"The facts are these. Since the opening of the Holy Year backed by Pope Francis and on the occasion of the Christmas festivities of 2015 - as also since Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been sitting on the throne of Peter - the number of faithful who approach the confessional has not increased.... The trend of a progressive, rapid diminution of the frequency of sacramental reconciliation that has characterized recent decades has not stopped. On the contrary: the confessionals of my church have been largely deserted.
"I have sought comfort for this bitter consideration by imagining that the basilicas connected to the Holy Year in Rome or in other cities, or the shrines and convents, have been able to attract a larger number of penitents. But a round of phone calls to some fellow priests who regularly hear confessions in these places...has confirmed my observation: lines of penitents that are anything but long, everywhere, [are] even less than at the festivities of past years....
"Distrusting the value of the numbers, because even the salvation of one soul has an infinite value in the eyes of God, I reviewed the 'quality' of the confessions I have heard. ...The picture that presents itself is certainly not a happy one, both concerning the awareness of sin and in reference to the awareness of the prerequisites for obtaining God’s forgiveness....
"Two examples stand for all. One middle-aged gentleman whom I asked, with discretion and delicacy, if he had repented of a repeated series of grave sins against the seventh commandment “do not steal,” of which he had accused himself with a certain frivolity and almost joking about the circumstances, certainly not attenuating, that had accompanied them, responded to me with the words of Pope Francis: 'Mercy knows no limits' and by showing surprise that I would remind him of the need for repentance and for the resolution to avoid falling back into the same sin in the future: 'I did what I did. What I will do I will decide when I go from here. What I think about what I have done is a question between me and God. I am here only to have what everyone deserves at least at Christmas: to be able to receive communion at midnight!' And he concluded by paraphrasing the now archfamous expression of Pope Francis: 'Who are you to judge me?'
"One young lady, to whom I had proposed as an act of penance connected to the sacramental absolution of a grave sin against the fifth commandment 'do not kill' that she kneel in prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament exposed on the altar of a church and perform an act of material charity toward a poor person to the extent of her means, responded to me with annoyance that 'no one must ask for anything in exchange for God’s mercy, because it is free,' and that she had neither the time to stop at a church to pray (she had to 'run around doing Christmas shopping downtown'), nor money to give to the poor ('who don’t even need it that much, because they have more than we do').What grace did these two individuals receive from their "Christmas Communions" preceded by confessions that showed little repentance and little appreciation for the "mercy" they took for granted as their right? "Hey, my sins are no big deal! I'm a good person. Who are you to judge me? God understands." [Perhaps reflection on the sin of presumption is in order.]
Also note that the popular "people's pope" is attracting fewer of the flock with his confusing messages which are greeted enthusiastically by the world, but don't appear to be resonating with the flock. Attendance at weekly audiences and the Angelus addresses is down by half. In Italy as a whole, including his own diocese, the "Bishop of Rome" has overseen a drop from over a third of Italian Catholics attending Mass at least weekly to about a quarter.
Will the latest project of video commercials improve the situation? Not likely. If all religions are the same and we all "believe in God" and "believe in love" regardless of how we express that belief, well...what's the point of being Catholic? Besides, what is there to confess? As long as we "love," whatever that happens to mean to me today, I'm okay. And who, after all, is the priest to judge if the pope doesn't?
The crisis of faith continues enabled by Pope Francis. Let us pray for him daily because, regardless of what we think of him personally, he occupies the chair of Peter with its authority.