The Poll Results Are In

Over the past week we ran a poll to find out how frequently our readers go to confession. The poll closed last night at midnight. It’s pleasing to have received over 250 votes and perhaps surprising to learn that about 80 percent of our voting readers go to confession. Of course, we’re looking at a small and hardly random sample. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that significantly less than 80 percent of all American Catholics go to confession.

It figures that the readership of a Catholic blog like this one would take its faith seriously and therefore would be more likely to seek Reconciliation.

Also pleasing is the fact that we have a measurable, though small number of non-Catholic readers (about 7 percent, according to the poll). Perhaps many of these are discerning about converting to the Catholic faith. That leaves just 12-13 percent of our readers who said that they are Catholics who go to confession “seldom or never.”

Those who attend confession relatively often are the ones that struck me most. About one-third of respondents said they go to confession at least once a month. Then again, if my understanding is correct, most Catholics used to go to confession weekly. Readers like Mujerlatina have reported on this. Yet today, just 10 of our respondents, or 3 percent of readers participating in the poll, now go to confession once a week!

If we make the same assumption here that we made above—that readers of YIM Catholic are a relatively devout bunch—then it’s shocking that as few as 1 or 2 percent of American Catholics today go to confession weekly.

A legacy of Vatican II? Or what?

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  • Are you saying that Catholics should be going to confession every week??? That's a bit much for me and I don't think any priest would even suggest such a rigorous spiritual practice. I mean, that's great if you are Pope John Paul II, but I'm def. not there yet!

  • Webster Bull

    Not suggesting it, Sarah, just wondering: If 50 years ago, Catholics typically DID go to confession weekly, and now only 1 percent of Catholics go, what happened? Did we get smarter? Or–??

  • Anonymous

    People went to confession weekly for a comparatively little period of time. When people went to communion quarterly or monthly (even if they went to mass weekly), they went to confession before a "Communion Sunday." In the early 20th century, when frequent communion was urged (beginning with Pope Pius X), the tradition of "confession before communion" morphed into "weekly confession."We're only obligated to go to confession for mortal sins. One could ask how and why someone who goes to communion weekly or daily is managing to also commit a mortal sin weekly. (I know its possible, but seriously….)I know that for some people a weekly devotional confession is important. But it isn't required. And for some it can run over the line into scrupulosity.If people leave confession for serious sins, or a general seasonal inventory if there are no mortal sins, I can't see the harm.It might actually have more impact on someone, rather than a weekly experience that might seem totally routine after awhile.

  • Ann

    What happened is we lost the sense of sin. We Catholics have been fooled by the world into thinking that WE determine what sin is. But this is not true. Sin is sin, and the Bible and Holy Mother Church teach us what it is. We have chosen to ignore the truth at our own spiritual peril.To say weekly confession is ok for the Pope but not the everyday Catholic smacks of pride and the pretension that we are less sinful than the Pope. While weekly confession is difficult due to the lack of confession hours available in most churches, it is a great way to grow spiritually. Anyone confessing weekly most likely only has venial sins to confess, and what a great grace that is. Too bad the American Bishops don't acknowledge that and require their parishes to offer longer hours for confession. To paraphrase a famous line: If you offer it, they will come.

  • Anonymous

    Weekly confession is not necessarily about mortal sins. I would be surprised to learn that those who don't go to confession weekly are free of venal sins any more than those who do go weekly. Focusing on even our smaller failings can help to develop our spiritual rigor. Moreover, spiritual guidance can be a part of frequent confession. This guidance can be very valuable for those seeking to grow spiritually.

  • Anonymous

    I attended Parochial school in the late '50s and early '60s. Though the nuns encouraged weekly confession, I don't remember actually achieving it myself. I do remember that the lines for the "good" priest were very long… (for some reason, each confessional had a particular priest's name above it) – and the nuns would require us to redistribute. One experience with the "bad" priest left me in tears and I didn't go back for awhile out of fear. Vatican II definitely eased my concerns about how often I went as I got older. In fact, I went to a Catholic College, but didn't spend nearly as much time thinking about Confession as I did the Mass. Mass was everywhere… in the chapel of the rectory, in the nearby cathedral, in the basement of one dorm every Sat. night at midnight – even in dorm rooms occasionally. But I can only think of one place that offered Confession. I think I stopped viewing it as a gift, but thought of it more as an obligation – and one necessary only for the confession of mortal sins, which I thought I was avoiding – but wasn't. Years later, the sex abuse scandals further eased whatever impetus I may have had to go more often – but to be honest, the demands of raising children (and not making it a priority) was also a factor. I think differently about it now, but I don't think most parishes could accommodate a large number of penitents each week. I was very grateful recently, that I didn't feel rushed in my confession. as there were only two people behind me.

  • I have been to confession in various locations, having moved several times and most all priests I have come into contact with, except one or two, did NOT encourage weekly confessions. I believe this is due to several facts. One, the priest could be rather laid-back himself and not realize the importance for some to stress confession more often. Two, the priest may fear some will become scruplous and that is NOT a good thing, so encourage less frequent confessions.Personally, I think monthly is best unless, of course, there is immediate spiritual need. One DOES obtain graces from confession even if you are only confessing venial sins.I am reading a book right now called, That Went Well, about a woman and her disabled sister for my class. In the beginning of the book she mentions a Catholic family who are her neighbors in childhood. When describing the family, she says they had many children, and would go to confession EVERY Saturday. This was in the late 1940's and oddly, in Mormon territory in Utah. When I read that, I was assuming it was the NORM to go to confession weekly.If you consider, also the more we go back in time, the more common it was for people to die of ailments quickly (an example of this is in the book too when a babysitter passes suddenly) because people just did not go to the hospital or doctor as often we do now, it was probably a good thing to go to confession weekly!

  • Warren Jewell

    The confessional, demanded of priests by their Perfect Leader and our Master, was left by Jesus Christ as one of His most essential and glorious gifts, and most tellingly as Sacrament. I can't think that Christ saw it as something to be used merely in emergency or in any way casually. From personal experience, any rite, from baptisms to weddings to funerals to devotional visit to personal prayer, have benefited from being recently confessed.Moreover, I get tired of defending Sacramental Penance against a mass of voices not one of which emits from a non-sinner. "Well, just because YOU'RE a sinner . . ." I do refrain from citing the speaker as a spiritually and intellectually lazy lout – barely. :)I say, get with the program: it includes intensive repentance and therefore very regular and rigorous Penance. I admit to having once – and, yet, only the once, over thirty years ago – gone to confession to report a gloriously and graciously sin-less week. My pastor had a good laugh, and thanked me for making his day. But, then, he still absolved me because: 1) he realized that I just could have missed a venial sin along the way; 2) it is HIS job by his ordination, not mine by being repentant; 3) he knew he helped the Lord grant the graces of the Sacrament; and 4) he also knew that I just loved to hear the words of absolution.After all, Jesus just has SO many ways to say (and DO) "I love you" – who wants to miss any of them?

  • Maria

    I still say it is important to acknowledge what Hardon SJ said, essentially, (1)that there are many priests who no longer really believe in Confession as a Sacrament and (2) listening to Confessions require a great sacrifice on the part of priests. It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience and a lot of Faith to listen to Confessions. Dissenting theologians, those who do not believe that Christ instituted the Sacraments, have had a significant impact. If a priest does not believe that Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we know what he thinks about Confession. When in the very best of circumstances, no more that two hours a week, are allotted to Confession, what is the Church telling us about the importance and need for Confession? We live in a world which tells us that sin is not sin. For example, Tiger Woods adultery is not *sin*, it is a *sexual addiction* in need of *treatment* We don’t need priests telling us that * sin* is not *sin*. Secularism has infiltrated the Church.Having lost a consciousness of sin over decades, re-acquiring the art of Confession is taking time for me. If it is true that sin blinds, and I sinned over a long period of time, then acquiring sight to see my sin also takes time. It requires a re-orientation of my right place before God, my nothingness. It requires humility. I pray for my mind to be enlightened, for the grace to *see* my sin.

  • Warren Jewell

    BTW – WELCOME TO ALL CATECHUMENS into the Church of Jesus Christ.The Lord be ever with you until you are ever with Him.

  • I go to weekly confession. Not because I'm worse than Hitler, but because it is one of the best ways to advance in the spiritual life. I have never gone one day without sinning. Nor, do I believe, have very most people. Weekly confession, of course, demands a knowledgeable (and holy) confessor who understands the inherent evil of a fallen people and their unwillingness to reject their wills and take on the will of their God. In years of going to weekly confession, I've meet any number of not-so-holy priests who scoff at the idea of sin itself, choosing to believe that whatever is intrinsic to human nature is fine with God. This type of priest was endemic in the 1970s. When you find a good confessor, go to him and allow him to know your soul. He can then offer spiritual advice in a meaningful way. We wouldn't go to a new doctor and hide our past so as to make is more difficult for him to form an informed opinion.

  • Anonymous

    Well, my pastor hears confessions before Mass every day, which means twice on Saturdays and Sundays. Many in our parish go to confession every day, or every 2-3 days. For me, it can either be a sacramental means of growth, by keeping the state of my soul constantly and, I hope, clearly before my eyes; second by the frequent reception of sacramental grace. It is also an antidote, in a way, to help avoid "re-infection" with more serious sins from the past. I speak for the motives of others in our parish, but I do know that knowing this priest hears confessions every day leads many people from outside the parish to visit for this very purpose, and I have no doubt serious sinners who might have great difficulty waiting til, or making it to Saturday confession are helped very much by this availability.

  • Anonymous

    Who says that going to Confession weekly on a regular basis is the same thing as making a "good confession"….does quantity equal quality…or might some of those who frequent confession be there due to some problems with scrupulosity? Especially since the norm that is being suggested ( by the church) is monthly confession. At any rate, regardless of what your readership polls, my sense is still that the lines at confession are far, far shorter than the lines for Communion….no better poll than that is needed. Perhaps it would be more useful to learn WHY that seems to be the norm now as opposed to pre-Vatican II times. We all know that confession has fallen out of favor since then…why? Are we really feeling less sinful? Or is it we are less trustful towardsthe clergy?

  • James

    This was a very interesting poll. While not scientific or a random sampling of the general population it is probably representative of the YIM 'audience'. Speaking for myself ( I don't doubt the sincerity or piety of those who do) I couldn't attend Reconciliation weekly. Knowing myself the constant monitoring of my conscience and state of my soul would lead me straight into scrupulosity. I'd be a basket case in no time. Six weeks seems right for me unless of course, I commit a grave mortal sin in which case I'd seek confession at the earliest opportunity. I'm generally uncomfortable beyond six weeks because by then I'm more susceptible to temptation and I especially don't want to receive the Eucharist unworthily. Anyway, whether it's six days,six weeks,six months or six years I'm grateful to God, the Church and her priests for the lifeline and renewal the Sacrament affords us.

  • I'm back!! Here's my thought: When my mom used to drop us off for weekly confession back in the late 1960s-70s (doing errands until we had finished…) I believe that this was her way of helping 'parent' us. She herself has stated recently that she used the 'drive-by confession' and the very rigorous rules of the Pre-Vatican II era to guide her in raising the four children she bore in five years!! It was really not a very spiritual 'thing' in her mind — just a way to 'bend that twig, not break it,' as she still enjoys saying. As the 'victim' of weekly confession I saw it as part and parcel of my life: no confession meant no Holy Communion. It was not until high school when I realized that some of my more devout classmates from South America absolutley would not take Communion without the benefit of confession prior. By that time, Vatican II was in full swing, I had shed my chapel veil and was participating in CCD 'seance-like' activities. By the grace of the Holy Spirit I continued weekly mass, met many devout young university students and blindly catechized myself into adulthood. Today I try to take advantage of confession every month or so; however, I often find that some priests merely shrug their shoulders when I confess sins that I chronically struggle with — as if they are saying 'It's no big deal…' So I continue to try to strike a balance between frequent and MEANIGFUL confession, instead of the old rote 'I did this and this and this… and oh, I did that' I have found that it is in the face-to-face confessional of recent years that I have been able to understand my pitfalls as a parent of young children, and have received revelation about my work as a physician. I'll leave it at that. I might add however, that confession is not for the faint of heart. My daughter's happiest exclamations have occurred when she has informed me "We had confession at school today mommy. It was scarey, but I feel really good and really happy…" Pax Christi

  • Anonymous

    Allan Wafkowski's advice to :allow your good confessor to know your soul is indeed most helpful. I know.

  • I find very sad to see the priest in the confessionnal room waiting for people to come and no… body comes. How sad that is.Waste of time will be…. not to take the great opportunity to receive the absolution for our sin.Chantal

  • This has been an interesting discussion to read. There are a variety of opinions.I had the opportunity to study the sacraments in depth in '06. This included the history of the Sacrament of Penance. When one looks at Church practices as far back as the very early Church, one sees it has gone through many permutations in the way it has been understood and practiced. So looking back just 50 years and noting changes is a very short view.For those seeking guidance concerning how often one is OBLIGED to confess, the answer is one is obliged to confess mortal sins. So, if a faithful Catholic is not aware of having sinned mortally, he or she need not confess.Catholics who are unaware of having mortal sins are not prohibited from receiving the sacrament of Penance. They may confess venial sins. Such a confession is considered devotional. Every confession confers grace, so that is a good reason to confess.Venial sins may be forgiven by means other than the Sacrament of Confession as well. An excellent way is frequent Mass attendance and reception of communion.

  • I'm missing Joan of Arcadia for some reason.

  • Webster Bull

    @Shannon, You may be the only one. Though I would like to continue my trail-blazing Commentaries on Joan one of these days! 🙂

  • Webster Bull

    I guess the conclusion I draw from the comments so far (and thanks for all) is that we can look at confession like getting a tune-up for a car and follow the instruction manual. "The Church prescribes confession every six weeks…" Or we can realize that we are not cars and that confession is not a craft or trade but, as Maria puts is beautifully, "an art." She writes of "reacquiring the art of confession" [after years without, I gather] and while the CCC (the instruction manual) may not speak precisely in these terms, these terms work for me. Confession is clearly an important way not just of cleaning ourselves up for God periodically but also deepening our spiritual life. I understand about "scrupulosity," to be avoided. But where is the line between that and a weekly "devotional" confession? It's in our own hearts and minds, I guess. Each person has to work out his or her own "art," but work it out we must.

  • Anonymous

    I'm wondering why this hasn't come up yet – I think many Catholics stopped going to Confession regularly once they reached a point in their lives where it seemed hypocritical to confess a sin they had no intention of avoiding, at least for some length of time. The one that applies to me is birth control. I didn't want to leave the church, wanted to raise my children Catholic, but couldn't practice NFP for the duration of my marriage. (or didn't think I could). There are very real dilemmas which result from strict observance of Catholic Doctrine. For example: a pregnancy loss will usually result in the medical community advising the couple to wait several months before trying again. Abstinence during a time of such profound grief can drive the couple apart. An affair, (during which the husband had unprotected sex) will result in HIV testing for both marital partners. If reconciliation is attempted (and the church recommends this strongly), the woman must now do one of two equally difficult things: abstain from sex with her husband to protect herself medically – or trust her husband (once the HIV tests come back negative) not to stray again. Birth control in this situation is still not allowed by the church. There are situations where the husband (or wife) discover after becoming parents that they aren't cut out for the job – are in fact abusive. One partner may promise at the time of engagement to be a Catholic spouse – then renege – making it difficult for the other spouse to have a Catholic response to these dilemmas. There is also that period in a woman's life when NFP will not be reliable, even if it has been successful for years. I grew up in a large Catholic family and wanted to raise a large Catholic family – but circumstances beyond my control prevented that. When I was raising my children, all of my Catholic friends were using birth control. The one Catholic couple in the neighborhood who had eight children eventually divorced.Food for thought?

  • Webster Bull

    Anonymous 9:35,Definitely food for thought! Thanks for your candor. It is a new thought among the comments here, as you mention. So new that I might make it the basis of another post, to bring it out "into the light." Confession has proved to be a durable theme for readers of YIM Catholic. Thanks for adding this important consideration.

  • Ruth Ann has it right: if you want to be technical about it, Catholics are required to receive communion once a year in the Lenten/Easter season. A minimalist view? You bet, but it came about because people weren't going to communion at all. I think when the Mass was celebrated in the local languages and people woke up to the fact that they were praying for forgiveness every time they were at Mass, the guilt lines shortened and the habit of asking God for mercy moved inside.

  • Jess

    Anonymous at 9:35,My dear friend in Christ, please forgive me if I sound critical or uncharitable – as I do not mean to – but while the situations you mention would certainly be difficult, painful, and trying, they are not excuses to turn to sin. My husband and I have suffered the loss of three pregnancies to date. I had NO cycle whatsoever for nearly four months after the most recent loss, but the long time of abstinence did not drive us apart – we refused to let it. We trusted the Lord. We prayed and wept together. We offered our sorrow to Him and kept our eyes on the "crown." I do not say this to point our how strong and courageous we are. Rather, we were blessed by the mercy and goodness of the One who is our only hope, and for that I am deeply grateful. Incidentally, there is an individual we know and love who is living another of the scenarios you mentioned – an "unequally yoked" marriage. This person is forced to attend Mass alone, review all the details of NFP alone, take care of the house, a job, and children alone . . . all while keeping a spirit of kindness, cheerfulness, love, and encouragment. I will freely say that my husband and I do not know how this person does it. But naturally, divorce is not an option; the individual always says, "The Lord sustains me. The Lord said, 'Take up your cross' and this is my cross." We ALL need the forgiveness of God, and life is easy for no one. It seems to me that if one knows where his salvation lies, then his path is clear. In my humble opinion, a lack of obedience to the teachings of Truth have a lot to do with why many Catholics do not want to "face the music" in confession. (Believe me, I am there lamenting my own sins often!)Webster, I'm sorry for having wandered quite off topic . . .

  • Good thread.Since I returned to the faith about a year ago. (I said my first confession after near 30 years away last Solemnity of St Joseph), I have had confession almost but not quite once per month.I deliberately kept track of all the priests who were my confessors. I have only had the same priest more than once a couple times. My parish seems to rotate in priests for confession very regularly. We only have confession (unless requested one on one) once per week for one hour immediatly before vigil mass on Saturday.I have been hoping and praying for a regular confessor that I have a connection with… Is that inappropriate? To want a confessor who gets to know me and my spiritual needs more closely as part of the sacrament?I have to say, for the most part, I come out confession feeling… "that did not go very well" I am making a good attempt (I think at least) at examination of conscious. I do that every day, too.I often read about Catholics who come away from Confession with joy and happiness. Are there suggestions or exercises for examination of conscious? I am a beginner with the Ignatien Exercises. That has helped.

  • cathyf

    newguy40 — in your ignatian stuff have you come across this? Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards through Your Day by Dennis Hamm, SJ. It's a way of praying that opens up all sorts of stuff for me…

  • Anonymous

    I think a big problem is the lack of interest in confession by many priests. When was the last time you heard a priest preach on the need to not be in a state of mortal sin prior to receiving communion? Since usually 100% of the people who attend Sunday Mass go to Communion, could it be that they all have no mortal sins? Someone mentioned people not confessing sins they have no intention of stopping– good point, but receiving communion in that state is an even graver sin.

  • Anonymous

    To newguy40. Go to It has links to help with examination of your conscious that are helpful

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting comments. For Newguy 40: It's true for me that I seem to derive (feel) much greater benefit when I'm able to confess regularly to a particular priest. He had helped me resume regular confessions around the time of a health problem. He helped me out of the Pit and he's helped me to try to change the ingrained habits of sin that I often have ceased to notice. (The beam in my eye gives me a very narrow focus)I've also found that I must not judge the efficacy of the sacrament by the apparent quality of the interaction in the confessional. Obviously the Lord brought me to a particular priest in a particular confessional for a particular purpose (for me to gain grace and absolution, but also for the priest? or for both of us?)and it is often later, after what seemed to me a disappointing "experience" that I finally get a hint of what that purpose may have been.As for confessing weekly (full of the same, difficult ruts and failures that need to be whittled on), not only does it provide another avenue to grace, but it helps to satisfy one of the ordinary conditions for trying to perform an act that might obtain a plenary indulgence for a soul in Purgatory (like praying a rosary in the Presence before mass).So weekly definitely helps me, and may be helping me to help some other suffering souls.I believe that Scepter publishers has a nice, free, downloadable booklet about confession with a good examination of conscience.

  • cathyf

    A couple of years ago I was at our weekly school mass and the kids were having confessions after the mass. The pastor decided to ignore the readings of the day and preach on confession. His "homily" consisted of 3 points:– the kids who were not saying the number of times that they committed a sin, and so he had to ask them– the kids who did not have the act of contrition memorized and so brought the missalette into the confessional with them so that they could say it– the kids who closed the door behind them when leaving the confessional which meant that he kept having to get up to open the door.(Every so often I wonder if the real reason that Christ rose from the dead and was assumed bodily into heaven is so that in these circumstances He has an actual face and an actual palm to face-palm Himself while cringing and muttering, "don't say that!")So, anyway, yeah, there are Catholics out there who somehow fundamentally do not understand what is going on in the Sacrament — including at least this one who went though the seminary and was ordained! At least some of these people were taught all of the right things by people who know, but somehow they just don't get it. Part of our character as a sacramental church is that we believe that the sacraments have effects upon us even if we don't understand them or appreciate them. (Contrast that with fundamentalists whose salvation is dependent upon making a proper profession of faith.) But there are some days when I think it's also darn lucky for us that Christ died and rose to redeem the clueless, too!

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this is really going somewhere. Keep this going, the feedback is amazing. Shows we are all in the same boat at one time or another.Really helpful, thanks.

  • Thanks very much to all who made suggestions on readings to improve confession.Especially to Anon. Thanks for the reminder about not judging the efficacy by the lack of interaction. That is so true. In life, we may never see or understand the true outcomes of our actions and prayers. We'll have to wait until we stand in the Presence of our Savior.