Priests and bishops who are probably going to Hell

There is a good piece at Crisis today about the Sacrament of Penance.  It touches on many issues, including availability of confession times, some poorly formed confessors who don’t acknowledge certain sins as sins, and the lack of support some sound priests have for teaching the truth.

At the onset, the writer gets into the availability, or lack, of confession times.  I was pleased that, when she used the site she found something good:

The situation regarding availability of scheduled confessions is, quite literally, all over the map. You can find plenty of confession times throughout the week in Madison, WI, the diocese of the late great Bishop Morlino. Further east in Saginaw, Michigan most churches only offer a half hour on Saturday. My childhood diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts remains a confession desert as does much of the once Catholic stronghold of New England.

Yet another indicator of why so many people are watching the appointment of Bp. Morlino’s successor.

All in all, the Sacrament of Penance is a mess, for reasons that I mentioned above.   Some parishes offer a scant 15 minutes.  Some confessors are off their rockers when it comes to the most basic tenets of moral theology.  Some sound priests are constrained by their superiors.

Clamor for confession times!   Don’t let dopey priests get away will saying that black is white or that 2+2=5!   Thank the priest after receiving absolution!   Show up when confessions are scheduled, not when they are about to end!


Fathers, bishops, if you are not hearing confessions because you don’t want to or because you think the practice is outdated or because you don’t believe in mortal sins… listen closely now…


In the Novus Ordo Rite of Ordination of Priests, you priests made a solemn promise during the examination by the bishop of the ordinands. You promised

to celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ handed down by the Church, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people.

Holy Church puts hearing confessions right up there with saying Mass.

Some might argue that, in the first version of the rite of ordination, revised after the Council under Paul VI, when it came to the examination neither Mass nor Penance were mentioned.  How many of you readers know this I wonder.  In face, that first version said: “Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people?”  The absences were in the Latin.   This was considered a serious problem about the identity of the priest.   Hence, in 1990 John Paul II approved a new Rite, which restored language about Mass and Penance.  That’s the version in use now.  I could go on about this at length, but suffice to say that…

THAT’S NO EXCUSE for priests not to hear confessions!   And no priests can ever claim ignorance without culpability.   If he doesn’t know what his duties are, then he is culpabably ignorant, just as much as a doctor is who doesn’t keep up with his professions developments.

What do you suppose will happen to a priest, a bishop, at his Judgement, if he has been lackadaisical or obstinately obtuse in teaching about the Sacrament of Penance and hearing confessions.

I think I know.  I think you know.  I think they know.   But they get distracted by their own odd notions, their busy work, their convenience.  That’s not going to help them at their Judgment.

BTW… I think that, by making your good confession, you help priests.  You help them to be priests.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I used to be a parishioner at the largest parish in the MSP diocese at the Basilica of St. Mary, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Per its own website, it boasts of over 6,700 families–which I would estimate at more than 10,000 parishioners.

    Like just about every other church in this diocese, the Basilica of St. Mary offers only limited time for the sacrament of confession; one hour on Saturday mornings in the basement of the Church. One hour. Regardless, this means that the only chance one has in receiving the holy sacrament of confession is sometime during that one hour on Saturday mornings. Fine, some would say. Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, let’s do some math here.

    As mentioned, there are over 10,000 parishioners in this parish. If each of them went to confession ONLY ONCE per year, as is dictated by the precepts of the Church, and being that confession is only offered for one hour on Saturdays, each parishioner would have a total of 20 seconds to enter the confessional, address the priest, confess their sins, receive absolution and recite the Act of Contrition. 20 seconds.

    Obviously I am being facetious, but the fact remains that, mathematically speaking, there is no conceivable way the vast majority of the parishioners are receiving their required yearly confession. And in reality, hardly anyone shows up the confession anyway, save some little old ladies. And the Church? It. Does. Not. Care. In the nearly two decades that I had been a member there, I do not recall a single time during any sermon the sacrament of reconciliation even being mentioned.

    On a related note… About a year ago, some family members were in town and they wanted to visit the Basilica simply to admire its beauty (and it is beautiful). When we got there, a tour was being conducted. We happened to get caught in the middle of the tour as we were standing at one of the stations of the cross. For those who have not been there, the Basilica contains some of the “old-fashioned” confessionals, which now stand empty, some being used as broom closets. The older lady leading the tour proudly exclaimed to the group that because of the “changes of confession brought on by Vatican II” these antiquated boxes were no longer needed. She also pointed out that each of the confessionals contained, in Latin, a rather harsh saying that does not reflect the present beliefs of the Catholic Church. I looked at each of these quotations in Latin, and they were each from either the Gospels, St. Paul’s letters, or Acts. Sigh…

  2. This past week my Pastor had 14 hours of scheduled Confessions and then if you ask to go to Confession off schedule he hears your confession. He is the only priest in the parish. And look out during Holy Week; we have 40 hours of scheduled Confessions. People come from up to 100 miles to go to Confession with him. And, his Saint is The Cure of Ars.

  3. BH says:

    I’m in a similar sized parish as you described, Roy, but we have confession offered twice per day, 6 days per week. And I’ve seen our pastor requested to do confession at other random times and he has never declined anyone I have seen. During the weeks leading up to Easter he has an ongoing joke with the parish; “for those who want to go to Confession to a strange priest, I have scoured the diocese and found the strangest priests I can find.” On any given evening during Easter there will be 4-5 priests saying confession in our church, coming in from wherever he can find them. Our parish also has 24×7 Adoration, and those two things are absolutely related to the health of our parish!

  4. RichR says:

    1 parish priest in our 2000 family parish. He hears confessions Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. If you need an appointment, he has a prie dieu and screen in his office for “walk-ins”. He is also a Father Z fan.

  5. arga says:

    The headline alone is classic Fr. Z! It’s why we love him. Thank you.

  6. TonyO says:

    I have seen it both ways. First, the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and the neighboring diocese of Arlington VA have had a mutual program of promoting confessions during Lent and Advent. One promotion was to add confession on Wednesday evening (to any other times on the schedule), and have ADVERTISEMENTS all over the newspapers, subway trains, and buses that any church around has confession on Wednesday evening. Makes it easy for everyone to know of at least ONE time, without bothering to ask “which parish”. Quite a fair number of suburban parishes (at least in the Arlington Diocese) also offer confessions on at least 2 days per week plus a time on Saturday. My parish had 2 times on Saturday, one after morning mass and one before the evening vigil, but they changed that to AFTER the vigil mass so that Fr. could announce that confessions would simply ‘go on until nobody came’ instead of having a set ending point.

    Secondly, many “downtown” parishes offer daily confession from 11:30 am to 12:00, just before their (generally well-attended) daily noon mass. My experience in those churches is that on almost any day, there are 3 to 6 penitents, and not by any means limited to “little old ladies”. I would say there are fair number of young and middle-aged men in the mix.

    On the other hand, I looked around for confession times in one part of the LA area, and found few churches offer confessions other than on Saturday afternoon for 30 to 60 minutes.

    Dear Fathers: one thing you can do that would be a positive benefit to the faithful: work with the other local parishes near you, and make sure that between the several parishes you mix it up and cover lots of different days and time slots. Make it so that people who need a time during the week in the mornings have one parish not TOO far away, and people who need a time during the week in the afternoon have at least one parish with such slots, and people who need a Saturday morning slot can find one. My experience is that MANY men, who get involved in projects on Saturday, will travel quite a ways to make a Saturday morning confession time if it is early enough for them to get it done before kicking off their Saturday projects or events. One church I know has confessions 8:00 am, but they need to move it back at least a half hour, if not more, because the line is always 20 or 30 people long by the time 8:00 am hits.

    And, of course, preach on it. People are receiving communion without confessing, and in this culture anyone who is not making use of the sacrament of confession on a monthly basis is almost sure to be falling prey to mortal sins that they don’t even think about.

  7. Chuck4247 says:

    If I were a bishop (let it be known that there are a great multitude of reasons I am not), I would get all of my priests together and build out a schedule such that each priest spent an hour in the confessional at the Cathedral, such that there would be a priest hearing confessions 24/7 in at least one place within the diocese. I realize that not all dioceses can do that logistically, but all of the US dioceses ought be able to do that.

  8. Amerikaner says:

    The vocations collapse doesn’t help…

    If there were more priests, a bishop could assign several priests to the diocesan cathedral and have confessions most of the day, rotating the priests so they don’t have more than an hour or two individually.

    Pray for more priests!

  9. Hidden One says:

    Imagine if some bishop somewhere were to send a hand-signed letter to every pastor in his diocese personally instructing him to ensure that there were at least three hours of publicly advertised Confession time in that parish every single week of the year, every year, until the end of time.


  10. CasaSanBruno says:

    In St. Veronica Giuliani’s vision of hell, she saw the 7 particular levels of hell for priests and bishops and their various sins: there most populated was for those who had committed sins against impurity. One of the next was for those who had given bad counsel in confession, thus corrupting consciences and leading people into still more sins.

  11. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Here in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a supposedly Catholic country, there is only one diocesanal fixed confession time in the entire country (in the Cathedral 8.30 am Saturday morning). By contrast, at Westminster Cathedral in London, in a supposedly Protestant country, the confession box is manned 44 hours per week.

    I always begin my confession by thanking the priest for being available.

  12. frjimt says:

    … glad you’re not, there are enough mitres filled w hot air… u dont want to go to hell with all the rest of us for not being john vianney…

  13. rcg says:

    “Save a Priest. GO TO CONFESSION”.

  14. Kathleen10 says:

    Fr. Z you may think this is the worst reason to go to Confession, but I often think it. We happen to live in the “dead zone” of Catholicism, New England. Our former parish is where we go for Confession. My heart hurts a little when we pull up, we are often the only car. There sits Father, waiting for the half hour designated for Confession. I make my Confession, and I’m kind of as happy for him as I am for me when I leave. Someone showed up, his waiting there was not in vain.
    We might want to go to Confession for our priests sake as well as our own. I feel badly thinking about priests who wait and hope for confessors and so often, nobody comes. How discouraging!

  15. The paucity of hours for confession is a scandal. Only rarely can there be a justification for it.

    Having two or three parishes certainly makes life difficult for a priest; but retired priests are not so hard to corral for confessions as they are for Mass. Certainly some parishes have budget problems, but I seriously doubt that is why one hour a week is the norm is so many places. Yes, priests are busy, but c’mon, we’re not that busy.

    I bet — literally, I will bet real money — that parishes with fewer than two hours of confessions a week are also parishes where the sacrament of penance is not promoted and preached about frequently. If you as a priest are talking about it a lot, you won’t long be content to offer them so stingily.

    Add the hours. Promote the sacrament. And if you end up sitting in the confessional alone for awhile, then you can do as I do in those moments: “Lord, send me penitents.” Amazing how often that works! And if it doesn’t, I have blessed silence to read, reflect and pray. What priest doesn’t need more of that?

  16. ChesterFrank says:

    I have come to the conclusion that the most profound way for a layperson to actively participate in the Mass is to go to confession.

  17. monstrance says:

    The amount “scheduled” confession time available at a parish is a great indicator of its spiritual health.

  18. bibi1003 says:

    I attend a tiny church with one FSSP priest. Only the TLM mass is offered and it’s daily with confession a half hour before each mass.

  19. Charivari Rob says:

    Here in Boston, besides the schedules offered at the various parishes…

    The last few years, there has been The Light Is On initiative. Done in Lent (and at least a couple of years in Advent), it’s set up so that there’s an extra time each week – same time everywhere, every parish, etc… such as Wednesdays at 7 PM – where Confession is offered.

    We also have long benefited from the presence of (among others) the Franciscans at Saint Anthony Shrine downtown – extensive daily schedule for Confession.

  20. Marius2k4 says:

    We’re fortunate enough here in Dallas to have Mater Dei, an FSSP parish with confession before and after 2-3 daily masses, and before, during and after masses on Sunday. Whenever I hear what things are like on the outside, I become so much more thankful for what we have. And our four priests.

    Thank the good Lord for the FSSP. I’m going to make sure that all of my children know what they have to be thankful for. And I pray they might all have traditional vocations.

  21. hwriggles4 says:

    I find when priests discuss confession, more Catholics go. My parish is doing Leave the Light On as well.

    Regularly my Novus Ordo parish does confessions on Thursday nights (normally for about 2 hours, with two priests who stay until done) and Saturday mornings after the 8 am Mass (lines are long and two priests- sometimes three if a visiting priest is available – stay until done). It’s also a good idea to have your examination of conscience done beforehand – otherwise other parishioners are kept waiting longer.

    One of our priests is a Pastoral Provision priest who has a young family, and he makes the time to show up in the confessional. He sets a good example.

  22. Nicholas says:

    I am a senior at Thomas Aquinas College, a faithful Catholic college.

    We have 12:30 hours of Confession scheduled a week for 400 students and 50 faculty and staff. It is used.

    It is truly sad that many parishes do not have enough time for confession. At least at every parish I’ve visited, priests have been willing to hear confessions if politely asked after Mass.

  23. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’m glad that young and old form long lines for the Confessional at my parish every week. It also means I have no excuse for feeling self-conscious ;p

    I know I beat this drum a lot, and I will continue to do so until/unless Fr. Z bans me (please don’t ban me ^^;;; ) or it becomes commonplace to publicize how this need is met in St. XYZ Parish: Fathers, please try and provide for a way for disabled parishioners to confess at least monthly while still being able to be anonymous (perhaps First Saturday morning/afternoon?) Poorly-lit confessionals with overly-narrow doorways that don’t even allow clear sound to travel between the priest and the penitent, (I’ve been in a few boxes where I almost couldn’t hear the priest, and I have overly-sensitive hearing,) if that keeps even one soul from the benefits of the Sacrament of Confession…

    [It might be better for you to make an appointment.]

  24. Gabriel Syme says:

    If I was a priest, I would state the number of penitents in the weekly bulletin, along with the number of parishioners. Hopefully the contrast would jar the conscience of some people.

    Something like:

    Registered Parishioners: 3,000
    Confessions head last week: 4

    I would then sarcastically remark from the pulpit about what a parish of Great Saints we must be!

    It a vicious circle: if nobody goes to confession, priests reduce the availability, which in turn again reduces the number of people going. The malaise started along with all the rest of the problems.

    In my experience, most suburban / town parishes have one confession slot per week, of just 15- 20 minutes, prior to the Saturday Vigil mass. Maybe a handful of people go, but sometimes I am the only one. I know of one exception, where a Church has a 45 min Saturday slot.

    The better examples are:

    The 3 city Center Churches (inc Cathedral) which all have a good diet of confession times, every day – but not Sundays, for some reason. These provisions are busier, but hardly bursting at the seams. (E.g. the Passionists have 8 confessional booths in their Church, but never need to use more than one. This indicates how much things have changed).

    The ‘traditional’ Diocesan Church and the SSPX Church offer confession before and after every mass, every day. SSPX confessions are always busy and its common for people to miss out because its time for the priest to go and vest for mass. (If that happens, people can go after mass).

  25. Gregg the Obscure says:

    a nearby parish offers scheduled confession nine hours a week nearly always either two or three priests at a time. i hope to get there this afternoon as my need for the sacrament is great.

  26. JonPatrick says:

    Our parish is fairly good about confession with times regularly scheduled on Wednesday and Friday at 4 PM as well as the usual Saturday afternoon at the 3 churches of the parish. It is nice to have the alternative during the week for people that have to work Saturdays. Also 1/2 hour before the 8:30 AM TLM on Sunday. Next week they are doing The Light Is On For You with 2 additional times scheduled. Generally priests are willing to hear confessions before or after daily Mass as well.

  27. LeeGilbert says:

    Many years ago I had an eye-opening conversation with a friend who was pursuing a master’s degree in Scripture at Notre Dame. “The priesthood is all about sin,” said he. I have never heard this notion stated so succinctly before or since. After all, if the principal charism of a priest is to make the bloody Sacrifice of Calvary present on the altar in an unbloody manner, and that sacrifice was all about the redemption from sin, then the priesthood is all about sin. This is all the more clearly brought out in the unique power of priests to forgive sin, where the fruits of the Redemption are applied to individual souls.

    Yet I once worked out the mathematics for confession in a parish with 1000 people. I did this first by querying well-formed Catholics ( daily communicants), “Over the course of your life what have you been taught is the minimal frequency of receiving the sacrament of penance that the Church recommends?” We know that the Church commands yearly Confession, but I was asking what they have heard from the pulpit, from confessors and from catechists over the years as a recommended frequency. I separately queried about ten people in their 70’s. To a person they each said, “At least once a month.” If you work that out, with an average confession taking four minutes, it comes to about 17 hours of confession time per week in a parish with 1000 people if people are at all serious about their spiritual lives.

    By the same token, if you reduce the weekly confessional time to an hour a week with a parish of that size, at four minutes per confession that is only 15 persons a week. If each person in the parish only goes once a year, then only 780 people could make their confession. It is clear, then, that the allotted confession times in most parishes do not permit all the parishioners even to make their Easter duty. In other words, we are in a very bad way vis a vis the availability of that sacrament.

    Yet for what other reason do priests exist except to preach and provide the sacraments? To go to meetings? As I said in a letter to the editor of our local Catholic paper, “For this we spent $56,000 a year to put Johnny through the seminary?” For one hour a week or less of hearing confessions??!! It seems to me, at least, that with this widely pursued policy of one hour per week availability many priests are rendering themselves absurd. Evidently the lack of priestly vocations is not the only vocations crisis that we face. As hardworking as many priests are, if in fact “the priesthood is all about sin,” there seems to be a very widespread identity crisis among priests.

  28. Nathan says:

    Sometimes in the comboxes I’m tempted to dwell on the very few times in my life that a priest has done something I thought questionable in the confessional. I should rather tell all the priests who have heard my confessions and given me absolution that I am eternally grateful and deeply indebted to all of you.

    You’ve not only heard and absolved my catalogue of sins. You’ve counseled me on the underlying pride, helped me back from the brink of despair over my habitual sins, given me a rhetorical kick in the pants when I’ve needed it, and have been truly an Alter Christus to a poor sinful man.

    I have now been in the arms of Holy Mother Church for thirty-eight years (I’m a convert), and I can’t begin to imagine how much more mired in my pride and my selfishness I would be without you dispensing Sanctifying Grace and Divine Mercy and inspired counsel in the Sacrament of Penance, over and over and over again.

    I hope that, in the light of the Beatific Vision, that Almighty God will grant you the grace to see just how indispensable you have been to me and to all of us who rely on you for this sacrament.

    In Christ,

  29. JustaSinner says:

    Imagine how it must be when you see a Priest in public and ask him for the Blessing and he nearly runs. Maybe time to ask, “Father, do you have time for a confession?” I understand that would be putting him on the spot, but it’s not like there are large options. My parish is 50 minutes per Saturday. And after daily Mass, time permitting.
    Then again, here is our Mission Statement:
    The Mission of St. Edward Church is to be
    an evangelizing community
    by faith, with love, in hope.
    Why can’t any Catholic Churchs MS be the end of the Apostles Creed?
    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy Catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen

  30. hwriggles4 says:

    There’s a parish close to me that has several Masses on Sunday, with at least two Masses in Spanish. The Spanish Masses are full. Confession is regularly offered, and a few times I have gone to confession there on Saturday afternoon.

    At Saturday confession, there are three priests, but only one knows Spanish. His line is three times the length, and many Spanish speaking parishioners seem like they only want to go to him. It’s a catch 22 – should the priests learn Spanish, or should the penitent brush up on English?

  31. GHP says:

    If you live in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) there are plenty of opportunities to go to Confession:

    Our Lady of Peace Shrine
    Sunday Vigil Sat. 5pm & 7:30pm
    Sunday 7:30am, 9:00am,10:30am, 12noon, 2pm & 5pm, 6:30pm (Spanish) & 8pm
    Weekdays 6:30am, 8am, 12noon, 5:15pm; also 7:30pm Wed. & 8am Sat.
    First Friday 6:30am, 8am, 12noon, 5:15pm, 7:30pm

    Saturdays 3:30pm – 5pm
    Other times During all Sat & Sun Masses
    Mon. during the 12noon & 5:15pm Masses
    Tue – Fri. During the 8am, 12noon; 5:15pm Masses

  32. youngcatholicgirl says:

    One beautiful sight is at the ICKSP oratory in St. Louis. They begin confessions at 7:15 on Sunday morning. If you get there at 9:30 to confess before the 10 o’clock Mass, the line is very, very long. The website says confessions goes to 11:30 (thus, confession from before 8 o’clock Mass until after 10 o’clock Mass), but if there’s still a line at 11:30, I can’t imagine the priest is going to leave the confessional until they’re all done. That’s a good four hours on Sunday alone; confession is also available thirty minutes before daily Mass and for an hour on Thursday evening. A vibrant parish, as you can imagine.

  33. LeeGilbert says:

    Nathan, you really brought me up short with this, your thanksgiving to the priests who have heard your confessions over the years:

    “You’ve not only heard and absolved my catalogue of sins. You’ve counseled me on the underlying pride, helped me back from the brink of despair over my habitual sins, given me a rhetorical kick in the pants when I’ve needed it, and have been truly an Alter Christus to a poor sinful man.”

    Yes, a thousand times over. I am so grateful, padres, for I know very well where I would be without you.

    Perhaps, after all, gratitude is the key to the vocations crisis, for “He who is not grateful for a favor does not deserve to be continued in it.” Why should the Lord send us priests, if we are not going to show our gratitude by receiving the sacraments? And, too, by expressing our gratitude as Nathan has done. And praying for our priests, especially the priests of our parishes.

    For that matter, if a man will not exercise his priesthood by hearing confessions, and so demonstrate his gratitude for the immense gift the Lord has conferred on him, will the Lord sustain him in his priesthood and in a state of grace? Certainly by this negligence he is running a very great risk, chief among which would be, one would think, dying without the sacraments.

  34. Ave Maria says:

    I am very fortunate in that both the parishes I frequent have two daily Masses with confession times at each and also on Saturdays. I recall in my former parish out in a liturgical wasteland, there was confession for about 45 minutes on a Saturday. Hard to hit that window with an active, growing family. But I was a regular as were a couple of others and we would joke that we were the only sinners in the parish. Also, I might add, the parish priest did not hear confessions but hired a retired priest to do so. And that parish priest would refuse people who asked on a weekday or something and tell them to come back on Saturday. That priest and his male “friend” liked vacations and helicopter champagne rides in Vegas….Nuff said there.

    And I have relatives in Saginaw where it is not easy to find a Mass that is not upsetting. There is/are parishes with confessions only “by appointment”. And I joke that some others have confessions for a half an hour every other odd numbered month on a Tuesday if it is an even numbered day. The dereliction of duty is damnable, and perhaps-sadly-literally.

  35. BrionyB says:

    “By contrast, at Westminster Cathedral in London, in a supposedly Protestant country, the confession box is manned 44 hours per week.”

    The Cathedral priests do a fantastic job. There is huge demand as well; the last time I went I had to wait in line for over 40 minutes, and that was mid-afternoon on a weekday, presumably one of the quieter times (so be warned, anyone thinking to pop in for a quick confession before catching the Gatwick Express from Victoria station around the corner!). I can’t speak highly enough of the priests themselves, though, and the time and care they devote to the sacrament every day.

    Note too that the confessionals are not quite as anonymous as some people might like; it’s an enclosed box with a screen, but no curtain, so you and the priest can see each other through the screen. A bit of a surprise if you walk in expecting otherwise! I believe the confessionals at the (fairly nearby) London Oratory are the traditional European kind, where the priest sits in the middle and the penitent kneels behind a curtain on either side.

  36. comedyeye says:

    Do bishops hear confessions in their diocese? Should they? My bishop told me that he doesn’t hear confessions from anyone in the diocese unless it is completely anonymous to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Is this a valid concern?
    I attended a women’s conference in Phoenix and Bishop Olmsted heard confessions with the rest of his priests so it didn’t seem to be a concern for him.

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