced, however, that these efforts to stimulate
confession will succeed. Time magazine, which gained notoriety for its
Sept. 3 cover issue that sought to cast doubts on Mother Teresa of
Calcutta's faith, posted an article dated Sept. 27 on its Time.com Web
page titled "The Unrepentant."
Noting the decades-long decline in use by Catholics of the sacrament,
the article attempted to argue that reaction against the encyclical "Humanae
Vitae" has "led to a wider re-evaluation of what constitutes sin
and whether confession is really necessary."
The article also doubted that recent efforts in the American dioceses to
promote confession had obtained any real success and concluded that
future efforts are similarly doomed.
Another recent initiative to revive interest in confession comes in the
form of a book titled "The Gift of Confession, (Connor Court
Publishing). Father Michael de Stoop, a priest in the Archdiocese of
Sydney, Australia, aimed to portray confession in a positive way,
emphasizing the many benefits the sacrament offers believers.
Many people, he noted in the book's introduction, are unaware of the
theological background that can help us to understand and appreciate
confession. In addition to freeing us from sin, the sacrament also
restores and increases our opportunities to share in God's divine life,
Father de Stoop explained.
Thus, confession frees us from sin, and also restores our freedom to
live a life of virtue by restoring within us the gifts of the Holy
Spirit. The grace we receive strengthens our will to resist sin, thereby
enabling us to progress in holiness.
By making us more aware of the evil of sin and the need to avoid it,
regular participation in confession, the book observes, also helps us to
build our character and develop good habits. Coming closer to God by
means of the sacrament of reconciliation will also make it easier for us
Benedict XVI reflected on the importance of confession, in words
directed to the youth of Rome, gathered March 29 in St Peter's Basilica
to prepare for the local diocesan celebration of World Youth Day on
God's love for us, expressed by the death of Christ on the cross, has
obtained for us the gift of the Holy Spirit through which our sins are
forgiven and peace granted, the Pope commented.
"Christ draws us to him to unite himself with each one of us so that, in
our turn, we may learn to love our brothers and sisters with this same
love, as he has loved us," the Pontiff added.
Once we are filled with this love, Benedict XVI recommended to the young
people, we are called upon to make an impact in the world by means of an
authentic Christian witness. Valuable words of encouragement to
encourage participation in a sacrament neglected for too long.