In one of several audiences today, Pope Benedict XVI addressed members of the Apostolic Penitentiary on the state of Confession and lamented that today the world “is losing the notion of sin”.
The Pope made his remarks to a group of prelates that is participating in a week-long seminar on the “internal forum”, that is to say, questions of conscience.
“What is needed today is to ensure that people who confess experience that divine tenderness for penitent sinners which so many Gospel episodes express with intense emotion", he told the priests.
Referring to the episode of the sinful woman in the Gospel of Luke, the Pope highlighted "the eloquent message that emerges from this Gospel passage: to those who love much God forgives everything. Those who trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their own 'I' and their hearts harden in sin. On the other hand, those who recognize themselves as weak and sinful entrust themselves to God and from Him obtain grace and forgiveness. ... What is most important is to make it clear that in the Sacrament of Penance - whatever the sin committed - if sinners recognize it humbly and entrust themselves to the priest confessor, they will always experience the soothing joy of God's forgiveness".
The Pontiff also touched on "a certain disaffection" that exists today around the Sacrament of Penance, and offered some direction to priests who hear confessions saying, "when we insist only on the accusation of sin (although this must exist, and it is necessary to help the faithful understand its importance), we run the risk of relegating to second place what is, in fact, essential, in other words the personal meeting with God, Father of goodness and mercy".
According to a study done in 1998, 30% of the faithful in Italy do not believe that priests are needed in confessionals and 10% of Italian Catholics think that the priest gets in the way of a direct dialogue with the Lord.
Pastors, and especially confessors, must, said the Holy Father, "emphasize the close link between the Sacrament of Penance and an existence decisively oriented to conversion", so that "the grace of the Sacrament may support and nourish the commitment to be faithful disciples of the Lord".
"If this incessant longing is lost", he concluded, "the celebration of this Sacrament unfortunately risks becoming a formality which does not penetrate the fabric of everyday life. On the other hand, if people (though animated by a desire to follow Jesus) do not confess regularly, little by little they risk slowing spiritual rhythm until it weakens and perhaps even stops".