Q. 1. What is the Catholic Church teaching regarding a private confession versus a face-to-face confession?
A. 1. A private confession in the confessional behind a grill finds it origin in 1564 when Cardinal Borromeo mandated that the confessionals in his diocese be closed on both sides with a grill between the priest and the penitent.
In the 17th century, this became a universal practice when Pope Paul V's Roman Ritual adopted this practice.
At present, anonymous confessions is the official recognized practice of the Catholic Church. At the same time, unofficially, today's practice allows for a face-to-face confession should the penitent desire so.
While a penitent may request a face-to-face confession, the priest is not obligated to grant this request and may insist on using the traditional confessional behind a grill.
Q. 2. In our parish, all the confessionals have been renovated into "meeting rooms" whereas penitents are obligated to have a face-to-face confession. Can a priest enforce this practice?
A. 2. When a penitent wants to remain anonymous, the priest most respect this desire in accordance with the Church tradition. The priest should never have a need or right to know the identity of the person who is confessing his/her sins. Accordingly, face-to-face confessions are not acceptable, nor is this in accordance with the Catholic Church practice of administering the Sacrament of Confession.
Q. 3. What are the advantage and disadvantages of a face-to-face confession if any?
A. 3. The following can be considered:
a) Face-to-face confessions provides a different atmosphere during which a priest can be provided detailed counsel to the penitent during the Sacrament of Confession.
a) During face-to-face confessions, the penitent cannot remain anonymous as the Catholic Church has been providing in the Sacrament of Confession during the last few centuries.
b) Face-to-face confessions provides the opportunity for either or both, the priest and the penitent to socialize. This can lead to longer confessions and the denial of the Sacrament of Confession to other penitents because of the shortage of time.
c) In this age when there is so much concern about sexual abuse, face-to-face confessionals provides a greater opportunity to promote such offenses.
While there may be other disadvantages, the above are sufficient reasons to end such a questionable practice.