My parish has celebrated communal penance services, inclusive of all age groups, twice a year, during Lent and Advent, for the past several years.
Although many have noted “pros” and “cons” with the effects this has on how people think about the “place” and frequency of confession, the rite has always been conducted rather well: there are over a dozen priests from the diocese who process into the parish church; there are readings and a short homily, and a communal examination of conscience; after the closing prayer, private, individual confessions are heard. The attendance has been very high, 1,000+ each time.
Beginning this summer, we have a new pastor and a new associate pastor. It was announced two weeks ago that this year we would be having a separate communal penance service for children in grades 2 through 8; the larger more general service is to take place the following week. It was explained that only the pastor and associate pastor would hear the children’s confessions, as other clergy from the diocese could not be in attendance – the communal penance services are conducted throughout the diocese throughout Advent, and it isn’t feasible to shedule the mass-gathering of the priests more than once per season in any one parish.
To everyone’s surprise, the pastor announced at the beginning of this service, which took place last week, that the children would not be making individual confessions. Rather, each child “should approach him or the associate pastor and whisper in their ears the one or two big things that they had done wrong since their last confession.” He also announced that the children would not be granted absolution individually. After the last child was finished, he granted all in attendance general absolution.
Many parents and most of the CCD teachers were very, very pleased with this service. Many of our stongest and most orthodox lay parish leaders, who have children in those grades, were also very, very pleased. Few are aware or concerned that a grave abuse of the Sacrament had taken place.
There was one parish staff person who was aware of the pastor’s plan and beforehand questioned him (quite charitably) about the legitimacy of this “approach” to celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation (by the way, this brave soul was not me). Father indicated that such “criticisms” of his competence and authority were/are not welcome, and that lay persons shouldn’t concern themselves about a decision that can only be made by a priest or bishop.
First of all, can anyone here help me to put together the relevant materials that make the case against such an abuse of the Sacrament of Penance?
And, I desperately need recommendations for how to proceed with a complaint. I have a sensitive situation wherein I work weekly with the pastor in a volunteer capacity as a leader in several ministries and apostolates. This pastor has been quick to squash the participation in parish leadership of those he thinks are “reactionary” or “too conservative” or “pre-Vatican II.”
Do you think those parishioners who are concerned can go straight to the bishop with this? Can we request some sort of anyonymity?
Also, I have been forewarned by some persons “in the know” that the bishop fully backs these abuses. If his response to the complaint indicates such support, even if passive, who do we write next?
Thank you for your prayers and advice.