Bless me, father

The last time I went to Confession the young priest spoke with a strong foreign accent and was clearly unfamiliar with the English language. For one wild moment I contemplated confessing every possible sin I could think of. In that way I would have achieved a free pass for all my future reprobate behaviour. My thinking was theologically flawed but it triggered some thoughts on what has happened to the confessional in the last 40 years or so. Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but some I have encountered suggest that the 40% of Catholics who used to confess monthly has now fallen to less than 10%.

In Catholic terms, Confession makes excellent sense. The Church’s power to forgive sins on Christ’s behalf is admirably clear in Scripture. Why would we ignore this “get out of jail free” facility handed out on a plate – even for minor sins, let alone those which can precipitate us into Hell. And we are assured of Grace to support us against sin in the future.

While no doubt it is our habit to examine our consciences on a daily basis, is not the prospect of Confession going to help us to be more thorough? Given the rate at which we are likely to sin, ought we not to come to terms with our frailty at a major service interval of once a month? I realise that in the old days we might have been given to reading out from tick lists suggested in our prayer books. But we don’t need to do that: we can carry out a thorough examination of our wicked ways or concentrate on one area which seems to require special attention. Not only do we help ourselves, but we give the poor priest something more interesting to think about.

In addition we expose ourselves to the danger of discovering that our conceit is preserving us from noticing that we may be doing wrong in ways which have not yet been recognised by us. This is the sense of guilt which Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about.

And it gives a general pleasure, too. Do you have any other certain way at your disposal to give joy to the Angels in Heaven? I suspect, not. In fact I believe that God has a penchant for sinners. When Catherine the Great said “Dieu me pardonnera, c’est son métier”, she was right.

The sacrament also reminds us of the need for a firm purpose of amendment. Agreed that this may seem empty when we realise that we have fallen again and again, yet it cannot harm, and may do good, just to keep trying.

Penances are remarkably trivial; they only just hint at the need to pay satisfaction for our sins. We must be grateful that it is not seven years or seven quarantines in sackcloth and ashes by the church porch. It’s one thing to be fined from dropping litter; it’s another to be fined for being litter. Certainly we get off lightly. (I have only just discovered, after many years, that a quarantine is 40 days; obvious when I think about it.)

Of course some of us don’t care for it much. It may take screwing courage up to the sticking place to confess to another human being, even if it’s through a grill. And what does he know? After all he may be half my age and nothing like so experienced. Ho hum! Don’t think that matters so much because it’s God’s forgiveness we seek. We don’t always get good advice from the clergy – so, when we do, that’s a bonus.

Confessions are not nowadays held so frequently or so accessibly as they once were. And whose fault it that? If the habit of Confession became popular the facilities would grow commensurately. It’s just supply and demand, really.

So why have we lost habit of Confession? Write your reasons on a single piece of paper and post it on the Blog. No stamp needed.

About Quentin

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64 Responses to Bless me, father

  1. Peter D. Wilson says:

    I remember from long ago a little story told by a visiting priest. A very pious lady from the city was visiting country relatives, and being in the habit of daily confession, knocked up the local priest to ask for the sacrament. After the usual preliminaries she confessed to having resisted the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.
    “You what?”
    “I resisted the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.”
    “Get away with you, woman – how many times have you been drunk?”

    I think of that when scratching my head trying to think of something more worth mentioning than the usual trivialities or whether they might in fact be rather substantial. The fact that I have to think suggests that there may be something wrong with my conscience, but my situation gives little opportunity for graver transgressions that might still seriously attract me. It used to be suggested that in such cases a general confession of sins previously absolved would be beneficial, but more recently that has been denounced as casting doubt on the genuineness of forgiveness. In the circumstances I have difficulty in dragging myself to the church more than occasionally to the nominally monthly session.

    Incidentally, can anyone tell me why it is so often an elderly lady of impeccable character who takes up half the available time in the box?

    • Milroy Joseph says:

      Many a penitent does not consider carefully what it is they are to confess, so the subsequent umms and errs – thinking time – could take up much oif the available time of which you speak. in short – lack of preparedness


  2. Jnana Hodson says:

    You have me thinking, too, of the varieties of discipleship outside of the Catholic traditions.
    In the Amish and Mennonite streams, for instance, this is something that occurs among the members of the church, one to another, ideally in a compassionate and encouraging manner. It helps, of course, to know one another in our daily encounters, something all too often absent in large congregations (especially when the members are scattered over many miles).
    It would also seem that much of what once happened in your practice of confession now occurs to some extent as psychotherapy or even spiritual directorship.
    From the ways I’ve heard many Catholics describe their experiences of confession, however, it often sounds dry, formal, unoriginal, one-directional — in short, lifeless. There’s no sense of deepening relationship or renewal. So how do you transform that?

  3. Ion Zone says:

    I do go to confession about once a year.

    One thing that bothers me a lot though is the idea held by many people inside and outside the church who are of the opinion that a priest will wave aside any sin you may have committed and that that, as far as God is concerned, is that. This idea is quite often used in criticism of us – criticism which implies two things in particular:

    1) God can’t tell if you are sincere or not.

    2) Forgiveness, especially unconditional forgiveness, is bad.

    I think this is worth debating in of itself.

    • Milroy Joseph says:

      Your comments are very interesting. I would like to make a few brief points myself:
      1.Insofar as the Sacrament of Confession is concerned, what matters most is what you think and feel to the exclusion of any other opinion.

      2.You are probably aware that God gave to His diciples that power to forgive sin, which power has been handed down at the time of the priest’s ordination.

      3 At confession the priest assumes that you, the penitent, is truly sorry for your sins. By the power vested in him he absolves you. Ofcourse, if you were not sorry for having comitted them, then that is a matter for you and your conscience.

      4. The priest does not “wave aside” your sins, he absolves you, he forgives you, in his position as Christ’s representative

      5. The priest forgives you and expects that you will endeavour sincerely not to reoffend. Is this what youdescribe as “unconditional forgiveness”?

  4. Vincent says:

    One factor may have been the ‘contraception’ question. I am told that priests, rather than attempting to rule on the issue, asked penitents to consult their own consciences. Rightly or wrongly this seems to have devalued Confession. In addition, people’s sense of not being ‘quite right’ with the Church may have put them off.

    • Milroy Joseph says:

      From my recollection, this ‘Contraception question’ saw the light of day in the “swinging sixties” during which time the Vatican was in a sort of a tail spin moving from Tradition to Vatican II. In the sort of vacuum that ensued, priests didn’t know quite where they were heading; it seemed like an easy way out to neatly shift the problem as you have described. My final question is: how did we manage before the 60’s? Yes we had reasonably sized families. We are quite frail. But we have to try, I know its not easy. We have to pray. Some may think I’m crazy; but remember, a great Englishman said, “….more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of….”.

  5. tim says:

    Like Elizabeth I, I (aim to) have a bath once a month, whether I need it or no. I do worry about whether I am really sincere in abjuring sins that I confess repeatedly – but presumably God knows how sincere I am. It is exceptionally easy for those who are not often exposed to major clear-cut temptations (murder, rape, and so on) to become complacent. An examination of conscience (even once a month) may help with that. “Lord, I thank thee that I am not complacent!”?

    • Vincent says:

      Does the problem here come from the fact that most of us were brought up on a binary system of morality: sin v virtue; mortal v venial?

      Except for the more dramatic moments of life we are working our way up a slope of virtue in order to be “perfect”. And we always fall short. So there might be plenty of falling-shortness for which we need forgiveness, and help

  6. Horace says:

    Quentin asks “So why have we lost habit of Confession?”.
    Going to Confession is (and was) never easy.

    The simple answer is that the decline of confession reflects changes in our culture.
    It used to be a routine custom to go to Confession, weekly, or perhaps monthly. Admittedly this meant that in most cases the ‘sins’ confessed were both trivial and routine. Today such behaviour is considered inappropriate.

    From another point of view the decline in Catholics going to Confession is an egregious example of the ‘law of unintended consequences’ (Merton) associated with Vatican II.
    For example; the renaming of Confession (the sacrament of Penance) as “The Rite for Reconciliation”, and sometimes the abandonment of the familiar confessional in favour of face-to-face dialog.
    [The only support for this that I can find in the documents of Vatican Council II is ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ 72 :-“The rite and formulas of Penance are to be revised so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament.”]

    Even the assurance of the ‘seal of confession’ (Canon Law, 983) seems less absolute than it used to be; for example I am astonished that there was only a muted reaction to the recent declaration by Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny of an intention to compel priests to report crimes that they have learnt of in confession.

    • Nektarios says:

      Not only changes in external culture, but theology, philosophy, and man -centred religion rather than Christ-centred too. In otherwords, man nowadays will confess to himself,
      his belief may include God, but his belief is not so much in God, as it is in himself.
      Of course this has led to people leaving the Church and fewer people attending Confession, not to mention the illusion and delusion man lives in.

  7. Milroy Joseph says:

    “….the true nature of the Church’s mission” is quite a wide ranging topic which I am unqualified to address. This I will say: Jesus Christ who said, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, established his Church, Peter was assigned to look after it. We have had many successors of Peter, currently Pope Benedict XVI – the choice of the Holy Spirit.
    Vatican II succeeded greatly in the creation of disenchantment and “squabbling” at all levels; and the fundamental reason – as I see it – is the break with Tradition. Finally, if you wish to witness what the Catholic Church used to be, please visit a service of the Society of Pius X. You will soon see the difference between the ‘boogie woogie’ church and Tradition.

    • Quentin says:

      I think that this is the first contribution on the Blog to make this sort of point – which makes it doubly welcome. It certainly requires discussion.

      It will be useful if you could cite one or two examples of the break with Tradition by Vatican II, which you perceive. We all seem to find it easier to deal with concrete instances rather than a general verdict.


      • Vincent says:

        Yes, I, too, am looking forward to the Milroy Joseph points. I certainly want to know what he has in mind.

        However I just note that Cardinal Ratzinger said on Bavarian television: “It would be a mistake to believe that the Holy Spirit picks the pope because there are too many examples of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have chosen.” So it would seem that, though the Holy Spirit guarantees certain things, he/she does not pick popes.

  8. mike Horsnall says:

    “…You will soon see the difference between the ‘boogie woogie’ church and Tradition…”

    I guess this is code for something but unfortunately, having only been a small number of years as a convert I know not what. None of the several catholic churches in our parish seem remotely ‘boogie woogie’ to me nor does mass at St Mary’s Oscott-perhaps to others they might. I recently had it explained to me that the decline of confession was primarily a function of changes in theology as introduced by Karl Rahner-but I have thankfully forgotten the detail.
    I do know that sin is sin and has the efect of blunting the conscience and the will towards wholesomeness and goodness. I also know that the habit of confession is marvellous when persisted in and hard to regain once lost. Personally I like the sense of ‘reconciliation’..why else go but for to restore a relationship which-like a view through a smeared window -is becoming blurred and lost? My own experience tells me that once I give up a 6 weekly or so pattern of eattendance then the decline into selfishness and hard heartedness begins to accelerate until the grace of God manages to crack open the carapace forming around the heart.

  9. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Mike – Well said. The danger you identify is one we need to watch very carefully.

  10. John Nolan says:

    I suggest that the link between sacramental Confession and the reception of Holy Communion, and the idea of being in a ‘state of grace’ no longer exists except for the elderly, and for younger people of a decidedly traditionalist outlook.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan
      Why do you think such a state of affairs exists?
      Being in a state of grace, actually, is not an idea, though some people have theological ideas about it, but it is a state of being in Christ. that is the `state of grace’.
      What that is actually, one has to be in it, experiencing it, moment by moment.

      • John Nolan says:

        Yes, Nektarios, I agree, but the way you define it is subjective. The big change in Catholicism which I have experienced in my lifetime is a paradigm shift from the objective to the subjective, which is exemplified in the way the liturgy is celebrated in the vast majority of parishes. Yes, I know it’s wrong, I can’t stand it myself and go out of my way to avoid it, but it’s a fact.

  11. Iona says:

    Like Mike, I’m a convert and was not brought up to go to confession.
    One thing that may explain the decline in confession is a current tendency towards self-assertiveness, which leaves no space for humility. “Take me or leave me, this is how I am”.

    • Nektarios says:

      In part I agree with you.
      Why is mankind these days so self-assertive? What does this mean in a spiritual context?
      What is self assertiveness, is it noornal confidence or something a bit more nuerotic?
      So, sorry to bother you with such questions, but this self assertiveness is very much ruling the roost in every walk of life in society and Church today.
      Trace it, see where it comes from, what it does, what its reasoning is and where it rests?

  12. mike Horsnall says:

    “It would be a mistake to believe that the Holy Spirit picks the pope because there are too many examples of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have chosen.”

    Thankyou for this marvellous post-thats one less tricky little number to have to explain away!!

    • Horace says:

      See my comment on “Ecclesia corrupta” 14 Jan 2010.
      Quoting from from the “Decameron of Boccaccio” – 1471.

      “Jehannot . . . asked him what he thought of the Holy Father . . To which the Jew forthwith replied :- “. . . To the best of my judgement, your Pastor, and by consequence all that are about him devote all their zeal and ingenuity and subtlety to devise how best and most speedily they may bring the Christian religion to nought and banish it from the world. And because I see that what they so zealously endeavor does not come to pass, but that on the contrary your religion continually grows, and shines more and more clear, therein I seem to discern a very evident token that it, rather than any other, as being more true and holy than any other, has the Holy Spirit for its foundation and support.”

      • Nektarios says:

        Aye, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,
        that is the Kingdom of God. That has been expanding since Pentecost.
        God be praised, despite the sinfulness, weakness and opposing of men and devils,
        God’s Kingdom shall expand and shall know no end.
        Lets say Amen together!!


    • Vincent says:

      Mike, Glad you like it. Bit more context here:

  13. Nektarios says:

    John Nolan
    If you think what I have stated is only subjective, then you have also reduced the whole of the spiritual life to subjectivity also.
    I assure you and others reading this, that life in Christ is not subjective, but that Life with a captial L, with all its potential, energy and divine intelligence working in harmony is far from subjective.
    Spiritual things are spiritually discerned

    One can approach almost anything subjectively, but that subjectivity comes in us, when one subjects the spiritual life in Christ merely to the limits of human experience, to the known, to the conditioned, to the limited, the mudane, the repetitive and mechanical, not to mention emotional.

    Life in Christ who is hid in God, and we are hid in Christ, is to go beyond the outward of religion or what man has made of it. And what man has made of it, is essentially subjective and juvenile and corrupted in many ways.
    For example, what the Church thinks of itself, the Heirarchs think of themselves (or some of them), what the Priest think of themselves, and what the congregations
    are conditioned to think of themselves in relation to the Institution of the Church, Heirarchs, Priests and themselves.
    What was a movement of the Love of God, has been corrupted, and divided by so called levels of Authority.
    So what you see is little more that the old nature modified religiously. One cannot get more subjective than that!

  14. John Nolan says:

    Yes, Nektarios, I see where you’re coming from, but the tendency in the Latin Church (and this spills over into schismatic ecclesial communities such as the “Church of England”) over the past half century has been to move from an objective God-centred worship to a community-centred and basically subjective style of liturgy, which really has no historical precedent. So-called “translators” reinforced this error, for example in the beginning of the Roman Canon. “Te igitur, clementissime Pater …”, the ‘igitur’ referring back to the Preface, but the significant word ‘te’ being at the start. The original ‘translation’ dating from 1967 was “We come to you Father …”, giving prominence to the first person plural.

    The eastern liturgies have not been subject to the same distortions, and assuming you hail from this tradition, you surely cannot disagree.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan
      I am a member in the Orthodox Church, and the Eastern Liturgies of either St Basil or
      St John Chrysostom which we both share.
      I agree, we do not have the distortions you have in the RCC, but believe me when I tell you within the Russian and the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece, plans are in process to attempt to change things in the interests of ecclesiastic unity.
      I doubt if it will happen, but certain other distortions are creeping in regarding the Holy Tradition.These will be rebuffed too, I am sure.
      All I can do is abide faithful to the Lord holding fast to the things surely believed among us. And have been there from the early beginnings of the Orthodox Church.
      I think I am a bit too old to be fighting such battles now, so abide in that which has been handed down to us from the early Orthodox Church.

  15. John Candido says:

    ‘…40% of Catholics who used to confess monthly has now fallen to less than 10%; ’ this is from Quentin’s introduction.

    It would seem that this is a ‘sign of the times’ as much as any other significant sociological moment. That Catholics go to mass in fewer numbers than in the immediate past also says something to us all about certain disaffection with our Roman Catholic Church, for a variety of reasons.

    Speaking personally, I grew to dislike confession thanks to one seriously rude priest. He used to yell at some penitents and their sins. Probably only children, but I did learn from my uncle that adults were also inveighed with his rants. All of this is earshot of other penitents lined up in fear of him. How utterly embarrassing and ridiculous! I think that he needed a refresher course in a new understanding of theology emanating from Vatican II, developments in the changing views of the priesthood, and subsequent developments in moral theology as they apply to the sacraments.
    I believe that the seven sacraments are occasions of actual grace and are to be respected. What must occur, if the church is to remain a relevant vessel of grace, is that our understanding of these same sacraments must have room to move, vis-à-vis the tolerant incorporation of changing theological insights. Apart from this, there is I think a need to remove individual confession altogether and substitute this potentially embarrassing practice for its incorporation into the liturgy of the mass.

    This can naturally be placed during the penitential rite of the mass. Other Christian denominations do not have the practice of confession to a priest, parson, or minister, and they have not been undone by this practice. I have said the following ad nauseam; if the church does not change and develop intelligently, she will die a slow but certain death.

  16. mike Horsnall says:

    Crikey John…

    I think I would probably give short thrift to a priest who shouted at me during confession-I suspect there would be a row…and I would go somewhere else. There is also a deliberate change of emphasis on confession ‘policy’ over here at least-but I can’t quite remember why catholics are less encouraged now to go but there is a reason. Liturgical confession is what the Anglicans do, I did it for 10 years and it is no substitute for the real thing. Yes confession is horribly embarrasing but that is simply because it reveals the true nature of sin and the things I am ashamed of are usually those things I most need to confess. In my own experience the sacrament of reconciliation is one of the most powerful tools in the armoury of spiritual life, second only to eucharist.

    • John Nolan says:

      Mike, I think you meant to say ‘short shrift’ which in the context is a bit ironical – the priest shrieves you, not the other way round!

      • mike Horsnall says:

        John Nolan-re Shriving
        Ahhhh…that explains why he didnt like it when I absolved him…

    • Horace says:

      I agree with Mike –

      I did say “Going to Confession is (and was) never easy” and quoted from VCII “The rite and formulas of Penance are to be revised so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament.”

      NEVERTHELESS I cannot believe that confession [in the sense of speaking to a priest; acknowledging sins and asking for forgiveness] should be abolished – even though it may be emotionally difficult and embarrassing.
      Surely it is precisely this difficulty together with the requirement of penance (and the often neglected requirement of ‘satisfaction’) which is “the nature and effect of the sacrament”.
      Additionally, as I hinted, the traditional confessional in a darkened cubicle with priest and penitent separated by a grille (so that, at least in theory, the priest is unaware of the identity of the penitent) and the associated reassurance of the ‘seal of confession’; do something to help with this difficult but essential task.

      On the other hand very frequent confession does perhaps tend to trivialise and therefore devalue the exercise.

      Here is a quote from Tertullian:-
      “[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness” (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).

      Finally a question:-
      “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.(John 20:23)”. Why do we never hear about the second half of this declaration?

      • Quentin says:

        Your Tertullian quote interests me because he mentions modesty. A feature of Confession which is not present in the other sacraments is that some people by temperament find it extremely hard and embarrassing while others find it relatively easy. Bad news to die unshriven simply because one was too embarrassed! (Some people say that if you were not too embarrassed to commit the sin you should not be too embarrassed at confessing it. Which only tells us that some people know little about human nature.) It was for this reason that I thought general absolution was a good idea, although the intention to go to Confession at an early occasion was mandated in the case of mortal sin. It was kyboshed by JPII’s “Misericordia Dei” of April 7, 2002

  17. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    St John Vianney spent up to 15 hours a day in the confessional, the Pope confesses regularly, 19th century Anglicans were to defy the Protestant establishment by insisting on auricular confession, and yet based on anecdotal evidence of the rudeness of a long-dead priest, coupled with vague allusions to ‘a new understanding of theology’ – whose understanding, pray? – you pronounce magisterially that the Church will die unless She abandons an essential component of one of the Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ.

    I defy you to produce one sentence from any of the Council documents to support your tendentious opinions.

    • John Candido says:

      John Nolan.

      I have referred in previous posts what I think Vatican II says about a number of issues. It is worth reminding everyone that the language of Vatican II is necessarily a compromised and diplomatic one, which is not explicit. It rather, by necessity, is one that implicitly suggests potential reforms that future Vatican congregations and Popes would attend to, along with the entire people of God. The dignity of the laity, our conscience and our freedom of religion, are issues that are referred to by the Second Vatican Council.

      Apart from this, there is the work of countless theologians who have published papers on moral theology, the priesthood, the nature of the church, the laity, the human conscience, and our freedom of religion. All of these matters change the church by infinitely small degrees and by larger steps at times. It is the subtle confluence of these factors which is the backdrop of my statements concerning the ‘rude priest’ in the confession box, needing to be brought up to speed with an ‘Aggiornamento’.

      Like any organisation that has existed for a very long time, the church is not immune to the society that it finds itself. What I mean by this is that the Roman Catholic Church does not exist in a vacuum. The Catholic Church has always changed itself throughout history. A very important reason for the church’s changing nature is its interaction with society. To say otherwise is to live in a fantasy land. It is the same as saying that you can try to resist time itself by taking on the edifice and personality of a King Canute.

      We can all profit by that well-known 19th century English Catholic cleric called John Henry Cardinal Newman, who not only said,

      ‘Growth is the only evidence of life.’


      ‘If we insist on being as sure as is conceivable… we must be content to creep along the ground, and never soar.’


      ‘In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’

      Please have a look at a very recent interview of retiring Catholic Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, on the ABC national current affairs program called ‘Lateline’. Bishop Pat Power is one of the most beautiful men I have ever had the privilege to see and listen to on television.

      • Nektarios says:

        John Candido

        I liked the the quote by Blessed Cardinal JH Newman,
        `In the higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be
        perfect is to have changed often.’

        Quite so!

      • John Nolan says:

        Canute (King Cnut the Great 1016-1035) was a Catholic king of great piety who visited Rome more than once. What are you getting at?

      • John Candido says:

        John Nolan.

        Merely that King Canute (or Cnut) was a military leader of great ability and resoluteness. He conquered several countries and was eventually the King of Denmark, England, Norway, and parts of Sweden. It is farcical for even somebody as resolute and capable as Cnut the Great to try to resist time.

  18. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, regarding your earlier comment, as I understand it JPII in Misericordia Dei did not ‘kybosh’ the idea of General Absolution; he merely restated the (quite restrictive) conditions under which it can be used, in the face of widespread abuse of the practice. In the aftermath of Vatican II there was a mindset of “we know it’s not licit, but if we persist in it for long enough it will become so widespread that Rome will have to concede the point”. In the case of Communion in the hand and female servers this tactic paid off; in the case of GA it didn’t. You win some, you lose some – although in some cases (eg Bishop Morris of Toowoomba) you’re such a bad loser you carry on in obdurate disobedience and risk the consequences.

    • Quentin says:

      Yes, I am sure your reading is correct. However it appear at the time as though it might well spread and become permanent. I have to say that I valued it – although I can understand why JPII disliked it. .

  19. Iona says:

    John Candido –
    “Other Christian denominations do not have the practice of confession to a priest, parson, or minister, and they have not been undone by this practice”.
    I had a dear aunt who was high-church C. of E., and she used to go to confession.
    Interestingly, the church she attended (St. John’s, in Sevenoaks) has now become part of the Ordinariate. The mere fact of the Ordinariate suggests that the C.of E. is indeed unravelling, and that the bits of it which retain confession to a priest have now knitted themselves in to the Church of Rome.
    And surely the Orthodox Churches have confession? – Nektarios can confirm or disconfirm this.

    • Nektarios says:

      Yes, the Orthodox Church does have, and has always had confesssion.

      But you know, as I have read through the postings on this topic about confession,
      I almost despair.
      It takes a great deal of spiritual discernment to be a true Confessor to souls, not simply that they may have absolution from their sin, but spiritual direction to assist them make
      the right choices, right thinking, overcome the hurdles and the temptations. Such Confessors are few and far between about 1in 10,000.

      A true Confessor in the Orthodox Church is also a God-bearer, such truly confesses others in a spirit of Love, of gentleness of God, having the mind of God.
      This is quite a different thing from someone brought up in the Church who knows about confession, learns a few more tricks of the priestcraft game at Seminary, and so when ordained, thinks he has all that is necessary to confess others. I am afraid not.

      • mike Horsnall says:


        ” This is quite a different thing from someone brought up in the Church who knows about confession, learns a few more tricks of the priestcraft game at Seminary, and so when ordained, thinks he has all that is necessary to confess others. I am afraid not”

        As usual fine words, but tell me , when were you last in a catholic confessional?

  20. Iona says:

    As regards my earlier comment about self-assertiveness being difficult to reconcile with the humility needed for confession, and Nektarios wondering where this self-assertiveness has come from, it seems to have seeped into all aspects of social life via the “business model” which all organisations now appear to be basing themselves on. Everything has to be upbeat and aggressively positive. Courses of action are dictated by “what will look good on my CV”, not by what is a good thing to do in itself.

    That was an interesting link, Vincent, thank you. Particularly interesting as it dates form 2002 so can be looked at in the light of various things which have happened since then.

    • Nektarios says:

      Self- assertiveness has not simply seeped into all aspects of social life, it is actively pursued in Education, where one is hailed as a great pupil, the more independent, self-assertive and competitive they are. This is State conditioning of children.
      Having learned to be independent, self-assertive and highly competitive they behave
      like that in business and in Church – no the Church is not immune, nor are the priests either. When we walk into the Church, be we priest or parishioner, all that we are, all that we have been conditioned to be like in childhood and into adulthood, walks through the door with us.
      Such independent , self-assertive and highly competitive characterizes much of the behaviour within the Church from the highest to the lowest. Lord have mercy!

      • Nektarios says:

        Sorry about the mistake I made.
        2nd last line should read: Being so independent, self assertive……..

  21. Brian Hamill says:

    Perhaps one of the reasons not mentioned above for the drop off in the use of the Sacrament of Confession is that the word ‘Reconciliation’ really does express its central meaning. Historically it was known at the beginning as ‘the second plank of salvation’ since it was the way that the Lapsi, those who had buckled under persecution and dropped their grain of incense in adoration of the Emperor, were reconciled with the Church after the persecution was over. It was only available once, any relapse and that was it. This is brought out when the heretics of mediaeval times were allowed one abjuration, not two. Any relapse meant the stake. It was only under the influence of the monastic tradition with its striving for ever greater personal perfection that it became used in the way we are familiar with today. I agree with the view that the most important thing about the Sacrament is the element of ‘satisfaction’ which includes the element ‘firm purpose of amendment’. The proof, and only proof, of true repentance is the change in one’s behaviour, perhaps over a length of time. To be constantly reminded of our fundamentally trivial faults does not help. It just gets boring and far too introspective. The withdrawal from Confession, and even from the Eucharist, by many Catholics is simply a sign that they do not find God in the event. We all need to keep in mind what these Sacraments are for: to give us the support and encouragement to keep going in a broken world as a broken human being. If they do not do that, then they are failing and the authorities in the Church should recognise this and seek solutions. It is all to easy to blame self-assertiveness as the reason for present attitudes. Like most things human, the causes are many. Proper openness to both the good and bad in both the world and the Church is necessary for true renewal. God bless the Holy Spirit! He keeps on working his miracles of grace whatever our flawed natures throw at him.

  22. mike Horsnall says:

    Brian, June 12 12.51pm
    I’m very sorry but I cant quite see what your point is here

  23. Nektarios says:

    mike Horsnall

    As my wife is a Roman Catholic, I am often to be found in the Cathedral here, know all the priests, converse with them regularly.
    As to your question when I was I last in a catholic confessional – about two weeks ago, but it was not a Roman Catholic confessional, but an Orthodox Confessional, which is truly Catholic!

  24. mike Horsnall says:

    Nice bit of ducking and weaving there I see…!

  25. Iona says:

    Brian – “The withdrawal from Confession, and even from the Eucharist, by many Catholics is simply a sign that they do not find God in the event.”
    Nevertheless, God IS in the event, even if they feel they haven’t found him. We should be suspicious of being swayed by our feelings, as indeed by our lack of them. It’s a very small step from “not finding God” to declaring “Mass is boring, so I’m not going”.

    Looking critically at “fundamentally trivial faults”, which persist no matter how firm one’s purpose of amendment, can eventually lead to a new perspective on one’s life as a whole.

    • Brian Hamill says:

      Fair point Iona; nevertheless we live in an age when feelings have a very strong emphasis, maybe an over-emphasis. In the past ‘feelings’ were almost totally ignored. That is not the world our children live in; what they seek is an experience of God. That is why the Evangelical Churches tend to be full since they too emphasise the experience of Jesus in the Services. For too long we have said, ‘What was ok for us must be ok for you, and, if it isn’t, then that is your problem, not ours’. It is time we asked them ‘What gives you an experience of God?’ and listen carefully to the answer. I can pretty well guarentee it is not just ‘happy songs’; it is being a member of a Community which MANIFESTLY believes. Are you of a generation to remember the 15 minutes ‘speed’ Mass? I knew of two priests who aspired to the record (shortest, not longest) for a Mass. No wonder a young person once walked out of a Sunday Mass and said simply, ‘He doesn’t believe it’. The priest may well have believed in what he was doing, but, he did not MANIFESTLY believe. The Sacraments are about manifestion, giving us an experience of Jesus’ total love for each of every one of us. That is a real challenge, not only to the priests but to us all.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        During my National Service in the mid-1950s on a mixed-nationality base, the American chaplain regularly got through a weekday Mass in 15 minutes. I don’t remember any suggestion of his lacking faith; but then I never expected any “experience” of God.

      • Quentin says:

        Mid 50s National Service. Yes I remember it well. Particularly the Sunday morning in Austria after I had fallen into bed at 6am – and the mess sergeant, a Methodist, shooed me out of bed to get to the garrison chapel for 8 am Mass. He understood about Sacrament for Catholics. And he taught me something about it, too.

      • Brian Hamill says:

        Yes, Quentin, but could your faith have sustained that sort of approach week on week, month on month, year on year? We all have extraordinary experiences of this type but if they become ‘ordinary’ then something is going wrong somewhere.

  26. Iona says:

    Nektarios, are you aware of any essential differences between Confession in the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches?

    • Nektarios says:

      I have never been in a Roman Catholic Confessional, but what I said to you on the 12 th
      June is the truth about true confessors in the Orthodox Churches is but a flavour of it.

      The average Orthodox Church priest have a holistic approach to Confession with a whole patristic psychology to assist them and the Holy Tradition in its purest form.
      But like I said on the 12th, those Confessors that have such spiritual discernent as well as all the basic tools I have mentioned, are only about 1 in 10,000.
      I cannot speak about the RC Confessional out of personal experience, but I get the flavour of some of the experiences people have experinced on the blog.

  27. mike Horsnall says:

    Brian Hamill,

    I was many years in the Evangelical Church. Once you get beyond the froth there is a definite emptiness filled by strong community bonds within the churches and a simle to follow legalistic framework for comfort-it supplies the needs of many but a lot get fed up and leave. As to the sacraments-they are indeed as you say but the manifest nature is not an external one-I really don’t think this can be taught-you eiterh sense the ‘goodness’ of eucharist or you packin going for awhile.

    Regarding Roman Catholic confessionals-My experience of – regular confession every month or two-over the past 4-5 years -with several priests as confessors- has been almost universally positive. Reconciliation, in my experience is a divine issue of grace. A sensitive confessor may be a help but is not neccessary for the sacrament to be effective-it is effective because it is a sacrament and obedience produces its own fruit…We must not get too pernickity about these things or over mystify them-pray about what you need to confess-bung it down on a bit of papaer, take it with you and read out what you have written-get absolved , throw the piece of paper in a nearby bin-go home and start again…period.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      PS Nektarios, No you don’t ‘get the flavour of’ confession in a roman Catholic confessional…you either understand it through experience or you fabricate, don’t kid yourself.

      • Nektarios says:

        mike Horsnall

        As I said Mike, th flavour I was getting of Roma CatholicCofession is the flavour of it presented on the blog, so it is Roman catholics who are saying what they say on this subject.
        From an Orthodox point of view, I just gave a flavour of what a priest has and uses in confession, the tools at his disposal, and then, there are those rare souls who have the gifts of discernment.
        Please don’t reduce this conversation on Confession down to the level of comparison or a competition, – ours is better than yours.
        I don’t want to play that game -sorry Mike!

    • Brian Hamill says:

      I must, since I do not have your ‘Evangelical’ experience, honour your own account. I am not at all sure, talking to Evangelical friends of mine, that it is a universal one. What they so often have is a very strong biblical sense which sustains them; perhaps this is because they do not have the sacramental theology and practice as Catholics do. What is central to their lives is a very vivid and personal experience of Jesus’ love for them. I do not, of course, maintain that this experience is peculiar to the Evangelical Churches but the simplicity of that experience often is. It is the true evangelical experience of Jesus’ disciples, especially after the Death and Resurrection event, and what they took to the world as the ‘Good News’. Over the many centuries the Christian Religion has built up many supports for this ‘vision’ and experience of God’s love for us in Jesus, most obviously in the Sacraments. However the Sacraments are rituals which need bringing to manifest life through the actions and attitudes of those who administer them, the clergy, and those who receive them, the whole People of God. ‘Ex opere operato’ is the final fall-back position for the efficacy of the Sacracraments; too often perhaps it has been get-out clause to save us from putting in the effort to bring the whole process to the sort of life which is so utterly attractive. At its best, the Eucharist, and I do not necessarily mean a Papal Solemn Mass, is an incredible blazing light of glory and grace. At its worst, it requires the deepest faith to penetrate to its riches. Can we expect our young people to have that sort of faith?

  28. mike Horsnall says:

    Manifestly not as several RC churches in our area have almost no one in them under 28!
    Oddly enough though my 17 year old daughter comes along with us completely freely-something draws her because the services-classed and ranked as entertainment -are utterly dire. I enjoyed what you call “the true evangelical experience” for many years and it did indeed take me to the far corners of the earth where I heard and saw great things….Yet wading into the deeper water of sacrament has led me to a level of knowing God that I simply didnt know existed. I’m not playing one form against the other because they are both valid and redolent and I do agree that they way we portray ourselves as catholics is in some way withered and attenuated- particularly given our beliefs. I think the evangelical vision expects more from God in terms of concrete experience—and I think this is good. On the other hand there exists a terrible pressure in the Evangelical wing to conform to these raised expectations which quickly leads to disillusion and despair should experienced reality fall short or be found wanting. .

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