From a reader:
I am requesting help re: the application of Canon 964.2 and 986.1 [which concerns the Seal].
The parish has been the host of a monthly homeschool Mass for a group from all over ____ for a few years. They have just moved from a temporary building to a new church building, which the pastor has tried very hard to imbue with beauty and reverence. There are no confessionals of any sort, however, and there are no scheduled confession times.
He told a member of our group that the codes for handicapped access made the inclusion of a confessional too difficult; he has always only offered confessions by appointment.
May the two Canons above be dispensed with in this way?
Also, if the group were to contribute a portable confessional screen that he could sit behind, would that satisfy the requirements of 964.2?
First, I am not a canonist. I consulted a canonist and I will adapt his response to me for my response.
You have the right to pursue recourse, especially if this is your territorial parish.
Regarding the confessional, the USCCB has not issued any norms, as per c. 964, to define the matter. C. 964.2 is clear (confessionals must have a fixed screen between the penitent and the confessor so that the faithful can use them freely). I have no idea what the fire code or building code says there. On the other hand, mentioning the building code has been used as dodge before.
Perhaps you could approach the pastor with the proposal that he and others could help build a portable screen. That would not violate any building code. And what building code would prohibit the erection of a decent confessional so long as it is accessible and not a fiery death trap of flaming fiery entrapped death?
As far as the times available for confession are concerned, perhaps a gentle reminder to the pastor – not citing Canon Law – that he and a group would like to know a stable time each week when a confessor will be available for confession, since they’d like to go regularly at a predictable time, and they don’t want to "pester" him for appointments. If enough people start going weekly (say, 6-10?) at a stable time, the pastor might see concrete evidence of why regular confession time in the schedule would be valuable. There is a vicious circle: if people are going, they pastor will maybe not be motivated to sit in the box. If the pastor does not sit in the box, people won’t come.
That said, I think we have to have a little sympathy for pastors of parishes when they may not have assistants or visiting priests to help. You can see why sometimes they schedule brief periods. On the other hand, my experience is that some of these pastors do not value the sacrament of penance. They are the guys who tend to schedule confessions "From 9:00 a.m. to 9:03 a.m. on the second Thursday of months ending in R".
I would only bring up Canon Law and consider going over Father’s head to the local Bishop or to Rome if Father is stubborn and refuses to cooperate with the possibility of building some sort of a screen and/or offering some accommodation to a group that wants to confess on a regular basis at a regular time at their regular parish where they are parishioners.
Also, it sounds as if the priest is interested in the beauty proper to a church building. This is a good sign. Is it likely that he will get around to confessionals soon?
You have to weigh the factors with prudence and due regard for the circumstance and exigencies the priest faces and then try to work it out as peacefully as possible.
Bottom line: help find solutions by your own efforts with others rather than simply make demands on the priest without providing concrete help.