Roman Catholics went to confession during Holy Week in record numbers in the Diocese of Memphis.
In the view of Memphis Bishop Carroll T. Dozier, the increased popularity of the sacrament among his flock has a direct relationship to two controversial rites of general absolution he and his priests conducted more than four months earlier.
"To my critics who have been warning that through my granting of general absolution I had harmed the concept of individual confession in the eyes of my people, I commend the results of this survey," the bishop declared.
The survey, done by the chancery office, drew replies from 21 of the 29 parishes in the Memphis Diocese.
Only three pastors reported fewer than the usual number of confessions in the period from Holy Thursday to Easter, traditionally a time when numerous Catholics go to confession in preparation for Easter.
The others noted sharp increases in the number of penitents-in some cases more than individual parishes were equipped to handle.
"I had about 50 people waiting in line on Easter Saturday night when I just was unable to handle any more people and I granted them general absolution and told them to go to communion and come back after Easter," said the Rev. James L. Pugh, of St. John's Church.
Another priest, the Rev. Victor Ciaramitaro, reported that he had "never seen anything like it from the standpoint of numbers or genuine enthusiasm about a sacrament and what it can do for a person."
The priest and three collegues at St. Ann's Church in Bartlett, Tenn., said they "were kept going for hours hearing these confessions. The people were new faces and people who said they didn't been to confession for some years."
Father Ciaramitaro said he attributed "90 per cent of the increase in numbers and confessional maturity to the reconciliation effort-its preparation and the reconciliation liturgies."
In early December, Bishop Dozier conducted two massive rites of general absolution in the diocese. In a general absolution, Rite, persons in a large group are directed to examine their consciences and acknowledge and repent of their sins to God and are than granted no-questions-asked absolution.
The rite is traditionally used for emergency situations, such as when troops are about to go into battle. Bishop Dozier asserted that the large numbers of people who for one reason or another had drifted away from their faith constituted sufficient "emergency" for him to adapt the rite to a civilian, peacetime situation.
The two services, one in Memphis and a second in Jackson, Tenn., were preceded by a long educational and promotional campaign in the diocese.
The novel use of the general absolution rites drew widespread reaction both are favorable and unfavorable.
Without formally reprimanding the bishop, the Vatican made it known that it was disturbed by the event and the possible precedent it might set. Pope Paul personally warned the Memphis bishop that he must be "careful" about general absolution.
The Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Subsequently banned future rites.
Msgr. Paul Clunan, vicar general of the diocese, said yesterday in a telephone interview that in addition to the larger numbers at Holy Week confession, diocesan churches had record crowds on Easter Sunday.
"I've been St. Louis Church for 20 years and there were more people at Easter services than at any time since I've been here," he said. All the masses has ome attendants standing.
Msgr. Paul Clunan, whom a Memphis chancery collegue described as a "priest out of the old tradition," said he had no doubt that the increase in numbers of penitents during Holy Week was directly related to the December services.
"They were told at that time that those who were in serious sin should got to (individual) confession within a year," he said.
Much of the critism of Bishop Dozier's innovative use of the general absolution rites centered on fears that persons in serious sin who received absolution and holy communion at the rite might not understand their continuing obligation to make a conventional confession.
"Theey understood," commented Msgr. Clunan. "When spent five months preparing them (Memphis Catholics) for the general absolution. They understood what it meant."