Monday, October 01, 2007

A comeback for confessions

~the MSM seems to be taking notice. Last week, we had the Wall Street Journal article, now we have Time Magazine.
Confession--telling your sins to a priest and receiving absolution--is one of her faith's seven sacraments, but for Gargiulo it now seems as anachronistic as prayer veils and meatless Fridays. "It lost its efficacy for me," says Gargiulo. "It was too much a perfunctory exercise about church rules instead of Christ's teachings." [Hear that, Lord? Your grace is 'perfunctory']

Increasingly, it seems the only thing U.S. Catholics confess these days is that they rarely if ever confess. In a 2005 survey by the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate at Georgetown University, 42% said they never go to confession. Only 14% said they go once a year, and just 2% said they go regularly. The fading away of one of Catholicism's best-known traditions has finally gotten alarming enough that bishops have begun turning to modern marketing tools to reverse it.

...Reasons range from long-standing doubts about church teachings to the current obsession with public mea culpas that have largely supplanted the confessional booth. One oft mentioned cause is Vatican II, the 1960s church council whose reforms stressed what Pope John XXIII called "the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity." Since confession, with its accompanying penances, is all too often associated with the latter, many Catholics use Vatican II as a cue to scratch the sacrament from their to-do list. Some also cite Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), which reaffirmed the church's ban on contraception. Because few U.S. Catholics consider birth control immoral, Humanae Vitae has led to a wider re-evaluation of what constitutes sin--and whether confession is really necessary.

[Ready? Here it comes....]The church's sexual-abuse scandal has also taken its toll. Catholics felt that the bishops--many of them accused of enabling pedophile priests--were arrogantly evading the same kind of penance they demand from their flocks. "The very teachers of the sacrament of confession seemed to be ignoring a constitutive part of that sacrament," says the Rev. James Martin, associate editor of the Jesuit-run magazine America. "It made the confession crisis worse."

...Others, like Gregory Baum, emeritus professor of theology at McGill University in Montreal, call it a belated Hail Mary pass. "Traditional confession," he says, "just isn't part of Catholic spirituality anymore." ["I'm-spiritual-but-not-religious" kind of spirituality] Maybe, but for now the church is keeping the light on, just in case.

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