Another fruit of Vatican II: Catholics who have come of age since then are without sin, or at least don’t think they have anything much to confess. After 40 years of the new springtime in the Church, 42% of Catholics born before 1943 still go to confession at least yearly. Only half as many of those born later do so. A similar tendency holds even among those who attend Mass weekly: 73 percent of weekly attenders born before 1943 go to confession annually compared to 44 percent of those born after 1981.
In a way, such figures are puzzling just on a worldly level. People go to therapists, they think it’s helpful to identify their issues, talk them through with someone who knows something, and settle on what to do about them. So why not go to confession? It’s free, fast and quickly available (long lines are a thing of the past), and it ties into a system for understanding human conduct that has a lot more going for it than psychological theory does. Also, it’s required by the Church they say they belong to. You don’t have to go into any details, and all you have to do afterwards is say 2 or 3 short prayers and try to avoid things you should try to avoid anyway. If you don’t want your priest to know about something you can go to another church and confess from behind a screen.
So the practical burden of confession is minimal, and I don’t see the objection to the principle. In the long run it may point you in a very different direction, but isn’t that what relilgion is for? To my mind its radical decline is one of many signs that as a practical matter and to a large extent American Catholicism is not about dealing with realities we don’t make up ourselves, it’s about feeling good about things, and especially feeling good about ourselves. Like mainstream American religion in general it’s largely tried to position itself as a mixture of political correctness and self-help. That’s not good sense. Why not offer what you have instead of something others can supply much more easily?
There’s another somewhat interesting poll on the page linked to above, that shows that The Scandal hasn’t affected mass attendance much or at all. My basic impression is that recent disclosures have helped the American Church a great deal by showing that life is real and has its problems, and pretending realities and problems aren’t there is a very bad idea. My impression is also that under the surface a lot is going on, the Spirit of Vatican II has led nowhere and has run out of gas, and in the coming years we will more and more be seeing something very different from either the mainstream modern Catholicism symbolized by the abandonment of the confessional and the conservative Catholicism that makes Catholicism a sort of team allied with the American team and the Republican Party team.