Religion: Penance Reconsidered

The sacrament of penance, known more familiarly to Roman Catholics as "confession," has fallen on lean days. Where quiet lines of penitents once gathered to wait near the confessional boxes on a Saturday, a priest may now sit on the church steps waiting wistfully for even one sinner to show up. The reasons for the sacrament's neglect are probably many: a severe drop in church attendance, a new theology of sin that does not stress the damning "mortal" sins of pre-Vatican II days, an avoidance of confession by some who practice contraception, or an increasing reluctance to enter dark, close quarters...

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