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In A Time for Embracing Upton refers to the sacrament of reconciliation as an "endangered species." She offers support for her conclusion by analyzing data from Study of Penance. Published by the Committee for Pastoral Research and Practices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, this study surveyed bishops, priests, and lay people regarding their personal thoughts on the practice of sacramental reconciliation in the United States. Drawing on her knowledge from thirty years of study and the conclusions of the committee's survey, Upton states that the sacrament is endangered. She also explains that the cause is not that people do not go to confession, but that the sacrament is not understood or celebrated well.
Has sacramental reconciliation disappeared from the horizon of Catholic practice? Has "confession" been extinguished from your practice of the faith? Have you noticed a marked change in the way in which you have become reconciled to God and the Church community over the course of time? These questions and others are addressed in Julia Upton's study of sacramental reconciliation. Her concern is that the sacrament of reconciliation - through which the darkness of sin is illumined by the healing light of Christ's forgiveness - is an endangered species. In sacramental reconciliation the sinner experiences the tender, healing, welcoming embrace of God, which is what Upton regards as endangered. Upton's is a holistic approach to sacramental reconciliation that involves studying data from anthropology, psychology, and sociology, and integrating that with data from Scripture, history, and theology.