“Having sleepless nights”: Archbishop in Sierra Leone Concerned about Empty Confessionals

Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of the Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown in Sierra Leone. Credit: Fr. Peter Konteh

The Archbishop of Sierra Leone’s Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown has raised concern about the people’s growing lack of interest in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation in his Metropolitan See, saying that the trend is giving him sleepless nights.

In his Lenten Season message shared with ACI Africa on Tuesday, February 27, Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles says he finds it inconceivable that confessionals in the Archdiocese have remained empty while the queues for Holy Communion in the Parishes and Catholic communities of the Archdiocese are getting longer.

Archbishop Tamba Charles expresses concern about what he has described as “the death” of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation in the Archdiocese of Freetown, saying, “We have noticed, over the years, a very worrying lack of interest in this particular sacrament in this diocese.”

“I want you to know that, as your Chief Shepherd, I am very worried and that I am having sleepless nights about this very serious pastoral situation in our diocese,” he says.

Archbishop Tamba Charles adds that he finds it baffling that while many people turn up for confessions on major events, confessionals remain empty the rest of the year.


“The truth be told, whenever there is a communal celebration of the Sacrament of Penance of Reconciliation in the parishes and Catholic communities, and especially during the annual Archdiocesan Lenten Pilgrimage … there is generally an encouraging turn out for confessions. However, throughout the rest of the year, the confessionals are generally empty because very few of the faithful come for confession, often scheduled for an hour or so in our parishes,” the Sierra Leonean Catholic Archbishop says. 

He adds, “Unfortunately, even as the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is dying in our diocese, quite often the lines for Holy Communion in our parishes and Catholic communities are getting longer, even though we have been repeatedly reminded that receiving the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ while conscious of having committed a grave sin amounts to self-condemnation.” 

Archbishop Tamba Charles describes Lent as a suitable time for conversion and for revival of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

He highlights some of the reasons that people give for not going to confession, including their perception of Priests as sinners, as well as fear that their secrets may be revealed.

“It is God, not the Priest, God who forgives the sinner in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation,” the Catholic Archbishop says in his Lenten Season message shared with ACI Africa. 

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He explains, “In the prayer of absolution, the priest pleads with God the Father of mercies, who reconciled the world to himself through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, and sent the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Local Ordinary of Freetown since his Episcopal Consecration in May 2008 says he finds it “interesting” that those who say that they would not go to the Priest for confession do not use the same argument when they want to attend Mass, to receive Holy Communion, to marry in Church, or to have their children baptized, or to bury their dead relatives.

Still, some people who do not go to confession claim that the Priests discuss the sins that people confess to them, Archbishop Tamba Charles notes, and  continues, “I find this reason outrageous because even the most deranged priest was taught during his seminary formation that divulging the sin of a penitent amounts to automatic excommunication.”

He says that he has challenged people who know of Priests that divulged their sins after confessing them to report them, and adds, “No one has ever come forward to report that a particular priest has divulged his or her sins to another priest or to another person.”

“Perhaps there are other reasons why many of our Catholic faithful do not go to confession. I am eager to know them,” the 67-year-old Catholic Archbishop says.


He adds, “I am hoping that the consultations in preparation for our second pastoral assembly would bring them out. But as your Chief Shepherd, I am very worried that many people are not going to confession on a regular basis.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.