From a reader:
I went to make confession at a local parish, but saw the priest walking around near the confessional. Since it’s not a priest I wanted to make my confession to, I left to go to another church. On my way to the car, another woman came by and I told her which priest was hearing confessions. She ranted against priests walking around where they could see potential penitents in line or praying during posted confession times, and how she didn’t think privacy was taken seriously enough. She was deeply concerned. While less harsh, I, too, prefer to remain unseen before confession (especially if I am the only young woman and my voice could therefore identify me). I imagine there are many others who are made uncomfortable by being seen before confession, and might even skip the confession if they are (I’m not saying they should skip, but they might skip nonetheless).
It may be that the priest needed to get up a move a bit because of a cramp in his leg or pain in his back from sitting or maybe the poor guy suffers from claustrophobia… whatever. I admit that there have been a couple times when, on a blistering hot, humid day and during a lull, I have open the confessional door or gotten out to stretch my legs and get some air.
That said, if you are conscious of mortal sins, and there is a priest ready to hear your confession, then make your confession!
In general, I think it is a good idea if priest confessors make as little eye contact, or any contact, with people in line. If getting in or out of the confessional a priest has to pass by people who are in a line (perhaps at a different confessional) or who are in church still doing their penance, in my opinion, he ought to keep him eyes down and do his best not to give people a sense that he is looking at them. Other than that, he should probably stay in the box. Younger priests out there – if you haven’t been told this at some point, you would do well to pay attention: make your way to and from the confessional with as little contact with people as possible.
Keep in mind that priests are bound by the Seal of Confession. They will not reveal anything you confess, whether they know you or not.
I think it is rather unlikely that a priest would radically change his opinion of you from what you confess. My experience is that I forget almost immediately what people have said. I don’t know why. It just happens that way. This same experience – of forgetting – has been backed up by other priests I know. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few priests chimed in under this entry to say the same thing.