JUST TOO COOL: Billboards for CONFESSION! Promoted by which bishop?

I think the world of Bp. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa. He initiated a liturgical renewal in the diocese, he has been supportive of the Clear Creek Monastery, he sponsored workshops for exorcists. A few more bishops like this and… who knows what we could do?

A reader sent me this.

Bishop Slattery promoted an effort for confessions. He even has billboards. This doesn’t need more explanation.

Doesn’t that Roman collar look a little familiar?

Check out my swag for priests and bishops HERE.

And let’s no forget Bp. Slattery’s fantastic sermon.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    This is the kind of thing the Church needs to be doing–using modern means to reach people in a straightforward manner. Other religions are very adept at such things. I thought the bracelets you posted about were clever, too. I’m really happy to see these examples. And, yes, your swag was the first thing I thought of when I saw that collar graphic!

  2. motheroften says:

    We have them here in MD too. Not sure who is responsible. I’ll try to take a picture when I get a chance.

  3. APX says:

    It’s refreshing to see billboards that aren’t advertising when the next apocalypse is going to happen.

    It would be nice if we could get on the billboard bandwagon. Our previous priest had a tendency to remind us we could die unexpectedly in a car accident quite frequently (almost every Sunday), thus we should always be in the state of grace and go confession often. My dad came less than 6 inches from a head-on collision with a semi when a bearing broke and caused his rear axel to seize and go into a skid. I was hit by a dump truck followed by being t-boned on my driver side door right in line with my head. Fortunately it wasn’t the heavy-duty Dodge truck that hit me because it would have went through my window into my head. My brother and sister-in-law were hit by a delivery truck on the highway and relocated the trunk to the back seat and sent his car into the center median towards oncoming traffic. If I had seen a billboard telling me to go to Confession after that, I’d have likely gone to confession. I’m sure others would too.

  4. Philangelus says:

    We saw similar billboards last year in Connecticut, along I-95.

  5. yatzer says:

    Our parish has had confessions before every Mass for years. If necessary and there is a priest available they go on during Mass since the confessionals are in the church anyway. Sadly we just got a new priest who I hear is going here and there trying to find support for not having confessions during Mass. That timing is so helpful–not having to figure out a schedule, just to to Mass early. I’m hoping he is unsuccessful.

  6. McCall1981 says:

    Slightly off topic, but Vatican Insider says there has been a boom in the number of confessions thanks to Pope Francis’ “words on the sacrament of confession”. If true thats great, but I haven’t seen any statement from Francis on confession, anyone know what they could be referring to?


  7. Fiat Mihi says:

    In the Archdiocese of Omaha, the homilies for the first four weeks of Lent were on various aspects of confession, throughout the archdiocese, winding up with a sample examination of conscience. We even got a “how to do an examination of conscience” booklet in our bulletin last week. Every church was also to have confessions from 5:30 to 7:00 on Thursdays. That time should have been in addition to any regular times for confession. One of the great things about my parish is that we have had daily, except Sunday, confessions, since…forever. This time of year the lines for confession usually don’t get long until about Tuesday of Holy Week, but this year, the lines were getting long last week.

    Talk about it, and they will come.

  8. MikeM says:

    I don’t know if they still do it, but Baltimore used to have billboards, bus ads, etc., during lent every year. I think that the standardized, longer than 20 minute, times also make a big difference. It makes it so that wherever you are, you know you can stop into any parish at that time. No need to check poorly laid out parish websites, drive around, or anything like that.

  9. Scarltherr says:

    Hey Fiat Mihi, I’m in the big O too!!! My son took the examination of conscience for teens with him today, all marked so he wouldn’t forget, and I didn’t even tell him to do it! God bless Archbishop Lucas!

  10. Fiat Mihi says:

    Scarltherr, this idea was a home run. I’m sure that you can remember lots of ideas that have come from the chancery office that have gone nowhere. This was different. We are very fortunate to have Archbishop Lucas.

  11. heway says:

    Thanks Father Z. E-mailed that boillboard to my new, young pastor….Schedules 30 miniutes before Mass once a week…hardly enough during Lent.

  12. heway says:

    Sorry about the ‘boillboard’. Dogs barked and hand went down on ‘post’ key

  13. AnAmericanMother says:

    The Archdiocese of Atlanta had “The Light Is On for You” this past Friday, but they certainly didn’t publicize it as well as Bp. Slattery.

  14. Liz says:

    I just love Bishop Slattery! What a great idea. I’m happy to hear that it’s other places too.

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    I’m trying to figure out what the 75-80% of the general population that sees this ad is going to think of it, if anything. The ad doesn’t seem to be targeted to its market very well. On the other hand, maybe whoever planned and paid for the ad is trying to reach lapsed Catholics. Recent research shows that this isn’t really how to do it, if you want to know the truth. One thing is certain: This ad will edify those who already don’t need the reminder. Who knows, maybe that is the real target market, eh?

    Marketing companies routinely analyze the returns from advertizing, checking how the behavior of those who were exposed to the ad changed during the ad exposure. I’d certainly like to see the statistics on this board. I’ll bet they’re not so hot in terms of new confessing individuals. Although, it’ll probably be a real hit with the Church ladies.

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  17. Clinton R. says:

    What a blessing Tulsa has in Bishop Slattery! Mass ad orientem, workshops for exorcists, promotion of the Sacrament of Confession; His Excellency is helping to make the devil tremble. May God continue to bless Bp. Slattery. +JMJ+

  18. I wish we had confession-billboards and bus ads (as MikeM says) in the UK. Not even so much to encourage Catholics to go to confession (most parishes here only have an hour or half an hour a week, usually on Saturday, but if you want to, you can find a time), but to take it out to the world, to remind people that confession still exists, people still do it, the Church considers it important. It might prompt some non-Christians/non-Catholics to think…

  19. Scott W. says:

    It’s refreshing to see billboards that aren’t advertising when the next apocalypse is going to happen.

    Or advertising the 24-hour adult novelty/bookstore.

  20. Susie says:

    I’d love to see this in my diocese! We are fortunate to have a parish run by retired Jesuits that offers twice-daily confession times Monday through Saturday. Unfortunately we also have the parish down the street that had a Penance service of sorts during Mass a few weeks ago. The priest started by announcing that, out of concern for parishioners who don’t have time to go to confession before Easter, they would have prayers and general absolution in place of a sermon. Man, oh man. Naturally I was appalled that this parish is still so stuck in the innovative 70’s and never got the memo that this innovation had to go. Fortunately, there was nothing in the penance service prayers that even remotely sounded like absolution was being given, so really it was just a confused hodge podge for people who probably had no idea what was going on anyhow. How much better a sermon on the need for confession would have been! It was sad because I really think that the older priests in our diocese went through seminary at a time of enormous confusion, and some of them really don’t know any better than to announce that they are going to grant general absolution to the congregation, even though it would be completely inappropriate and even though no words of absolution were even spoken.

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    Fiat Mihi,
    The things your parish is doing are really good, well-targeted and it’s not surprising that the confession lines are getting longer. The priests may also be seeing people who haven’t confessed in quite a while. Your parish is:
    -confirming that confession is important to the right target market, people who regularly come to mass + those who occasionally come to mass and are lukewarm + those who may not even be Catholic (who can’t confess but who can talk to a priest about regularizing their status); most congregations on any given Sunday are a combination of these.
    -giving clear directions for how to confess. Some people find it difficult or they don’t know how.
    -making the time clear so people can get there, and making sure a confessor is available at that time. In addition, the time is good for many people coming home from work. And if they also still have Saturday afternoon confession, most peoples’ work schedules are going to permit one or the other time all right.

  22. catholicmidwest says:

    Also Fiat Mihi,
    The multi-Sunday approach is a very good one. Only about 20% of Catholics go to mass every Sunday, and not all of them go to Mass at the same parish or time every Sunday. The multi-Sunday approach is more likely to reach Catholics who skip around or attend sporadically. There are a lot of sporadic attenders in the Catholic Church. It’s a sin, yes, but a lot of people do it anyway.

  23. mjd says:

    Our one Priest hears confessions 7 days a week, before each Mass. Unfortunately, a large population of the parish do not take advantage of this great gift of mercy.

  24. NoraLee9 says:

    In the last couple of weeks, I have seen not one, but TWO billboards posted by the Bayside Group.

  25. catholicmidwest says:


    It’s not because they’re being “naughty.” If they were being naughty, they’d be out doing something entirely different rather than being part of the parish in the first place, right? It’s that they probably don’t know how to connect the various parts of the Christian message together.

    Catholics have a tendency to look at their religious commitment as sort of a list of things. There are sacraments like confession and confirmation, and then there are Christmas and Lent and headscarfs and CCD and Latin and rosaries and so on and on and on. You undoubtedly know what I’m talking about. It’s the bedrock of Catholic life. Everybody has all this stuff. But Christianity isn’t just a list of stuff or a pile of rules. It has a coherent logic, in the Catechism called the “analogy of faith.” The whole thing hangs on the preaching of the life of Jesus Christ, which is the central event of history. Even the Catechism makes this clear. Until you get to that, and start preaching that central event of history the life and mission of Christ the Lord, people don’t get it, not really. They just collect stuff up to that point. If they can’t connect the life of Christ to their own lives, by means of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Christian discipleship and fellowship with each other, then doing all the things on the list is like going to the gym.

    Gym example: Some people are very disciplined by nature and find it enjoyable to go to the gym; they get to terrorize the others who don’t find it enjoyable because going to the gym looks virtuous. In fact, for these disciplined people going to the gym can take on a significance of its own. However, most people find the gym desirable but don’t get there every morning because they’re not motivated to do the deed for the sake of the deed; they know that some people love the gym for the sake of the gym but it mystifies them and they think it’s at once magical and laudatory but it doesn’t motivate them anyway because frankly-for them-it doesn’t have that power. A few people never go to the gym and don’t care either.

    My point isn’t that going to confession is sort of mundane like going to the gym, no. My point is that people think of it like going to the gym. If you’re motivated because you’re just a very disciplined person who likes rules & routines, and you enjoy your own virtuous behavior, why then going to confession is pretty easy. But if you’re not one of these people, and most people aren’t, then going to confession is difficult because you don’t see deep down what it has to do with anything, although you know it’s a sacrament and you know you’re supposed to do it, and you might even feel better sometimes afterward. It’s like going to the gym or brushing your teeth.

    Where confession and the other sacraments of the church and personal prayer and all the rest of it really takes off is when the person realizes how it all fits together. It fits together in the person of Jesus Christ and a relationship with him, and then consequently, a relationship with other disciples in fellowship. Now, I know that some people have a reaction to that; it sounds protestant to some people, doesn’t it. But it’s not. You can’t let them steal this most central part of Christianity from us! This is Christianity. And it’s the only way that all this makes sense to most people because they have to practice their religion for a reason other than their own self-righteousness. This is a GOOD THING, not a bad one.

    Preach the Gospel, make discipleship and fellowship possible, and they will come. This motivates people. The lack of this is what drives people out the doors, never to return. This is what we need to be doing.

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    Also, think about this: It used to be that people had Christian fellowship in their own families & neighborhoods and that was the norm. Increasingly, they don’t now. The point isn’t to argue why that is, or get some kind of selfish satisfaction out of the fact that you do, if you do. No. The point is to realize that this is simply so. This is the world, the way it is for many people and they have to deal with it and live a holy life at the same time.

    This one single fact, coupled with confusion because Jesus Christ isn’t literally made the absolute center of everything that happens, is what’s driving the exodus out of the Catholic Church. Christians need fellowship from other Christians, and when they don’t get it in the Catholic Church, they go looking for it, because they have to have it to grow as Christians if they take Jesus Christ seriously. It’s normal to grow in the Christian life, and getting stunted, by being forced to stand idle, is painful. So what do they do? Sometimes they conclude that it’s all about spirituality or political causes because it’s all about stuff after all, so they leave to chase those instead; sometimes they find fellowship in a Protestant congregation because they can’t shake Jesus Christ off and unstable growth is better than no growth at all; sometimes they just give up because it’s so hurtful and confusing. Sometimes, it makes them angry, and sometimes that anger is directed at the Catholic Church.

    But we can fix this. Think about it.

  27. catholicmidwest says:

    What’s interesting is that even though many of the parish models that teach discipleship and fellowship look progressive, they wouldn’t have to be. This is a chance to create something wonderful and traditional that saves the day. This is possible. Wouldn’t you like a piece of that in your neighborhood? ;)

  28. Nordic Breed says:

    Bishop Slattery is really great. I disagree with the negative comment on reaching the target market. The number of lapsed Catholics out there is huge. Seeing this billboard would have encouraged me to return to the Church much sooner. I was look for an excuse to come back and was afraid. If I had to drive by this billboard every day I guarantee you it would have given me courage.

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    It’s not a negative comment. It’s an analytical comment. Did you really leave and come back? Welcome back!

  30. jesusthroughmary says:

    I don’t think the “target market” is lapsed Catholics as much as it is lax Catholics, or even good Catholics. Could you imagine what would happen to the spiritual life of the Church just by having the people who already go to Mass every Sunday go to confession twice as often as they do now? So many other fruits would be borne of that one simple improvements. This is one area where even the choir needs to be preached to. I sing at Mass twice every Sunday, I spend 10-15 hours at my parish during an average week as does my wife, and I send my kids to the parish school. And I don’t go to confession every month. I know I should, I preach the benefits of it, I intend to, but it doesn’t happen. So the reminder isn’t falling on deaf ears even if it’s only reaching those who “don’t need the reminder” like myself.

  31. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. Traditionally, marketers want a new customer. But Catholic Confession billboards would usually not be aimed toward totally new non-Catholics, because they’re not initiated into any of the Sacraments. However, it’s edifying for any human being to think about his/her sins; and desiring Confession is one way to be drawn toward the Church.

    2. OTOH, lapsed Catholics are the second-largest Christian group in the US (right after practicing Catholics), so there’s a huge “market” there.

    3. Plenty of practicing Catholics don’t go to Confession frequently or at all, because many priests downplayed Confession for many years. My own mom had been told by some genius several years back that recently “the rules had changed” and that you weren’t supposed to go to Confession except for a dire, dire mortal sin. (And she didn’t think that when I was growing up, I guarantee.) So here’s a woman who’d gone at least a couple times a year all her life and usually more frequently, suddenly being convinced not to go at all for years and years, while still going to Mass and Communion every Sunday.

    4. Even people who go to Confession frequently can use the reminder, so how is there a downside?

  32. Rouxfus says:

    The Diocese of Tulsa has also posted a video public service announcement video promoting this back to confession initiative on their YouTube channel:


  33. catholicmidwest says:

    Hi Suburbanbanshee,

    1. One of the more interesting things about postmodern culture is that people, particularly young people, don’t identify personal sins the same way as modern or pre-modern culture did. They tend to be more interested in structural or aggregate patterns of sin and this is actually how you initially have to reach them from an evangelistic point of view. It’s not wrong; it’s just different. The world has changed. Only after post-moderns identify with some of the other parts of the Christian message does personal sin come around to being a big concern for them. They have to realize that Christ died for personal sins before these things “compute” for them. This “fact” happens well along the path to hearing and internalizing the kerygma, the basic preaching of the life and mission of Christ. In fact, it often doesn’t happen for post-moderns until they actually have a personal prayer relationship with Jesus Christ.

    2. Ex-Catholics (or lapsed as some people prefer to call them) are about 10% of the American population right now. However, just a little less than half of them become affiliated with other religious groups and they tend to form strong ties there that are difficult to disrupt. The remainder become “not affiliated.” The difficult part of this is that a fair proportion of these ex-Catholics of both types are disappointed or angry with the Church. Getting past that can be difficult. Honestly, a billboard like this is at least as likely to aggravate that anger as to stimulate other emotions. It’s a broadcast method, after all.

    3. I’ve experienced this as well. But the reason that this happened, as well as the reason why it persists has everything to do with the “rules and stuff” paradigm of Catholicism. I’ve discussed that a little bit in the post at 12:09. Suppose your doctor told you that the gym was just a formality and you didn’t need to go to the gym after all. Would you? If the gym didn’t motivate you for its own sake, probably not. Again, when all is said and done, most Catholics tend to think of the “things you have to do as a Catholic” like they think of the gym. This is because they don’t see how it all hangs together in the “analogy of faith.” (CCC, paragraph 114) And they certainly don’t usually think of it in terms of the living on-going personal relationship with Jesus Christ, from which the analogy of faith comes.

    4. Yes, but this is a very, VERY expensive way to remind church-goers to go to confession. Billboard campaigns are very expensive. A page of bright colored paper in the bulletin would do the job as well, for the cost of using the copy machine. Much cheaper. And also much more effective. You can tape copies on doors and be much better reminded if who you want to reach is church-goers.

  34. catholicmidwest says:


    Using a youtube channel is more targeted, since people likely to attend to, or search for that channel, are likely to know it exists, rouxfus; and people finding it by accident are a free plus, meaning you pay no extra for that. This is an economical and sensible way to reach your populace IF you know that most of them are computer literate and likely to be able to find you. This is a good idea, especially if the URL is printed in the bulletin and links are placed on the Church website and the diocesan website.

    At the very beginning of the spiritual journey, people go through phases of curiosity and trust-building, and finding non-intimidating and interesting things to look at about the Church, in privacy, are wonderful enticements to becoming interested in the Church. You get on their “back burner” this way, a wonderful place to be.

  35. catholicmidwest says:

    There is one other good property about youtube that billboards don’t possess. If you have to drive by a billboard on your way to work, and the content makes you angry, the anger builds. If you find something on youtube that angers you, you just turn it off and do something else, and the anger doesn’t build. Unfortunately this is a factor in religious advertizing, given the situation that we currently have. Nothing is gained by antagonizing people here. It’s completely counterproductive.

  36. Rouxfus says:

    I reckon the YouTube posting of the PSA for e confession initiative may be just one venue for the video based message. It is possible the PSA was created for a broadcast spot, and posted to YourTube because, well, they can.

    Also on Bishop Slattery’s YouTube channel is an excellent video of His Eminence Raymond Card. Burke visiting Our Lady of Clear Creek (accompanied by Bp. Slattery) and celebrating Mass in the ever-improving new church.

  37. MikeM says:

    I think that you have to look at the “market” for the billboard in terms of Confession, alone. There are a lot of Catholics who know that they should go to Confession and push it to the back of their minds or, as I’ve known myself to do, get sidetracked with something else and wind up missing their parish’s half hour confession window for the week… or, they’re busy running around on Saturdays, can’t make it to their parish, and so they don’t go. Billboards like this push the matter back to the front of your mind, tell you what time, tell you that it’s at every Parish… and they serve as the extra push that some people need to get themselves to go (like Fr. Z’s reminders.)

    I also think that the mere fact that a billboard is so public sends a message that an insert in the bulletin doesn’t. Many parish bulletins list dozens of events of varying levels of significance. Confession is not the mothers’ potluck or the youth group bowling trip. Putting up a billboard for it demonstrates that… it shows that it’s important enough to the Church that it’s willing to shell out money to get the message out to everyone.

    During lent in Baltimore, I would see “The Light is On for You” ads EVERYWHERE during Lent. They were on billboards on the highways, on buses all over the city streets… they were on the radio. The Church not only made sure that everyone knew about it, but made sure that everyone knew that it was doing everything that it could to make sure that they knew. That’s worth something. And I talked to people who returned to the Confessional after years away thanks to those ads.

  38. skl says:

    I went the other day – and as a convert being recieved into the Catholic church this Easter – in one week! – that being for the first time, and which involved confessing some fifteen years worth of post-baptism sins, including some real doozies. Let me tell you, I felt physically lighter after hearing the words of absolution and leaving the confessional (yes, screen and all; I wouldn’t have it any other way-so too will I recieve Holy Communion on the tongue–I think these physical acts of respect to the “traditional Catholic way” of doing these things are perhaps even particularly important to converts such as myself, as we see in them, though “through a glass darkly,” many of the greater, heavenly things that we were missing out on for so many years!) So just wanted to share that, and thank Father Z, who’s blog has been a real blessing to me in the time that I’ve been reading; also give a plug for confession, which up until recently I would’ve even said I had difficulty defining it as a sacrament…no longer, praise God, and particular thanks to Our Lady, who’s Rosary I was saying on my way over to the church, after which the anxiety that I found myself initially seized with rather just floated away :)

  39. JonPatrick says:

    Re catholicmidwest, maybe having a billboard that angers someone isn’t a bad thing, to get under someones skin. This may not be a perfect analogy, but in my younger days I was the typical lapsed Catholic that had become secularized and atheist, on my way to work every day I used to drive by a little Baptist church with a sign outside that said “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures” (the quote from Corinthians) which used to annoy me greatly. How does someone’s death take away sin? I just didn’t make sense. But it got under my skin so to speak, and was a part of my eventually coming to understand what Christianity was all about, once I started going to church again. So perhaps those signs would have a long term effect.

    I agree also with the reminder thing and the ability to go to confession outside of the usual Saturday window. I don’t know how it is for others, but Saturdays are usually packed as both my wife and I work full time during the week. We are lucky that our chapel does confession before and after Sunday Mass, otherwise we would be taking a few precious hours out of that Saturday for a round trip to the chapel and back.

  40. TKS says:

    So how do I take the comment from our priest this morning at Mass who said that if we’d been to Confession in the last couple of weeks and had not committed a mortal sin, don’t go now because you’re OK and he has a sore throat from hearing Confessions these last couple of days. This was not a joke.

  41. JacobWall says:

    @TKS – ignore it and go anyway. Perhaps go a few extra times to drive your point home. (And, more importantly, it does us good to go more often anyway!)

  42. catholicmidwest says:

    About 75% of the people who drive by that board every day are not lapsed Catholics, or any kind of Catholics at all, and that board is nearly incomprehensible to most of them and downright negative to many of them.

  43. avalon-rose says:

    Would that ALL bishops of the Church did this, indeed, we could use many more Bishop Slatterys all around the world. It might be foolish hoping, but if formerly-Archbishop, now-Cardinal Burke can be made a Cardinal, may the Lord in His Mercy have Bishop Slattery, Morlino, and Archbishop Sample (and all others like them) all made Cardinals as well. That would be simply amazing, a huge grace for the Church.

    Alas, for my diocese, I have seen just about naught for the Year of Faith in the way of new spiritual undertakings or ‘projects’ of this sort. I do not doubt the faith or orthodoxy of our bishop, but I am, however, concerned about his, erm….spiritual backbone when it comes to actually DOING anything along the lines of what Burke and Slattery did and are doing in their dioceses, etc. I fear he is trying to “toe the line” too much and not “rock the boat”, especially since, perhaps, this is his first assignment as bishop. There is so, so much good he could do. Our diocese is something of a banal church building and mediocre liturgical wasteland in many ways. :( I pray what Bishop Slattery is doing somehow alights on our bishop’s radar, and he takes notice, God bless him.

  44. catholicmidwest says:


    Maybe he’s just working very, very hard at maintenance which is the norm in the Church in the West. I’m not saying it should be the norm, just that it is.

    Sometimes when people get really, really focused on maintenance, they miss the overview of what’s really happening. They’re sort of running around putting out little brush fires but missing the main conflagration that’s causing the brush fires.

    The trick is not to dig in head first and churn away harder at the impossible. The trick is to step back, survey the situation and then work smarter. But it’s very difficult to break these habits we have, especially when these things worked before and now they don’t. We just keep trying to convince ourselves and when that doesn’t work we just do the same thing again only harder and louder. Expecting to get a different result. :/

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