I was glad to see the “Penance By Appointment” post get a little attention yesterday. It fell far behind the usual centers of attention here–readings for funerals and weddings. Even the reconciliation readings page got more views. I knew Liam would comment. I also received an e-mail from a parish secretary (not in my parish) who prefers to remain anonymous. Here’s her take on the topic:
Well, as the parish secretary of a priest who offers the by appointment option, allow me to say this.
I typically make most of his appointments, as I manage his calendar, which for us is on Google. That way he can see it on his phone or from his desk.
When people call and ask for him, and I daresay I believe that I am very professional, but I have to suss out what they need. If it is a someone calling about a wedding, I speak to them about some preliminary matters first, and then book that appointment. If it is baptism, same kind of thing. (He sees all those who are there for their first baptism.) If someone calls and simply says I need to see Father, I might do a little probing – gently. Many people call to “see” Father, but they need financial
help – and he does not get involved so much there. I can immediately connect them with our St. Vincent de Paul. My long winded point is that in our large and busy parish, with one priest, if people tried to talk to him, and left messages, they might not get what they need as quickly and pastorally.
And lots of people call and simply say, “I would like to make an
appointment for Fr. to hear my confession.” I just book the time. And like all of his other appointments, they go into a sitting room that has a white noise generator and close the door. I do not disturb! He is not put off by the smell of sheep, but he can’t see everyone on Saturday in a 30 minute span.
Having worked close to clergy for twenty-six years, I think expectations of priests from less-active Catholics can be quite high, and occasionally unrealistic. There can be a presumption that clergy are more-or-less immediately available for everything from an obviously excellent reason (like a sudden death of a loved one) to a frivolous one (like some strange opinion they encountered on the internet). Most priests don’t give people food or money. Almost all perform personal counseling on some level, and I’ve never known a priest to be unprofessional about any of this. I’ve worked with some real gossipy guys in the past, and even with them, the Seal of Confession is inviolate.
My sense is that a good priest will be responsive and welcoming of a sincere effort of a needy Catholic, even a non-parishioner.
At the student center, our associate pastor often is seen walking between his office and the church with a person in tow. I might guess he hears a dozen confessions a week in this way–and that could be a very conservative estimate. My sense is that the pastor gets more calls about a broad range of things, and conducts his one-on-one ministry more in his office–out of the public eye.
My e-mail correspondent also asked me why I posted the piece. I’ll simply suggest it as a corrective to the conservative Catholic narrative I’ve seen online this year (once) and in the past suggesting that there’s something evasive about offering alternatives to Saturday afternoon. When a person sees “& by appointment” in the parish bulletin, take it as a sincere and generous offering of time, and ignore the naysayers who have no experience with the priest in question.