From a reader:
I know you frequently encourage your readers to attend to making use of the confessional and I support you in your efforts! However, I have a question as to how you handle penitents who hog the confessional?
We are fortunate in our parish to have priests available to hear confession during mass and as we have a far flung parish, this is often to only opportunity some of our parishioners have to go to confession.
There are certain members of our parish, and to be honest most of them are women, who will routinely take 20 to 30 minutes in the confessional. It seems to me a sin against the virtue of charity for these folks to take so long in the box when there is a big line of people behind them who also need the use of the Sacrament. And if I happen to be one of them I find myself having to add an extra item to my list if you get my meaning.
So I’d like to know, if you can share, how do you handle these situations and is there anything I should say to our pastor about it?
I’d be careful about accusing others of sinning against charity in the confessional line. You the risk of adding sin to your own sins and ending up like the Pharisee in the parable who thanks God he is not like other men.
That said, yes, it’s a problem when fellow penitents spend an inordinate amount of time in the confessional (or the bathroom, or chatting with the checkout clerk at the grocery store) while folks behind are waiting with varying degrees of patience.
Father confessor, in the confessional, should do what he can to move things along. I don’t say that Father should use cool or severe detachment – St. Alphonsus Liguori has already done that for me – but neither should he let penitents simply ramble aimlessly from one irrelevant point or repetition to another. Even when he tries to keep things moving, sometimes the grace of the sacrament opens up an avenue of interior exploration and it is opportune to probe a bit further.
What is full solution to this problem? Who can say? An express line confessional (15 sins or less!)? A sign asking penitents with whoppers to call and set up an appointment? “Scrupulosity Saturday” once a month where those who feel the need to reconfess all their sins from childhood on can take up all the time they need, leaving the other three or four Saturdays for those who just need a sacramental touch-up?
Back in the day, or in places where more than one priest can be hearing confessions, people figure out which priests tend to be quicker. Remember: it isn’t always the penitent who is slowing things down.
I recall one priest, in my native place, whom we nicknamed “Machine Gun Kelly”, because he was so fast. You could confess fraud on a monumental scale, running prostitutes, acts of genocide and, BAM!, he would have you counseled, assigned a penance, shriven and out practically before you could draw your next breath. Old Fr. Kelly, God rest him, is perhaps at one end of the spectrum, but everyone who really had things to get off their chests without lectures and rhapsodic mumblings that make your eyeballs roll back into your head could seek him out and make a fresh start.
Friends, examine your consciences BEFORE you get into the confessional. Confess your SINS in kind and number. Leave out all the vague expositions about how you feel that you are good person. Just confess your sins. It isn’t complicated, even though it can be hard.
Priests, would you please, for the love of all that holy, save your homilies for the pulpit? Be kind but brief and direct. Don’t lose yourself, and the penitents, in an endless anabasis of syrupy musings about God’s love. Give a brief counsel, make sure there is nothing else that needs to be confessed, suggest a penance, invite the Act of Contrition and get on with absolution. It isn’t complicated.
The confessional is a tribunal, not a coffee house.
Also, keep in mind that usually Father has no idea how many people are in line. It can be of help at times to say, “Father, I was the last person in line when I got in…. Father, there are 7 people behind me.” I, for one, am always glad to know.