When I was growing up in a parish in Ontario in the depression, the lines of Catholics going to Confession on Saturday were as long (or longer) than the lines going to Communion on Sunday.
Not any longer. Now few people go to Confession and almost everybody goes to Communion.
What happened? The British Catholic writer, Clifford Longley, has tried to answer that question. Most priests to whom he has spoken sum up the confession crisis with two words: “contraception” and “divorce”.
Because of the widespread us of contraceptives by Catholics in the last half century, the Catholic family has dropped to the size of other families. Catholics are now persuaded that contraception is not a sin but a necessity and so not a barrier to Holy Communion. But many are unwilling to express that view in the confessional so they drop that practice. Meanwhile 80 per cent or more of the people in the pews on Sunday go to Communion.
Which is where “divorce” comes in. It seems likely that some of those who go weekly to Communion are in irregular marriages. They have divorced and remarried without seeking an annulment or having been refused one. But they will have no trouble finding a priest to tell them that “in the private forum” they are subjectively without sin and are not barred from Holy Communion. Some come to that conclusion on their own.
If the bishops are aware of this state of affairs, they are not saying anything about it. When did you last hear a sermon on obedience? On the matters of contraception and divorce the rule of thumb in the parishes seems to be “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The same rule of thumb also applies to gay people.
Many years ago Catholic women would discuss their marriage problems with a priest in the confessional. Now would a modern liberated Catholic woman, perhaps a feminist, want to discuss her sex life with a celibate male for whom feminism has no relevance and whose understanding of female sexuality is bound to be limited. It seems unlikely. Better to skip confession altogether.
Neither Clifford Longley or I think confession should be scrapped. It has helped many people and I have heard many Protestants say they wish they had something like it.
No, an attempt should be made to make confession more relevant. Any such attempt must examine the current situation with regard to “contraception” and “divorce.” It is not enough for the bishops and priests to operate on “don’t ask, don’ tell.”
Do you agree that confession is good for the soul?