Traditional Confession Vs. Modern 'Reconciliation'
Pitfalls, Dangers & Drawbacks of the New
By Mr. Anthony
Summary: Pitfalls, Dangers & Drawbacks of the New Approach to the
Sacrament of Penance
Keywords: Confession, Sacrament of Penance, Reconciliation,
Traditional Approach to Penance, Traditional Penances, Problems
With 'Modern Style Confession', Confessional, Penitent, Priest,
Letter to Confessor
One thing that has been troubling me recently is
the institution of a modern 'reconciliation' approach to the sacrament
of Penance at our parish. The practice has been recently introduced into
the local parish by a newer priest. The priest has a good heart, but I
do not believe he realizes the possible negative impact his actions may
have on the faithful of the parish. Let me first state that I appreciate
the fact that he wants to spend time with the penitent, but I do not
believe the confessional is the proper setting for this.
Previous to his arrival in the confessional, the
humble priest that proceeded him heard numerous confessions in a
succinct manner. This priest gave good advice when it was called for,
but he did not 'chit chat' about other matters in the confessional. He
also gave penitents traditional penances (e.g. a few prayers). There was
ALWAYS a line for his confession and he offered numerous occasions for
parishioners to go to confession each week. Many, many people were able
to receive the sacrament of Penance from him on a regular basis.
The new priest has a different approach to
confession. Despite the physically confining and fairly uncomfortable
setting in our rather old parish, the new priest spends a great amount
of time with each penitent in the confessional. He asks questions and
probes penitents on various matters. I realize he is trying to teach and
help the penitent, but I do not believe the confessional is the correct
setting for this. As a result of the new approach, lines barely move. In
any given time period, few people are now able to have their confessions
heard (maybe 6-10 maximum confessions can be heard per hour). A few
months ago, I waited in his line (first standing on the hard floor for
probably a good half an hour and then waiting in a very uncomfortable
kneeling situation for some 10 minutes as the priest heard the other
penitent in the other confessional) only to be turned away at the last
moment as the priest had to go. This has also happened to other
parishioners on a frequent basis. It does not matter if a person has a
few slight sins or very large ones to confess - confession now seems to
Previously, I have mostly been spared this
post-Vatican II phenomenon by attendance at the more traditional
parishes. Unfortunately, this practice seems to have now infiltrated
even the 'most conservative' parish. The only thing that could make the
practice worse was if the confessions were face to face! But pardon my
digressing. I was only wanting to share my concerns about this approach
with others so that Catholics might have an honest discussion about it.
So without further delay, I will get to some of
the practical and theological difficulties I have with this approach to
the sacrament of Penance.
1. Fewer confessions can be heard in any given time period. This is
obviously not good news.
2. The practice discourages frequent confession and thereby results in a
loss of graces.
3. Long wait times now discourage parishioners from availing themselves
of the sacrament - including those who may have mortal sins to confess.
This is a great risk to souls!
4. There is a perceptible change in focus from penitents being sorry for
theirs sins to entering self-analysis mode (it can feel as if you are
undergoing a pseudo 'therapy session', but with a untrained therapist
who is not privy to all details about your life that may be relevant).
5. The new practice seems to downgrade the priest to a 'therapist' or
self-help guide rather than God's judge who has an awesome power to
retain or forgive your sins.
6. The practice may negatively affect preparation for confession. Since
penitents are not expected to 'get right to business' with the new
approach, people will probably feel less need to prepare properly as
they assume the important points will fall into place as they 'chat with
7. Although the matter of confession should be our sins, this can seem
lost in all the conversing. Furthermore, one of the most important
things in confession for the penitent should be true sorrow for sin, yet
this seems to be less of a focus with the new approach.
8. The new approach may change the perception of the sacrament from a
supernatural event to a more worldly activity. Rather than focusing
exclusively on our sins, we are encouraged to explore many other avenues
during the 'discussion'. And, the conversation may get into personal
details & feelings that we are uncomfortable discussing, especially if
we find the conversion not relevant to sins that we already feel sorrow
9. Those who do not arrive early may not bother to go to confession if
there is already a line when they arrive. What is the point of waiting
so long in line if there is not enough time for their confession to be
heard or if they will have to leave before too long in order to meet
other commitments they may have?
10. Even if someone arrives early enough to have their confession heard,
it may take a good hour for the barely 6 people ahead of them to have
their confessions heard. On a practical level (at least at my parish),
since the floor is hard and you have to stand for so long, your feet may
hurt by the time you make it to the very uncomfortable confessional that
you will have to wait in - in a kneeling position - for another 10-15
minutes while the person ahead of you has their confession heard, not to
mention that you will have to continue to kneel for 10-15 additional
minutes for your own confession. If you are not in very good physical
shape and have only venial sins to confess, it is likely you'll take
this into account in deciding whether or not you will go to confession
on any given day. And, this is compounded by the seemingly inevitable
realization that you will need to use the facilities soon (hopefully you
can make it until after confession!). For women, less comfortable shoes
and heavy purses can present additional burdens to an already physically
taxing situation. Children may also find the long wait quite
11. Confession under the new approach seems to focus a great deal on our
efforts, yet it would seem better to instruct us to ask God in prayer
for graces to overcome sins rather than simply apply our own efforts for
the umpteenth time. We will fail with just our own efforts! The graces
from confession are not seen, but they ARE real. There is a real risk
here that the grace from the sacrament will not be highlighted. Instead,
it can seem like it's all about us & our efforts. And again, if left to
our own efforts alone, we will surely fail.
12. It can be hard to be as charitable in line as you might like to be
when you know that letting a handicapped or elderly person go ahead of
you in line may mean you have to spend an additional 15 minutes waiting
for your turn (did I mention you're already standing on the very hard
floor for a very long time?), or it may even mean that your allowing
them to go first will result in there not being enough time for the
priest to hear your confession.
13. This new style of confession gets old after a short while. Most of
us probably struggle with the same sins time after time despite our best
efforts. We need the grace of God - dispensed by the priest in
Confession - to overcome them. While some occasional, quick advice from
the priest may be called for and useful, we do not need the priest
taking up so much of his valuable time week after week 'chit-chatting'
with us about the details of our personal lives and our feelings.
Rather, we need the grace of God that the priest alone has been
authorized to dispense to us.
14. The practice invites frustration. It is frustrating if you are not
able to schedule a long time for confession and are therefore not able
to receive the sacrament. It is frustrating to have to wait for a very
long time for your confession to be heard (especially when the priest
could have heard dozens of confessions in the amount of time you waited
but he heard just a few confessions in that time). It is frustrating if
you have to wait a long time for confession only to be turned away once
you are at the front of the line. It is probably inevitable that people
who are not retired will have scheduling issues since so few of these
modern style confessions can be heard in any given time period.
Therefore it seems that frustration is likewise inevitable under this
15. The practice may cause people to avoid or delay their confessions,
especially when they have only venial sins to confess. In my case, I
find that I now try to avoid this parish for confession and look
16. The new approach can change the dynamic between priests & penitents.
The priest may no longer be seen as a judge or authoritative
representative of Christ, but rather a mere 'coach' or 'therapist'. It
can lead to a lack of appreciation for and respect for the priest's
God-given authority and incredible power.
17. The practice may ultimately cost souls! Persons who might have
otherwise confessed their sins may die without the sacrament of
confession because getting their confession heard was made too
18. Excessively long confessions can lead people not familiar with this
new approach to think a penitent must have had very many sins to confess
since their confession took so long. This can be rather embarrassing
and/or uncomfortable for both parties.
19. It can be extremely difficult for large families to avail themselves
of frequent confession under this new approach as the time required for
the one family's confessions alone could take up the entire amount of
time allotted for confessions for all persons for that day. That is not
good for that family and it is certainly not good for the other families
at the parish.
20. Someone, having only venial sins to confess, who is cognizant of the
fact that confessions under the modern approach may take so long may
feel guilty for taking up space in line considering that someone else
who needs confession even more than they do may miss out on receiving
21. The mood or atmosphere for confession under the new approach can
become inappropriate. Heartfelt sorrow for actual sins committed can
easily take backstage to a introspective look at oneself and one's
22. Hand-in-hand with the modern style confession may come dreaded
non-specific penances, for example performing an 'act of kindness',
contemplating something over a given period of time, etc., etc. Many
Catholics dread these non-specific penances that don't address the
offended person (God), may be hard to carry out or remember, are
motivated by obligation/self-interest rather than kindness, involve a
lot of uncertainty (was that small act a sufficient 'act of kindness'?),
are sometimes hard to do at all or at least in a timely manner (e.g.
when one has to go home to an empty house with no one to do an 'act of
kindness' for after an evening confession), etc.
23. Even for people who like the new approach, there is a danger that
they will become used to this type of penance and when they later
experience the traditional style of confession, they may feel
confused or unprepared, and may even think the priest was short with them
24. The modern approach to penance can leave the penitent with a very
different mental outlook after confession. For example, rather than
feeling peaceful & thanking God for His forgiveness and generosity after
a traditional confession that was so brief, yet so powerful, the
penitent who underwent the modern style confession may feel uneasiness
(for example, the penitent may feel anxiety about the personal matters
discussed, his feelings, or about the plan he should take in the
future), and may endure much mental activity (e.g. going over points
made by/with the priest), and perhaps experience various concerns (e.g.
that took a lot of my day away/I have a lot to do, I still have work to
do - e.g. 'act of kindness', I said the wrong thing, I don't like
discussing my feelings, etc.).
All in all, I do not believe this modern approach
to confession is a very good thing. Confession is a tremendous blessing
that is typically given with so little relative effort on our part and
so much generosity and grace given on God's part. Proper Catholic
formation teaches the penitent to prepare for confession properly and to
not be superfluous with words. For those who take proper advantage of
the sacrament, the rewards are immense. Confession is so critically
important in living a good Catholic life. It should be encouraged and
facilitated, not made more uncomfortable, overly time-consuming, or
unnecessarily difficult or unpleasant. One should not have to dread the
excessive wait times, dread the taxing physical conditions leading up to
confession, dread the discussion of personal details & feelings that are
not relevant to sins that you are already sorry for, or dread the
unspecific, difficult to complete penances. One should also not fear
that there will be insufficient time for their confession to be heard.
If we need to speak with a priest about personal
matters or our feelings, we should make an appointment to see him
privately. Confession is primarily for the priest to use his great power
in dispensing the sacrament of forgiveness to as many people as
possible. It is not designed for therapy or as a primary form of
Catholic instruction. Those things are best done outside the
So where does this leave us as lay people if a
priest continues to employ this approach? If parishioners choose to do
nothing about the situation, there may be little chance of improvement.
The result may be fewer confessions, fewer graces, more frustration,
etc., etc. The priest may have no idea whatsoever that there are
legitimate concerns among the laity if he his not told.
On the other hand, if parishioners approach the
priest directly, various things could go wrong (e.g. the parishioner may
feel nervous, the conversation may get off track, the priest may be
offended, there may not be enough time for a useful back & forth
discussion, etc.). For these reasons, some may find it advisable to
address the matter in writing so the issues may be addressed in a more
comfortable, well-thought out manner and so that they can be evaluated
by the priest at his convenience. For those who choose the written
option, I will present below a sample letter that may be helpful as a
starting point. My hope is that it may prove useful for members of the
laity who are seeking to end this practice at their parish.
Finally, I realize that there are some
liberal-minded priests who will never be willing to change, but I also
believe there are other priests who would be willing to make adjustments
if they could be made to appreciate the potentially negative
consequences of the new method. For this latter group, it seems worth a
May God bless & aid you in your efforts to restore
a more traditional approach to the sacrament of Penance.
- - - - - - - - - - Sample Letter - - - - - - - - - -
Dear Father [Name],
Thank you for your work on behalf of Christ's
flock. Your many efforts and daily sacrifices for the laity and the
Church do not go unnoticed. I therefore write today with confidence in
your goodness as I attempt to raise a matter of some concern for your
consideration. As a dedicated & holy priest, I know you have the best
interest of the flock in mind, and I therefore hope that you will give
some consideration to the concerns I will outline below. I pray that you
will forgive my ineptness with words and only consider whether the
points I bring up have any validity or not.
Ultimately, what I am asking for is that you will
introduce [or restore] a more traditional style of penance at the
parish as I believe the more modern style that is being used here has a
number of drawbacks. For example, in comparison with the more
traditional style of penance, the more modern style of reconciliation
that is being used here at the parish...
1. Takes much longer, so fewer confessions can be heard in any given
2. Discourages frequent confession, which thereby results in a loss of
3. Results in much longer waiting times for confession, which
discourages parishioners from availing themselves of the sacrament. Some
may even die without the sacrament of confession because getting their
confession heard was made too difficult.
4. May change penitents' focus away from being sorry for sins as this
aspect tends to become less central to the whole experience.
5. May reduce the priest to a 'therapist' or self-help guide in the
minds of the laity rather than our seeing him as God's judge who has an
awesome power to retain or forgive our sins.
6. May change the perception of the sacrament from being a supernatural
event to a more worldly activity (e.g. self-help or therapy session).
7. May become unnecessarily uncomfortable for the penitent (e.g. when
drifting into matters & feelings not directly related to sins that the
penitent is already sorry for).
8. Can tend to focus a great deal on our efforts, yet wouldn't it be
better to ask God in prayer for graces to overcome sins rather than
simply apply our own efforts for the umpteenth time? We will fail with
just our own efforts! As Catholics, we know that the graces from
confession are not seen, but they ARE real.
9. Often goes hand-in-hand with dreaded non-specific penances. Many
Catholics seriously dread these non-specific penances that can cause
anxiety and often cannot be completed before we leave the church.
10. Can leave the penitent with a very different mental outlook after
confession (e.g. uneasiness & anxiety may take the place of peace &
In my own experience, I find that the more modern
style of reconciliation has had specific negative effects on me
personally [detail them here - e.g. delaying confession, stopping
frequent confession, anxiety over the non-specific penances, anxiety
over whether there will be enough time to hear my confession, leading me
to avoid the parish, etc.]
I know that Confession is a tremendous blessing -
and that is so critically important in living a good Catholic life. It
should be encouraged and facilitated for all Catholics, being as brief
and to the point as possible so that more people will be encouraged to
attend. Proper Catholic formation teaches penitents to prepare for
confession properly and not be superfluous with words. If we need to
speak with a priest about personal matters or our feelings, we should be
encouraged to make an appointment with him outside the confessional. As
Confession is primarily for the priest to use his great power in
dispensing the sacrament of forgiveness to as many people as possible,
it is regrettable if the sacrament is ever misused as 'therapy' or as a
primary form of Catholic instruction. Those things are best done outside
the confessional. While some occasional, quick advice from the priest
may be called for and useful, we should not take up so much of his
valuable time 'chit-chatting' with him in the confessional. Rather, we
need the grace of God - that the priest alone has been authorized to
dispense to us - given to as many people as possible.
As I particularly respect your great commitment to
God's work both inside and outside the confessional, I therefore place
this matter in your hands with confidence in your zeal for souls and
love of God. Please consider introducing [or restoring] a more
traditional style of penance at the parish.
Thank you for your consideration.
May God bless & keep you.
- - - - - - - - - - End of Sample Letter - - - - - - - - - -
By Mr. Anthony
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