ASK FATHER: I might be contagious. Would it be a sin to go to confession to an elderly priest?

From a reader…


Given that the priests at the chapel where I typically confess are all rather elderly and at high risk should they become infected, would it potentially be morally problematic to go to confession and put them at risk? My job puts me into significant close contact with dozens of people from all walks of life per day, and I could conceivably have the virus and be capable of passing it on for quite some time before I even know it. The confessional room has a screen, but it’s certainly no disease barrier. Would there be any sin in potentially exposing one of these elderly priests, or am I just being overly scrupulous? Thank you.

Thanks for being concerned about your priests.

If you are a risk to them, then don’t go near them!  If you suspect that you are infectious, then, yes, it would be a sin.  If you are in danger of death, that’s another matter.  The priest would, appropriately, get to you with the proper precautions.

Perhaps in the parish are might be a way to settle a priest in a place where you can still talk to him at a distance without there being a way to infect him (or others).     I gamed a little bit of this out in another post a couple days ago.  HERE  Hint… read the blog.

Let’s take a worst case scenario.

People, maintaining some distance, come by the rectory or steps of the church and the priest gives General Absolution.  Yes, there are times when General Absolution is appropriate.  The usual conditions would apply.

Otherwise, …

Priest in a hazmat suit?  QUAERITUR: Stole inside or outside?

Jail style meeting booths?  Someone would have to disinfect the penitent’s side.

There could be a curtain, to preserve anonymity.

Actually, that’s starting to look like a good option!

Friends, Holy Church has been through plagues.  We have all the tools we need, in the forms of the Sacraments you might need in time of deadly disease.  We can absolve you and give you the Apostolic Pardon without standing over you.  We can absolve you even if people are listening and you can’t make a regular confession.   There is a way for just about any circumstance.

However, I sure would recommend that, if you are reasonably sure that you are not carrying the bug and can give it to others, get to confession SOON, before we have the sorts of lock downs we are seeing in other places, such as Italy.

Be smart.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tho says:

    Your concern for the health of priests is admirabile, but even the flu, or a common cold, would be a cause for staying away. We are blowing this new virus out of all proportion.
    Today I went to the super market, and panic buying is starting to set in. If you are not elderly, just take a deep breath and relax.

  2. Dismas says:

    1. Don’t touch stuff. The current literature states that the virus can survive upwards of 48 hours on a given surface. Copper and other noble metals may drop down to 4, but door knobs and gas pumps are not good.

    2. Keep your distance. 3 feet is a fair minimum, but don’t feel safe within double that.

  3. Pingback: FRIDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  4. BrionyB says:

    I have the same dilemma; churches are still open here and I am not sick or contagious as far as I know, but feel I should err on the side of caution when it comes to our parish priest, who is older and in poor health. Just wish I’d gone to confession before all this started instead of putting it off, thinking I had all the time in the world. There’s always tomorrow, until suddenly there’s not.

  5. Cicero_NOLA says:

    Today Prof. Peters addressed related questions regarding Mass obligations in a time of pestilence on his blog:

  6. Animadversor says:

    QUÆRITUR: Stole inside or outside?

    RESPONDITUR: Stolam infra vestem tutricem sibi induat confessarius, ut crucem pectoralem infra planetam gerit pontifex—non nemo saltem.

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