It’s a simple hypothetical. What would happen if all one billion of the world’s Catholics went to Confession?
Catholics in the world: 1.18 billion
Priests in the world: 410,593
Bishops in the world: 5,065
2011 Annuario Pontificio
Only a priest or a bishop can forgive sins in confession. The ratio of Catholics to Catholic priests and bishops is approximately 2,839 to 1. (From this point on, I’m going to use the term ‘priest’ to include bishops.) This means that if every Catholic goes to confession once a week, and every priest hears the same number of confessions, each priest will need to hear about 2840 confessions per week, which is about 400 confessions per day.
If each confession takes only 2 minutes (a low estimate perhaps), then each priest would have to spend about 13.5 hours each and every day just hearing confessions. If the average confession took 3 minutes, the time needed per day would be over 20 hours, with only 4 hours for sleep, eating, and other activities.
Suppose that each and every Catholic went to confession once a calendar month, instead of once a week. Then each priest would need to hear about 90 confessions per day, every day. At 2 minutes per confession, this would take about 3 hours. At 3 minutes per confession, it would take about 4.5 hours. At 5 minutes per confession, about 7.5 hours each day would be needed to hear confessions.
What if only half the Catholics in the world went to Confession once a month? At a low estimate of 2 minutes per confession, each priest would spend 1.5 hours every day, not just on Saturdays, hearing confessions. An average of 4 minutes per confession would mean 3 hours every day, for every priest, hearing confessions. Such is not the case.
What if only 10% of the Catholics in the world went to Confession once a month? That would be 284 confessions per month, per priest, which is just under 10 confessions per day. But if confessions are mainly offered on Saturdays, this would be about 55 to 70 confessions each Saturday, depending on how many Saturdays in that calendar month. At only 2 minutes per confession, this would take about 2 hours; at 3 minutes per confession about 3 hours; etc.
What percentage of Catholics in the world never go to Confession? It must be a large percentage, because if even 10% of Catholics went to confession once a month, and every priest heard confessions on every Saturday, then each priest would spend 2 to 3 hours, at least, in the confessional every Saturday. Such is not the case.
Add to these considerations, the observation that not every priest makes himself available for confessions each Saturday, and then often only for about an hour or so, and that some Catholics go to confession once a week. This increases the number of confessions per priest. Hence, it is clear that the percentage of Catholics who go to confession at least once a month is significantly less than 10%. If it were 5%, and if an average confession is 2 minutes, then each priest would spend about an hour a week hearing confessions. But the percentage might even be a little lower than that.
The vast majority of Catholics, 95% or more, do not go to confession even once a month. They might go to confession once a year, or they might not have been to confession in a few years, or for many years.
If a large percentage of Catholics suddenly returned to Confession, there hardly would be enough priests to handle the demand. Each priest would have to spend at least a few hours, every day, hearing confessions.
But one more result would occur, which also is on the topic of numbers. Many more vocations to the priesthood would certainly result. Soon there would be plenty of priests to handle the demand for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So if you have decided to pray for vocations, first pray that Catholics will repent and return to the Confessional. Otherwise, there will be fewer priests, and they will not be as holy.