Some Catholic stats and surprises… Fr. Z rants

I think we all know that some sectors of the Church’s life, in the USA at least, though better than in many places in the world have nevertheless been devastated in the last 40 years.

We know this is true from our observations.

You know the old adage that the plural of anecdote is data.

Well… it is and it isn’t.

But the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) is gathering data in a more – I hope – precise way.

With interesting results.

For example… Catholic population in the USA is going up and so is, – surprise – Mass attendance.

U.S. Data 1965 1975
Total priests 58,632 58,909 57,317 49,054 45,699 42,839 40,666
Diocesan priests 35,925 36,005 35,052 32,349 30,607 28,702 27,594
Religious priests 22,707 22,904 22,265 16,705 15,092 14,137 13,072
Priestly ordinations 994 771 533 511 442 454 472
Graduate-level seminarians 8,325 5,279 4,063 3,172 3,474 3,308 3,357
Permanent deacons na  898 7,204 10,932 12,378 14,574 16,380
Religious brothers 12,271 8,625 7,544 6,535 5,662 5,451 4,863
Religious sisters 179,954 135,225 115,386 90,809 79,814 68,634 59,601
Parishes 17,637 18,515 19,244 19,331 19,236 18,891 18,280
Without a resident priest pastor
549 702 1,051 2,161 2,843 3,251 3,400
Where a bishop has entrusted the pastoral care of the parrish to a deacon, religious sister or brother, or other lay person (Canon 517.2)
na na 93 314 447 553 517
Catholic population 45.6m 48.7m 52.3m 57.4m 59.9m 64.8m 65.2m
Percent of U.S. population 24% 23% 23% 23% 22% 23% 22%
Catholic elementary schools

Students in Catholic elementary schools
Catholic secondary schools
1,624 1,425 1,280
Students in Catholic secondary schools
Mass Attendance
CARA Catholic Poll (CCP): Yearly average percent of Catholics who say they attended Mass once a week or more (i.e., those attending every week) in CARA’s telephone polls.

Comparison: The Gallup Poll trend for the  yearly average percent of Catholics who say they attended Mass in the last seven days (i.e., those attending in any given week). 


*Most recent estimates of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). School data for previous years is from the ASE.


I would like to see the stats about how often people go to confession.

But wait!  We may have them too!

Fascinating and demoralizing reading.

Three-quarters of Catholics report that they never participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation or that they do so less than once a year.

About one in eight Catholics (12 percent), participate in Reconciliation once a year and an identical proportion do so several times a year. Two percent report that they participate in Reconciliation at least once a month. Results of a 2005 poll conducted by CARA with Knowledge Networks show similar patterns of participation in this sacrament.

The differences in frequency of Mass attendance and age really show a huge divergence.

Also, respondents were asked the extent to which they agree or disagree with each of five statements about forgiveness and the sacrament of Reconciliation.

• About six in ten respondents agree at least “somewhat” that they can be a good Catholic
without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least yearly. One-third agree
• Just over half of Catholics agree that by going to Confession and making acts of
contrition and penance, they are reconciled with God and the Church. One-quarter agree
• Slightly fewer, just under half of Catholics, agree that acts of penance such as prayer or
fasting are necessary for forgiveness of sins.
• Only one-quarter of Catholics agree that the Reconciliation is only necessary for
forgiveness of very serious sins, with fewer than one in ten agreeing “strongly.”


More than six in ten weekly Mass attenders (62 percent) say they participate in Reconciliation at least once a year, compared to 37 percent of those attending Mass less than weekly but at least once a month and only 6 percent of those attending less often.

We have a lot of work to do.

Here is an overarching observation after looking at the results for a while.

There is a HUGE difference of "opinion" on the part of Catholics about what the meaning and effect of sacramental confession is according to frequency of Mass attendance.

We have got to

  • get people into Church,
  • give them liturgical worship which leaves them astounded and fascinated,
  • and start preaching the basics.

Fallen away Catholics…. what do we do to get them back into the fold?

There has to be help from marketing here.. no?  Am I wrong?

And then once they are back in the door…. what do they experience? 

We know that churches with strong community programs tend to draw lots of people in.

We all know people who are fallen away, but how many can respond to the objections they toss at you with anything like coherence or accuracy?

When is the last time you invited someone to go to Mass or to come along for regularly scheduled confession times?

Don’t get me started on priests who won’t hear confessions.  They are dying off… finally… but they are still around.

Okay… I’m ranting… I’ll stop now.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. RichardT says:

    There’s a worrying 38% of people who are coming to Mass every Sunday, but not going to confession even once a year.

    Seems that as well as getting people back through the door, the Church has got to preach to the ones it’s already got! Although perhaps that will be easier if there are more new faces in the congregation.

  2. Paul M says:

    looking at the CARA site, I was interested to see that the US has 43.8% of the world’s permanent deacons and that the total of priests + permanent deacons is approx. 57K, or approximately the number of total priests in 1995 (before it really fell off a cliff). Just wondering if there is any evidence if the permanent diaconate has impacted the number of priests….

  3. Supertradmom says:

    Can we start with seminary training? An older vocation I know at a Midwest Seminary told me that the seminarians are being taught to be “nice” and not scare people away by preaching on hard topics, such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc. The churches in his seminary’s diocese have, as a rule, only one-half hour once a week for Confession, or “by appointment” with the priest. Who is going to make an appointment for Confession, except regular receivers of the Sacrament? He is discouraged and feels that sin is being soft-pedaled even in his training. St. John Chrysostom said that the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bad priests. [So people say… but I haven’t seen a citation for that.] I believe this statement was repeated by other saints to include bishops. The only two secular priests I know who encourage the sacrament of Confession are both Traditional Latin Mass priests. They also, thank God, preach old fashion sermons on sin.

    The worst scenario was a priest who, when I phoned for an appointment, told me that hearing Confessions was “not his thing” and that I should contact another parish.

  4. AML says:

    Perhaps what I love most about the National Shrine in DC is the hours and hours of confessions heard there every week. Just about any time of day any time during the week, I can pop over for confession.

  5. vox borealis says:


    You beat me to it! I had an online debate a couple of years back—maybe on—about this very topic. Of course I was flamed for suggesting that potential priests (i.e., those who would have opted for the priesthood in the past) might simply get married and opt for the permanent diaconate. Not all of them, of course, but it must have *some* impact, no?

  6. That’s really sad about three quarters of Catholics avoiding confession. They have no idea what they’re missing out on. Aside from the many graces you receive, regular confession is just an indespensible element of Catholic culture, of our identity as Catholics. Confession is manly and fun. Among my circle of friends who make use of frequent and regular confession, I think we share a bond that those who avoid confession do not share.

  7. Supertradmom says:

    I shall try and pinpoint the quotation. My motto is never criticize a priest unless you pray for him daily.

  8. Desertfalcon says:

    The confession statistic is really troubling. I go about every two weeks on average I would guess and it is always nearly without a line or anyone even present in the church, yet on Sundays, the line for Holy Communion is full. Maybe all these people are just better Catholics than I am, but I usually can’t go much more than a week without some sin that needs to be confessed. I’m bad.

  9. archambt says:

    First-though the number of Catholics is increasing, its important to note that we’re decreasing as a percentage of the population (or more remaining still). Thus, our increase doesn’t seem that notable.

    Second-I think we have to take the time to explain the real basics of the faith to people. We’re jumping the gun if we start telling people why abortion, homosexuality, etc., is wrong, when they don’t have have a basic religious formation. If you don’t understand what is really at stake with these issue theologically/morally/doctrinal, a parishioner is more like view this as moralizing. Perhaps worse that, you’ll get a group of people who proclaim it, but can’t theologically defend it, which may hurt our cause.

    I’m not saying one should avoid the issue. But its a brick by brick process (one that might avoid the word abortuary, I might add).

  10. david andrew says:

    We have got to

    * get people into Church,
    * give them liturgical worship which leaves them astounded and fascinated,
    * and start preaching the basics.

    Fr. Z: This ties in nicely with the post about the priest who refused to preach in the absence of the deacon who was apparently assigned to preach that Sunday.

    This was the point of my comment in that thread, namely, it would be a great benefit if priests would disabuse themselves of the belief that they should preach “clever” homilies and start preaching “the basics”!

    Q.E.D., I think.

  11. david andrew says:

    My apologies for the odd formatting of my post, above. There’s something strange about the “blockquote” function that I can’t seem to work around.

  12. An American Mother says:

    To some extent there’s a chicken-and-egg thing going on here in our parish with confessions.

    All our priests consistently address the need for the Sacrament in their homilies.

    The attendance for our Advent and Lenten penance services is astounding. Our rector assembles a dozen priests to assist him in hearing confessions, and the lines extend all the way out into the narthex.

    But when I show up on Saturday afternoons (the schedule is nominally for an hour, but in fact runs until everyone is heard), sometimes the place is jammed (25-30 people in line or in the pews) and sometimes there’s nobody there but me.

    I’ve talked to our rector about this, wondering if he could add another time, perhaps during the week. He said he had considered it, but because attendance is so unpredictable he doesn’t want to take himself or one of his two parochial vicars off other duties just to sit and wait. I understand where he is coming from, because it seems like all of them are on the run constantly in this very large and very active parish.

    And as he pointed out, all you have to do is ask and there’s always a priest around (the rectory is right next door). This is true, because my daughter has come home from college and screeched into the parking lot fifteen minutes before Mass, and one of the priests has always been willing to hear her confession (she hates going at college, but that’s a long and involved story. Weird Jesuit parish.)

    I’m not sure what the solution is.

  13. johnnyboy says:

    Diocesan priests 1965 2009

    35,925 – 27,594 = 8,331

    Religious priests 1965 2009

    22,707 – 13,072 = 9,635

    8,331 + 9,635 = 17,966

    Permanent deacons 2009 16,380

    how do you destroy the priesthood restore Permanent diaconate

    The “Freemasons” are real smart

  14. smallone says:

    Could someone tell me the rationale used by priests who won’t hear confessions?? I am under the impression that there are some priests who really rather wouldn’t. But that’s just an impression.

    Our parish has regular confession times as well as seasonal penance services. Things are pretty full. I try to avoid patting myself on the back for being there, personally…

  15. Maltese says:

    What do you expect? You take the mystery–the Sacrifice–out of Catholicism, and what do you have? Abracadabra: you have the novus ordo, and a wholesale defection from it to protestant sects (or nothing at all.) The Bugnini happy meal (diet mass) watered Christ’s eternal Sacrifice down into a “banal, on the spot product,” in the words of then Cardinal Ratzinger. So, when one is done being entertained by the normal garbage at most diocesan churches, where does one go? Well, normally, they just went home, and stopped attending….

  16. Sedgwick says:

    “Astounded and fascinated”??? Good Lord, no! That’s utter sensationalism. [Only if you are determined to misread what I wrote.] How about humbled and grateful to be in the presence of God? How about how unworthy we are? How about reducing people to tears amidst the realization of their sinfulness, and God’s mercy? How about the boundless joy at beholding the elevated Host? [That’s nice. I wonder how it applies to newcomers or those who need to be brought back to Holy Church? Try attaining what you describe in an abuse filled Mass.]

  17. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    Having spent most of my formative years in an OF parish in a comfortable suburb, I think the reason why fewer and fewer Catholics go to Confession is that they see their Protestant friends, coworkers, etc. looking at the concept of going to Confession once a week as “weird” – and they, not wanting to be seen as not conforming to the majority, buy in to the whole Evangelical pabulum that passes for their doctrine on sin. And it’s not as if the priests aren’t begging people to come to confession before recieving the Body and Blood of Our Lord – the topic comes up with some regularity. The problem is that a lot of parishioners seem to be more concerned with keeping up with the (Protestant, well-to-do) Joneses than doing right by Christ.

    As for priests not having more time to hear confessions, at least for my parish, it’s rooted in the fact that the priest-to-parishioner ratio is not exactly favorable – basically with five or six thousand parishioners, and only two priests in the parish, well, it’s like trying to keep 100 balloons from hitting the ground and being the only one tasked with the job. Since neither of the parish priests has the graces associated with bilocation, things get a little hectic.

  18. JonM says:

    I agree with the other posters that the permanent deaconate is not helping vocations. It’s not the only thing, but it is partly to blame.

    It is a big deal to give up ever being married. When other disciplines are abused or ignored (ehem, EMHCs, lay councils bossing around priests, e.g.), and other men kind of act like a priest, it is ever harder to make this commitment.

    Those who have made this sacrifice since VII, I think, have a special gift that is… ineffable.

    There has to be a top to bottom cleaning process. To be clear, I am not judging Popes John XXIII to John Paul II; but during their pontificates some of the worst abuses and wholesale loss of the faithful occurred. If we are not already, we need to be thanking God for Pope Benedict and pray that his successor will carry on the mantles of Christian Unity and Christian Continuity.

    As my Pastor Vicar commented, I am a convert filled with the fire of spirit…With that in mind, here are my thoughts:

    1) No Confession, No Communion. People aren’t stupid, they are just confused. If Communion is just a social ritual, they are not going to confess their failings let alone their dark problems to a priest. Instill in them that the Eucharist is Jesus Himself and we must prepare ourselves for Him, we will win back souls.

    2) Liturgy. It should be inspiring, awesome, and mysterious. People need to feel that Mass is special and extraordinary. If it is just another bit of banal life, then why aspire for sainthood?

    3) Proper definition of participation. We don’t have to criss-cross the Sanctuary or sing gooey Haugen (heretical) nonsense to ‘participate.’ I really wonder how many people could honestly answer what the readings were about within five minutes of leaving an Ordinary Form Mass. The TLM sprang up organically and has proven itself as the truest means of offering Mass and letting us unite ourselves with Christ.

    4) Catholic schools. This is a sore spot; a great bulk of them is spreading total, abject heresy. If we cannot get things right in our own schools, we are not serious about being disciples and evangelists.

    5) Dissenters, lay, religious, and priests, need to be given the choice of the Church or their (incorrect) personal views. I almost shut down thinking about how I have given horrible advice to people on moral issues, how I have injured others with my sins. Christ warned us about those who scatter the flock. I just cannot imagine the extent of damage scandal has caused the faithful. If Hans Kung et al want to take jabs at Anglicans converting to the one true faith, they should do so without any connection with the Church.

    6) Evangelize. Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Secularists, Buddhists, Hindus, animists. Evangelize like the world depends on it (it does). Part and parcel of this is living Christ always, knowing our faith, and loving our faith. If the Church is the one true faith, we need to act like it and want to share it with everyone!

    I think the next Pope (my money is on a Pius XIII) will perform these tough actions after Benedict’s mountain clearing. On the one hand, many, many will leave the Church in a formal sense. But this will separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Not only will those remaining be better served, but we will be able to witness to the world. We can’t be afraid to mention to a co-worker or client that we are Catholics, love Latin Mass, etc. Everyone is our brother and sister and we should want everyone to reach salvation.

  19. stilicho says:

    They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. Sure things are bad, but they are changing for the better slowly but surely. At every turn there are orthodox priests being raised to the office of bishop and I have seen with my own eyes an increase of vocations in my diocese. Many of these young men are very orthodox in their belief and by their example will only continue to encourage others to follow. Don’t despair, but pray for vocations.

  20. Jack Hughes says:

    I know that this isn’t always possable but at the FSSP parish i attend we are fortunate enough to have two priests so that confessions are heard half an hour prior to, during and half an hour after Mass, half decant catechises and RCIA would also be good, why oh why did I only learn about half the faith after I started attending the Old Rite, bought a good 1962 Missal (with EVERYTHING in it) and taught myself from it?

    PS with regards to the marketing side of it I am studying for a degree in it (My FSSP parish priest jokes that I market Tradition to my N.O friends)

  21. TJerome says:

    The statistic I found the most interesting (and surprising) was that there was a small increase in the number of priests in the US from 1965 to 1975 but there was a pretty significant drop in the number of nuns between those years. I would have believed that there was a significant drop in the number of priests in that period as well, based on my recollection of the defections from the priesthood which the “mainstream” media regularly reported (almost daily) in those years. I am most encouraged by the small uptick in the number of priestly ordinations in recent years. I believe that a growing interest in traditional Catholicism is making an impact. Tom

  22. One could argue that going to confession is less convenient than it was, say, half a century ago. [Though we can all admit that hell will be very very inconvenient.]

    Back then, it was not uncommon — in fact, I believe it was the norm — for a priest to be in the confessional during the time before the Mass, while others were preparing his vesture. [Click here.] Or an assisting priest would continue to hear confessions while the Mass was going on. (That’s how it’s done at Old St Mary’s in DC, and it’s infinitely superior.) Confessions at a different time or “by appointment” were less common, if not unheard of. People with demands of job and family (and I don’t mean to suggest this applies to all of you, so don’t start with me!) might find it difficult to pencil in an undetermined amount of time to be standing in line on a weeknight or a Saturday afternoon. Add to that, the fact that you can’t just walk to a parish down the street, now that America has succeeded in requiring a car and traversing through a Wal-Mart sized parking lot to reach darn near anything anymore.

    I could write a book on some of the really stupid experiences I’ve had in a confessional. It’s the one place in the world where a guy can be a complete jerk and you can’t rat on him. Why? The seal of the confessional. You thought it only protected you? Oh no. I know a guy who confessed to having suicidal thoughts and was berated to no end by the priest, who ended by saying, “Now say your act of contrition. It may be your last.” Don’t you just wanna pummel a guy like that?

    Looking at the study in this post, notice how the usual vocations-are-dropping-like-flies mantra doesn’t necessarily hold up, as the drop is slowing. It doesn’t show how in some parts of the country, the numbers are actually going up.

    How often do I go to confession? Assuming it’s any of your beeswax, anywhere from every other week to every three or four months. And I never go to the parish where I belong. I don’t have to.

    There. That’s MY rant.

  23. bubba says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I really think education of the faithful is the key. It’s not that people don’t want to know, it’s that they have NEVER been TAUGHT or have not been taught what’s important. You have to stop assuming that people KNOW what Catholic means anymore. Many people who post here have been largely self taught or have been trained by other more senior members who were using the TLM when they were younger.

    If we fail to save this information from these sources that are literally some of our only monuments and pass it to people who can teach it to others, we fail in our obligation as Catholics.

    -Preach the basics

    -Teach us what we really need to know-assuming we know nothing or that we have incorrect/incomplete knowlege

    -Show us how to act
    and we will follow and teach others in turn

  24. Girgadis says:

    “Though we can all admit that hell will be very very inconvenient”


  25. DavidJ says:

    In addition to being better evangelists outside the home, let’s not forget to be good ones inside our home and families. If your kids don’t see you being an upright man and a faithful Catholic, then God only knows how they’ll grow up to be one.

  26. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    manwithblackhat: Even if confession isn’t offered every day, most priests will still at the very least offer it on Saturday afternoons. I don’t know about you, but most people aren’t at work on a Saturday afternoon. Now you may have a point with the old and infirm, however, but for the majority of us who aren’t wheelchair-bound, I’d like to think our soul is worth much more than the cost of gas that it takes to drive to church on a Saturday afternoon. The problem seems to be less that people can’t go to Confession for whatever reason, but that they don’t WANT to, usually out of ignorance of its necessity.

    As for the uptick in priestly vocations, that is indeed an encouraging sign, but as has been said before, the numbers concerning women religious are appalling indeed. I new that there was a decline, but that drastic? We’re losing 10,000 of them every three years – if present trends on that front continue, by the time I’m raising a family, there’ll be almost no women religious left in this country, which is by any measure a blow to the effectiveness of the Church.

  27. Maltese says:

    “They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. Sure things are bad, but they are changing for the better slowly but surely. At every turn there are orthodox priests being raised to the office of bishop and I have seen with my own eyes an increase of vocations in my diocese. Many of these young men are very orthodox in their belief and by their example will only continue to encourage others to follow. Don’t despair, but pray for vocations.”

    That’s a great half-glass full outlook, but Catholicism in America is a Zero-sum gain for the foreseeable future. Sure, there is a vocal minority raising the colors, battening the hatches, and otherwise preparing for the encroaching modernist onslaught.

    My dear friend, you must be Alice in Wonderland if you think things are so cheery out there. But, still, your optimism is inspiring, even if it’s like Custer’s last hurrah.

    Things are really rather pathetic in today’s workaday parishes. In the last three years, I have been to mass on both coasts, every time-zone inbetween, and in Europe, and I can list abuses as long as my arm. I’ve had priests hitting on me during confession (I’m told I’m “young looking” and “attractive” for my age,) telling me contraception is OK, and otherwise horrifying me at every turn. I have a son, three daughters, and another daughter on the way, so these freaks freak me out.

    But here’s my point: I’m disgusted by many of the hierarchy and priests out there. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Honestly, I feel most comfortable in our local SSPX chapel. I used to abhor the idea of going there, but I almost can’t help myself, lest I lose my faith. I just, really, find so much of Novus Ordo Catholicism ridiculous, and their priests come-along men, fulfilling whatever desire the pseudo-protestant worshippers in that particular diocese want. The parishoners (think Kerry country) walk like protestants, quack like protestants, contracept and abort like protestants, and yet, they have a welcoming parish home, totally “in-communion” with the Catholic church. Yet, SSPX, does everything right, and yet gets the shaft!

    I swear to God I think SSPX is in the right, and Lefebvre may one day be a Saint. Yet, I still can’t bring myself to become one of them; curious.

  28. Excuse me, there are 65 million Catholics in this country? If there were 65 million, there would be no abortion as they would vote all the pro-aborts out. There are 16,380 permanent deacons? Parishes with no priests? Catholics don’t seek forgiveness in Confession? Why would they be bothered? A Novus Ordo funeral “mass” sermon: “John is in heaven already and looking down on us. He and Jesus are preparing places for everyone in this church. God is so forgiving He could never consign anyone to hell. It is just for the fallen angels”. No layman ever asked for Vatican II. We were just fine, thank you very much. Just look at Fr. Z’s article on marriage in the Diocese of Phoenix and the reasons they have tightened the requirements.

  29. Well, from my experience, here are some NEVER DO’s for priests out there:

    1)never yell at someone in confession, no matter what they confess. This has happened to me several times, I am there for mercy not to be yelled at or berated for what I am bringing to the sacrament.

    2) Don’t tap your feet or make the “hurry up” sign with your hands the curtain (in some parishes) isn’t that thick and I used to do shadow puppetry. If I ask for confession and you don’t have time tell me that don’t sigh heavily, roll your eyes and say “alright”. Tell me you don’t have time because of another commitment. But all in all don’t rush people, some sins are hard to get out.

    3) Don’t lie to me in the confessional, I am informed not an idiot I know the conditions of a mortal sin so if I am confessing something like oh say breaking the 2nd commandment don’t tell me that it isn’t a mortal sin.

    4) Mortal sins aren’t the only things I can confess, I am allowed to confess venial sins too so don’t jump on me about it.

    5) don’t talk about it or even allude to hearing a person’s confession no matter how “anonymous” of a spin you put on it If that person knows you are talking about them or their confession even if you don’t say “Jane Doe confessed XYZ” that person will NEVER go to you for confession again and may darn near never go again at all.

    6)Some of us are nervous even if we go weekly, give us a minute don’t jump on us because we are trying to remember something

    7) If someone needs to reference a list as a reminder, don’t chastise them for it. Some of us suffer from CRS (can’t remember S***) and it has nothing to do with not doing a proper examine.

    8) Don’t glare at people for going face to face, many would prefer not to but because of bad knees or failing hearing they may need to.

    9) Don’t chastise someone for going to confession too frequently especially when they are bringing mortal sins to confession, if they need to go daily they should go daily to fight what ever sin is hounding them.


  30. catholicuspater says:

    Just wanted to point out that if the population of Catholics in 1965 was 45.6m and in 2009 was 65.2m, this is dramatic proof of the devastation caused by contracepting Catholics in the last four decades. An increase of only 20 million Catholics in 44 years???

    This doesn’t factor in the huge influx of mostly Catholic illegal immigrants in the last decades which have considerably beefed up the Catholic population. In fact, the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is estimated to be . . . 20 million.

    So, if you subtract the illegal immigrants, there is actually no increae at ll in the native Catholic population after 44 years. We are in rapid demographic freefall.

  31. Tim Ferguson says:

    I think it’s a fallacious statement to argue that the restoration of the diaconate as a stable vocation rather than a step to the priesthood has led to a decline in the number of priests. It’s a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, unless the critics have personally interviewed deacons and found that a significant number of them have foregone pursuing a vocation to the priesthood in favor of getting married and becoming a deacon.

  32. Girgadis says:


    I have a different take. Yelling is never appropriate (unless of course, a nut is threatening the priest and I have unfortuantely been a witness to such behavior). However, there are times when I have been too glib about my confession and the confessor appropriately cut me down to size. A dose of humility in the confessional is called for sometimes, and I guess I’m fortunate to have only encountered priests who knew exactly when to dish it out to me.

    What’s more, as I am not a priest, I can’t speak for how all priests feel about this, but I have heard of people being reminded that the confessional is not a therapy session. Rather than monopolize the box for 20 minutes or more while others are waiting in line, some folks should schedule an appointment for confession so they can either be counseled by the priest or referred to a professional. Why can’t people just say what sin they committed and if Father wants to know more, he can ask? As an example, is it not sufficient simply to say ” I committed the sin of detraction 2 times” and if Father needs you to elaborate, he’ll ask?

    If you have been admonished for confessing venial sins, that is most unfortunate. That’s the last time I’d go to that priest for confession, if it could be helped. I am a “frequent flyer” in that I like to go to confession at least once a week and I have never encountered such a reaction. Perhaps there is more to it than that? With that said, I never fail to thank a priest for administering this sacrament to me. I’m lucky to live within walking distances of two parishes that offer almost daily confessions and despite the frequent frustration of waiting behind someone who takes a long time, I consider it a small price to pay for so generous a gift. Sorry if I sounded preachy, only you know best what your experiences have been.

  33. adeodato says:

    I thought data was the plural of datum?

  34. The Astronomer says:

    Sadly, the data points to the very real danger of “Soft Apostasy…”…sorta like apostasy induced via gradual tranquilizer. In this case, the tranquilizer is “the Spirit of Vatican Two.”

  35. polski says:

    In Chicago there is a marketing/ad campaign for Catholics Come Home @ you can check out the marketing for yourself. I don’t know if this is a campaign being done all over or just here in Chicago. They are advertising on Fox and all the big networks. Being that I’m not fallen away, I don’t know if these ads would really bring me back. They seem dramatic and fake. So marketing????, sure if it’s well thought out perhaps some intervention of the holy spirit would be needed! (: What about Eucharistic Adoration???

    Also,confession is so important. Alot of my non catholic friends or non practicing catholics always ask me about confession, of course I would also go on my lunch and say something like don’t upset me and make me mad,(; I just went to confession so they would know that I went. And people are always amazed that I go more often then most people they know. And i think they’re curious because maybe if they’re catholic they really want to go but need to know it’s not horrible. I alway take advantage of that and say I LOVE CONFESSION! It’s the best. In short (I know too late)sometimes a great example is the best way. I’m very blessed to have 10-15 churches all within walking distance or a quick bus ride away. Most of the churches still have confession once a week, mostly on Saturdays. However there are two Churches who give regular confession, one of which is right downtown in the loop St Peters during the weekday from 10am-6:30 pm not sure on the weekend hours. I work downtown so this is wonderful. Also St. John Cantius which also has the TLM.

  36. Yes, I was wide awake for the catechism lesson that described hell, and I’m old enough to remember when they made a point of it (at which time “inconvenient” would have been putting it mildly). I was speaking of, and making a case for, past practice, as opposed to defending the sloth of the present day. I take my confessional habits pretty seriously, giving careful attention to my examen before entering the confessional.

    Which is also to say, I wouldn’t mind in the least the practice of hearing confessions during Mass, whichever form is used.

  37. vox borealis says:

    Tim Ferguson,

    Off course it’s a post hoc, propter hoc argument. But nonetheless, the coincidence is suggestive: the rise in the number of deacons (as a result of the restoration of the permanent diaconate) closely matches the decline in the number of priest. Do I think that the diaconate is entirely to “blame” for the drop in priestly vocations? No way. Do I strongly suspect that *some* priests have been “lost” to the permanent diaconate over the last 20 years or so? You bet.

    The number of parishes without a resident pastor jumped from around 700 in 1975 to around 3400 in 2009, an increase of 2700 parishes. The number of permanent deacons rose from 900 to 16000 over that same time frame, an increase of about 15000. If only one in five men who opted for the permanent diaconate had instead chosen the proesthood, those priestless parishes might have a resident pastor.

    I have no evidence, of course, but is it unreasonable even to speculate that 5% or 10% or 20% of the deacons since 1975 would have chosen the priesthood if there was no permanent diaconate?

  38. michelelyl says:

    Invite people to the sacrament of reconciliation. Educate them from the pulpit that it is a sacrament of healing. Homilies should be instructive, compelling and short. It’s a good start.

  39. Jaybirdnbham says:

    Seeing those statistics about confession and reading some of the comments makes me grateful for my parish! One of our assoc. pastors nearly always offers to hear confessions after daily Mass, and then on Sat. afternoons we’ve got nearly 2 hours with 2 different priests hearing confession. And there are always people lining up at all these times. I guess there are certainly some who don’t go to confession very often, but there’s an awful lot of us who do go monthly, and we’ve got a few families who seem to go weekly, even their kids.

    And no it’s not a TLM parish. It’s a Novus Ordo parish, but a reasonably orthodox one. We also have a perpetual adoration chapel at our parish, and our pastor says quite often that perpetual adoration is the reason our parish is so vibrant and spirit-filled. And he’s right, it is! I could drive about 15-20 min. to a TLM across town on Sunday afternoon, but I don’t because I love my own parish. I’d love it even more with a TLM Mass, but I’m willing to wait for that.

    And as good as my own parish is, then we’ve also got EWTN about 20 min. away, with all the friars, and confession available there daily. All in all, Birmingham is a great place to be a Catholic! (is gloating a sin?) :-)

  40. MikeM says:

    Does anyone know if the “The Light is Always on for You” campaigns in Baltimore and DC had any success?

    I saw Baltimore’s version of the campaign last lent. They asked every parish to add an additional hour of confession, all at the same time (I believe it was Wednesday from 5:30-6:30pm) each week during lent. Then, they put up billboards, bus ads, radio ads, etc., all encouraging people to go to confession and telling them that they could stop into any Catholic Church in the area at that time. It seemed like a great idea. (It was also super convenient, since, without even looking up confession times online, you knew that wherever you were in the city on wednesday evenings, you were only a few blocks away from the sacrament!)

    I don’t know anything about the success of the campaign numbers wise, though.

  41. moon1234 says:

    Where did the sacrament of “reconciliation” come from? Sounds like something I would do with my sister after we tried to kill each other when we were young. It is the sacrament of Penance. We are going to confess our sins and seek absolution.

    Renaming Penance just distracts from what the sacrament is for. Penance does not reconcile us with Christ. It restores/strengthens his grace in our souls.

    I was at a seminar for parents during on of my son’s “confession retreats” (Will never do that again. I don’t care if his Catholic school classmates are there). The speaker stated “God not only forgives you in reconciliation but he forgets that your sin even happened.” What? Wait! What about purgatory and reparation for sin. You see this fine young speaker only spoke of how we are reconcilied with Christ and that the sacrament bring us together as a community.

    We need to insist on calling the sacraments what they truely are, not some euphemism to make us feel better.

  42. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I vehemently disagree that the permanent diaconate badly affects the numbers of priestly vocations. The permanent deacons first are called to the state of holy matrimony. There are very few who have the call to be celibate deacons.

    If you tell these men, “no, don’t get married, because being a priest is better and this desire to get married will go away as soon as you are a priest” you are asking for trouble.

    I went to school with seminarians who were given strong pressure to stay even though they wanted to leave and get married. They are now ex-priests, having asked for laicization later. So, priestly order is not a magical wand which makes the call of nature disappear.

    If a man is not meant to be a celibate but wishes to serve the Church, the permanent deacon is a perfectly legitimate calling. A good permanent deacon offers an invaluable service and help to those of us who are their priest pastors. And let us not forget that if the permanent diaconate was of no use, the Holy Ghost would not have inspired the Apostles to institute this order in the Church.

  43. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Coming back to the theme of statistics, it does not mention how many of the younger priests have fathers who are permanent deacons. I know some of those cases, where a permanent deacon has given a son to the priesthood.

  44. ray from mn says:

    I have finally got into the habit of going to confession on an average of twice a month, the last few months. Sadly, because I need it. Saying the Act of Contrition with my morning prayers no doubt helps, as do the St. Michael and Angel of God prayers.

    It’s almost an insult when I worry about whether or not as to whether I should go, then check the available times (I have a list) and then adjust my schedule to arrive in plenty of time, stand in line (usually), confess my sins and then get a penance of “one Hail Mary.”

    Some priests, often young ones, feel that I will never come back if they give me a Rosary, a decade, a day of fast and abstinence or some adjustment in my lifestyle, etc. for a penance.

    I’m sure my sins offend God to a far greater degree than the “punishment” of a Hail Mary would atone.

  45. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I agree with Fr. Sotelo on the subject of permanent deacons. As someone who was interested in the priesthood while in high school, what made me not apply to the local archdiocesan seminary was the questionable academics. I thought that more resources were spent on remedial classes than on advanced classes. I think would have been able to take one year of Latin (which amounted to less than most high school programs) but all the psychology classes I could ever want. The idea that I could come enter orders as a permanent deacon down the line didn’t enter my mind. I figured I would come back to a theology program after college. I went to grad school instead. Once my daughter is in high school or so, I may do enter a permanent diaconate program for discernment, but there’s an awful lot of life to live before that. A priestly vocation is generally a vocation for life; most permanent deacons aren’t ordained until their children are in college.

    It might be interesting to do a survey of permanent deacons to find out whether they decided not to become priests because of being able to be a permanent deacon. That’s really the only way to get at the question. I suppose one might also look at the number of priestly vocations where the care of a parish has been entrusted to a permanent deacon in the last 20 years, but my hunch is that other things are going on in the parish and not just the substitution of the parish priest with a deacon. When one looks at statistics in other countries, the sum of priests+permanent deacons has not held constant. The U.S. is an aberation with its number of permanent deacons (~44% of the world’s).

  46. I wonder if homeschoolers are counted somehow in the Catholic schools category? Many, many Catholic parents who are serious about passing the Faith onto their children do it without sending them out to a diocesian school. Of course we are a lot harder to count!

  47. Margaret Collins says:

    I can’t be the only person who would like to be able to go into the confessional box rather than have to be face to face with the priest. Time for these to be put back in our churches, I think.

  48. Were not the permanent deacons supposed to be celibate? Is that not why the applicant’s wife had to sign off that she would be comfortable living in a a”brother/sister” arrangement with her deacon husband? He must also agree that he will not remarry should his wife die. It has all been so watered down as to be irrelevant. Recall that 70,000 to 110,000 priests left the priesthood in the pontificat of Paul VI, which is why JP II’s first official papal act was to order laicizations to cease. Now the real estate agent who cheated your mother-in-law on the sale of her home is the deacon baptizing her grandchild. You couldn’t make this up!

  49. Grabski says:

    St. John Chrysostom said that the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bad priests. [So people say… but I haven’t seen a citation for that.

    From First Things:

    Paved with the Skulls of Bishops
    Feb 1, 2008
    Richard John Neuhaus
    That’s a grim metaphor, maybe too grim. It’s from an endorsement of Philip F. Lawler’s book, to be published next week, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture (Encounter). The endorsement is by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, who says: “Lawler’s masterful analysis is sobering and provides an urgent incentive for authentic renewal. If St. John Chrysostom is correct when he says that the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops, it would be a mistake for any bishop or priest to miss this book.” Bishop Bruskewitz and Philip Lawler obviously think that Chrysostom was correct.


    I own the book and the endorsement quote is there.

  50. Grabski says:

    I think it’s a fallacious statement to argue that the restoration of the diaconate as a stable vocation rather than a step to the priesthood has led to a decline in the number of priests. It’s a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, unless the critics have personally interviewed deacons and found that a significant number of them have foregone pursuing a vocation to the priesthood in favor of getting married and becoming a deacon.
    I agree here. Isn’t it possible that the diaconate has grown from Men who couldn’t hear the call thanks to the cacophonic times of the 1960s and 1970s? Perhaps this is a reflection of lost vocations to the priesthood.

    Cara also has global data, showing a tremendous growth of seminarians and ordinations since JP II become pope (1980 data). If the diaconate were in fact destroying vocations globally it would be seen in the data.

    The situation in the USA and other spoiled countries is not necessarily reflective of what is happening in the Universal Church…

  51. Ellen says:

    I can only speak for myself, but I didn’t go to confession for YEARS (I was lazy, and I brushed it off). Then my conscience began to nag me and nag me so I finally made an appointment with a priest from an order that specializes in preaching and confession (Fathers of Mercy). I swear it was like a heavy weight was lifted off me. The fathers hear confession before and after each Mass and they often preach about its benefits.

  52. vox borealis says:


    “Cara also has global data, showing a tremendous growth of seminarians and ordinations since JP II become pope (1980 data). If the diaconate were in fact destroying vocations globally it would be seen in the data.”

    Well, the vase majority of permanent deacons are in N. America, where the numbers of seminarians has NOT risen dramatically since 1980, but in fact has declined. Again, this is not proof, but the worldwide data is not inconsistent with the notion that the permanent diaconate has affected priestly vocations in the US.

  53. vox borealis says:

    Oops, I overstated the case. It is not true that the “bast majority” of permanent deacons are in N. America. However, the percentage is very large. Of nearly 36,000 permanent deacons in the US, more than 16,000 are from the US alone (about 45%).

    It would be interesting to see where the other 20,000 deacons come from, and compare ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood by region.

  54. Grabski says:

    Vox Borealis True; but we are a Universal Church which should not be run based on the quirks of the American Scene and failure of the American Hierarchy. CARA data shows that globally Ordinations were 4100 in 1975 but 6600 in 2009…seminarians went up to 59k from 43k. The number of diocesan priests is up fr0m the 1985 low of 253k to 259k, finally above the 1970 level. If I were watching from Rome I would hardly change what appears to be working and certainly would not be changing it for the sake of the USA, where it is quite possible that the growth of the diaconate is an echo of the 1960s and 1970s turmoil that will level off.

  55. albizzi says:

    Put aside the post conciliar downplayings about sin, hell etc… IMHO one among the main reasons of the confessions attendance dropping is that awful and dreadful “modern” way of confessing seated at a table, eyes-into-eyes with the priest.
    There are many people (like myself) who are so ashamed of their own sins that they would prefer more anonymity in the good old confessional boxes to say frankly their sins instead of having to withstand the glance of the priest (even if that glance is full of goodness).
    In my opinion one doesn’t reckon how many people are reluctant with that way of confessing up to the point to delay or giving up forever with confession.
    Possibly I am an incorrigible trad but it would be interesting to take a poll on that peculiar issue.

  56. Tom in NY says:

    A quick word on permanent deacons: formation in many dioceses won’t start until the candidate is over 35 years of age. I hope this fact is useful to the readers.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  57. vox borealis says:


    Oh I agree…I’m not talking about changing anything, nor do I think that the diaconate is a bad thing. Rather, I am curious how its re-institution has played out in different local contexts.

  58. chironomo says:

    The “face-to-face” confession isn’t the only experiment that has failed. There’s communion in the hand, versus populum Mass, and a variety of other innovations that we all know too well.

    The other night my wife and I were watching the final “Tonight Show” with Conan. A thought ocurred to me maybe halfway through the show.

    NBC managed to figure out the destruction caused by poor decisions in a matter of seven months, and in a few short weeks took the steps necessary to turn it around. It did so by going back to what was working before the “changes”. I hate to say it, but maybe we could learn something from NBC…

  59. Allan S. says:

    My home parish advertises in the Bulletin that confession is available “after the 4:30 PM” Saturday Mass “or by appointment”. There are no confessionals, I have nevr seen confession offered after the referenced Mass, and our Pastor is quite clear that “as soon as you are sorry for your sins, God forgives you.”

    My solution? I confess at the downtown Parish I go to for Noon masses on weekdays near my work. It’s run by the Basilians. They always seem to have someone in the confessional. The Basilians can be odd, and they have a lot of hippie priests from the early 70s, and they wear street garb, but they always hear confessions. Very interesting that.

    Can’t paint all hippie priests with a broad brush it seems.

  60. Grabski says:

    My home parish advertises in the Bulletin that confession is available “after the 4:30 PM” Saturday Mass “or by appointment

    My wife is Polish; over there they have priests hearing confessions during Sunday Mass. WHy not get the people when they are already there?

  61. A lot is written about the permanent diaconate, about whether or not it has been effective, misused, or a haven for unqualified men. Very little is written (including here) about what a deacon is, and how the early Church may serve as an example. Deacons were primarily an order of service, tending to the poor and leaving priests and bishops free to do that which was unique to their calling. Eventually they were responsible for administrative matters. In all that time, they were neither quasi-priests, nor glorified altar boys. To the extent that they are today, is an error in our understanding of their calling.

    The statistics out now about permanent deacons tells me very little. Much more illuminating would be to sort the numbers according to apostolate. Is the diaconate doing what the Church intends for it to do?

    I don’t think the question of “deacons, yes or no” is on the table for the Church. Her own history, her own teaching, has spoken.

  62. Justin from Ohio says:

    I think Fr. Sotelo and Ioannes Andreades raise very good points and arguments re: the argument that the permanent diaconate growth has hurt priestly vocations.

    Why would a permanent deacon, who had a strong pull and vocation as a married man first, be a good candidate for the priesthood? I believe the Church wants priests who’s first and foremost calling and vocation is to the celibate priesthood, not to marriage. Otherwise, as pointed out above, they are going to have problems down the road when the desire to be married crops up again.

    Also, as pointed out above, most deacons are not even ordained until they are 40 or 50 years old. It’s a calling and a vocation they discern for many years, and sometimes they don’t even hear the call or recognize it until they’ve been married for 20 or 25 years (or more). So, it’s doubtful most deacons were thinking of the priesthood in their early 20’s and then decided instead to get married, knowing they could always become a deacon 2 or 3 decades later. Fact is that most people just don’t think that far ahead or with that much thought and planning….especially 20-something males. I know when I was in my twenties, I didn’t know anything and didn’t think more than 2 weeks ahead, let alone 2 decades ahead in my life.

    Another point that has to be made is that in my experience, especially in the last 5-10 years, all the new permanent deacons are quite orthodox and faithful to the magisterium. I think orthodox, faithful permanent deacons ADD to the faith and strength of the Church. Would you rather hear a homily from a more orthodox permanent deacon or a progressive/dissenting “Spirit of VII” priest?

    Would you rather have an orthodox permanent deacon helping run the parish’s CCD/PSR program and bible study…or would you rather have Sister Pantsuit from the Sisters of New Age Zen running these programs?

    It’s not so much a matter of whether the permanent diaconate hurts the faithful and hurts vocations to the priesthood. Rather, it’s whether the permanent deacons are energetic, orthodox, and faithful to the magisterium. When they are (and many of them are), they help the Church a great deal.

    Finally, I’m also aware of a few local permanent deacons who are sending orthodox sons to the priesthood and/or daughters to orthodox/traditional religious orders. That’s a great service to the future of the Church as well.

  63. Marcin says:


    I have had thought the same for a long time. It’s rare to hear a sermon on ‘why we should do it” compared to ‘what to do’. We need more of the former, concise and to the point form. Even a sermon of commenting type, when canvassed around the liturgical topic, peppered with the Fathers, can be an excellent means to explain WHY we should live a Christian life, and show WHY holy men and women of the past lived it. As they say – “that’s theology (by example), stupid!”
    And I can’t stress enough – short, spirited homily sinks deeper in minds and hearts of the people than longwinded and scholarly mini-treaties read A to Z from notes. Do not say what to do if you can’t accessibly explain why.

    I hear often from the fellow Catholics complaints that their parish priests talk about nothing but ‘sex, abortion’ etc. (I guess these must be good, orthodox fathers.) Well, I say to them that there is a sure reason for it. But at the same time I can’t escape a faint stench of Pelagius.

  64. irishgirl says:

    I don’t like going to confession. For one thing, I get very nervous; when i do go, my heart is pounding in my chest, I can’t concentrate on what I want to say to the priest (especially when there are other people waiting outside and I don’t want to ‘hog’ the priest’s time), and then my back is wet with sweat when I come back out!

    I’m not that good in examining my conscience, either. And then, when I DO go, I’m always telling the same sins over and over again.

    I haven’t been able to find a good confessor in years. When I did find one, he always got transferred, or else more responsibilities were placed on him. I have given up trying to find another one.

    In my area of the diocese, there are no religious Order priests. They were all pulled out because of the ‘numbers crunch’. All we have are diocesan ones, and most are liberal.

    One of the few times I went to confession to a priest who understood where I was coming from was when I first went to EWTN in 1998. I was walking on air when I came out of his confessional!

    And don’t get me going on the permanent diaconate. I roll my eyes when I read anything about the number of ordinations to the diaconate versus ordinations to the priesthood. Sometimes the deacons can boss around the priest in a parish-witness the one who is in the parish I go for Perpetual Adoration….

  65. Justin from Ohio says:

    Just to add to my last comment. Hypothetically speaking, if the permanent diaconate was discouraged or done-away with, I think we’d just end up with a shortage of priests, and also a lot fewer deacons.

    Also, some deacons, especially those with a background in accounting, finance, law, business, etc., can really assist the parish pastor and priests with parish financial issues and planning. Priests can focus on the sacraments, preaching, theological issues….a more financially competent deacon can focus on the financial aspects, taking what is often a terrible burden off of the pastor. I’ve seen more disputes in parishes between pastor and parishioners over money than almost any other issue. A very talented man may be called to the priesthood and may have many great qualities as far as personality, holiness/reverence, preaching, etc…..but he might be a terrible bean-counter. I think more deacons should be used in this manner to provide a service to the Church.

  66. JonM says:

    I don’t think the question is so much whether many in the permenant deaconate would have otherwise become priests (perhaps some would have, but I do agree that there is not solid ground to assume this to any significant degree). Rather, the question is Have potential priests been ‘crowded out’ as a result of clericalization of the laity and as a result of the restoration of the permanent deaconate?

    We can speculate. I speculate that it has had a crowding out effect. Of course it would be wrong to think that ‘oh, if only there weren’t a permanent deaconate with married men, then vocations would flow like a torrent!’

    No. I think the core issue we are dealing with is committment.

    Our parochial vicar gives pretty astounding homilies and a recent one was on the vocation shortage. He pointed out we need more good marriage vocations as well as priestly ones. And the solution is absolutely not letting married men become priests because such would completely fail to address the underlying issue: in the West, particularly here in America, we have grown accustomed to having all the good without the struggle (and boy are we ever starting to pay for that lifestyle with this train wreck of an economy!).

    It is simply not a sensible system to allow lay people, we who are not consecrated and cannot perform the miracle of Communion, to distribute the Eucharist (except for truly extraordinary circumstances). We have to get back to reality that there are distinctions: a priest is not the same as a lay person and he has a very special role. This is such a visable abuse that well sums up the problem: letting bossy lay people (and others…certain rebellious American sisters, ehem…) act as though they are priests.

    If bishops don’t crack down, vocations to the priesthood are not going to significantly change for the better in this hypersexualized culture.

    So Father Sotelo is right that we shouldn’t think that ‘the issue’ is the permanent deaconate.

  67. Jaybirdnbham says:

    At the risk of starting a rabbit hole in this thread…. the subject of face to face vs. behind the curtain confession is something I’d love to hear more about.
    Somehow it seems that once the priest knows quite well who I am, staying behind the screen doesn’t seem to accomplish anything. And in fact one of my two ‘regular’ confessors specifically WANTS people to come face to face with him.

    Could someone help me understand why ‘behind the screen’ confession is better? (and my apologies to Fr. Z if I’m digging a rabbit hole in his blog.) :-)

  68. Orlandu84 says:

    catholicuspater makes an excellent point: the native Catholic population has not increased much at all in forty years. I think that this absence of growth is an indicator of the widespread use of contraception in the US Catholic population. If a high percentage of US Catholic population is using contraception, then it would not be surprising that many contracepting Catholics were not going to Confession. Certainly contraception is not the only cause of the decline of Penance, but I think that it is a significant one.

  69. Marcin says:


    I confirm the custom in Poland. Most commonly, at anytime there is any service (Mass, devotion) in the church you can have your confession heard. Now that requires having more than one priest at a time. But in a Polish parish in DC area there has been alway one priest and the sacrament is available before or after Sunday Mass. You are right, why not offer confession when people are actually present. Are those who are in charge that cognitively challenged?

  70. Justin from Ohio says:


    You raise good points. It’s not really a question whether the permanent diaconate should stay or go…rather, it’s a question of the proper role of the permanent deacon. No question deacons should not think of themselves in any way as a quasi-priest or as “a small step below a priest, but I get to marry and have children.” The permanent diaconate is first and foremost a position of service (or at least it’s supposed to be). But, I still think it is a very weak argument to see a correlation between the resotration/rise of the permanent diaconate and the decline of priests. I think there would still have been a very large and disturbing decline in priestly vocations after 1970 even if the permanent diaconate had never come out of Vatican II.
    -Boomer generation’s rebellious attitude (in general) and the fact that many parents will not support a child’s religious vocation under any circumstances. This is also linked to the problem of homosexuals and psychological-unstable men being ordained to the priesthood in the 1960’s-1980’s. All these “weirdos” and “anti-social” folks becoming priests led to
    A much greater problem for priestly vocations has been the Babya loss of respect for the priesthood among many otherwise faithful Catholics (not to mention the sex-abuse scandal which is directly linked to this). First, there must be stable Catholic marriages and traditional families that pray, attend Mass, go to confession, etc. Second, when a child shows interest in a vocation, the parents need to encourage it, and certainly not denigrate it or discourage it in any way. Third, the Church and the bishops must make sure the few men they are ordaining are friendly, stable, outgoing, prayerful, orthodox/faithful men. Only then will the children of today have good role-models in their priests. No one wants to become a priest if all they see are strange, introverted men preaching in their parish each week during the child’s formative years.

    As for the typical vocation to the permanent diaconate, let me give a personal example. I’m in my mid-30’s and I’ve had thoughts about the permanent diaconate someday as a vocation I may being called to. I’m prayerfully discerning this call and this idea. However, I’m sure I won’t really look into it for ast least another 10 years or more.

    If I would someday study and be ordained as a permanent deacon, the Church hasn’t lost a potential priest. I never really considered a call to the priesthood. So, rather than the Church losing a potential priestly vocation, they instead might be gaining a traditional-minded, orthodox, faithful permanent deacon. I’m sure many permanent deacons have a simlar story. We’re happily married men who first receive a call to marriage and children….then only later discern a calling to the permanent diaconate. It’s unrelated to priestly vocations.

  71. dcs says:

    Could someone help me understand why ‘behind the screen’ confession is better?

    It preserves the anonymity of the penitent and the priest.

  72. Justin from Ohio says:

    Sorry, don’t know how the mess happened in the text I tried to type above (out of order/cross-out). Here’s what the second paragraph should have said:

    I think there would still have been a very large and disturbing decline in priestly vocations after 1970 even if the permanent diaconate had never come out of Vatican II.

    A much greater problem for priestly vocations has been the Baby-Boomer generation’s rebellious attitude (in general) and the fact that many parents will not support a child’s religious vocation under any circumstances. This is also linked to the problem of homosexuals and psychologicalunstable men being ordained to the priesthood in the 1960’s-1980’s. All these “weirdos” and “anti-social” folks becoming priests led to a loss of respect for the priesthood among many otherwise faithful Catholics (not to mention the sex-abuse scandal which is directly linked to this).

    First, there must be stable Catholic marriages and traditional families that pray, attend Mass, go to confession, etc. Second, when a child shows interest in a vocation, the parents need to encourage it, and certainly not denigrate it or discourage it in any way. Third, the Church and the bishops must make sure the few men (or in some diocese, the many men) they are ordaining are friendly, stable, outgoing, prayerful, orthodox and faithful men. Only then will the children of today have good role-models in their priests. No one wants to become a priest if all they see are strange, introverted men preaching in their parish each week during the child’s formative years.

    That’s the real root of the vocations crisis….contraception (smaller families and less children to become priests), anti-authoritarian and rebellious attitudes in the Church becoming mainstream during the 1960’s-1970’s, weirdos/mentally unstable/homosexuals being ordained, as well as dissenting/liturgical abuse types being ordained.

    All these play a much larger role in the vocations crisis than the permanent diaconate.

  73. dcs says:

    manwithblackhat writes:
    I could write a book on some of the really stupid experiences I’ve had in a confessional. It’s the one place in the world where a guy can be a complete jerk and you can’t rat on him. Why? The seal of the confessional. You thought it only protected you? Oh no. I know a guy who confessed to having suicidal thoughts and was berated to no end by the priest, who ended by saying, “Now say your act of contrition. It may be your last.” Don’t you just wanna pummel a guy like that?

    I don’t know if this was the intention but the above paragraph implies that penitents are bound by the seal of the confessional. This is not true – you absolutely can “rat on” a priest who abuses the confessional. In fact the old Code of Canon Law required a penitent to denounce a priest who solicited sins against the Sixth Commandment in the confessional. It may be that the seal protects a priest because he can’t defend himself and so his superior may be reluctant to punish him – but it does not prevent a penitent from reporting what happens in the confessional.

  74. Sam Schmitt says:

    Wow, that’s a pretty scary list from ignatiangroupie — 25 January 2010 @ 9:59 pm – I have never, ever been yelled at by a priest in the confessional. What are they thinking?

    As to getting more people to confession – it doens’t seem that complicated. I used to frequent a parish where the priests offered confession before EVERY mass, weekdays included, and I always noticed someone waiting to go. The priests worked the theme of confession into their preaching on a regular basis and in a very effective way, emphasizing the joy of making your peace with God. And guess what – people came!

    In short, the priests made it a priority in their parish, then took the necessary steps.

  75. JohnE says:

    “I wonder if homeschoolers are counted somehow in the Catholic schools category? Many, many Catholic parents who are serious about passing the Faith onto their children do it without sending them out to a diocesan school. Of course we are a lot harder to count!”

    I think this is a very good point. I would suspect that the number of homeschoolers is on the increase. I know of several families in our parish who are doing it. I knew no homeschoolers when I was growing up, or even 10-15 years ago. As public schools are limited in what can be taught and often foster a culture and ideologies that are against the Catholic faith, and even some Catholic schools seem to be untrustworthy, I suspect this will continue to increase and I think we should encourage it. I would like to do it with our kids, but my wife doesn’t want to.

  76. pelerin says:

    How I sympathise with irishgirl regarding the experience of confession. I am prone to panic attacks – the more I want to do something the worse it can be.

    When I went to Lourdes for the first time I had no intention of going to Confession. However, having previously passed the Reconcilliation Chapel numerous times, on the last day of my stay I finally forced myself to go in, heart pounding. Each year since I have been able to go to Confession there but wish I could do so more often at home. On the last occasion when it was suggested that I went more often I was asked how often Confession was available in my home parish. I found myself answering each day and realised that I really had no excuse not to go more often. I find myself inventing excuses for not going and am envious of those who do not find it such an ordeal.

    Perhaps the statistics reflects that there are many people who actually have a real phobia of going to Confession. They may indeed wish to but just cannot bring themselves to do so.

  77. Ulsterian says:

    In the regular parish, consider the availability of confessions – usually 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. Not the most convenient time for young families who have slaved the whole week in the workforce and are now carrying around kids for the day, shopping, yard work and home to-do lists. It seems that the Saturday afternoon confessions are better suited to the older generation who tend to be die-hard followers of the Saturday vigil Mass (to avoid the younger, noisier families on Sunday morning, and allow them a sleep in???). Confessions should be convenient and accessible. When a pastor schedules confessions before every Sunday Mass in his parish he does us and himself a favor and provides a great opportunity for those who have been away from the box an excuse or tug of conscience at the right moment to return.

  78. puma19 says:

    The paucity of catholics now going to confession is a major spiritual concern regarding the use of this sacrament. There is probably no way of really knowing unless you ask millions why they are not going. Also, what ages are the ones who are not going. I would hazard a guess and say many of those 16 – 30 do not frequent the sacrament hardly. If their parents do not go, where is the example when young. Do parents encourage their youth to go to confession.
    But I would like to make two daring judgements:
    1. The ‘opening up’ of the confessional, so that you can sit and ‘have chat with Father’, see him face to face, also in some churches where there is only glass in front of confessional. This style of confession turns people off – do they really want to confess their major sins to the priest whom they may know and see in the street etc? And also, have we and indeed are we losing that key feature – KNEELING down on our knees to ask forgivensss. I have to say, we have become too much the armchair churches – people and priests need to kneel more (cf. John Paul II example).
    2. The large numbers of priests who have ‘sinned in their ministry’, and here I refer especially to Ireland as well as USA and other countries – people lose trust in their priest if he has been arrested (that’s enough) and shamed. People lose that connection with the priest who is meant to be a pastor, a man of God.
    These are purely my own views – but I have watched the small lines in churches and it seems like not many young use the sacrament.
    Finally – bishops need to be leaders here – speak about, preach about the need for the sacrament – it is one of the 7 and other than the Eucharist, the only one we can receive over and over till death.
    Laus tibi Christe

  79. kat says:

    Wow, I just read every one of these comments and something just jumps out at me: WHEN are CHILDREN taught to go to confession? I have 8 nieces and nephews, 7 of whom are baptized and received First Communion. 2 received FHC in a TLM parish, AFTER making their first confessions. Although they are now 17 and 23, and struggling with modern life and the fact that it was my parents and myself, not their parents, who raised them in the Faith, they will still go to confession (and I pray God gives them the grace to continue.) The other 5 have NEVER BEEN TO CONESSION. My 21 year old niece says she would be too afraid to ever go. It was not taught before FHC (and she and her sister attended Catholic schools in elementary). They were not taught to go; they were not taught its beauty and benefits, and now they are so old they are purely afraid of it.

    My 3 oldest have received FHC, and the 4th child is preparing now. All made/will make their first confession before FHC. Confessions are heard during the school Mass (required attendance at Mass) on Tuesdays for the boys, Wednesdays for the girls, and the lines are long.

    If you want adults going to confession, they need to be taught and expected to go as children. I’ve been told by even my Catholic pediatrician, that they are told children don’t sin enough to bother having to make a confession before FHC. I’m sure that is the case; very rarely would children need to confess a mortal sin so that they could receive Communion. I believe God protects them in a special way. But so what? If you want frequent confession, then when do you form that habit? God willing, we should try to go our whole lives without committing a mortal sin (that’s the goal…not always the reality, of course)! But frequent confession is what obtains for us the actual, sacramental, and sanctifying grace to HELP us stay free from mortal sin. The more often we can go, the better.

    So please please please, go back to REQUIRING first confession before First Communion! What better way to show children how important it is to receive Our Lord with as pure and white and clean a soul as possible??? I just love seeing the big smiles on our children’s faces after their first confession, and their trying so hard to keep their soul clean until the big day. It’s not hard for children; it’s such a beautiful wonderful sacrament! Let’s do what we can to bring back its importance!!

  80. Nathan says:

    Fascinating discussion. Here’s a technique for priests to get long confessional lines, used to great results by my former pastor, the best confessor I’ve ever had. As discussed above, he would offer Confession every day of the week, across all times of the day and evening, preaching about it at Holy Mass.

    His great technique, though, would be to stop all people who asked him a question or gave him parishoner feedback (“Father, when are you going to put that new gym floor in?”) and ask them when they last went to Confession, prior to his answering their question. If it had been a while, he would drop everything and take the person straight to the confessional! I know of a decent number of people who came back to fully practing their Catholic Faith as a direct result of his firm leading of people to the Sacrament of Penance. He would give the lightest penances to those who were nervous and had confessed serious sin, and would call you out in the confessional (gently) if you started to confess others’ sins or minimize your role in venial sins.

    Perhaps the pithiest way of describing the holy priests like this is that he models himself in relation to his flock more after St Jean-Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars, rather than Dr. Phil.

    In Christ,

  81. John 6:54 says:

    I goto confession 6 to 10 times a years. I would go more often if it was offered more often. We hear about Padre Pio & the Cure of Ars who heard confessions for hours upon hours each day. As it is the year of the priest I think large cities should offer a central location or parish where confession could be heard all day and all evening. Priests could take shifts. This way there would never be the excuse that there isn’t someone available to hear my confession.

    I also thing the arguement that the permanante deaconate is hurting priestly vocations is just silly. If a child grows up with a father who is Deacon I think his odds of being a priest will only increase.

  82. MichaelJ says:

    Anybody know why Confession before Mass was largely eliminated? Thankfully, this is till the case before every EF Mass in my parish, but not the case for any others.

    I understand(and agree with to a large extent) those who say that “inconvenience” should not keep us out of the Confessional on Saturday. On the other hand, if you’ll permit me a small whine, Saturday is the only day of the week that I can get things done around the house. Or would mowing the grass or changing the oil on Sundays no longer be considered unnecessary servile work since I cannot get it all done on Saturdays?

  83. Girgadis says:


    I’m sorry that you get these panic attacks. Like Father Corapi says and my fourth-grade nun used to tell us: offer it up. Is there any way you could travel to where one of your transferred confessors has been assigned? Also, may I suggest reading the guidelines for making a good examination of conscience that are normally in the back of a Roman Missal? It’s quite sobering to read all the ways in which we offend God that perhaps never occur to us. It might help you make a better accounting of your sins as well as assist you to organize your thoughts.

    I’m chuckling a little at some of the fear comments posted here. If you think yelling is bad… A priest who came to be my very favorite confessor was renowned for throwing people out of his confessional if he did not detect true contrition on their parts. Luckly, I never had this experience with him but I had gone to him for my second confession after returning to the Church and I came pretty close to getting tossed. I’m the kind of person who can get teary-eyed if someone looks at me crooked or says something unkind (which happens in my workplace just about every time someone opens their mouth) but I came to realize that I needed to be brought down to size. That particular priest always gave the Divine Mercy Chaplet as a penance and often prescribed fasts along with it. He has since retired and I keep in touch with him because of all the priests I’ve known, he has had the most profound impact on my spiritual life. He always said he had two crutches in life: Confession, and Eucharistic Adoration. When he was at the nearby parish where I met him, he offered Eucharistic Adoration every day from morning until evening, seven days a week, and most of the time, if he wasn’t in the confessional, he was there in the chapel in adoration, along with everyone else. He demonstrated through his actions just how important penance is, rather than paying it empty lip service and then acting annoyed any time he had to hear confessions.

  84. ndmom says:

    If there is a center of Opus Dei near your home or workplace, you can go to confession with a priest who spends hours a day in the confessional. No “reconciliation rooms.” And if you’re nervous, you can start your confession by stating just that. No need to worry about anyone waiting in line — they are used to “long” confessions and won’t hate you. The priest will take you step by step through your confession, and offer you some spiritual direction to assist you in making a better exam of conscience and in approaching confession with less fear.
    And for the person who objects to “easy” penances — the Cure of Ars gave easy ones too. You are always free to do more, of course, but the Cure of Ars used to “do” the bulk of the penance for his penitents. St. Josemaria, who founded Opus Dei, took the same approach, and so do many Opus Dei priests. Besides, the difference between one Hail Mary and three full rosaries is not nearly as great as the difference between your sinfulness and God’s goodness.

  85. Father S. says:

    RE: MichaelJ

    I am not sure where you live, but here in my Midwestern diocese, it is very common to have Confession every day and very often before Holy Mass. Also, it is common for parishes to stagger times. For example, in one of our urban deaneries, there is Confession available about five different hours on Saturday, every day of the week before and after work and on Sunday evenings. This seems like a very wise idea. Plus, if parishes publish Confession times of nearby parishes, it is easy to know where to go.

    In my parish, we have Confession evenings after work for 45 minutes, Saturday afternoons for about 90 minutes (before evening Masses) and then on Sunday in the afternoon for an hour before the Holy Mass in Spanish. All of those times are full. During Lent and Advent, for two weeks before Christmas and Easter, we have two priests hearing for three hours a day and we are full. I do not mean to speak ill of other priests, but we talk about Confession often and we talk about Heaven and Hell often. As such, people come to Confession.

    The only hard part about Confession before Holy Mass is that people sometimes get irritated that we cut off Confession ten minutes before Holy Mass is to start. Of course, a little teaching goes a long way about that. I imagine that we could offer times for Confession in the mornings and people would come, too.

  86. Margaret says:

    Kat’s point is well-taken. Thankfully, it seems all the parishes in my diocese, as weak as it may be in some regards, do things in the proper order: First Confession, then First Communion. But following that, it’s primarily the parents’ job to get their children in the habit of going regularly to confession. Easiest way to do that, of course, is for Mom & Dad to go regularly themselves… :) Although I did recently almost have to arm-wrestle one of my teens who had offered lame excuses every time I invited her to come along with me for several months. But I prayed and prayed like crazy before hand, and then with all kindness, basically wouldn’t take any excuses. Now I get to repeat the execise again next Saturday… sigh… Hopefully less resistance this time.

  87. Father S. says:

    RE: John 6: 54

    “I goto confession 6 to 10 times a years. I would go more often if it was offered more often. We hear about Padre Pio & the Cure of Ars who heard confessions for hours upon hours each day. As it is the year of the priest I think large cities should offer a central location or parish where confession could be heard all day and all evening. Priests could take shifts. This way there would never be the excuse that there isn’t someone available to hear my confession.”

    In most large cities, there is a parish that offers Confession all day. Look for a Franciscan parish or an Opus Dei parish and you may well find that there are more times than you think.

    While I think that Confession should be offered daily, there actually are times when priests are unavailable to hear Confession. Confession is important, but sometimes there are perfectly good reasons why we miss the confessional. In the order of precedence, in most parishes it goes Holy Mass, emergency calls, Confession. I live in a town with a large regional hospital for a number of surrounding towns. Some days the other priest is away and I am at the ICU. It just happens. You have to be aware that with fewer priests and a larger workload, many men are simply overworked. When parishes in mission lands have a priest once a month or one every six months, if you have a priest who is willing to hear Confessions, that is a huge blessing. It is not a violation of justice that someone may have to wait a day to make their Confession.

  88. Tobin says:

    As I understand this table, if the Priesthood were losing vocations at the same rate as the Sisters have over the past 40 years, we would be down to just 19,419 priests, give or take. Wow.

  89. Dr. Eric says:

    I try to go to confession 2-4 times per month.

    The worldwide numbers of priests are increasing and here in the United States we have twice as many priests per Catholic than the rest of the world. The increase in Deacons only means that there is more clergy (yes, Deacons are members of the clergy) for people to consult.

    I’ve been blessed to know a few good Deacons. They help administer parishes that were in danger of being shut down because of the priest shortage and shifting demographics. I hope to be one myself someday. And, I can guarantee, my sons and daughters are being and will be encouraged to follow a priestly or religious vocation.

  90. Grabski says:

    Marcin I recognize the name as a paisano, or shall I say, rodak…of course if a parish doesn’t have 2 priests then sure, not possible. But one Sunday at least a month should be able to get some help, certainly for confessions. What the heck, the current Saturday system has to be judged as ‘not working’ or ‘fail’.

  91. albizzi says:

    Before VATII the confessions in the confessional box were the NORM, although this was not mandatory.
    Since VATII, the face-to-face in the “reconciliation room” has become the NORM and nobody can escape it, like the Eucharist in the hand and many other novelties.

  92. JuliB says:

    A couple of comments…. we have only confessional boxes/little rooms at my parish. We’re blessed!

    Why Reconciliation vs the other names? Well, I have Radio Replies 3, written in the 30’s or 40’s by two very orthodox priests. They use Reconciliation, Penance and Confession in their answers. So, while the use of Reconciliation is in vogue now, it certainly wasn’t created by V2.

    Confessions after Mass? How many would attend if they had already rec’d Communion – venial sins are ‘covered’ and forgiven by the Confiteor right? So if they did go any way, wouldn’t people hesitate if they already rec’d Communion? (I know the theory, but…)

    Also – Ray from MN… I wouldn’t your situation be similar to Naaman and Elisha? IIRC, Naaman wanted to be healed and Elisha told him to take a dip in the Jordan. And he got kinda ticked off because what good would that do? Yet he dipped 7 times, and was healed. The process for healing was nothing compared to the leprosy that was healed. I look at it the same way. My sins might be bad, but we don’t match the penance to the sin. Nothing will stop you from doing more if you want, but no need to get concerned whether it doesn’t “match”.

  93. admoni says:

    Sometimes one must be direct. A few years back I hadn’t been to Church in quite some time. I was perusing one of a few blogs I read written by a Catholic priest. It may have been you, Fr Z, or, perhaps, Fr Powell or Finigan. It was a strange post, a few sentences ended with a command along the lines of ‘Go to Church, now.’

    I went.

  94. Aaron says:

    Last Sunday, we had a fundraising dinner after Mass, so I told several members of my family that if they came to Mass, I’d buy them dinner afterward. No takers this time, but I’ll try it again next month. I’ll get them there eventually.

    Our priest just expanded his pre-Mass time in the confessional from 30 minutes to 45 on Sunday, and has also asked that local parishioners try to go on weekdays when he’s in there for 30 minutes before each Mass, to leave more time for out-of-towners on Sundays. This is at a FSSP apostolate, so we have real confessionals with screens, of course.

    I didn’t go to Confession for 23 years, because the Church didn’t seem to require it anymore. As I think Fr. Z. has said before, the Liturgy is the main source of catechesis for most Catholics, and if Confession was mentioned around here at all, it was in the sense of a useful sort of counseling session, not as a necessity for the sake of our souls.

    When I started attending a TLM, two things happened: Suddenly Confession came up regularly in the sermon, along with the real consequences of mortal sin. Also, when I considered the prospect of receiving Holy Communion kneeling at the Communion rail while in a state of mortal sin, as I had done casually for years in the hand while standing at other churches, I realized I couldn’t do it. Suddenly it was real, and I knew I had to get to Confession and wipe those sins clean before I approached that rail.

  95. bookworm says:

    I know of at least one case in which an unmarried permanent deacon — one of the first to be ordained in my native diocese in the mid-1970s — later went on to become an ordained priest. Becoming a deacon made him realize what he had been missing, and provided him the extra push he needed to pursue the priesthood. He was in his 50s when he was ordained a priest. He died of a heart condition about 12 years after his priestly ordination; he was a good priest and beloved by his parishioners.

    I also know of at least one case in which a single man who had dropped out of seminary back in the 1960s, and had made other unsuccessful stabs at a priestly vocation, ended up becoming a permanent deacon, and he thrived in that ministry.

  96. mcr1453 says:

    A quick analysis of the number of US Catholic men (priests, deacons, seminarians, and religious brothers) as a percentage of the total Catholic men in the US seems to show that the lack of priestly vocations is not primarily due to the restored permanent diaconate.
    Year……….. men(vocations)……%catholic men
    1965……….. 79,228………….0.35%
    1975……….. 73,711 ……….. 0.30%
    1985……….. 76,128 ……….. 0.29%
    1995……….. 69,693……….. 0.24%
    2000……….. 67,213 ……….. 0.22%
    2005……….. 66,172 ……….. 0.20%
    2009……….. 65,266 ……….. 0.20%
    That’s two out of a thousand men ordained or seeking ordination or entering religious life. Down from 3.5 out of a thousand.

  97. tired student says:

    Okay, down the rabbit hole …

    I just don’t get why people find face-to-face confession so horrible. It’s not “more orthodox” to go to a confession box. The ‘box’ itself is a early modern invention anyway. It’s not a patristic era innovation. Before the box I’m sure it was either talk to the priest directly or not go to confession.
    Besides confession in the confessional box is usually mechanistic. Face-to-face often affords the priest a better opportunity to provide in-depth spiritual counseling along with absolution.

    I also don’t think you can judge a priest’s orthodox by his severity. Some of my favorite confessors are extremely kind, but also completely orthodox and firm in their judgment. Unfortunately they usually can’t find time to have face-to-face Confession with me, but I grateful when they can find time.

    There’s NOTHING I can say to a seasoned priest that he hasn’t heard before. I’ve done some really bad things in my day, and only one priest ever yelled at me. That was from behind a screen ;-)

    I can see why many people think that the face-to-face option is repelling people from Confession. I think the opposite is true actually. Maybe priests should leave the confessional box from time to time and find there are people who want both human interaction as well as counsel, absolution, and penance.

  98. MikeM says:

    What, exactly, is the policy regarding use of a confessional box?

    I know of a number of churches where the rooms for confession are set up so that you can either go behind a screen or sit face to face with the priest. I usually opt for face-to-face, myself… To me, the situation is awkward either way, but talking to someone I can’t see only makes it more awkward. Plus, I feel like the priest gets a better read for where I am personally vis-a-vis my sins when he can read my facial expressions. I like the idea of the option, though. Is that option particularly uncommon?

  99. TonyLayne says:

    The reason for the decline of priestly vocations is not due to the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate. Rather, there are two proximate causes: 1) Failure of priests to actively recruit; and 2) Altar girls.

    Rather, the growth of the permanent diaconate could very well point to the presence of what we call “stunted vocations”–that is, men who might very well have grown up to be priests had they been in regular contact with priests who were passionate about (or at least comfortable in) their vocations.

    Many regulars on this board have commented on this fact: Wherever you have server girls, you don’t see more than one or two server boys. The ranks of the altar servers was at one time prime recruiting ground for would-be priests precisely because the boys were not only being socialized into an active participation in the Sacrifice but because they were constantly in presence of at least one potential role model … often more.

    But it remains true, even in an age that’s pushing our children into sexual precocity and unisex behavior, that young boys don’t want to do “girl stuff”. Get an equal number of boys and girls into any group activity, and the girls tend to take over (especially if they happen to be Irish), making it “no fun” for the boys.

    I note that the number of graduate seminarians is slightly up, as is the number of ordinations. But I submit that, if we want to build the vocations, we have to bully our priests into recruiting more actively … and, I fear, start the process of excluding girls from service at the altar. I say, “I fear”, because it won’t be taken kindly in many quarters, and not just by liberals.

  100. The reinstatement of the permanent diaconate is not, in my opinion, something that has directly effected men entering the seminary and becoming priests (I think this is a cultural phenomena based in all kinds of everything here–no space to go into it).
    I don’t have statistical data to prove it; I know that men (mostly married, a few single) who do enter the programs for formation are (in the diocese of which I am familiar) not ‘frustrated seminarians or priests’; in fact, these men, according to the current practice are ‘weeded out’. There is a particular charism or gift/mission in a married man becoming a permanent deacon. I can’t get into all the details here, but in my experience, those who have authentic vocations to the permanent diaconate are absolutely essential in this day and time in order to assist the priestly ministry. They are able to assist with all kinds of pastoral issues that give a pastor/priest the ability to have to have the time to be a priest.
    Most of these men have either raised their families or have older children, and with the consent and assistance of their wives, do valuable work for the Church.
    There are, unfortunately, many instances, where deacons have not understood their vocation and responsibilities and have undermined or contradicted the teachings and practice of the Church. I think there are things going on within the formation of permanent deacons (on a national level)to help them to conform themselves to the Church’s authentic teachings and practice.

  101. “Comment by dcs — 26 January 2010 @ 10:37 am”

    The old Canon Law has been replaced by the new, so unless the article you mention survived the revision, I can’t see it doing me any good. In fact, I fail to see the benefit of calling anyone into account who isn’t bound to answer for his actions.

    He should have been pummeled anyway.

  102. Fr_Sotelo says:

    dcs is right. The faithful have no restrictions on reporting anything that has taken place during confession to the bishop.

    As far as face to face, I have rarely allowed it. The first thing I hear, instead of “Bless me Father….” is something along the lines of “hi there, how are you Father?….” [Yep!]Then the confession is too informal and there is lots of temptation to be a chatterbox about things besides the venial and mortals sins of your past.

    The priest should impart counsel, but it is not the place for spiritual direction, advice about personal problems, or, vice versa, lecturing the priest to dispel his ignorance on matters spiritual and non-spiritual.

    I am all in favor of gently and firmly reminding penitents that touching on matters outside of sin is going to hold up the line outside, but they are welcome to come and talk in the rectory at another time. In my lines there are always elderly folks who should not be made to stand excessive amounts of time because a certain penitent is thinking, “I don’t care, let them wait.”

  103. Father S. says:

    RE: tired student

    You are certainly correct to assert that the use of a screen for Confession has nothing to do with orthodoxy. On the other hand, the purpose of Confession is properly not to offer “in-depth spiritual counseling along with absolution.” This is especially the case if there is a line of people waiting to make their Confession. If you seek spiritual guidance–which is a perfectly good thing to seek–you should seek that outside of the confessional.

    There is a distinction between face to face Confession and Confession in the carpeted room. For example, the confessional box can enable face to face Confession. It seems to me that the desire not to hear face to face is more properly a desire not to hear in the strange carpeted room. In the end, of course, it is the priest’s prerogative and not the penitent’s. The priest is free to offer or refuse either option.

    It is my practice to follow the following. In cases where children are present, I always here behind the screen. I refuse to be in a room with no windows with a child where I have no personal defense against any type of accusation. In cases where there are penance services, I always use the screen simply to facilitate quantity. When there are six priests and maybe four hundred penitents at a penance service, time is a concern. In typical parish times in the confessional, I offer both options–with a window–though I definitely encourage the screen. Also, I am always properly vested. (cassock, surplice, stole) I find that helps set the tone. The only think that makes me almost want to install a box confessional is that there are some people who want to pull the chair right up next to me. For some reason, people presume that priests have no personal space.

    In Mexico, there is a type of confessional rarely seen here. It has two side screens, and in front of the priest there is a prie dieu. This facilitates both face to face and the screen. If I were to build a confessional, I would likely build one of these. In the end, my overall preference is simply that there is no way for people to touch me or for me to touch them.

  104. Jaybirdnbham says:

    Tired student and Father S: Thanks for great and helpful perspectives. My parish has confessional ‘boxes’ which allow either option, and nothing resembling the ‘carpeted room’. And for the few occasions I’ve gone to confession at EWTN’s chapel, their confessional doesn’t exactly allow face to face, but the screen can be slid to the side if the priest chooses to do so. (I doubt any penitent would dare presume to slide the screen back themselves).

    Seems to me that if I’m confessing to a priest who knows me, it’s pointless to stay behind the screen. But if confessing to a priest who doesn’t know me, I definitely stay behind the screen.
    And I’ll add that I used to always stay behind the screen, but two different priests the past couple yrs have asked that I come around the screen and sit face to face with them, and I have done so. Having done that and ‘broken the ice’, I have mostly continued face to face, mainly because of the impression that most priests prefer face to face confession.

  105. Aaron says:

    “Maybe priests should leave the confessional box from time to time…”

    Did I fall asleep last night and wake up in 1950? It’s pretty clear from this article that they aren’t spending much time there. Some churches around here took out the confessionals or were built without them, and I think many of us have met priests who insist on face-to-face. That’s if they do personal confessions at all, and haven’t replaced them with group reconciliation services of some sort.

    At churches where more than a handful of people go to Confession, the priest doesn’t have time for impromptu “in-depth spiritual counseling” (which sounds like an oxymoron to me) and that’s not the place for it anyway. Make an appointment to meet him in his office for that.

  106. irishgirl says:

    Girgadis and ndmom-thanks for your encouragement! As a bit of clarification, I don’t have ‘panic attacks’ in the psychological sense; I just get nervous when it comes to going to confession.

    Girgadis-no, I’m not able to travel to where any of my transferred confessors are. One or two have retired, others I’ve lost touch with, and one is….dead.

    ndmom-my diocese doesn’t even have Opus Dei priests. I think there might be someplace in NYC, but it’s too far for me to travel. I wouldn’t even know where to look if there was such a place! I know there’s one in Washington DC-but that’s even farther!

  107. Ana says:

    There are many issues at stake in this thread. Perm. deacons… I doubt they are a true threat to the growth of the priesthood, but I have known deacons who overstep their boundaries and act more like an equal to the priest or even display they are lacking in necessary spiritual growth by making inappropriate jokes regarding priest/confessor/parishioner relationships that eventually harm that relationship. So, I believe we need perm. deacons, but there should be guidelines and a method for dealing with problems that arise when dealing with deacons.

    As for confession, many people have a preference – face-to-face or behind the screen. There can be benefits in both styles depending on a person’s personality and other factors. The person who cannot kneel may be more comfortable going face-to-face rather than standing before a screen. Other people may prefer face-to-face for other reasons.

    Priests do yell in the confessional and not necessary in a manner that is for the benefit of the penitent. I have been yelled at by a priest, who knew my name, in the confessional, because I was in tears. He thought I was crazy or emotional off the deep end and in a loud voice told me the help he thought I needed, in a manner that was not spiritually or emotionally beneficial. My problem at the time was that every time I kneeled down I cried — at Mass, confession, prayer time, you name it. Thankfully, over time I outgrew this although there was a time where even seated I would just cry during Mass or Confession. Most priests accepted my tears as a sign of contrition while this particular priest went nuts. Confession is a time when a person needs to be put in their place, but there is a need for sensitivity on the part of the priest that responds to what the penitent needs.

    As for the screen preserving one’s identity, I disagree with this. I know for a fact that many of the priests in my area know my voice and have addressed me by name even when using the screen. Depends on the person…

  108. cheekypinkgirl says:

    RE: Face to face confession

    Having been completely frustrated by the poor quality of confessions I have experienced around my town (i.e. priests making up their own absolutions, no penance, telling me my sins aren’t sins, etc.), I have chosen to keep as my own confessor the priest at my own parish.

    Considering he knows me well and he for sure knows my voice, it seems pointless to confess behind the screen. Thus, I go face to face.

    Although I had not thought of the temptation to sit down and say “Hi! How’s it going” first. Which is exactly what I do. I’ll have to think about that.

  109. Holy priests will make all the difference. Witness St. John Vianney. Fathers, be the saints that God has called you to be!!!

  110. Paul M says:

    Regarding face-to-face confessions. Last year, when our pastor conducted the RCIA session on confession, he admitted that, while he has been encouraging people for years to go face-to-face (as is policy in LA from what I gather), he has never gone face-to-face himself.

    Interesting moment from the same session: while we were waiting for Father to arrive, I gave the introduction about what a wonderful sacrament confession is and there are wonderful spiritual fruits from frequent confession, etc. (basically all the points from the Fr. Z playbook – thanks!). Father heard the end of my intro, then basically contradicted everything I said. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of ‘everything changed after VII; the Council fathers recognized that “we’re all good people now, so you really only need to go once per year, which is why we we have the penance service in Advent and Lent…”; you don’t need to confess in kind and number….I could go on, but you get the idea.

    Given that speech actively discouraging confession, the numbers do not surprise me.

  111. Frank H says:

    Paul M – That must have made your day! Guess the RCIA candidates might as well get exposed to the opposite ends of the spectrum right away!

  112. JuliB says:

    While I 100% prefer the carpeted box/room, let me add a shout-out for the confessionals in Rome at St. Peter’s. There’s no better feeling than getting absolution there, in such a holy place. (Plus I was able to say Hi to Pope St. Pius ‘in person’!)

    If I had a choice, I would use that style all the time.

  113. tioedong says:

    The last two US parishes where I attended, we had the choice with going before Mass (i.e. catching Father 5 minutes before Mass started when he’s changing clothes) or the “mass” confessional in Lent, which as a doc on call I didn’t attend.

    Three parishes and ten years ago,I lived in a parish that had confession after 7 pm mass every Wednesday, so I could go every three months.

    Here in the Philippines? I have no idea when they hold confession. Presumably,no one here sins…

  114. spencer says:

    Wow…seeing some of the comments regarding permanent deacons and the thought that they are ‘stunted’ priestly vocations. The negatives seem to stem from a bad personal encounter with a permanent deacon…too bad even amongst Catholics we feel a need to lump everyone into the same category based on an individual’s behaviour: haven’t the secular media and society done enough of this with our priests?
    It just seems to me that those who are so quick to want to curtail or shove the diaconate aside either don’t really understand the fundamentals of what a vocation truly is, or the theology and history of the diaconate. I know deacons who are far more dedicated to their ministry and vocations and serving God and His people than some priests that I know. There is more than enough work to be done for the Lord of the Harvest; that was the recognition and discernment and wisdom shown by the Apostles in Acts with the choosing of the seven deacons – and that need and wisdom is just as evident today in the Church.

    As for confession, I always try and encourage everyone to take advantage of this most wonderful Sacrament as often as they can: and when people come to an understanding of ‘perfect’ contrition as opposed to ‘imperfect’ contrition, sometimes that makes all the difference in their decision to approach the confessional again.

  115. Garth says:

    I have to agree emphatically with the person who said never yell at a penitent. That’s a horrible experience.

    And I would add that the advice not to use confession as a therapy session applies to the priest, too. I once had a priest try to psychoanalyze me (amateurishly and wrongly) rather than give me actual counsel. I had to remind him to give absolution!

    Most priests are good confessors, in my experience. But the bad ones are REALLY bad, and leave scars.

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