From a reader…
In our parish, when our Associate Pastor is hearing Confessions, he comes from behind the screen, opens the door and “greets” each person, in view of all waiting in line, then is very insistent upon hearing Confession face-to-face. This sometimes makes me very uncomfortable, and my husband refuses to go to him. Also, before he gives a Penance, he “counsels” for a significant amount of time. This past Saturday, he heard the Confessions of 8 penitents in the 40 minutes left, turning away another 7. Are these legitimate grounds for complaint to our Pastor, and if so, do you have recommendations as to how I might structure / word my comments? Thanks and God bless!
First, it sounds as if the Associate is trying to be personable and welcoming and that he isn’t trying to do something intimidating or confusing.
The pastor should help this priest by giving him some big-brotherly counsel cum directives.
The associate should NOT get out of the confessional or greet anyone outside the confessional. He should not make eye contact with people outside the confessional or even look toward them. In fact, if he is a little behind schedule, he should not even raise his eyes or look up from the floor as he walks to the confessional! He should, if at all possible, pass by people who are in line without the slightest idea of who is there. If he should recognize anyone, he should make no sign of recognition or greeting or anything else.
If the confessional is one of these horrid rooms that has a screen that people can go around so they make their confession “face to face”, then the penitent herself has complete control of her anonymity. The penitent must have complete control of anonymity!
If might happen that, if there is a gap or break in the stream of penitents, a priest with a Mass coming up or another appointment will momentarily get out or look out to see if there is anyone else waiting. That’s a different matter. Even then he should engage at the lowest possible level.
As far as the “counsels” are concerned, they should be brief… brief. There are few things more awkward than having to listen to the priest confessor drone on and on in what he thinks is a tone that is simultaneously fatherly and nice with one pious platitude after another. Beyond awkward, it is frustrating for penitents in line who want to be able to make their confession before Father has to get out and say Mass.
Fathers, please be brief. I implore you.
At the same time, let’s not always blame the priest for the length of a confession! Some penitents have no idea what they are going to say because they haven’t examined their consciences before getting into the confessional. Also, some penitents overwhelm even themselves with unnecessary details.
Sinners, please be brief. I implore you.
I think that you could bring your concerns to the pastor, but don’t do so in a mean or angry way. While what the priest says or doesn’t say in the confessional is entirely off limits for the pastor to bring up, he can bring up the observable fact that the priest isn’t allowing for his penitents anonymity. The pastor could gently remind the associate to pick up the pace without compromising the integrity of confessions by shortening his counsels.
Otherwise, depending on the temperament of the associate, and your familiarity with him and involvement in the parish, one could drop him a line with an explanation of how uncomfortable his reviewing people in line makes you feel, and that it is sometimes frustrating not to be able to make a good confession in the scheduled time allotted because the line moves slowly. Again, there should be no anger in the letter.