QUAERITUR: Should I write to the bishop about urging priests to hear confessions?

From a reader:

Would it be appropriate to write a bishop asking if diocesan priests
under his leadership be encouraged to hear confessions more regularly? Most parishes seem to only have confessions on Saturday afternoons. I know our priests are busy, but I read your entries asking priests to beef up their confession schedule, and I know I’m not the only one who would appreciate more opportunities. How does one go about making this a reality? Should we go straight to the top, as it were?

Sure, you can always write to the local bishop to express your concerns or aspirations.  I encourage you to take a look at my tips for writing to ecclesiastical authorities.

However, don’t forget to ask the parish priest, the pastor of your parish, to hear confessions more often.  Keep in mind that he might be up to his eyeballs already in administrative tasks and other busy work which relentlessly drain his energy and time.

And if you are really interested in helping to promote more opportunities for confession, then you have to get involved all the way.  In for a penny, in for a pound.

You also have to help promote vocations to the priesthood.

Get involved with the local Serra Club or other organization which supports seminarians and promotes vocations to the priesthood.  I don’t mean promotion of some vague program for “vocations”, whereby every possible Christian walk of life is being praised.  Work to promote vocations to the priesthood.

Priests hear confessions, not deacons, not women religious, not married people. Priests.

If we want more priests to hear more confessions, we need more priests.

That is the concern of every Catholic.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    On a small number of occasions I have felt the need for the sacrament of penance outside the normal weekly times, and I have always been accommodated by the priest I asked to hear my ad hoc confession. I guess I’ve been very fortunate to have had parish priests who were willing to make time and space for me in this way. I’ve never been told: “Confessions are on Saturday evenings between 5.00 and 5.30 – come and see me then.”

  2. GMRUNNER says:

    The issue is not priests willing to hear confessions but the faithful not feeling the need to frequent confession.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Serra Club is a great organization. My dad was president of the diocesan one for years. And, now his only grandson is going into the priesthood. I think God blessed him as well as me. We need vocations, desperately. In Ireland, at this time, including the young men at the Irish College in Rome, Maynooth and Belfast, there are only about 91 seminarians for north and south. This is not a replacement rate. The Irish will not have regular Masses, must less Confessions, unless the priests take to horseback…

  4. Robert of Rome says:

    While I am happy to hear readers commenting that their priests are willing to hear Confessions outside of the regular time established by the parish for Confessions, many Catholics, for a variety of valid reasons, are reluctant to approach priests to ask them to hear a confession. For this reason, priests need to be generous in establishing REGULAR times for Confession and being in the confessionals faithfully at those times. Priests ARE busy, terribly busy. However, Confession is one of the sacraments they should be busy about!! In my opinion, too many priests in too many parishes are copping out on their responsibility to provide this sacrament to their parishoners. Fr. Z is doing a real service by frequently posting about this important sacrament.

  5. Midwest Girl says:

    I agree that hearing confessions is one of the most important duties of a priest.

    However, I think it’s important to understand the other side of the puzzle as well. In my parish, we have ONE priest with 1600 families. Because our community is aging, much of Father’s time is spent visiting the sick/anointing, etc. in addition to other duties, including celebrating daily Mass and other spiritual and administrative duties. Our parish only offers scheduled confession for an hour each week, but it’s well-attended and well-established. Many people actually come to our parish from surrounding parishes because we are in the top few in our area of having the most confession time offered each week. In addition, Father will hear confessions by appointment.

    In my neck of the woods, I can find Confession offered at a parish within 3 miles at least five days a week. As our priests are “bogged down” with other tasks, it’s important for parishes that are geographically close together to coordinate schedules to help all.

    Most of all, try and be understanding of the many directions priests are pulled in.

  6. NoTambourines says:

    I found it unfortunate that one of the first things our new pastor did was to do away with a couple opportunities for confession on weekdays. There was always a line when I went on those days. I don’t know what challenges he may have faced in making the transition to lead our parish, but I hope more chances come back.

    Confession is like seeing the dentist in this regard: it’s a lot less awkward if you keep up regular visits. I know that for me, early on, it was easy to find an excuse to put it off one more week, and even as I was driving to the church, I was still debating whether I was really going to go through with it. Limited access would have unintentionally provided another rationalization for me to not go.

  7. Catholictothecore says:

    We must continue praying for more vocations to the priesthood. Period. Most seminaries are half-empty now at least in one of the major cities in Canada. At one point back in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, this seminary had more than 200 seminarians studying to be priests, now they barely have under 40. It’s sad, very sad. Without priests we cannot receive the sacraments and without the sacraments life is not worth living, we’re pretty much “dead.” Pray, Pray and Pray some more for vocations to the priesthood.

  8. This is one of those sacramental matters that gets all gummed up when people discuss it.

    It is my observation that many pastors promote much of the gumming up by communicating that the “Sacrament of Reconciliation” is what’s important and is scheduled once or twice per year as a “communal” liturgy while suggesting either implicity or explicitly that the Sacrament of Penance is best scheduled much like psychotherapists schedule their clients, in a “private” session. The former reduces the sacrament to a group “Confeitior”; the latter “professionalizes” the sacrament into a transaction. Yet, both assume the same reality: It’s a “waste of valuable time” to “sit in the booth” when penitents don’t come. Both also miss one point: One thing that only a priest can do is to be available for people to experience, through the ministry of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit, a change of mind through the forgiveness of God won in the death and resurrection of His only begotten Son.

    Although the post-Vatican II Church in the United States sought to relieve people of “feeling guilty,” it’s a fact that many people today are experiencing guilt…and it’s a good sign that they do. The pastoral challenge involves getting people to identify “good” guilt with the “need to confess,” as the eminent psychiatrist Karl Menninger noted decades ago in his excellent volume, Whatever Happened to Sin?.

    One way I have found to foster that awareness that motivates good confessions is to remark in a homily every once in a while that one of the many reasons the “people in the pews” find homilies disconnected from their experience is that they are not sharing their experience with their priests in the Sacrament of Penance. However is a priest to discuss in a homily the spiritual issues that people in a parish are dealing with and need to confront and overcome if those issues are not disclosed to the priest in the Sacrament of Penance? Perhaps by a good guess. Perhaps through reading magazines and newspapers or even Catholic publications. But, not in the personal way that a priest learns—through the experience of compassion for penitents—in the Sacrament of Penance.

    For example, it was several years back when a couple of men in the parish started confessing about their involvement with pornography that I was able to raise the sin publicly. Suddenly, more and more men came to confess their involvement with pornography and how it was destroying their marriages and families. The same thing happened when women came forward in the Sacrament of Penance to confess abortions they had decades ago. Even teenagers will come to the Sacrament of Penance when what they hear in a homily constitutes the kind of sin in which they are personally involved and of its deliterious effects for the lives of themselves and their peers.

    Time in the confessional is never wasted when a priest offers people a reason to come. And, I find the “Christ in the Penitent” teaching me not only compassion for penitents and their struggles but also informing me about what He wants and needs His people to hear.

  9. APX says:

    Finding a confessor in my permanent diocese is exceptionally problematic. My territorial parish that I’m registered at doesn’t do regularly scheduled confessions, and the majority of the other parishes do them 30 minutes before daily Mass, which in my experience over the summer means less than 30 minutes and there’s a line up. Not everyone gets through and the priests don’t hear confessions after Mass. Our diocese’s web site lists the Ukrainian Eparchy’s confession times, which far exceed our diocese’s times. I guess this means it’s time for me to learn how to go to Confession in the Eastern Rite.

    Here’s my issue with confession by appointment. My confessions take less than 5 minutes. Our priests don’t all live in the rectory at their assigned parish. I know they’re busy, so I don’t want to add to the time they don’t have by making them drive across the city for a confession that will take less than 5 minutes.

    In my experiences as a busy student, I have learned that I waste a lot of valuable time. Shocking, I know. What I have also learned is that if I schedule something and manage my time accordingly, I can fit all the important necessary things into my schedule.

    When I hear a homily about what cool invention is being sold on the Shopping Channel from a priest who has his iwn personal assistant, a house keeper, yet doesn’t hear confessions regularly, I get skeptical about the “too busy” excuse.

  10. Sixupman says:

    Is not part of the problem that many clergy do not believe in Confession and, therefore, Sin>

  11. Marie Teresa says:

    I’ve written and deleted at least two letters to our Bishop asking him to encourage our priests to make weekday Mass available and to have scheduled times for Confession.  

    I didn’t send the letters because I couldn’t bear the thought of bringing the diocesan bureaucracy down on our pastor. 

    My parish doesn’t have scheduled times for Confession.  Trying to track Father down after Mass means pulling him away from other parishioners.  Before Mass, he’s not there. 

    The nearest church w regularly scheduled times for the Sacrament is over 2 hours away.  At least a half dozen parishes are between here and there.  

    Thank you, Fr. Z.  Keep spreading the message that the faithful do want the sacraments. I do pray daily without fail both for our priests and for priestly vocations.

  12. Paul says:

    Midwest Girl said, “it’s important for parishes that are geographically close together to coordinate schedules to help all.”

    I agree 100%. It is hugely frustrating to find that every church within 10 miles of my home offers confession at or nearly at the same time and on the same days. Because I work normal office hours, I generally end up having to either schedule a time through a nosy parish office (“what exactly do you need to see father about?”) or grab a often reluctant priest right after daily, noon mass.

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  14. Supertradmum says:

    Paul and Midwest Girl,

    I hate to thrown a cat in among the pigeons, but we are losing parishes at a rapid rate in the Midwest and there will be less of an ability to get to Mass or the Sacraments. As to having similar schedules, I know that in one diocese I lived in in the Midwest, that this was done on purpose, which I know sounds weird. There was an effort to have Masses and Confessions at the same times at all the city parishes. The priests wanted the scheduling like this. My problem now is that the priests, two in the parish, come in right before Mass starts and leave immediately afterwards and never stand in the back to greet the people, not even on Sunday, so that if I want Confession, which is not scheduled, I have to phone the office. C’est la vie.

  15. Steven says:

    You could write to the bishop, but I don’t know that it would be very effective. It would likely be far more effective for you and other (there’s power in numbers) to ask the priest himself for confessions. A priest I know has time before every daily Mass for Confession. He leaves no one with an excuse not to go to confession.

    The reason that I say that the bishop mightn’t be very effective is that they have to prioritize what issues they take on (they have a lot of figurative fish to fry), and they can’t dictate too much small stuff without causing strain on the priest-bishop relationship. Your bishop might be able to do something, but it’s far better for it to come from the bottom up than the top down. I’d make the bishop a last resort if possible. Confessions are very important, and if the pastor is ignoring legitimate requests by his flock to hear confessions, that’s an issue that has to be addressed.

    That’s my two cents.

  16. AnAmericanMother says:

    How about asking Father for more times for Confession, but also asking, “And, Father, what can we do to free up time for you so that you can hear confessions more frequently?”
    There must be something we can help with, and I bet almost any parish priest has a long list of “to dos” — probably not very visible or interesting, but necessary – proofreading the bulletin? assisting the sacristan with sweeping, changing light bulbs?
    It’s like hearing people complain about the music, but they never offer to help form a schola or even show up for choir practice . . . .

  17. Jack Hughes says:

    May I suggest that Traditional Vocation directors are not so picky about candidates?

    I know of a young man who is doctrinally orthodox, loves the Traditional Mass and who desires nothing more than to be a Priest, yet is he has been turned away from several Traditional congregations/societies of apostolic life based soley on the fact that 12 years ago his father decided that he didn’t mean it when he said “until death do us part” and divorced the boy’s mother (neither of the two kids have been in trouble with the law and both are hard workers and well educated; it must also be noted that this young man spent several weeks last year living the rule of St Benedict as a guest of a monastic house (they had nothing but praise for him) and whilst there met a wonderful Religious Priest who has become a sort of surrgate father to the boy.

    Out of sheer frustration this guy is now considering begging the SSPX to let him try his vocation with them as based on what he has heard from a friend of his who is a FSSP seminarian he is sure that they are the only people who will not hold him responsible for the sins of his father.

    Personally I do not see the justice in condemming this man for his Father’s sins, he is bright, faithful and desires nothing more than to labour at the Altar, surely if they had any drop of Christian compassion in their hearts these VD’s would at least let him TRY his vocation, otherwise it would appear that they bear a strong resemblance to the pharisees of old and I personally hope they spend a LONG time in purgatory for their heartlessness.

  18. Sorry to be a downer Fr. Z, but Serra Club isn’t a good option. I have attended the one in my area once, on the invite of a good friend of mine in ministry. While the speakers are good, you get a Mass before the meal (with portable mass kit) and a meal is served at a decent locale, the the regular menbers in the Serra club are 40+ into their senior years. I and another friend were invited to that occasion and were the only young people there save one seminarian. Unless you pay up for a membership each year, there’s no way you’d be a regular without invites a couple of times. Furthermore, if you want young people to be interested in faith you have to reach them where they are, not where 40+ yrs old adults are. That isn’t my generation and they mostly don’t care about the Church, nevermind vocations. Worse, they are either breaking away from the faith by being Catholic in name only, going to other Christian sects and believing the lies about the Church (e.g. the sex crisis, secrecy, etc.) or getting taken in by traditionalist organizations/sects/societies and not “coming back” till a,b,c,d…etc. happens.

    Oh and in case someone takes a personal suggestion at me being a priest, the answer is no. I value my priviledge to marry a woman and desire a wife and raising children properly in the Catholic faith, and I’m progressing to being in a health care career I have certification in, so I’m not interested, thanks.

  19. michelelyl says:

    We have one priest for 700 families. He schedules 2 ‘Bi-lingual’ (Spanish & English) Reconciliation Prayer Services’ with individual confessions in Advent and Lent with 4 other priests (retired) . He hears confessions every Saturday from 3-4PM and by appointment (12-15 times a week!). He also has a separate yearly reconciliation service (with individual confessions) for candidates for 1st Communion and their parents, friends and families, (in Spanish and English) yearly Confirmation Candidates, parents, families and friends, (in Spanish and English) twice a year for Religious Education students, RCIA candidates whenever they are ready, and will pretty much drop everything to hear confession. I think that’s pretty amazing.

  20. jesusthroughmary says:

    I don’t see how any parish, even a small country one, couldn’t add 30 minutes a week (or 30 minutes per visit, I suppose) if the pastor wanted to. Apart from Mass, nothing is a higher priority to a pastor of souls. If the pastor believes that, he will preach on it, and people will come, and he will find time to accommodate them.

  21. MargaretC says:

    I agree with AnAmericanMother — too many people are willing to criticize an overworked priest for not doing this or that, but never offer to do anything to help. The apostolate of criticism is an old one — I think St. Paul had to write to one of his churches about it — but it has never been especially effective in the cure of souls.

    By the way, if you succeed in persuading your pastor to schedule an additional confession time — let’s say, 6:00 p.m on Wednesday — it would be a nice gesture to show up.

  22. jesusthroughmary says:

    It should work the other way. The pastor should persuade his people to show up by having additional confession times, and by preaching on sin so that people are convicted of said sin and feel the need to confess. If I have to preach to my friends in order to convince enough people to demand additional confession time that it actually happens, isn’t that a bit backwards? If you build it, they will come.

  23. jesusthroughmary says:

    I fail to see how that (or my previous comment) is a complaint.

  24. JeffTL says:

    A friendly plug for some religious brothers and priests I know:

    Support churches that have a confession ministry, like St. Peter’s in the Loop, Chicago. The resident Franciscan friars there are available in the confessional for 11 and a half hours every weekday, plus Saturday afternoons, and are available for consultation and face-to-face confession nearly as much; this is in the central business district and fastest growing neighborhood of Chicago (near all the trains, so anyone can get to St. Peter’s relatively quickly if necessary), so they get a million visitors a year, mostly for confession though their numerous Sunday and weekday masses are popular too. They depend almost entirely upon their benefactors to support this most valuable ministry of hearing by far the most confessions of any church in Chicago if not in the whole country.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    Jack Hughes,

    I taught at a seminary and at least 10% of the students were from single parent families. I do not think this is, in itself, an impediment. In fact, I know several young men who are to be ordained who are from single-parent families. All seminarian applicants must take the psychological testing, and such things are discussed usually at that point. If there are problems resulting for such a background, then the testing and interviews will reveal the problems. But, in and of itself, coming from a single-parent family is not an impediment. Grace is greater than nature, so pray that your friend finds his place. But, do not assume the issue is what is seems to be. I know a young man in an Institute seminary whose parents are separated. I also know a young man who is in his novitiate who has very serious problems in his immediate family, and he will go on to ordination.

  26. Jack Hughes says:


    I know for a FACT that this is the reason that the young man I spoke of is not allowed to try his vocation, indeed at the start of this year he was invited to make a vocational visit to a VERY Traditional American monetary only for the VD to withdraw the invitation 3 weeks later when the young man sought assurances that he would be treated just the same as anyone else. Only last month he was told that due to his background he would be seen as “a risk” by many orthodox houses in America who simply wouldn’t be willing to put up the finance for the visa (as you can imagine single parent families are generally not prosperous).

    More than that my dear is that I believe it is a cultural issue, from my experience amongst trads I get the feeling that we are generally a self-righteous, hypocritical bunch who exclude anyone who doesn’t conform to our notions of Traddom, an example of this being the people who deride Orthodox non-trads as Neo Catholics. As regards vocations I believe this comes out in VD’s automatically writing off anyone who doesn’t come from a picture-perfect Catholic family, converts it seems are also written off automatically even if they are no-longer neophytes.

    I was talking to a former friend on the 23rd and he said that a man becomes unfit to be a priest the moment his father walks on the family and that in that respect the son should be condemned for the sins of the father. Personally I blame the late Father John Hardon who though his influence set the bar for candidates so impossibly high that I wonder how many young men and women have been shown the door because of their parents faults.

    Is it because they think that we’ll storm around the sanctuary in a huff, breaking the statues if asked to do something unpleasant or if we’re given a bad grade? If so then VD’s need to be given a good kick up the posterior and reminded that stereotypes often bear no resemblance to reality.

    The young man I speak of tried to raise the examples of Mother Angelica and Father Z only to be fobbed off with the statement “there are exceptions”, well can’t he be an exception? The VD he was talking to said that the house in question has several young men training for the priesthood whose intellectual capacity for exercising the Priesthood are in doubt yet they are giving them a chance nonetheless .

    Bottom point the young man in question is wondering whether to lie to VD’s so that he’ll get a fair hearing, or (b) hope that his FSSP friend is right and the SSPX will give him a chance. Not much of a choice I know but the thought of being a Priest one day is his reason for living,take that away from him and he would prefer to curl up in a corner and die the theory being that then at least he’d be with Jesus.

  27. Supertradmum says:

    Young Catholic RC Male,

    Not all Serra Clubs are the same. The one in my parents’ diocese has Mass in the nice chapel of the Bishop. The money from the membership fees go directly to the needs of the seminarians, which are many. As a young person, you could be organizing other young men to come and join, thus changing the demographic. Remember that we are all called to the New Evangelization, which may mean bringing your friends to hear one of the talks and meet other Catholics. Those in their twenties need role models of good Catholic men in their forties.

  28. jesusthroughmary says:

    “Not much of a choice I know but the thought of being a Priest one day is his reason for living,take that away from him and he would prefer to curl up in a corner and die the theory being that then at least he’d be with Jesus.”

    If that is true, then I wouldn’t ordain him either, because you have described a person with both severe psychological problems and a malformed understanding of the Catholic Faith.

  29. Jack Hughes says:


    You misunderstand, I was using hyperbolie in order to make a point that the young man in question desires to be a Priest so strongly that anything else seems like ashes in the mouth. If you’d had a taste of heaven and the joys of the consecrated life could you really go back to the idea of a wife and 3.4 children? Also any psyhcological problems he may or may not have would be as a result of repeated rejection by the bloody VD’s whose heads are so far up their ideological derrieres that I would pescribe the mother of all ennemas.

  30. Mary Jane says:

    Obviously I’m not the moderator here, but the side-discussion here — the one of the young man who desires to enter the priesthood but comes from a single-parent family, etc — makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Not because of the general topic (religious vocations) but because one young man in particular seems to be the focus of the conversation, and he’s not here to chime in himself.

  31. Mary Jane says:

    @ Jack Hughes – a suggestion: perhaps the young man you mentioned might benefit from reading about the lives of Saint Joseph of Cupertino, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and St. John Vianney.

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