REQUEST TO PRIESTS (or others… maybe carpenters) about confessionals

From a priest:

I hope you can help me out. I’m seeking this for those I know…

I’m looking for detailed plans to construct a traditional, screen only, soundproof confessional, priest in the middle, a penitent on either side, with doors that are heavy, but can be opened with one arthritic finger, both sides having kneelers and chairs that, with use, would change indicator lights outside from green to red. And there should be room for a wheelchair on one side, and the ability for the priest to flip the light from green to red for that side in that circumstance. There can be no steps. There would have to be ventilation, but without losing soundproofing. The sliding doors for the screens should also be soundproof, yet easy to slide back and forth.

Surely some of your priest readers have revamped some awful confessionals and even built new ones that are more appropriate for the encouragement of confessions.

Help?

Technorati Tags: ,

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to REQUEST TO PRIESTS (or others… maybe carpenters) about confessionals

  1. Mary Jane says:

    Our parish actually has two sets of confessionals very similar to this description. I don’t know where the parish got them or who built them though! :(

  2. AGA says:

    I’ve personally never been a fan of the two confessionals on either side of the priest. Too often people can still hear portions of the other side’s confession, even with the screen closed on the near-side.

    And, what I’ve seen happen, because of this lack of total sound proofing, is that many people end up waiting for the far-side confession to end before enter the near-side for their confession. Sort of defeating the purpose of having two-sided confessional boxes.

    I’d recommend going with the one-sided confessional.

  3. Simon_GNR says:

    I’m sorry I can’t help with suggesting who might be able to build such a confessional, but why should it have accommodation for two penitents but only one confessor? Surely a priest can hear only one confession at a time?
    My own preference would be for confessionals in which the penitent has a choice – either to see the priest face-t0-face or to have the anonymity of a screen. My local cathedral, St. Marie’s in Sheffield, England (Diocese of Hallam), has recently had a major refurbishment in which many of the poor quality and unsuitable alterations made in the 1970′s were reversed or removed. [Three cheers!!] One aspect of the alterations I don’t favour, however, is that now the confessionals are screen only – you no longer have the option of talking to the priest face-to-face, something I *sometimes* prefer, despite my traditionalist leanings. Are “anonymity optional” confessionals now discouraged by the hierachy, or is it just a question of ecclesiastical fashion?

  4. mamajen says:

    Oh, goodness. I wish I wasn’t quite so busy at the moment because I would otherwise love to put my architecture degree to some use. I hope somebody else can step in to help.

  5. mamajen says:

    @Simon_GNR

    I’ve seen many older confessionals that are set up for two penitents as requested here. I guess, in theory, it keeps things moving along a little bit more quickly. I imagine that would be especially true if one of the penitents were handicapped and needed some extra time to get situated. That said, I haven’t seen people actually use the feature very often–I think they are worried about overhearing. The church where I go has a double confessional, but people almost always use one side only.

  6. Titus says:

    “why should it have accommodation for two penitents but only one confessor? Surely a priest can hear only one confession at a time?”

    Can he though? I don’t know why, apart from practical concerns about over-hearing, why a priest couldn’t hear more than one confession at once. (There might be a good reason, I just don’t know it if there is.) [HUH?!? ... No.] I do know that double-sided confessionals of this sort are were quite common. Perhaps the intent is not to have two penitents simultaneously, but only to allow the confessional to be entered from either side, so as to make the confessional more versatile and lines easier to manage.

  7. I actually never liked the two-sided confessional; it needlessly confuses matters, and many of them aren’t as soundproof as one might like to think. That is something that should be stressed is part of tradition and not Tradition. Oddly enough, I have not seen too many, even newer ones, that look as though they could accomodate a wheelchair. The ones in our cathedral, for example, renovated I believe in the 1980′s, require a step up in order to enter. I do commend the original questioner for considering the needs of the handicapped, though; unfortunately, people in wheelchairs or with crutches or canes can still sin.

  8. frsbr says:

    Dear Simon: the priest always has a right to a fixed screen and a complete physical barrier between himself and the penitent. History has shown this to be both prudent and expeditious, the permissibility of face-to-face confession notwithstanding.

    With regard to confessional building specs, perhaps the inquirer could contact one of the well-known group of classical architects: Bill Heyer, Duncan Stroik, etc… A simple google search could turn up many smaller firms who could undoubtedly produce good plans. One might also consider getting in touch with the architecture department at Notre Dame. There might be a student who could come up with something simple and inexpensive.

  9. Glennonite says:

    My biggest avoidance of Confession stems from the fact that I can hear the conversation when I am “next-up”. I once reminded my priest that his voice carries, but he resumes his volume in short-order, restating my sin(s) from my more delicate phrasing. The thought being that by calling them what they are may guide me to see them as they truely are: shameful and embarrasing.

    Hey, I’m already embarrased and shamed; I want privacy with my Confession/confessor. I don’t think that my priest (45yo) has a hearing problem.

  10. Gregg the Obscure says:

    St. James parish in Denver seems to be set up just as you describe, although I can’t vouch for the control of the traffic signal.

  11. NoraLee9 says:

    I believe the individual in question is not asking for our opinions about our design. I believe he is asking for someone with enough experience using a CAD program to design that which he seeks for his church. Father, if you can’t find anyone else, email me privately. My hubby teaches 3-D design. I’m sure we can put something together that a carpenter could follow. We would need photos of the space.

  12. jhayes says:

    Frsbr wote: “Dear Simon: the priest always has a right to a fixed screen and a complete physical barrier between himself and the penitent.”

    If you are in the US, the USCCB has determined that there should also be provision for face-to-face confessions.

    USCCB
    Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 964§2, hereby decrees the following norms governing the place for sacramental confessions:

    Provision must be made in each church or oratory for a sufficient number of places for sacramental confessions which are clearly visible, truly accessible, and which provide a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor. Provision should also be made for penitents who wish to confess face-to-face, with due regard for the Authentic Interpretation of canon 964§2 by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, 7 July 1998 (AAS 90 [1998] 711).

    AAS 90 [1998] 711
    D. Utrum attento praescripto can. 964, § 2, CIC sacramenti minister, iu­ sta de causa et excluso casu necessitatis, legitime decernere valeat, etiamsi poenitens forte aliud postulet

    R. Affirmative

  13. jhayes says:

    Soething went wrong in my copy and paste from AAS. It should read:

    D. Utrum attento praescripto can. 964, § 2, CIC sacramenti minister, iu­sta de causa et excluso casu necessitatis, legitime decernere valeat, etiamsi poenitens forte aliud postulet ut confessio sacramentalis excipiatur in sede confessionali crate fixa instructa.

    R. Affirmative

  14. jhayes says:

    Something went wrong in my copy and paste from AAS. It should read:

    D. Utrum attento praescripto can. 964, § 2, CIC sacramenti minister, iu­sta de causa et excluso casu necessitatis, legitime decernere valeat, etiamsi poenitens forte aliud postulet ut confessio sacramentalis excipiatur in sede confessionali crate fixa instructa.

    R. Affirmative

  15. AnnM says:

    Try this specialist traditional church architect.
    http://www.heyerarchitect.com/
    He’s well used to this sort of problem!

  16. Phil_NL says:

    Sound-proofing will be by far the hardest part of the job. I would recommend having a good look at the materials; some absorb sound much more than others, which may even reflect it. Having the doors open towards the main naive (as is the case with many confessionals of this type) may actually be a bad idea. The doors leak sound much more readily, and the naive itself tends to have good acoustics. I would consider looking into models that have doors facing liturgical east and west, or at least diagonally placed, assuming the line of penitents is likely to form in a pew at the height of the priest’s entrance. You don’t want the doors – the ‘speakers’ of the sound installation, as it were – facing the waiting line.

    I’d prayed that I may not hear, but at times I had to pray that pretty hard to make it happen while in line…. (which was, ofc, in front of the door)

  17. Dubium: Whether, in view of what is prescribed in c. 964 §2, the minister of the sacrament, for a just reason and apart from a case of necessity, can lawfully decide, even if the penitent may request otherwise, that a sacramental confession be heard in confessional equipped with a fixed grille.

    Responsum: Affirmative.

    — In other words, the priest is always fully within his rights — for a just reason and apart from a case of necessity — to always use a fixed grille, regardless of the desires of the penitent.

    — Two sides: In my experience of having heard a zillion confessions, this really does help move things right along. I think the original questioner insists on soundproofing in this circumstance. The trick would be how to do it.

    — I don’t think it would be a mere question of a CAD plan. In my opinion, this also involves materials for instance for the sliding door, and what would go around this, which would directly affect the super-precise measurements of the CAD! Tricky. Could that be done?

    I used to teach the Confession Practicum to the Deacons in the seminary. I would have loved to supply them with such plans.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    The Archdiocese of Boston is in the process of shutting down over 100 parish churches. Why not contact the chancery for things which will go out the door when those buildings go up for sale?

  19. Jack007 says:

    If I may offer a suggestion?
    Don’t use a color coded scheme; red and green lights.
    There are a lot of us men that are red/green colorblind. A simple light that indicates “in use” when someone kneels is enough. Kind of like the aircraft lavatory.
    Jack in KC

  20. acardnal says:

    Regarding the USCCB Norm: The use of a fixed grill between priest and penitent is mandatory (cf. the use of the word “must”). Provision for face-to-face is not mandatory (cf. the use of the word “should”).

    I concur with the Rev. Father from Holy Souls Hermitage. I have had priests verbalize that they prefer the the anonymity provided by use of a fixed grill vs. a face-to-face confession with a penitent. There are a number of good reasons for that which I won’t enumerate now, but one should be able to understand why that is so.

  21. jhayes says:

    Supertradmum wrote: The Archdiocese of Boston is in the process of shutting down over 100 parish churches. Why not contact the chancery for things which will go out the door when those buildings go up for sale?

    You may be thinking of the program to group two to four existing parishes with a single Pastoral Service Team consisting of one pastor, one or more parochial vicars, one finance council, etc. That starts this Sprin but doesn’t involve closing any church buildings or suppressing any parishes.

    Back in 2004, 65 parishes were surpressed. A half-dozen were occupied by parishioners and are still unsold while awaiting appeals to Rome. It might be worth asking about those. At one time the Archdiocese had a website where pastors could see available objects from closed churches but I don’t know if that still exists.

  22. jhayes says:

    Acardnal wrote “Regarding the USCCB Norm: The use of a fixed grill between priest and penitent is mandatory ”

    As I read it, what is mandatory is that every church must have places for confession that have a fixed grille – but should also have places for face-to face confessions.

    As the AAS response says, each confessor, for good cause, can refuse to hear face-to-face confessions.

  23. Faith says:

    Someone suggested contacting the Archdiocese of Boston because they’ve shut down so many churches. That’s correct. I’ve heard there’s a couple of warehouses of pipe organs, altars, pews, confessionals, pre dieu, vesting tables, etc.
    My parish was considering a pipe organ, but the cost of moving it was prohibitive. The stuff is free, but you have to pick it up.
    I think you missed something in your specifications. One of the confessionals should be equipped for the hearing impaired.

  24. jflare says:

    This confessional sounds not too very different from the confessionals at my parish, built around 1924. I have not the faintest idea who designed them, but I’ve forwarded the question to my pastor, see if he knows.

  25. wmeyer says:

    jhayes, I must agree with acardnal; I believe you have misunderstood the requirements. The provision of a grille is “mandatory”, a word used for emphasis; the provision for face to face confession “should” be made, which is a recommendation, not (by the wording) a mandatum.

  26. acardnal says:

    jhayes, I agree with your comment at 2:12 pm. I did not word my previous comment very clearly.

  27. mike cliffson says:

    Tried contascting anyone in Opus Dei? It’s the sort of mundanely practical thing they’re usually very clued up about.

  28. Charivari Rob says:

    As to the original question…

    A lot of it depends on what space is available for this confessional to be placed. You’re defining things that use up space – 3 compartments, at least one handicapped accessible (actually, two – you might be depending on a “senior priest” in years to come and it would be nice to give him something roomier than a torpedo tube), sound-proofing will likely mean a certain thickness, it sounds as though you will have to ventilate out the top or through the back wall, etc…

    I suggest checking out some music websites – you might find some good DIY plans from people who’ve built their own recording or rehearsal spaces.

  29. almagne says:

    Hi. I’m a priest and have redone two churches to have confessionals in the traditional style. I do not have a set of plans as each church is different, but here are some pointers…

    1- wheelchair accessibility for a small space is in the building codes. Basically there has to be a 5 foot circular open area so that the person can wheel their wheelchair in a circle. This is tested by tacking the end of a 2.5 foot long stick of wood in the center of the space and rotating it to see if it hits anything. If I remember correctly, doors have to be a minimum of 2″10″ wide, but are usually 3′.

    2- The lights can be designed by an electrician by using parts from McMaster-Carr on the Internet. A micro switch on the kneeler (and chair) is the best option in my opinion. I’ve had both microswitches and electric eyes to activate the red light. The problem with the electric eye is that small children can sometimes be missed or they start jiggling around and the light flashes red-green-red-green-etc. The lights and switch can run on 120volts so there will not be any need of relays or transformers. These components can get a little pricey.

    3- soundproofing. There are two things needed to adequately soundproof:
    A. Stoping reflections by using acoustic foam on ALL INTERIOR SURFACES (this includes the priest’s side.) This foam is commonly used in the recording industry. 1″ thick is fine for the confessional. One trade name is Somnex and can be ordered online. Note that this stuff is expensive also, maybe $1000 for the confessionals, but there is nothing else that works nearly as well. By the way, carpet on the walls and/or Fiberglas insulation in the walls will NOT work. And carpet gets very dusty (the acoustic foam is hypoallergenic.)
    B. Dissipating the energy of the sound by using mass (heavy materials) to stop the transmission of the sound through the walls and doors. There are acoustical deadeners made from cobalt impregnated vinyl sheets. These sheets are designed to be inserted into the stud wall, and again are common in the recording industry. Do not try to put a double layer of drywall, this just does not work. For doors use solid doors made from a heavy wood like oak or mahogany. They can ordered online. Any competent carpenter can hang the door to open easily with hinges from Home Depot…if he can’t get another carpenter. There also needs to be a seal around the entire door including the bottom. Any hole will let sound out.

    4- Ventilation. Simple bathroom ceiling fans provide good ventilation and also a little bit of white noise that aids in the sound dampening. Do not connect the ducts from the fans together but pipe them individually. If piped together, the sound can go from one confessional to the other.

    5- For the sliding doors on the the double sided confessionals, a 1/2″ piece of solid wood (or plywood) is okay in preventing the sound to travel to the other penitent. The key is to make sure that there is no open hole or slot. The frame should wrap around the wood. I’m not entirely happy with this solution, but it works. My current church has only one sided confessionals so I have not been able to experiment with other solutions.

    6. For screens, acoustical fabric can be used. This is a specific type of fabric that lets sound pass without distortion, and more importantly is opaque.

    I hope this helps.

  30. Charivari Rob says:

    Supertradmum, jhayes, Fatih:

    Yes – Reconfiguration in the Archdiocese of Boston from a few years ago resulted in the net closure of about 60-some church buildings. They do have some sort of inventory/warehouse of Sacred Objects that were not already moved to welcoming parishes.

    I suspect a lot of dioceses (at least those who’ve had more than a few parishes suppressed) have or share “warehouses”. My native parish in NJ built a new church a few years ago and fit it out with some beautiful items from such a collection in Pennsylvania.

    Come to think of it… One of the websites that Father Z links – New Liturgical Movement. They regularly discuss church architecture – particularly new construction of high quality and beauty. They would be a good place to check.

  31. almagne says:

    Some have mentioned above that some double sided confessional are not good for the sound. Others expressed, maybe jokingly, that a priest can only hear one confession at a time, so why the double-barreled confessionals?

    The great advantage to a two sided confessional is that they are faster. This may sound a bit un-pastoral but it takes about 20 to 30 seconds for a penitent to leave and the other to come in and start confessing. These times add up. For a confessional line of 30 penitents, that adds up to 10 to 15 minutes! Unfortunately today many confessional lines are not long, so the thought of speeding things along and saving some time is not critical. However when a parish has a healthy number of confessions on the weekend, everyone appreciates it if the line moves a little bit faster. Also when confessions are before mass that time can add up to one or more confessions before the priest has to go to offer the Mass. Maybe the double-sided confessional will become a causality of our loss of sense of sin….

  32. Laura Lea says:

    Our pastor has to play instrumental music outside the confessional door because we can hear what is being said in the confessional. Our church building is brand new too! We could have sound proofed it if someone had thought in advance to do that. Father Z, what an awesome thing you have given some serious thought to the confessional!

  33. avecrux says:

    I am glad to see that Father almagne has done such a nice job – especially with the soundproofing. I make use of the sacrament every week or two weeks, and I have never been in a two sided confessional that is adequately soundproofed. It is horrible. I plug my ears and hum inside my head to get through waiting for the other person to finish and not hear the priests advice to the other penitent.

  34. iPadre says:

    Here is the one I built just a few years ago. No doors, only curtains. It has lights so the penitent can read the form of how to go to Confession on the side of the screen. If you want more info, drop me a line. http://www.holyghostcc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/confessional.jpg

  35. iPadre says:

    jhayes wrote: “If you are in the US, the USCCB has determined that there should also be provision for face-to-face confessions.” This is overruled by the Vatican. I was questioned by someone in my chancery. The CDW stated that the Priest has the right, NOT to hear confessions “face-to-face”.

    “If, according to Canon 964, paragraph 2, of the Code of Canon Law, the minister of the sacrament, for a just cause and excluding cases of necessity, can legitimately decide, even in the eventuality that the penitent ask for the contrary, that sacramental confession be received in a confessional with a fixed grille.” July 24, 1998 Vatican Information Service

    In our crazy times, I will not sit in a room to hear confession and if they are face=to-face, I will sit at the altar rail.

  36. The Egyptian says:

    I can find you several that are unused, sadly, including a set of 4 in Minster that are exactly what you describe, they worked well

    this one from my youth is now a storage closet, the curtains worked real well, from my now defunct blog
    http://germanegyptian.blogspot.com/2009/01/real-confessional.html

    this was a REAL confessional, Fr’s side had a steam radiator under his seat, but the penitent side was cold as a tomb

  37. JKnott says:

    Father almagne, Saint Joseph must be one of your patron saints!

    Our mother church, which is now a basilica, has 4 double sided confessionals. Two are used continuously every day but Sunday. The penitents’ sides have a red velvet curtain that slides across and the priest has a door. I have good hearing and never hear anyone else on the other side, although once in awhile a priest is audible. The parish has 5 priests.
    What is so beautiful is that if you don’t get to confession early on Saturdays or before the noon tMass, you have to stand in long lines for both confessionals.

  38. JKnott says:

    Father iPadre, that is beautiful confessional! Seriously Catholic

  39. mamajen says:

    Here’s a link to the current ADA Standards for Accessible Design. There are some good diagrams that help explain clearance requirements, ramp slopes, and such. If there’s any confusion as to what applies and what does not, a good builder or architect will be able to help:

    http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAStandards_prt.pdf

    almagne provided a wealth of helpful information–very good! I really like ipadre’s confessional as well, though I’m not sure about the curtains for ADA compliance.

  40. jhayes says:

    iPadre, please see my post of 2:12 pm. As I understand it, the church should have a place where face-to-face confessions can be heard but any confessor, for good cause, can refuse to hear face-to-face confessions (the USCCB refers to the AAS clarification).

    At the Franciscan shrine where I go to Confession, one side of one confessional is marked for optional face-to-face confessions. It is the same as the other confessionals but. after entering, if you ask to confess face-to-face, the priest removes the grille from the opening. The top of the opening is above eye level.

  41. acardnal says:

    I think iPadre is simply reiterating that face to face provisions are not required and priests are not required to hear confessions face to face. “Should” does not mean “must”.

  42. A lot is being made of the word “should” as opposed to “must.” I think that sometimes that word is used so as to allow for the possibility that something simply is impractical or really not possible. They don’t want pastors tearing down beautiful old churches just so that a new one can have a face-to-face confessional. They don’t want large protrusions into the nave that remove a quarter of the pews in a small church just to accomodate a new confessional. However, when “should” simply becomes an excuse for “I don’t like it– we’ll ignore it,” we’re treading on dangerous ground. In most cases, the standard three-door confessional can be converted into one that accomodates everyone’s preferences, including the clearly stated preference of the USCCB, without lots of grief, and if finances permit a pastor ought to make that accomodation. If too many people take “should” to mean “need not” then the next iteration of the law may be more strict. If I were a pastor, I would set aside my personal preferences in such a case and submit myself to the spirit of the instruction (which does not conflict with its letter).

  43. Let’s clarify something: “fixed grille” is not contradictory to “face to face.”

    A fixed grille is meant to provide separation–for the sake of prudence; it may–or may not–also provide anonymity. In other words, it’s very possible to create a “fixed grille” that is so spaced as to be able to see through.

    Look, “face to face” confessions are easy to provide for; all the money spent on this was wasted.

    All it takes is to have largely the same, traditional architecture–with a fixed grille that can be seen-through. Then have a curtain. Curtain closed? Anonymous. Curtain open? Face-to-face.

    And if that’s not satisfactory, then there’s no problem the priest hearing someone’s confession away from the confessional, if he’s willing and the penitent requests it.

    Problem solved. Money saved!

  44. frjim4321 says:

    As mentioned before I am a strong advocate for providing a screen for those who want to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance anonymously. Among my fellow moderate priests I am probably have the strongest feelings about providing screens.

    Further, I also acknowledge another factor in promotion of the old style box, and that is it renders impropriety impossible and thus protects a priest from false allegations.

    That being said, echoing a comment above, reduplicating the old style double-box with modern-age enhancement seems much more expensive than creating a simple reconcilation room that has both a chair for face-to-face and a kneeler/screen on the other side. A double or triple paned vertical window could help with the second problem.

    Regarding white noise, I think the bathroom fan could be too loud and cause either of the celebrants to shout; thus I would suggest an inexpensive white-noise generator that would not be as loud as a fan but would make it more difficult to overhear.

  45. jhayes says:

    acardnal wrote ” priests are not required to hear confessions face to face.”

    What the dubiam says is that “for a just reason and apart from a case of necessity…” he can refuse.

    Your bishop may have a different view of what “a just reason” is. Probably not just “I don’t like face-to-face confessions” [No.]

    But, as Fr. Martin Fox pointed out, you can hear face-to-face confessions in a regular confessional – as at he Franciscan shrine I described.

    The only difference needed is to put the top of the opening/grate above eye level for a tall person.

  46. jhayes says:

    Dubium

  47. almagne says:

    frjim4321, bathroom fans are not too loud. I’ve been using the new confessionals in my church for four years and no one has needed to even raise their voices. Home Depot has many models that are perfectly fine.

  48. Cecily says:

    If one must have a face to face confession, [Which isn't really the issue here.] doing so with the priest sitting behind the altar rail seems like a much better plan than sitting in a room with a closed door (unless there’s a big glass window). However, as suggested above, a grille that easily converts back and forth seems like a brilliant solution. Personally, I prefer a confessional with a fixed grille for the same reason priests prefer a fixed grille. We have only opaque grilles, so if it’s my spiritual director in there, I just tell him it’s me.

    In some Orthodox churches I have visited, all confessions are done in public at the altar, even if the Church is full of people getting ready for Mass. However, the penitent faces an icon of Christ, rather than facing the priest. This makes more sense to me. Facing an opaque grille or an icon reminds me I am confessing to God. I’ve even seen an icon fixed to the opaque grille in an RC confessional. Brilliant!

    Public school teachers are cautioned to never be alone in a room with a student. Priests are wise to similarly protect themselves. We can’t afford to lose any more priests to false accusations.

  49. Tony from Oz says:

    Some excellent comments for soundproofing have been lodged here. I well remember having to cover my ears in past years of ‘thunder box’ confessionals – even whilst in the queue awaiting my turn; although my loss of hearing acuity in recent years makes this less of problem for me now!

    I have no idea where the notion of making face to face confession a priority came from. Have priests no notion of the psychology of shame for the average person? A no brainer, really! But, yes – I well remember when the fetish for ‘confessional wreckovation’ was in full swing in the ’80s yearning for boxes with walls 3′ thick and with voice distorting mics as an option: and certainly NOT to be greeted with “Hello Tony, and what do you have for me today?”.

    At the cathedral in my home town, you can see (clearly, albeit indistinctly) whether penitents opt to walk around the screen to confess, or merely use the screen. Hardly ANYONE opts for face to face. I suspect that the fetish for encouraging face-to-face confessions was part of a new ideology of the sacrament of penance and was certainly not part of a popular swell of support from the laity. Declining confessions in many churches in the West bear mute testimony to that, I think.

    Fr Z – would it be possible to conduct a poll to see how many faithful prefer grille vs face-to-face? if you have not already done so, of course. And thank you for all you do in encouraging use of this wonderful sacrament.

  50. VexillaRegis says:

    Soundproofing is the most important thing. I have never gone to confession in a classic confessional – they are very scarce here. Mostl churches have a small room with a kneeler for the penitent and a chair for the priest placed in 90 ¤ to eachother. That works well. The best confession I have ever made was in the priests car in a moderately busy parkinglot. No eye contact, dim lights outside, sound proof room and in Latin! It was such a marvellous heart to heart with our Lord because I was sure no one could over hear and I didn’t feel hurried by waiting people outside.

  51. capchoirgirl says:

    Re: the “white noise”/bathroom fan: I have a cochlear implant in one ear and about 20% natural hearing in the other. Believe me, a bathroom fan can definitely be an impediment to hearing the priest. My parish is old (built in the mid 19th c.) and has lovely old confessionals, but I do wish there was a face to face option just so I could read the priest’s lips when he’s giving me a penance!
    Definite kudos for thinking about handicapped accessibility. Ours definitely are not. You’ve got maybe a foot-wide aisle between the confessional door and the row of pews.

  52. pyrosapien says:

    My parish church had the traditional style confessionals. It was constructed in the late ’40s early ’50s however so the soundproofing was not good. That problem was overcome by including a music system that played traditional Gregorian chant music and attaching a kill switch to the slider. When it was your turn for Confession and the grill door was slid open, the music on your side would stop. The grill door being shut on the other side would re-activate the speakers on that side. The music was loud enough that you couldn’t hear what was going on with the other penitent but not so loud that you couldn’t pray and collect your thoughts for your own confession.

    The recent renovation kept the traditional style confessionals but totally rebuilt them to where the improved sound proofing removed the “overhearing” problem and the speaker system is no more. The renovation was done by;

    O’Connor Architects PLLC
    147 Finch Place SW, Suite 3
    Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
    Phone: 206-842-5490
    Fax: 206-842-2239

  53. wmeyer says:

    The suggestions from almagne were pretty comprehensive, but allow me to add a little to them.

    The acoustic foam is indeed an excellent product, but expensive, and I do not know what its useful life may be. Many, perhaps most, foam products deteriorate with age, until they reach the point of crumbling. An alternative to consider is that lead-lined drywall can be used, as is done in radiology facilities, as well as some sound studios. Lead does not conduct sound, and as the foil is on the side of the drywall which faces the studs, there is no risk of contact with people.

    Also, the acoustic fabric to which he referred is commonly known as speaker cloth, which is the most common application for it.

  54. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Regarding the “white noise” solution: I inherited a church designed in the 1970s, whose architects apparently knew nothing of the purpose of confession. The confessional rooms were so lacking in soundproofing that a conversation at normal volume could be easily heard outside the confessional.

    After some minor modifications for soundproofing didn’t completely solve the problem, I plugged in a white noise generator in the chapel where confession rooms were located OUTSIDE the confessional. This prevents overhearing where penitents are waiting, but provides less of an impediment for hearing impaired INSIDE the confessional, where the white noise can only faintly be heard. Not the most elegant solution (and perhaps a little distracting to those making their examination in the chapel) but it was inexpensive and it works.

    White noise generator boxes can be purchased inexpensively from amazon.com.

  55. acardnal says:

    Cincinnati Priest, I have observed the same practice elsewhere and it works! Protecting the confidentiality of the penitent’s confession is paramount. Thank you for doing so. (If I recall correctly, if anyone happens to overhear someone’s confession, they are bound under pain of mortal sin never to reveal what they have heard.)

    For those who may not know, white noise generators are often used by folks who have difficulty falling to sleep.

  56. eiggam says:

    The Face to face issue can be mitigated in the screened confession by, “Bless Me, Father, this is Jane Smith” or “I am a middle aged married woman”, so Father has something to work with when assigning penance.

    Provisions need to be made in case the priest has hearing issues. Maybe something along the lines of the phones visitors use in prisons (without recording equipment, of course).

  57. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Sound-proofing will be by far the hardest part of the job.”

    The suggestions for sound-proofing, above, are excellent, but, there are simpler alternatives that work well. Partially, it depends on how the room is designed. Point-source sound propagation is a spherical wave phenonmenon, meaning that there is 360 degree wave spreading, but reflections and phase-shifting in the room. It is possible to build a noise-cancelling room, although I don’t think it would be very good for confessions! The simplest thing to do is to use very heavy velvet curtains on rods so that they can be taken down and cleaned. I was in a rehearsal new rehearsal hall, once, that was so echo-y that the acoustical engineer brought in to fix the problem was getting a headache just being in the room. The solution: heavy sliding drapes that could be moved around the walls of the room. They, effecively, damped the sound.

    The Chicken

  58. wmeyer says:

    Chicken, the “heavy velvet curtains” you suggest should be of cotton, the sort of thing which is commonly used in the grand drape of a theatre. They will be expensive, and will also be expensive to clean. And they do collect dust, so regular cleaning is essential. I’d favor the lead-lined drywall, simply because it is a one-time cost, and leaves entirely open the question of interior finish.

  59. The Masked Chicken says:

    ” I’d favor the lead-lined drywall, simply because it is a one-time cost, and leaves entirely open the question of interior finish.”

    Except that lead-lined drywall can flake, exposing the inhabitants to lead-containing dust. LLD might be good for large room, but I would get nervous using it in a small confessional.

    The Chicken

  60. Stumbler but trying says:

    Interesting commentary. I do hope by now the kind priest asking for some assistance/advice has found some. I came across this article and thought of this thread and the confessionals he is looking for.
    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/jesuit-high-school-gets-new-chapel-to-foster-devotion/

    Perhaps he might have some luck making contact with someone at the school of the designer to assist him. All the best!