Penance By Appointment

In my parish’s print bulletin, this semester’s hours for the Sacrament of Penance are listed:

3:30 PM Saturday
8:00 PM Thursday
& by appointment

I’ve heard the occasional fuss online (never really in a parish) about that last line, when a parish offers it. I’ve never really understood it.

1. It’s a generous offer of time and attention by parish clergy if Saturday afternoon or a particular weeknight is inconvenient.

2. Parish secretaries who might take the phone call do not ask callers (if they are professional) why a person wishes to speak with a priest. It is simply not the business of even a call-screener to inquire as to a state of sin, a spiritual crisis, or whatnot. If it’s happening, then the boss needs to know about the lack of circumspect behavior.

2a. An office worker might ask a caller if the matter is urgent and offer to page the pastor or interrupt a meeting–but that circumstance is not unusual for the secretary of another person in a helping profession where confidentiality is vital.

2b. If nothing else, someone else’s confession might be being heard at that very moment. And that won’t be interrupted, likely even for an emergency.

All that said, a confessor might give the impression (by rolling of eyeballs, by never returning any calls, by public pronouncements of the futility of the sacraments) that “by appointment” is a totally silly idea, wink, wink. In which case, the potential penitent would do better, no doubt, to go parish hopping, at least for this sacrament.

My sense about this is to lay off the appointment option. By all means, offer particular criticism and suggestions for improvement of clergy who do not have the smell of sheep. But I think that would be a deeper matter about one’s suitability for Holy Orders than an indictment of making a sacrament available as others often are–Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, and Communion to the sick coming to mind.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Parish Life, Rite of Penance. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Penance By Appointment

  1. Liam says:

    Don’t assume that erstwhile penitents considering the appointment option would know any of this. Say penitent wants to receive the sacrament anonymously, they imagine “well, how on earth do I do that via appointment?” There might not actually be logistical blocks that they imagine, but unless one grapples with what is likely to be in their imagination in that regard, you’ll end up with a negative feedback loop.

    • Todd says:

      Agreed. In some instances, there is a presumption that clergy and their staff are not professional. That is a loss on all sides.

      How does an anonymous appointment get set up? It’s easy.

      “Hello, Father. I wish to go to confession and my schedule doesn’t permit me to come at the offered times.”

      “We can meet in my office if you wish at (time x).”

      “I would rather be anonymous.”

      “That is fine. I can meet you in the reconciliation room later this evening.”

      “What about 9pm? Is that too late?”

      “Nine o’clock is good. I will arrive a few minutes early and will be ready for you.”

      But you have given me the germ of an idea for a video for the parish web site. This needs to be explained in more detail.

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