Are confessions allowed out in the open in the sanctuary next to the baptismal fountain?

Something happened today that really upset me. I made a trip to a church expressly for confession. I sat next to the confessional but saw no red/green light. The door was open and no one was there. On the other side of the church sanctuary, there were people scattered in the pews. At the front of the sanctuary, beside the baptismal fountain (water running), was the priest, standing, with his arm around a person having confession. Their backs were turned away from us but I could still see them and hear mumbling. I was all the way in the back of the church on the other side. I watched for a few minutes as people took turns going up for confession. Needless to say, this was not the way I wanted to have confession. I want to kneel behind a screen anonymously. I’m a convert and confession has always been hard for me. I certainly don’t want to do it face to face and out in front of everyone. So, I left the sanctuary and talked to a very nice lady who mentioned that Father was having confessions, if I were interested. I didn’t mention my misgivings, but she offered up that Father doesn’t like to be in a confessional booth.She said he has a confessional but he won’t use it. I was just kinda dumbfounded. I’ve never seen this before. I won’t be going back there for confession — ever. Is this acceptable practice or is this Vatican II taken to extremes? I really needed to go to confession and it was too late for me to get to the other church across town. So I just went home.

Code of Canon Law:

Can. 964 §2. The conference of bishops is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely.

§3. Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause.


Provision must be made in each church or oratory for a sufficient number of places for sacramental confessions which are clearly visible, truly accessible, and which provide a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor. Provision should also be made for penitents who wish to confess face-to-face…

The preference of canon law and the USCCB is for “old style” confessionals with additional provisions for those who wish to go face to face. It appears this priest has reversed the priorities here. However, there could be legitimate reasons for this (claustrophobia, problems with his knees/legs and he needs to stretch them and can’t in the confessional, etc). But generally speaking the priority should be for the traditional confessional.
If your local parish doesn’t have the appropriate accommodations you can most certainly go to confession at another parish, chapel, shrine, etc.

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