Confession Survey?

On Saturday I turned up at a suburban church in Melbourne at 9:50am where the Sacrament of Reconciliation was advertised at 9:30am. I found the church deserted except for one parishioner who informed me that Father had returned to the presbytery as there was no one waiting for confession at 9:30am. He said that I was welcome to go and knock on the presbytery door and request the sacrament.

I declined the invitation for the simple reason that I had wished to make an “anonymous” confession, which is my right. I usually go to confession either at the Cathedral or at St Mary’s Star of the Sea in West Melbourne. Both places use the traditional confessional box, and are also very reliable in terms of the priest being available in the box at the advertised time. I don’t go to my parish priest for confession precisely because they don’t use a confessional box and “anonymous” confession is not possible. Call me funny, but don’t call me non-Catholic. I just don’t like making face to face confessions to priests with whom I have personal or working relationships. I hope you can understand why.

My point in saying this is: Would it be helpful and would it encourage a greater use of this sacrament if we had some better information on the practice of Reconciliation in our local parishes? Ie. Would you be encouraged to make use of the sacrament if you knew that:

1) Confession could be made anonymously? (ie. that the confessional box with grill or viel is used.)
2) that the priest can be relied upon to be there at least for the next hour following the advertised time?
3) if the Confession were offered regularly and more often than just on Saturday mornings after mass?

If I had the time, I would conduct some sort of survey of parishes to find out how they offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but for the moment, perhaps if you have had any good experiences in this regard, you might be able to recommend a parish that fits the bill?

To start the ball rolling, I recommend St Patrick’s Cathedral (where they have confession for one hour from Midday to 1pm every weekday except Monday as well as weekends) and St Mary’s West Melbourne (where they have confession every weekday from 12noon to 12:30 and 1pm to 1:30pm as well as weekends).

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24 Responses to Confession Survey?

  1. Ben George says:

    My home parish near Houston offers confession after almost every mass, for at least thirty minutes and usually more, for a grand total of 19 opportunities per week = between 10 to 15 hours a week. That is a LOT of time in the box for padre, you have to have a priest who is DEDICATED to this sacrament. I asked about it one time, he said when he first started doing it he would often sit in there alone for the whole time, but after about six months of faithfully ALWAYS being there, people woke up and started going, slowly, but then more and more. Now, every confession time has a long line. Deo gloria!

    Counter example: my sister’s parish in Atlanta had ZERO TIMES PER WEEK… by appointment only! It was all I could do to refrain myself from cornering the priest and asking him for a minute-by-minute breakdown of his weekly schedule so as to see what exactly he thought was more important than the mercy of Christ.

  2. matthias says:

    Well I ‘m just a protestant at the moment ,but I noticed at the Church where i go ,they are talking about forming groups of 3 and that they will be accountable to each other ,confessing their sins to each other,telling when they have advanced the Kingdom of God. At the moment it is just a ‘suggestion’ but if it becomes a pressure situation then i will walk. Like you Schutz I value my space and anonymity ,but also I have reasoned that confessing to a priest would be far preferable. Incidentally the Russian catholics,prior to their Liturgy this Easter,had the Melkite Metropolitan hearing confessions.
    Also good to have you back old boy.

  3. An Liaig says:

    Welcome back David. I hope the Camaldolese treated you well. At St. Patrick’s Mentone there is Confession on Wedensday and Saturday moring and Saturday afternoon for al least half an hour. There is the choice of face to face or traditional confession although the traditional way seems favoured. People know that Father Walshe will be there and there is often a line waiting. However, I also often go to either the Cathedral or St. Marys because of proximity to work.

  4. Peregrinus says:

    There has been a great decline in participation in this sacrament. I suspect most Catholics do not participate regularly, and most of those who do participate regularly do not participate with the frequency which was formerly common.

    Undoubtedly part of the reason why confessionals are not staffed for hours a week in every parish is lack of demand. It’s all very well to say that priests should sit there for two or three hours in case a penitent does come along, but it may not be the most realistic advice, or the best use of clergy time in these days. Ready availability of confession is important but I doubt, to be quite honest, that having a priest available for several hours a week in every parish church would greatly increase participation in the sacrament.

    I think most dioceses have developed a number of “confession centres”; centrally-located churches (or monasteries, etc) where confession [i]is[/i] available for many hours every week. This has happened, so far as I can see, haphazardly and in response to individual choices, rather than as the result of any central plan.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing. In urban parishes, where we commute several (or many) kilometres to go to work, to go to the cinema, to go shopping, to visit friends, commuting to a “confession centre” is not a barrier to most people. And from the point of view of “anonymous confession” as preferred by David (and many others) it has distinct advantages. Even in the traditional dark confessional, I think most priests would readily identify a regular parishioner. As it happens, the parish in which I live is one of the “confession centres” for my diocese, but my preference is to go to one of the others myself, for precisely this reason.

    The spontaneous nature of the “confession centre” phenomenon indicates that it is a natural and organic reaction to the way people live nowadays. But, precisely because it’s spontaneous and unplanned, the occasional/returning/uncertain penitent may not know about it., and this [i]can[/i] be a barrier. It may need to be better identified and publicised.

    • Schütz says:

      I am not sure of “the chicken or the egg” debate here, Perry, but my guess is that a combination of regular preaching and catechesis on the Sacrament and ready availability would make a lot of difference. I like the idea of “confession centres”, which makes sense – but people have to be told about them. So if any of you know about such “centres” (the Cathedral, St Francis in the City, and St Mary’s West Melbourne definitely fall in this category) please tell us about them. “Build it and they will come”, as the old saying goes.

  5. frdamian says:


    Welcome home. Thanks for the trip down nostalgia lane. I walked past the Trevi fountain 6 days a week for 4 years! Growing so accustomed to it, I used to have to force myself to sit and ponder its beauty.

    We only offer confessions for 1/2 hour every Saturday evening (until 1/2 hr before Mass). Some weekends, no one comes (the week after Easter for example). Some weekends, there are 6 or 7 people.

    On Good Friday, I spent about 6 hours hearing confessions… There’s still some demand close to the big feasts.

    I’m fairly convinced that we need to offer another couple of times. But, it’s not all up to me. I don’t mind sitting there for an hour if no one comes as long as I have my bible or my breviary!

    The issue to me is not a lack of catechesis concerning confession but a lack of catechesis concerning sin.

    • Schütz says:

      Certainly any catechesis on confession would require catechesis on sin. When you say “It’s not all up to me”, I take it you are not the parish pastor?

      • frdamian says:

        Yep, not the PP.
        But, even if I was, it would require a commitment on the part of however many clergy are in the parish… Confessional times need to be fixed and oughtn’t vary according to who’s around.

        My point about the need for catechesis on sin is based on the observation that many people simply don’t think in terms of the category of sin. I’m sure there was a book published in the 60s “Whatever happened to sin” which noted the way in which this framework for evaluating human behaviour had begun to disappear. We can talk about confession until we’re blue in the face, but if people don’t think that they have committed any sins, they’re not going to come.

        • Schütz says:

          I met someone once in one of my adult ed classes who claimed that she never has had to go to confession because she has never committed a mortal sin. Well…

  6. Arabella says:

    A lack of opportunity for anonymity and lack of encouragement from the pulpit have likely contributed to the decline.

    Interestingly in some places where there is no encouragement for individual confession there is encouragement to attend penitential services in Advent and Lent. My parish is one example of this – parishioners seem to believe these penitential services to be the same as sacramental reconciliation (third rite). The structure of the service encourages this belief with individuals going forward to the front of the church (as in a Communion line), near the conclusion of the service, where the priests silently lay hands on them.

    Also in some places ‘face to face’ has been taught to be the more ‘mature’ option thereby discouraging those who prefer privacy.

    That encouragement & availability can make a difference is seen at WYDs where a great many young people attend the sacrament of reconciliation.

  7. Weedon says:


    I find your response rather odd for a former Lutheran. Did you not make confession face to face as a Lutheran? It seems to me to be a most helpful part of the death of the pride of the old Adam to look my confessor in the face when I am done.

    Glad you’re home safe and sound!

    • Schütz says:

      Quite true, Pastor, but as you know there is no requirement on Lutherans to confess EVERY sin of which they are aware to the pastor. Confession for Lutherans is considered helpful specific sins are weighing upon their conscience and they desire assurance of forgiveness for those specific sins. But a Catholic confession is invalid without a full confession of all sins of which one has awareness of having committed, and I certainly never made such a confession as a Lutheran.

      And indeed I have made face to face confessions as a Catholic. I just prefer not to. While I was in Italy, I went to confession once in Assisi and once at St Paul’s Outside the Walls. Both had boxes contiually occupied – but both were “open box” affairs where one was face to face with the priest. Of course, there the priest didn’t know me from Adam. The problem is that despite all the rules that govern the seal of the confessional – rules which I know the priests carefully guard against ever breaking – I cannot quite believe in what some priests call the “amnesia of the confessional”. I wish I could.

      But in any case, my confession is to God and not the priest. I agree that it is more confronting to make a face to face confession, but it is not necessary for the validity of the sacrament.

      • Louise says:

        But a Catholic confession is invalid without a full confession of all sins of which one has awareness of having committed,

        You mean mortal sins, surely, David. I did not think we were required to confess every venial sin. Am I wrong?

  8. PM says:

    I agree entirely – it is annoying to find Reconciliation advertised for ‘0930’ with no indication of how long the priest will be there.

    Like you, I prefer anonymity. But there have to be some exceptions.

    An parallel vice to the vagueness of some clergy in setting times is the behaviour of some penitents. A church I sometimes go to on the way home from work has Reconciliation advertised from 6 to 6.30 pm on a weeknight. Several times I have arrived at 6.05 and had to wait, with 10 or 15 other people, while the person who was in the confessional when I arrived stays there until 6.20 or 6.25 – with the result that many people don’t get to start their confession until 7 or later, and some just can’t wait.

    You may guess from the foregoing that I often have to confess impatience. And I understand it if people are having a crisis of conscience. But I do think it is a matter of good manners and consideration for the needs of others to make a private appointment if you think you’re going to need half an hour to yourself. Someone who seemed even less patient once wondered aloud if people understood the difference between confession and spiritual direction. There is an old adage that has a lot of truth: “Be brief, be brutal and be gone”.

    • Schütz says:

      I had that in Assisi! I went to a box where the two people in front of me took about 20 minutes each. Cathy had all the time in the world to explore St Mary’s Basilica, while I sat and waited VERY impatiently for my turn in the box. I was thinking very bad thoughts by that stage, I can tell you. So I included “impatience” in my confession, and then received a 15 minute sermon from the priest. I had been blaming the wrong people!

  9. Pax says:

    I too prefer the anonymous confessional and have always felt it was better with the face of both cofessor and penitent shrouded by the grille and even a veiling over the grille. It enhances the sense of communicating with God and the priest as intermediary or instrument of pardon and peace. I suspect that many priests would prefer it themselves.
    Given the shortage of priests it would not bother me if eventually individual vocal telling was replaced by a reconciliation service where the presiding priest instructed the congregation on the examination of conscience then asked each individual to confess silently in their minds what they had done and what they had failed to do-reminding us we cannot fool God and if there was no genuine remorse and no intention in our heart of trying to avoid sinning in the future then the absolution that followed would not be valid?
    In the meantime I accept the form of confession Mother Church provides knowing the Holy Spirit will bring about any desired changes that God wants.

    • Schütz says:

      Actually, what you suggest is exactly the way Lutherans most often practice the sacrament of confession. It is not nor ever can be a valid form of the Catholic rite – EXCEPT in the case of absolute emergency such as death is immenant upon such a large number of individuals that the priest could not possibly hear their confessions in time. This latter is what is called the “Third Rite” of the sacrament of penance, and carries with it the requirement that (for validity) those who receive absolution in this manner – if they survive the immanent disaster – are required to make sacramental confession to a priest according to the First Rite as per usual.

      The problem as I found it in the Lutheran experience, is twofold:

      1) people DO fool themselves – and so do not actually come to terms with the reality of their sin, nor do they really come to know the personal nature of the absolution

      2) the practice of private confession practically dies away entirely.

      I applaud those Lutheran pastors who are doing what they can to restore the Sacrament in their churches (not for the moment going into the question of the fact that it still isn’t valid as a Catholic Sacrament because of the invalidity of Lutheran orders). But they are fighting an uphill battle.

  10. Tom says:

    Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had anonymous confession. I go at least once/month, if not more; it’s never bothered me. None of the priests I’ve confessed too (and off the top of my head there are at least 4 of them with whom my family and I regularly socialise) have EVER acted, or suggested anything to say they are thinking about my confession.

    I remember asking a priest once how it worked; what he thought when he heard someone commit a really serious sin, or the like. He said, other than penance, for him, all he can do is pray that God will take care of that person. Priests are so tightly bound not to reveal what is said in the confessional that in the end I’ve no fear; if people see me confess or not, they sure as hell wont know what I say.

    The other thing is, where I go to Mass, the first rite of confession is available, but the second rite is also provided regularly. (2nd Rite is priests standing in various places around the church and you walk up to them, people can see, but not hear you – for this the sacrament is offered as part of the liturgy of the word.). This means for the priests, confession is usually done in bunches of 3o or 40 penitents at a time. (usually takes about 2 hours or more) It would be a fair achievement for the priest to remember everyone’s sins, especially when (after enough confessions) they all start to sound the same.

    • Tom says:

      ***incidentally the 2nd rite gives ample opportunity (during the liturgy preceeding the sacrament) for the priests/catechists to give catechesis on sin.

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