2013 Confession Telephone Survey

In August 2013, the Bishops' Conference's Home Mission Desk carried out an informal Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) telephone survey.

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In 2013, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales launched a drive to prioritise reaching out to the estimated four million baptised Catholics who rarely or never attend Mass. The theme of that year’s Home Mission Sunday, a day of prayer and celebration for the work of evangelisation, was ‘Crossing the Threshold: Ministry and Outreach to non-churchgoing Catholics’.

Over 400,000 campaign leaflets were distributed covering every parish and religious house. This area of the Church’s work was chosen in response to requests from all tiers of the Catholic community for it to be resourced and prioritised.

The next step was the production of resources to support people to seek and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), informed by an informal telephone survey of cathedrals about Confession that was conducted back in August 2013.

Survey Results

Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) Telephone Survey

Home Mission Desk, CCN, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

22 Catholic cathedrals in England and Wales were telephoned and emailed on Wednesday 21 August.

The respondents were either Cathedral Deans, Priests-in-Residence, or designated staff members.

There was a 91% response rate.

  • 65% overall report an increase in the number of confessions heard because of a ‘Papal effect’. The reason given was either because of the impact of the Papal Visit, the inauguration of Pope Francis or both.
  • 35% reported no increase but said there was no decline using the words ‘steady’ or ‘normal’.
  • 15% attributed increases specifically in response to the Papal Visit in September 2010.
  • 10% attributed increases specifically in response to the election of Pope Francis.
  • 30% attributed the increases to both Popes – in response to the visit of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis.
  • 10% weren’t sure why there had been an increase or just didn’t comment on the reason for the increase.

Observations made in relation to the increase in confessions being heard

The quotes inserted under each bullet point below are taken from survey respondents.

  • Extra demand for confessions

One respondent shared: “This summer there has been a marked difference in demand compared to last summer. There has been an increase. We don’t usually offer confessions in August but have done this year.”

  • Increased interest in the Church

“I’m observing more interest in the Catholic Church. There has been more interest in people wanting to become Catholics being brought by existing Catholics.” And another: “After the Easter Sunday Mass one woman said, ‘I feel proud to be a Catholic again.’”

  • Increase of people attending Church

“…especially during Holy Week this year there was increased demand. We had a very good Reconciliation Service in Holy Week where we did observe an extra 25% that came along and a lot of people who came were lapsed. They hadn’t been to confession for a number of years and suddenly they felt the urge to come.”

  • Non-churchgoing Catholics (lapsed) returning

“There is definitely an increase in lapsed seeking confession since the election of Pope Francis.” Another said: “I think very often those who have been away from the sacrament for a long time are very often surprised and delighted to find it such a positive and affirming experience. People just recently, who were expecting to struggle, or be met by an indifferent response from the priest, were struck how their experience was completely different. It is one of the many positive signs concerning the sacrament.”

  • People don’t know what to say in confession

“People are coming and saying that they are sorry that they don’t know what to say because it might have been 20 years since their last confession.” Another said: “Some people are coming in saying I don’t know what to say or do because they haven’t been since they were at school or for 30 years, and are asking for help with the words to say.” Another: “People seem to have a fear about the formula of prayers to say and so priests try to put people at ease.”

  • Popular with young people

“There are people coming back who have not received the sacrament for years. People have been away from confession for a considerable period and we had a lot of younger adults coming.” Another said: “A lot of them are in their twenties and thirties and that was the most noticeable thing.”

  • Mass attendance

“Numbers are increasing for Mass, particularly, mid-week Masses are going up as well as Sunday Masses.”

  • Papal Effect

“There was a surge after Pope Benedict’s visit and an increase since Pope Francis’ election which has maintained.”

  • Westminster Cathedral is an exceptional case

“…due to its position in Central London and it serves a large number of workers and tourists for whom the Cathedral is not their parish. There is always a queue. In a normal week there is always a priest hearing confessions Monday-Friday 11.30-6pm, Saturday 10.30-6.30pm, and Sunday 11-1pm and 4.30-7pm, meaning they offer 45 hours per week. Popular devotions, such as the first Friday, and holy days of obligation see an increase in demand. In Holy Week this year we advertised 45 hours of confessions… which represented 103 priest-hours. This was nowhere near enough to cope with demand.”

Reasons given for the increase in confessions

Some of the bullet points are quotes from respondents.

  • The positive impact of Pope Benedict’s Visit to the UK in 2010
  • Positive impact of Pope Francis’ election

“Certainly since Pope Francis, people seem more sympathetic (people outside) to the Catholic Faith. Pope Francis seems to be talking their language and there is a good connection there.” Another said: “Positive media reporting about Pope Francis.” A different respondent said: “A lot of people are coming back to his Church because they feel Pope Francis is a hands on kind of man, approachable.” Another: “The Pope preached on it (confession) and inspired people making it more accessible.”

  • Positive impact of both Popes

“There has been a Papal bounce!” Another said: “The election of Pope Francis has brought a great sense of hope and enthusiasm. I also think that it has brought great confidence as the Pope engages so easily with people and has made such a huge impact in so short a time. It also reflects on the humility and faith of Pope Emeritus Benedict whose visit to Britain had such a profound effect and was a great success.”

  • Priests preaching and speaking about the Sacrament of forgiveness more
  • People making a personal decision in response to an examination of their lives
  • People actually want help with their lives and are asking, ‘How can I do better?’ There is a feeling that they want grow.
  • Priests deciding to advertise it more
  • God has helped them pass over a threshold
  • Invitation from the local Bishop – “Bishop Seamus on his visitation makes a big thing of confession and is encouraging people to go. He visits schools and makes sure that young people know that it’s there.”
  • A response to the Year of Faith
  • Pilgrimages in this diocese and to Lourdes have helped
  • A lot of young people are coming because we are a university city
  • The Pope’s visit helped
  • The election helped because he is inspiring and Pope Francis has given a boost.
  • Changing the time it was offered
  • Offering ‘Confessions on request’
  • Systematic catechesis
  • In response to good publications about Confession
  • Priests are more confident to invite people to go – ‘Go to Confession.’

Comments about the times that it is most demanded

“All the time”

“Throughout the year”

“Just before Easter and Christmas”

“Across the board including Easter”

“Ongoing steadiness and demand”

“New increase in demand during the summer months”

“Specific to the Pope’s visit”

“Most of year”

“Throughout the year”

“Christmas and Easter”

“Advent and Lent”

“For the week before Christmas and in Holy Week we ask for additional help from priests”