Bp. Olmsted (D. Phoenix) issues pastoral letter to priests about importance of Confession

From the onset, Fr. Z Kudos to His Excellency Most Rev. Bp. Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix for his new Pastoral Letter on CONFESSIONS!

The letter is called “Apostles of Mercy” and it is directed to the Priests of the Diocese of Phoenix

Some high points:

With this letter, I invite you to consider with me our priestly calling to serve our people by hearing confessions. Let us reflect on three things: our role as an apostle of mercy, second, our experience as a penitent, and third, our experience as a confessor.


We priests have the privilege and duty of promoting the sacrament of Reconciliation.  Not only are we ministers of God’s mercy in the confessional, we are also called to be its chief promoters and catechists.  Like St. John Vianney, Christ charges us to bring the good news of God’s infinite mercy to His people. Regular preaching and systematic catechesis about the sacrament is valuable, even essential today, for a number of reasons:


It is worth noting that historically, Catholic churches have the venerable tradition of building beautifully ornate confessionals that are conspicuously placed in the church. More than merely offering a suitable place for confessions, the confessionals in our churches should be clear expressions of the importance of this sacrament in Christian life. Confessionals, according to Church law, are to provide a fixed screen for the sake of both the priest and the penitent.


It follows that we priests, who regularly experience the mercy of God by going to Confession, grow in our capacity as Christ-like confessors. Having been encouraged ourselves, we are better able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.

Our own frequent experiences of God’s mercy in confession help us to be understanding and patient with other penitents in their weaknesses. We then are able to speak convincingly of our Lord’s mercy, awakening in others a greater desire for conversion and sanctity.




About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Priests and Priesthood, The Drill, Year of Faith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    The letter should be read from every pulpit.

    The Chicken

  2. jhayes says:

    “Confessionals, according to Church law, are to provide a fixed screen for the sake of both the priest and the penitent.

    This doesn’t seem to be correct. As I understand it, there must always be confessionals with a fixed grille available but, in the US , provision should also be made for persons who wish to confess face to face.

    Code of Canon Law
    964 §2. The conference of bishops is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely.

    Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 964§2, hereby decrees the following norms governing the place for sacramental confessions:

    Provision must be made in each church or oratory for a sufficient number of places for sacramental confessions which are clearly visible, truly accessible, and which provide a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor. Provision should also be made for penitents who wish to confess face-to-face, with due regard for the Authentic Interpretation of canon 964§2 by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, 7 July 1998 (AAS 90 [1998] 711).

    AAS 90 [1998] 711
    D. Utrum attento praescripto can. 964, § 2, CIC sacramenti minister, iu­ sta de causa et excluso casu necessitatis, legitime decernere valeat, etiamsi poenitens forte aliud postulet ut confessio sacramentalis excipiatur in sede confessionali crate fixa instructa.

  3. jhayes says:

    R. Affirmative

  4. frjim4321 says:

    (1) Our annual lenten communal penance service here has been very successful over the years and I believe one of the reasons is that so many of our confession stations provide a screen. So many of these communal penance services provide only one or two confession stations in the old style. People don’t want to be sitting in a chair in the sanctuary speaking in hushed tones to a confession one foot away in another folding chair.

    (2) It’s confusing to the faithful to eschew the correct terminology, “Sacrament of Penance,” in favor of the inadequate term “Confession.” As we know confession is only one part of the sacrament. A necessary component, but not the only one. It’s hard enough to develop an adequate sacramental theology for the faithful thus it’s rather unfortunate that this prelate is being so sloppy with his language.

  5. acardnal says:

    jhayes, I am not a canon lawyer and am not certain on this issue, but I note that the word “should” is used not “must” or “shall” (which is the legal equivalent of “must” in contract law) in your quotation of the USCCB norm. So perhaps providing the option for face to face confession is not mandatory.

  6. Laura98 says:

    God Bless Bishop Olmsted! I’m sure he’ll receive flak for this – he does for just about everything he says or does, these days.

  7. Thomas S says:


    You take the opportunity to take a cheap shot at Bishop Olmsted calling him sloppy on the grounds that “Confession” is an inadequate term for the Sacrament that only names one component of the Sacrament. Your alternative? “Penance,” which only names one component of the Sacrament.

    If you’re going to bad mouth a holy bishop, you might want to at least avoid doing the very thing you criticize him for while doing so.

  8. James Joseph says:

    It is important to be shrived on shrove Tuesdays. [Or “shriven”?]

  9. frjim4321 says:

    TS, why does my book call it “The Rite of Penance?”

  10. Joseph-Mary says:

    I have a friend who moved to Phoenix last summer and to what seemed one of the best parishes and so they bought a home close by. The family was used to monthly confession. But at the new parish with only a slight opportunity on a Saturday afternoon, they cannot easily hit that small window and then my friend actually has cried because there might be a wedding or something else taking that time away. It took 3 months to hit the window. Now, I did mention that she might try other parishes with more generous opportunity but one likes their own parish.

    PLEASE, fathers, be generous in offering this sacrament. For advancement in holiness and the spiritual life, it is also imperative as you know.

  11. Rose in NE says:

    Thank you Bishop Olmsted!

    In my own Archdiocese (Omaha), Archbishop Lucas has asked all his priests to preach about reconciliation/confession for the next two Sundays. Also, every Catholic Church in the Archdiocese will be open each Thursday evening during Lent from 5:30 to 7 pm for confessions in addition to the usual times. There is even a special link on the Archdiocesan website with additional information, including an examination of conscience.

  12. Stumbler but trying says:

    The faithful who live in Phoenix are most fortunate indeed to have Bishop Olmsted as their shepherd. I will continue to pray for our shepherd so that we too might benefit from some clarity with regards to the sacraments. My parish has confessions on Fridays for a total of three hours (split into two sessions) and that’s it.
    During any special seasons such as Advent or Lent, the pastor will sometimes cancel some Fridays “due to the holidays” even if they are a few days away . No alternate days are set aside for the cancelled Fridays either.
    Anyway, I keep hoping and praying…amen!
    May the good Lord continue to bless Bishop Olmsted.

  13. msmsem says:

    Screens or face-to-face… doesn’t matter to me as long as it gets people back to the sacrament. As the bishop writes, “Confession cannot fail to produce great fruit when it is promoted and practiced with renewed devotion and frequency.”

    It may be helpful to link the pastoral letter: http://www.catholicsun.org/2013/01/25/apostles-of-mercy-a-pastoral-letter-to-the-priests-of-the-diocese-of-phoenix/. It’s rich.

  14. Clinton R. says:

    I went to my first Confession of 2013 this past Saturday. Thank you, Father Zuhlsdorf, and all bishops and priests who remind us of the great need to confess our sins and the infinite mercy and forgiveness God pours out upon us in this Sacrament.

  15. fvhale says:

    re: what to call it

    There is variation:

    The USCCB lists it as “penance” in their list of sacraments and information about the sacraments on their website.

    But then, at their meeting last November, they adopted a “message on confession” which also called it “the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation”

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a heading of “WHAT IS THIS SACRAMENT CALLED?” Obviously, there is no single “right” answer. So the CCC elaborates:

    1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father5 from whom one has strayed by sin.

    It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.

    1424 It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a “confession” – acknowledgment and praise – of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.

    It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”

    It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the live of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God.”He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go; first be reconciled to your brother.”

    Regardless of what you call it, just do it! Frequently!*

    *whatever “Frequently” means

  16. Xmenno says:

    I’m kind of curious. Our Cathedral parish offers 30 minutes of Confession before each of two daily masses, 2 hours on Saturday, and 2 hours before Spanish language masses on Sunday, so I think none of our people have an excuse. My question is, if people in parishes made constant requests to their priests for special appointments for confession, or for an extension of the times available, or simply presented themselves in long lines every available time, would not the priests get the message and make it more available. It seems that people just “accept what Father schedules” and grieve about it. I don’t mean this in a confrontive or challenging way, but with constant, gentle requests, could things improve?

  17. Thomas S says:


    Totally beside the point. I’m not the one quibbling about the name of a Sacrament which every English-speaking Catholic on the planet knows, and calling Bishop Olmsted “sloppy” because he uses it. The point remains, your complaint about calling the Sacrament “Confession” applies equally to your preferred name for it.

  18. norancor says:

    In addition, Bishop Joseph Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton requested that Confession be preached from the pulpit this past Sunday in all the parishes of the diocese. Our parish priest responded with an exhaustive overview of the Sacrament of Penance based on the catechism of Pope St. Pius X. It was great! God bless these bishops, who are apparently listened to Fr. Z or something.

  19. Stumbler but trying says:

    @ Xmenno:
    What you are asking makes sense but what does one do when one’s pastor is “set in his ways, what I say goes, I don’t need the details, I don’t want to know” in the confessional or when requests are made to extend the hours for more frequent confession?
    Anyway, I found I can go to my old parish as the priests there are very generous with their time and are good confessors. I am not saying the pastor at my current parish is not but he seems to have lots on his plate these days so rather than stress over it and whatnot, I will just keep going elsewhere.

  20. lizaanne says:

    I have family in the Phoenix area. Not too long ago had a pretty in-depth conversation with my (then) 91 year old grandmother about sin and confession, the differences between mortal and venial sin, and the effects of both. She said that her parish had NO regular confession times, and that the priest never mentioned going to confession. She thought that people didn’t do that anymore!!! What a travesty!!! She could not even remember the last time she had been to confession, she presumes it was when she was a little girl living in Detroit. And yet she receives Holy Communion every Sunday, and takes the Holy Eucharist to the sick at the local hospital every week (along with someone else).

    I told her that she needed to speak with her priest about confession as soon as possible, and that she should not be receiving Holy Communion for reasons we discussed earlier (effects of sin, etc.). She still did not understand why this was necessary – her parish does not even have confessionals, that she is aware of.


    She’s bright, in outstanding health, active (I always seem to call her when she’s at her exercise class), but she is (now) 93 years old. I can’t reach her to get her to understand the “why” part, and I’ve been pretty straight forward. At this point I rely on the grace of God to understand her situation and grant her peace on her last day — whenever that may come (she may out live me at this point).

    If priests are not speaking about this on a regular basis – how are the faithful to know?
    God bless this good Bishop!!! Phoenix is so blessed to have him!!

  21. tominrichmond says:

    A good thing would also to be to encourage priests to “say the black” in the confessional… my latest experience of a deviation involved the priest saying “…and I absolve sin, in the name of the Father, etc.” No “I absolve YOU” or “YOUR sins…” now I have to worry if the sacrament was validly administered.

  22. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear lizaanne,

    you will need to be cunning and wise: Speak to a nice, good and orthodox priest about your grandma problem, then invite both of them to dinner (don’t necessarily tell her he’s coming) and start a conversation about confession. After the desert you excuse your self (maybe your neighbour suddenly needs a hand with something?) and leave them to sort things out.

    In any case, send for a priest when she is dying, even if she doesn’t want you to.

  23. Joseph-Mary says:

    PS: I go to confession. I find ‘reconciliation’ to be an unwieldly term. Nor do I say I am going to Penance. Confession. That is what I do. I do understand the theology of the sacrament and the things needed for a valid confession….the form and the matter.

  24. frodo says:

    I’m in the Diocese of Phoenix and we are blessed.

    Our Parish had confession DURING mass this past Sunday.

  25. frjim4321 says:

    I am all for promoting the Sacrament of Penance however it seems like there is a recent bandwagon going around in various diocese with these diocese-wide sessions. Even the president of the conference at the November meeting, bemoaning how the bishops “lost” in the national election came up with the idea that “we all have to go to confession.” I really did not get that connection at all.

    It seems like they have struck out on every other thing they have tried and this is a last ditch effort to try to fix things.

    I will admit that is fairly cynical, but (1) it is something I genuinely think and (2) I have been rather restrained lately.

  26. LisaP. says:

    your theory gives me more hope for the bishops than I’ve had in years! What an exciting thought, that they feel the nation in danger and their answer is a sacrament!

  27. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:

    I am all for promoting the Sacrament of Penance however it seems like there is a recent bandwagon going around in various diocese with these diocese-wide sessions.

    I prefer the Bandwagon that makes Confession available to the Bandwagon that had produced the 30 minutes a week sessions at 3:00–or even worse, the Confession by Appointment Bandwagon.

  28. James Joseph says:

    Shriven sounds better to my New England ears than shrived. Either way, it is good is make oneself accessible to acts of shrivelry by the shrivelous..

  29. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    I like the idea of being reconciled to God, but I find the name, “Sacrament of Reconciliation” unwieldy and unhelpful. As a matter of historical fact, those most attached to the promotion of the name “Reconciliation” also assert that children don’t understand long words. Don’t use “Consubtantial” either…….



  30. JKnott says:

    In my area, since the beginning of the parish in 1847, (our mother church and now a Minor Basilica), the confessions schedule (noted below) has been non stop along with a noon rosary, Angelus and Mass. There are always TWO confessionals going daily. They are the old style ones and there are lines everyday for both priests. On first Fridays or feasts, the lines are even longer and one priest is there even through Mass. People go there from the surrounding towns. We all grew up knowing that you can get to confession anytime at the Immaculate. It is a no nonsense parish where all the sacraments have pride of place, decorum is silent , humble and prayerful at all times. It seems when times for Confessions are generously provided, people definitely go. This is a great grace. There is also one EF Mass on Sundays.
    Daily Confessions:
    7:30 AM to 8:00 AM
    11:30 AM to12:30 PM
    3:30 PM to 4:30 PM
    6:00 PM to 6:30 PM
    11:30 AM to 12:30 PM
    3:30 PM to 4:30 PM
    6:00 PM to 6:30 PM
    11:30 AM to 12:30 PM
    3:30 PM to 4:15 PM
    6:00 PM to 6:30 PM
    11:30 AM to 12:30 PM
    11:30 AM to 12:30 PM
    3:30 PM to 4:30 PM
    11:30 AM to 12:30 PM
    3:30 PM to 4:30 PM
    For Further information or
    to setup an appointment.

  31. jhnewman says:

    are to provide a fixed screen for the sake of both the priest and the penitent.

    Always improves the whole experience for me I must admit. I find the whole miserable sinner on his knees behind a veil in a dim oak box confessing his sins to Christ’s appointed representative dynamic is more conducive to contrition than having a “chat” about “how I’m getting on” on a comfortable chair of the same style and height as Fr “just call me Wally” in the “reconciliation room”.

    As a side note, I think the fad for using any term but the “old pre-V2” term for the last 50 years is in many ways responsible for the falling away of so many souls.

    When “Please note – This Sunday is the last opportunity to fulfill your Easter DUTY to make a SACRAMENTAL CONFESSION receive HOLY COMMUNION” becomes “Wally invites those who can make it to our group reconciliation and eucharistic chow-down” Dave on the back pew can be forgiven for thinking he’s not expected to do anything.

  32. Cecily says:

    Very interesting! I saw a parish restoring its confessionals and wondered why the ornate stenciling inside the “box.” Now I know why. What a lovely reason.

  33. frjim4321 says:

    Funny, for being the token centrist here I am a fervent advocate of the screen.

    Yesterday I met with our second grader who are doing First Penance next Saturday AM. We all “toured” the reconciliation room and I strongly emphasized their CHOICE to go either face to face or via screen. We have a about 40 for First Penance Saturday AM.

  34. Pingback: 11 Great Quotes from Pope Benedict XVI on Liturgy the Mass | Big Pulpit

  35. MichaelJ says:

    frjim4321, out of curiosity, how many of those second graders indicated their preference for a face-to-face confession? Frankly, I am bewildered by the statement of: “Provision should also be made for penitents who wish to confess face-to-face…”. Who would want such a thing?

    I’m used to being the odd man out (so I can empathize with your “token” comment) but it really seems inconceivable that the laity asked for this.

  36. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:

    Funny, for being the token centrist here I am a fervent advocate of the screen.

    What is centrist about your opinion on women’s ordination?

  37. norancor says:

    Face to face was imposed in a large number of dioceses in the 1970s and 80s, and has been one of the single largest contributors to people NOT going to Confession.

    Confession is not a therapy session.
    It does not matter who’s on the other of the screen.
    One can seek out spiritual direction outside the Confessional if one needs it.
    The more priests talk about it, and make themselves available, the more people will go.

    It is not possible to have a rightly formed conscience and make spiritual progress if you are not Confessing your sins regularly. As the large part of the Church doesn’t go to Confession regularly, the entire Body of Christ suffers immensely for it. How can you invest yourself soulfully in the Sacrifice of the Mass, your daily prayer life, and your relations with others, if you are not in a state of grace, or if you are, you have a laissez-faire conscience due to lack of formation?

    Save the Sacrament of Penance, Save the World.

  38. wmeyer says:

    Funny, for being the token centrist here I am a fervent advocate of the screen.

    For a priest to be centrist would mean to me a firm adherence to the all of the teachings of the Church, and a total lack of public dissidence.

  39. Imrahil says:

    The problem with calling it the Sacrament of Conversion, Reconciliation or Forgiveness is that it is a sacrament of these. But the sacrament of these is, systematically, Holy Baptism. And Penance is the second plank after shipwreck.

    In stead of the latter, you might, though, unproblematically call it the Sacrament of Absolution.

  40. St. Epaphras says:

    Priests, please talk often about precisely when/why the Sacrament of Penance is absolutely necessary (and not just a nice option to make one feel better). A lot of basic stuff seems to never enter the heads of the lay people because Father never mentions it. And if we never hear it, the Church must not teach that anymore. Please also talk about the use of frequent Confession as a weapon in spiritual warfare. Stuff (other than absolution of sins) goes on in that little box or room that we have no idea about usually, but the enemy is well aware of it. Just talk about this Sacrament. Please.

    Thank you to all who do.

  41. AnAmericanMother says:

    James Joseph,
    “Shriven” is correct if you’re old-fashioned. “Shrived” is an innovation . . . of Shakespeare’s day.
    I always think of Samkin Aylward’s exclamation in The White Company:
    “Why, I myself have served two terms with Arnold de Cervolles, he whom they called the archpriest. By my hilt! I have seen him ere now, with monk’s gown trussed to his knees, over his sandals in blood in the forefront of the battle. Yet, ere the last string had twanged, he would be down on his four bones among the stricken, and have them all houseled and shriven, as quick as shelling peas. Ma foi! there were those who wished that he would have less care for their souls and a little more for their bodies!”

  42. Marie Teresa says:

    I just wish the bishops would tell the priests that they must schedule a regular time for the Sacrament of Confession. That’s the only way it will be available in a small parish like ours.

    Sometimes it works to “catch” Father after Mass or “make an appointment;” other times, you can spend weeks and weeks and weeks without access to the Sacrament.

  43. jhayes says:

    ” and have them all houseled and shriven, as quick as shelling peas.”

    It’s the other way around. You need shrift (absolution) before you get housel (the Eucharist).

    Medieval English Catholics prayed that they would receive “shrift and housel” on their deathbed.

  44. carbonunit4 says:

    I also live in Phoenix. Our parish has confessions every day but Sunday and twice on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. There is always a line.

  45. AnAmericanMother says:

    I know, but that’s not the way Conan Doyle wrote it. He was Irish Catholic (even if he clearly ran off the rails late in life), so he knew it too. Possible that an unlettered mercenary man at arms didn’t know (or more likely didn’t care)? I would expect Sam Aylward to be sound on the finer points of archery, drinking, and wenching, but not much else and certainly not matters religious.
    It’s a good read just the same, and so is its prequel.

  46. inara says:

    Not long ago, our pastor said amongst the announcements after Mass, that we’d be pleased to know they had “electrified the confessionals”…he let that sit for a moment before explaining, “don’t worry, it’s not so we can zap you if your sins are too great, it’s so you can see” (ours are traditional dark wooden boxes, so very dim inside) LOL!
    Reminded me right away of this: http://www.lovingit.co.uk/2009/09/speaking-of-confession.html

Comments are closed.