Card. Piacenza to priests: “Wanna be a modern priest? HEAR CONFESSIONS!” Whereupon Fr. Z really rants.

There is a good piece at La Bussola Quotidiana (in Italian) about the Sacrament of Penance.

I’ll give you a sample, but I don’t have the energy to translate the whole thing.

Prelude: Apparently there was recently something called “Earth Day”.  That’s the backdrop.  Also, each year, the department of the Vatican that deals with the internal forum, confession, indulgences, lifting censures, etc., the Sacra Penitenzieria Apostolica, held its annual multi-day workshop for priests and ordinandi about confession.  I attended that annual session several times during my time in Rome – because I could.  Repetita iuvant.

La vera ecologia per preti? Stare di più in confessionale

True ecology for priests? Spend more time in the confessional


The only adequate remedy for evil for contemporary man is found in purification: this is the core of the address given by Card. Piacenza [the Major Penitentiary] who went after, then, the with diffuse temptation even among many modern theologians, that of “abolishing” sin. “Contemporary man… who has eliminated or at least archived the problem of God, no longer speaks of “sin”, but rather of “error”, fulfilling in this way a two-fold suicide mission’ on the one hand, in fact, he attributes only to himself responsibility for one’s own negative acts, excluding the existence of original sin and the consequence inclination toward evil, which we are all called to resist, but which we are called humbly to recognize; and on the other hand the presence of the help of God and of His grace, contemporary man self-condemns himself to a dramatic isolation in his own evil.”

For Piacenza, the desire to eliminate sin even from common language would be joined to the marginalization of God in society. He then warned against the coherence conceived as the sole criterion for judging human action instead of obedience to truth and good. The address of the Major Penitentiary then underscored the importance (much obscured today) of the sacrament of reconciliation and the duties to which priests are called: “Every single sacramental absolution constitutes the greatest contribution that one can give to human ecology, to the ecology of the soul and, through them, to the ecology of the world and of the universe,” the cardinal affirmed, concluding with a whipping/chastising call: “Do you

“Every single sacramental absolution constitutes the greatest contribution that can be made to human ecology, to the ecology of the soul and, through them, to the ecology of the world and the universe,” the cardinal said, concluding with a lashing call: “Do you really want to be modern priests and ecologists? Get into the confessional more often!”


All in all, the Sacrament of Penance is a mess.

That means that the Church is a mess.

If the Church is a mess, then the whole world is a mess.

The Sacrament of Penance is a liturgical action.  Save the Liturgy = Save the World.

How to do this?  Priests and bishops have a role.

First, from the pulpit preach about sin, guilt, penance, expiation, etc.  You know, all those things that were systematically stripped out of the orations of the Novus Ordo.  All those things that people haven’t heard the Church clearly pray about in sacred worship for decades.

We are our rites!  Change the way people pray and you will, over time, change the way that they believe and how they live.  There is a reciprocal relationship between our sacred liturgical worship and our belief.    Eliminate language of sin, penance… even God… and the results will be what we see today.  And society is getting better and better, right?

Who is to blame?  Firstly, I would lay the blame on the unrealistic optimists at the time of the Council, but also on the modernists and true enemies of the Faith who infiltrated to the highest places.  That has been ongoing.  Thereafter, I lay the blame on the backs of bishops and priests who – even through they are liberals and modernists – really do know better.  They ignore or even run down confession and those who want to make thorough, sincere confessions in the way that the Church requires by law: by number and kind of sins.

And then there are confession schedules in parishes.

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, for example a pastor who won’t allow a younger priest to get into the box.

Clamor for confession times!   Don’t let dopey priests get away will saying that black is white or that 2+2=5 or confession is out of date or that serious sins aren’t serious!   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.  Remember 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 a priest 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 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.

Mind you… there are some priests who are in assignments that don’t permit a lot of liturgical activity, time in the confessional. Surely they want those things, right?  But they are doing their duty as best they can.

BTW… I think that, by making your good confession, you good lay people help priests.

You help them to be priests.  Fabricando fabri fimus… we become carpenters by doing carpentry.  Priests become priestly by doing priestly things.

Priests are ordained for offering sacrifice.  They do this mainly through sacred liturgical worship in its proper forms.  The main things they are for in the Church is celebration of the sacraments.  Anyone can do other things, but only priests can do certain things.  The main things that priests are really ordained to do are celebrate Mass and, in a routine way, hear confessions.

Priests who are not into all things liturgical, priests who are not into hearing confessions… what’s that all about?   The sanctuary and confessional, not the rectory, are the proper places for the priest.

Until this problem of renewal of our sacred liturgical worship is undertaken, and with it, renewal of priestly identity we are… well… simply wasting time, effort, and money to the detriment of the flock.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Absolution is true spiritual healing.

  2. tho says:

    Well said Father, although not a member of the clergy, I took it all to heart. Why you are not a Bishop is beyond me.
    Priests should be priests, wear your cassock, and don’t forget your stole when conferring a sacrament.

  3. bobbird says:

    Fr. Z is not even a Monsignor, let alone a Bishop. He has been BLACK BALLED, like so many of us in the laity. The hierarchy is polluted to such an extent now that it can be accurately called “organized crime”. We laity who have been exiled to the parish attics for teaching and explaining the Truths and disciplines of the Faith are spiritually united with Fr. Z. We sometimes do an End Run through cooperative home-schooling of the faith. Fr. Z’s “end run” is his blog. It helps, but is miniscule in its impact. [LOL! “Miniscule”? Gee thanks. And you would be amazed at who reads here, not just how many. And it’s “minuscule”.] We pray this will change. We thought we saw it with Pope Benedict, but it was a false dawn. We wait some more. God might be telling us, “How can anything change without exposure of the scoundrels?” We worship a God of Miracles.

  4. Ave Maria says:

    I am very blessed to have two parishes to go to that are nearby and both have two daily Masses with confessions with them as well. So I have a choice of 11 or 12 opportunities to receive that Sacrament every week. But in the past at a big parish, there was only a small window for the sacrament on a Saturday afternoon and that was not easy to hit and few went whereas with all these opportunities I have now, there are always a line for each time. As a movie noted: if you build it, they will come.

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    “Some parishes offer a scant 15 minutes.”

    Really? Where are these parishes. No southern parish I’ve attended has been like this. At Holy Ghost in Knoxville–a smallish downtown church (photo here)– we have 8 to 10 hours of confessions weekly with the schedule

    Sunday: 45 minutes before each Mass (5 Sunday Masses)
    Monday – Friday: 7 – 7:45 AM daily
    1st Saturday: 7:15 – 7:45 AM; 8:35 AM – until finished

    Plus more on special occasions (like Holy Week). And the confession lines are long. At the 12 noon Sunday Mass I attend, you need to get in line early to be heard before the sermon (with one priest in the confessional while the other is at the altar).

  6. Hidden One says:

    Fathers, if you want to smell like the sheep, sit in the confessional.

  7. BrionyB says:

    Unfortunately it’s not unusual for parishes to have either no scheduled Confessions at all, or one short window on a Saturday.

    I tend to agree with “if you build it they will come”, but can see why priests get discouraged. I arrived promptly for the scheduled half-hour before Mass on Holy Thursday, thinking there might be a long line, only to find I was the only penitent to show up at all. Father must have wondered why he bothered.

  8. BrionyB says:

    On the other hand, one can go up to town and find Confessions at the Cathedral from 11am to 6pm daily, with lengthy queues the whole time. Clearly some people are going there instead of to their local church, though it’s hard to tell which way round the cause and effect is when it comes to the lack of penitents and lack of scheduled confession times at parish churches.

  9. teomatteo says:

    At the parish we should belong to the priest never has us say the confiteor, (ok, once when the new translation went into effect at advent 2011) since he got there in 2002. And of course that moment of silence during the penitential rite–never given. I drive an hour to an ICtK parish because i would rather know that my priest is mumbling, with his back to me in a dead foreign language the confetior than have it purposely and completely eliminated. Rantificate completed.

  10. veritas vincit says:

    “First, from the pulpit preach about sin, guilt, penance, expiation, etc. You know, all those things that were systematically stripped out of the orations of the Novus Ordo.”
    As an excuse from a parish priest, I don’t buy that for a second. [What, exactly, don’t you buy? It is true that certain concepts were systematically removed from the orations of the Novus Ordo.] There are plenty of NO readings during the liturgical year that gives priests the opportunity to preach about sin in their homilies. [Of course there are! That’s why I wrote what I wrote. However, I wrote “orations” and you wrote “readings”.]
    Too many priests (and/or the bishops who supervise them) are too afraid to upset people to preach about sin — the “go along to get along” mentality. The McCarrick horror has made that so abundantly clear. [Too true!]

  11. Bonaventurian says:

    This is why I regularly attend confessions at St. Paul’s down by the UW campus. They are one of the very few churches in the area which offers confession before EVERY scheduled mass. God bless the priests in that parish for their emphasis on confession. Given the absolutely horrendous state of modern culture, it’s appalling that so many churches only offer confession once a week for at most an hour. That just proves this sacrament is being ignored by the clergy and underutilized by the faithful. Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on us!

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