Friday, 12 February 2016



CATHOLICS have more or less abandoned the Confessional and the making of a personal confession to a priest.

Why is this? When I was growing up in the 1960's in Dublin you could go to confession nearly at any time of the day in so many churches. And when I went to confession in those times there was ALWAYS a queue. 

When I was a priest in St Peter's Cathedral in Belfast in the late 1970's FIVE PRIESTS would have been kept busy hearing confessions for THREE HOURS every Saturday.

As well as that people were constantly ringing the presbytery door bell to go to confession.

And on top of that I used to spend many hours each week hearing confessions in St Louise' Girls school on the Falls Road and in St Peter's Boys secondary school in the Whiterock area of Belfast.

NOW churches are empty of so called "penitents" and priests very often just hold confessions for 15 minutes before Mass.

And if you look at who is going to confession it is nearly always people between the ages of 50 and 90.

As a younger priest people used to stop me on the street and ask for Confession. I used regularly hear Confessions in social clubs if I was out for a pint with parishioners.

Now, I am not in a parish and I probably get asked for confession no more than 6 times a year.

What has happened to Confession? I would say a number of things have happened:


There is massive less concentration on SIN both inside the Catholic Church and among people in general than there used to be. Very few priests preach about things like sin and confession and even when they do people ignore them. 

Many people, even Catholics think - "I do not do anybody and harm and I would do anyone a good turn". So people feel that they do not sin.


When I was growing up the BIG SIN was anything to do with SEX.

Now people regard things like sexual thoughts, masturbation, sex outside marriage, homosexual activity, etc., as NORMAL and HUMAN. 


Ordinary people do not think that they should have to go to a priest to confess. They feel they can tell God they are sorry.

Furthermore priests are being publicised on a regular basis for being more SINFUL than ordinary people - with PAEDOPHILE PRIESTS and priests involved sexually with women and men.

People wonder why they should tell their LITTLE SINS to a man who is probably up to more than they are.


On one occasion I was standing outside a church in the diocese of Down and Connor where some monks were giving a retreat. A young woman ran out of the church in tears. I asked her what was wrong and she told me that the monk in the confession box where she had been going to Confession asked her to suck his finger while he relieved himself sexually!

Personally I have had both good and bad experiences of Confession both as a penitent and a priest.

In my early days the priests and church drove me round the bend about sex, sexuality and sexual sins.

On a small number of occasions I was propositioned in Confession by a priest.

But I have also had some very positive experiences as a penitent and a priest.

I suppose its like everything else - Confession can be properly used and also abused.

I would be interested to hear people's views.


  1. I'm 38 year old male and I've only ever made one confession and that was as a 7 year old before making 1st holy comunion. I can't remember what it was but as a 7 year old child it was probably I stole a sweet out of woolworths pic n mix . I thought then as I do now why should I confess any sin to a priest and for him to say my sins are forgiven . What authority has a priest to forgive sins ? . I can pray to my god anytime I choose and seek forgiveness I don't need a wee mothball smelling cubicle and some priest on the other side of a bit of chicken wire . Jesus said I am the way truth light ect ect . He did not say go get to me you must go through a priest . My parents generation rarely even bother with confession and I'd reckon 5% of mine bother . My church uses the confession box for storing hymn books

  2. Ballykinlar Pilgrim12 February 2016 at 20:35

    A most interesting topic,Bishop Pat; all my life I have feared Auricular Confession. I've always feared making a bad confession and committing blasphemy. But, here's the interesting thing: Auricular Confession was not rolled out until 1215 A.D. by Innocent iii. But, if we look at Holy Scripture, we find that the vicarious Sacrifice of the Lamb at Calvary has caused our redemption. Christ made sin on the Cross.(2 Cor. 5:21). I personally am influenced by Sacred Scripture as opposed to man-made laws. An excellent topic, Father Pat.

    Jarlath Vaughan
    Ballykinlar Pilgrim

    1. Thank you Jarlath.

      Like you I place Scripture before the traditions of men.

      I think that as an exercise in spiritual direction and pastoral counselling in the context of prayer and faith Confession can be a healing experience.

      But the whole Wardrobe Confessional has been open to all kinds of abuse.

      Perhaps we really need to revisit the whole area comprehensively.


    2. Jarlath, you are talking a load of nonsense. You speak of Sacred Scripture as if it was somehow separate from the Church and its living Holy Spirit-inspired Tradition. This is not the case. Scripture and Tradition are all of a piece.

      Auricular confession also originates much earlier that the 13th century.

      St Leo the Great refers to it in the 5th century: “I have recently heard that some have unlawfully presumed to act contrary to a rule of Apostolic origin. And I hereby decree that the unlawful practice be completely stopped.
      “It is with regard to the reception of penance. An abuse has crept in which requires that the faithful write out their individual sins in a little book which is then to be read out loud to the public.
      “All that is necessary, however, is for the sinner to manifest his conscience in a secret confession to the priests alone…It is sufficient, therefore, to have first offered one’s confession to God, and then also to the priest, who acts as an intercessor for the transgressions of the penitents” (Magna indignatione, March 6, 459).

      Jesus clearly gave the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins after His resurrection as recorded in John's Gospel.

  3. 3 priests were confessing their sins to each other . The 1st said he was a thief he stole from shops , people's houses ect . The 2nd said he had a secret girlfriend and 2 kids . The 3rd jumped up and said "my sin is gossip and I cnt wait to get out of here"

  4. You should visit the Oratory in Oxford; Confession before each Mass each day of the week and always a queue. Some days the Confessions go on right through the readings and bidding prayers.
    Westminster cathedral also seems to always have a queue for Confession. For myself I feel a need to confess before receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord. It helps to prepare the mind for partaking in the central meaning of the Church

  5. Pat on this one I think you have got it just right. It is a pity it came to this because the Sacrament of Reconciliation had the potential for so much good and is desperately needed in this world of ours. People are now confessing to anybody who will listen and will even pay big money to therapists just to have somebody hear them out and give them a kindly ear. Yes the Church killed this sacrament especially in Ireland by acting in the way you described. Few have more potential for good than a wise and kind confessor. At the same time huge damage was done by bad confessors.
    Thanks Pat.
    Fr Iggy O Donovan

  6. I am an irish man living in London. I confess at the cathedral when I do. It's always overwhelming with the amount of people queueing there. A long wait is the norm. I think perhaps people are turning to bigger churches and cities to confess. I am mindful of how St Marys in Belfast used to have a similar function. I have to say when I do confess (probably more than twice a year) I do find it hard. I prefer the anonymous experience of a box as I wamt to think I am talking privately to God via a priest as opposed to a priest playing counsellor. The sense of reconciliation I feel after is always profound. As if being lighter in myself. The experience before is one of anxiety. My experience of confession has almost always been positive. Priests have been keen to show God's loving mercy and to bring about a real sense of reconciliation. I know many practising catholics of all whom hold the sacrament in high esteem.

    1. The huge queues at Westminster Cathedral speak volumes of the quality of the confessors. The administrator of the Cathedral is a wise and kindly man, a former anglican clergyman and army officer. He ensures that only the most compassionate and understanding of priests are brought in to assist the excellent priests who are based at the Cathedral.

  7. I no longer take part in sacramental confession; I confess directly to Christ, the one and ONLY priest.

    So-called priests cannot absolve sin; only God can do this. To claim, as the

    Catechism does, that a priest has the power to forgive sin is utter blasphemy and represents self-aggrandisement by the clergy. THIS is clericalism at its most
    offensive: the deification of ministerial priesthood.

    I'd be happier if every priest were swept off the face of the planet. How much more productive and Christlike our church could become, then!

    1. You sound like a right nut, Anon @ 09:38. Jesus Himself told His priests: "Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain, they are retained".

      The views you have expressed are those of an ignorant bigot. In fact, they remind me of views once expressed by the late mega-bigot George Seawright, who said that an incinerator should be built in Belfast to burn Catholics and their priests!

      You say "our church"? A Church without validly ordained priests would not be the Church of Jesus Christ. It would simply be another of the multitude of heretical sects.

    2. To Anon at 12:26

      And you sound like a banner-waver for clericalism.

      Listen to yourself, man. You're an idiot. No-one but God can forgive sin.
      Jesus confirmed this when he healed the paralytic after forgiving him his sins. He did this to meet the objection of bystanders who complained: Who
      is this that forgives sins. Only God can forgive sins. Jesus didn't correct them; in fact, he confirmed their observation by going on to perform a
      second miracle...but a visible one this time: the physical healing of the
      paralytic. And he did this because his critics would have known that only
      God could perform such a healing and that Jesus, therefore, must also be God...and have the power to forgive sin. But they, like you and the priests
      you obsequiously serve, missed the point.

      No, I am neither ignorant nor a bigot. But you are both ignorant and a fool. And I'll wager that you are also a priest. It is priests, with their inflated
      clericalist notion of priesthood, that have almost destroyed the body of
      Christ. Without exception, every crisis in the history of Catholicism has had
      these people at the heart of it.

      Have you ANY understanding at all of scriptural rhetoric? Those words you claim Jesus uttered (if he uttered them at all) were intended figuratively,
      not literally. You moron. Even if you are too illiterate about the meaning of
      Scripture, consider the import of your ludicrous belief about priests and their putative power to forgive sin if they were to 'give absolution' to
      penitents who were insincere: totally unrepentant. According to your infantile and clericalist view, those 'penitents' would be reconciled with
      God without having repented simply because a priest pronounced the words of absolution. How stupid can one person be? In order to know
      whether a person is truly repentent, your priests themselves would require a window on souls...which of course they don't have. Give me a break. You
      sound clownish now

      Your elevated notion of priesthood is not only unbiblical, it is, practically
      speaking, utterly absurd. But thanks for giving us all a laugh.

      As for your preposterous idea that without validly ordained priests, our church would not be the 'Church of Jesus Christ', hasn't this penny finally dropped for? Since you're obviously a very slow learner, I'll take the trouble
      to spell it out for you: there is only ONE priest, Jesus Christ. And he is eternal. Therefore his church is eternal. What an ignoramus you are!

    3. Are you a Catholic at all - of any description? We can trade "moron", "infantile" and "ignoramus" all night but you are UTTERLY in the dark about the Scriptures, the nature of the Church, the priesthood and the Sacraments Christ instituted as the normal means of saving union with Him now and to assist us towards our eternal salvation.

      You are, unwittingly perhaps, just like those Pharisees and bystanders who condemned Our Lord for forgiving the paralytic - "no one can forgive sins only God". The Son of God gave to His priests the authority to forgive sins - not in their own name - but IN GOD'S HOLY NAME.

      What authority have you for saying that Jesus spoke "figuratively" in John 20:23?? And for suggesting that He never said them at all??

      You are indeed, ignorant and a bigot and a very angry, nasty and arrogant one, at that.

      FYI - to be forgiven, by God, through the ministry of the Church, in the Sacrament of Confession, the Church teaches that the penitent must be truly contrite and be resolved to amend his/her life. If anyone is insincere, unrepentant, then he/she IS NOT FORGIVEN and the Sacrament will avail them not!

    4. Anonymous at 18:30. The priest does not forgive sins. God forgives sins through the priest.

      Our Christian Faith is incarnational. God uses human beings as His instruments. To deny this is a very ancient heresy (false doctrine).

      Furthermore, you called the person you are replying to "a fool". Beware. Wind your neck in, For Jesus said: "anyone who calls his brother/sister a fool will answer for it in hell fire". Or maybe you think He never said that either?

    5. To Anon at 19:09

      Yes! For once you are right and have proved my argument: if a 'penitent' is not 'truly contrite', then 'the Sacrament will avail them not! '. This is precisely my point. A priest has no power to forgive sin because he cannot exercise it at will. And this is because HE HAS NO WINDOW ON THE HUMAN SOUL . Only God has this. Has the penny finally dropped for you?

      As for my authority for believing that Jesus spoke figuratively at John 20:23 (sigh), re-read the first part of this comment...slowly...and then do the same with the account of the healing of the paralytic. Hopefully, you'll be able to manage this on your own, because I don't fancy spoonfeeding you again.

      To Anon at 19:16

      You're as well versed in Scripture as the previous commenter, aren't you?

      Don't you know (well, clearly you don't ) that Jesus himself calls Pharisees 'You fools!' at Luke 11: 40? Is Jesus going to hell for this? Or is he just a hypocrite?

      And don't you know (no, you don't, do you?), that both Paul and Peter use the word 'foolish' in relation to others, either real or hypothetical? At Romans 2:20, Paul refers to the students of Jewish scholars as 'foolish', and in one of Peter's letters, hypothetical people are referred to as 'foolish'. Will Paul and Peter join Jesus in hell for this?

      You are as ignorant of scriptural rrhetoric previous commenter.

    6. It's somewhat bemusing to see the fire and thunder in comments here, about the minutiae of religion, but so little contribution to the supposed central core and basis of religion raised in recent blogs, ie the existence or otherwise of god.
      It's a bit like a crowd of decoraters considering work on a room and the best kind of wallpaper and paint etc, while ignoring the absence of a floor.

    7. Sir/Madam, you only further demonstrating what an eejit you are and, behind you screaming and ranting, the asinine nature of your arrogant ignorance. Case in point - your "is Jesus going to hell?" comment.

      If God wants to call someone a fool, then God can and will. If God calls you a fool - know that your goose is cooked!

      Peoples' actions may be foolish. The apostles Peter and Paul, however, did not call those people "fools".

      The priest's authority to forgive sins comes from God who gives that power to His priests.

    8. MMM, settle yourself. Your perennial question WILL be answered one day. Pray you'll have something, er, convincing and self-validating to respond with.

    9. To Anonymous @ 02:13

      Shouldn't you be kissing a priest's arse? You semi-literate fool. (Oops! Looks as if I'm heading for hell...according to one of the buffoons above)

  8. Most of us experience people based on what they choose to reveal. Did hearing the secret sins, guilt and frailties of the whole parish give priests a deeper insight into the human condition than that available to anyone else? It would seem it should. Did it also add to the power of the priest at a practical level?

    1. What I hear in the confessional goes in one ear and out the other - as it should. It never crosses my mind, even if I happen to know/recognise the person. We are all sinners. Nothing to be ashamed of. Thanks be to God for His infinite mercy upon which we all depend. Priest.

  9. I always struggle a bit with the traditional penitential service and people preferring a priest who does not know them. Yet some of the most powerful experiences I have had in the Sacrament have been where penitent and I shared something together e.g. Lough Derg, Camino, Pilgrimage and in some cases we knew each other very very well. I think better preparation is called for and I don't mean examination of conscience as despite noble efforts..they just don't seem to connect with people.

  10. "Anonymous" 00:51 accuses me of talking a load of rubbish. Well, for all his patronizing and pejorative prate, he does not cause a single dent to my belief of the infallible and inspired word of God as contained in the Holy Scriptures. P.S. Are you afraid to reveal your identity? Do you wear a Roman collar by any chance? - Jarlath Vaughan

    1. No Jarlath, I don't wear a Roman collar. And I think you are a fundamentalist nut job. Are you a Paisleyite?

  11. Reply to "Anonymous" at 00:04: there is no need for your nasty response; I mean - I'm not afraid to air my views or to reveal my identity. Are you? Why not unmask yourself, brother?

  12. Many of the old Catholic communions have private confessions to a priest as well as "general absolution" where you could confess silently in prayer and be given...well ansolution.

    I think it's a great thing. Confession is there privately for those who are inclined but you could also keep it between only you and God if you desrired. I like the old Catholic model.