From a reader…
A bishop made a comment about saying that a priest doesn’t have the power to deny a penitent face to face confession. In other words, a bishop basically said “ a priest can’t override a penitent who is asking for face to face…
When I was studying in Rome in late 90s – we came across a Vatican document July 7, 1998 approved by John Paul II that mentioned it’s the prerogative or right of the priest to “override” a face to face request. Anyway the current Vatican website doesn’t seem to have this document on its website in its entirety… its only quoted in other documents and for other reasons…
Would you happen to have this document? or access to it? Or some other post Vatican decree in favor of the “priest overidding….“
Let’s get a few things straight right off the bat.
A priest CAN decline to receive a sacramental confession “face to face”.
Firstly, can. 964 §3 says that confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional except for a good reason. A good reason could include a patient being in a hospital room, or someone asks in an airport because you are dressed as a priest. Priests are pretty flexible about this and rightly so.
Priests can, of course, decline to hear a confession if the time and place is not appropriate for such. For example, 5 minutes before Mass is to begin or in the middle of a restaurant during a meal or waiting for an appointment in a dentist’s office.
I, for one, will NEVER use a confessional that is like a room, with door that closes and there is no window or barrier between me and penitents. To my mind, “reconciliation rooms” are “lawsuit rooms”.
Can. 964 §2 says that confessionals should have fixed grates or screens or grilles between the confessor and the penitent. NOT having a grille in a confessional is a violation of law and of the confessor’s right to have that grille in place. This was affirmed in 1998.
Can. 964, § 2 (cf. AAS, XC, 1998, p. 711)
Patres Pontificii Consilii de Legum Textibus Interpretandis, in ordinario coetu diei 16 iunii 1998, dubio, quod sequitur, respondendum esse censuerunt ut infra:
D. Utrum attento praescripto can. 964, § 2, 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.
Summus Pontifex Ioannes Paulus II in Audientia die 7 iulii 1998 infrascripto Praesidi impertita, de supradicta decisione certior factus, eam confirmavit et promulgari iussit.
+ Iulianus Herranz,
Archiepiscopus titularis Vertarensis, Praeses
+ Bruno Bertagna,
Episcopus titularis Drivastensis, a Secretis
“Whether, regarding can. 964 § 2, the minister of the sacrament, for a just cause and cases of necessity excluded, can legitimately decide, even if the penitent perhaps asks otherwise, that sacramental confession be received in a confessional with a fixed grille.”
Hence, a priest can refuse to hear a confession if there is no confessional with a fixed grate. Even if the person insists that it be face-to-face, the priest can decline.
Penitents do not have the right to face-to-face confession. The bishop was wrong.
Say some priest or other, just for the heck of it call him “Fr. Z”, wants to use a confessional that only has the grate and does not have a way to make a confession face-to-face. That’s fine. He is within his rights. At the same time, penitents are also not obliged to go to Fr. Z for confession. If, perchance, penitents insist on face-to-face and Fr. Z insists on a fixed grate, they will be at loggerheads. But Fr. Z would be, as usual, right.
The response from the Holy See underscores that a) confessionals are important and that b) there should be a grille or grate. The priest has the right to protect himself and his reputation from harm and false accusations.
GO TO CONFESSION!
And don’t insist on face to face.