When is a priest required to hear confessions?

A few weeks ago, being the parish organist, I was going over preparations for a Saturday evening liturgy with a visiting priest that will be with our parish for several weeks until our pastor returns.

During our conversation a woman came into the sacristy and asked for the priest to hear her confession. The priest told her he would not, and that he was at our parish to say Mass, not to hear confessions. Several other people came in and asked for him to hear their confessions, because it was the normal time for confessions at our parish. This priest told them all the same thing.

I left that sacristy furious.

I have a few questions about this; Can a priest refuse to hear a confession? Should I say something to the priest about this, as he will be with us for several weeks? Would it be worth mentioning to my pastor when he returns or even our diocese?

Thanks for any help with this matter, it has been really bothering me! :slight_smile:

I think a priest from another diocese or parish needs the pastor’s permission to hear confession.

But if I’m wrong, than he would be violating Canon Law, because Canon Law states the Christian has a right to the sacraments.

I’d be hard pressed to find the sourse for this quote, but I’m sure I’ve read that the general rule of thumb is, a priest should hear confessions…“whenever the faithful reasonably request it.”

I don’t know what was going on with your supply priest, but I wouldn’t hesitate to charitably inquire once your pastor returns, as to what the procedure should be for confessions in his absence. In the mean time, if you are able to keep your emotions in check, it might be worth asking the supply priest–or even the church secretary–if they know if any arrangements have been made for confessions while the pastor is away. Seems a little odd that that particular sacrament would be put on hold for several weeks.

This might be a good question to ask in the Ask An Apologist section here: forums.catholic.com/forumdisplay.php?f=84

As a rule, priests have an obligation to hear confession whenever (a) the penitent is properly disposed, and (b) at a reasonable time. And yes, the faithful do have a right to receive the Sacraments whenever they reasonably request them.

All priests who have the faculty to hear confessions (from their own bishop) have the faculty to do so anywhere in the world, unless that faculty has been withheld in a particular place. Based on the OP here, we do not know if that priest (for whatever reason) did not have faculties to hear confessions either universally or in that particular place.

Even if it is the case that he has no faculties, the parish should’ve been made aware and should have other arrangements in place. At the very least they should refer people seeking confessions to other parishes where they can be accommodated.

Oh yes–some kind of accomodations need to be made. That’s why I made it a point to repeat what Eucharisted had already posted that the faithful have a right to the Sacraments.

I was interviewing for a job at a parish a few weeks ago. A guy came into the office and asked if he could see a priest. When the secretary inquired as to why, he said it was for confession. One priest was on the phone, and the other priest was having interviews. The one on the phone was on it for at least twenty minutes while the guy was standing there waiting. The churches in the area all have confession on Saturday, but he said he had to work on Saturdays. I’m not sure what he did about it, though.

Based on the OP here, we do not know if that priest (for whatever reason) did not have faculties to hear confessions either universally or in that particular place.

And we don’t know if the priest DID have faculties to hear confessions in that parish.

It does happen that sometimes they don’t.

A friend visited a parish this last Maundy Thursday, and asked one of the priests there to hear his confession. The one he asked was just visiting, and did not have faculties, as it turned out. But another one could and did

May I point out that interrupting a conference, in the sacrity or elsewhere, or dropping into the parish office when the priests are busy with parish administration, is NOT the reasonable or appropriate time to ask to have one’s confession heard, barring immediate danger of death.

Just as the faithful should prepare by prayer to receive the Holy Communion, so priests should prepare by prayer and meditation to hear confessions.

Some priests have the charism of being able at the drop of a hat to stop what they are doing and immediately hear a confession and give wise counsel.

If you are at church working with the priest, and someone comes in and asks for confession, it may be that he simply doesn’t have the charism to hear confessions suddenly and unexpectedly.

Pray for this visiting priest and give him a lot of leeway; he is a just a visiting priest, after all.

We don’t know the whole story of the OP, but if this is the case, then just say so. Just don’t say no without any context.

(Responding to everyone’s at once)…

(1) Popping into the sacristy could be seen to be not reasonable for this priest. We do not know how much preparation time he needed to be properly disposed himself. We also do not know whether he had been given the faculties in that place, that time. Thirdly, we do not know if the pastor had announced there would be no confessions that weekend, and possibly even put that in the bulletin, but these parishioners or visitors had not read that.

but this we do know (and discussed on other threads)

(1) A limited Saturday-afternoon time window is actually not reasonable if that is the only time during the week that confession is heard in a parish, unless the region is extremely limited in its clergy personnel. (Rural parish, cluster parishes, etc.)

(2) A variety of confession times, especially throughout several neighboring parishes – times that are widely publicized – might have solved such a confusing incident in the sacristy. Thus, at St. Mary’s, confessions are heard Sat. afternoon’s, at St. Dominic’s, Wednesday evening before/after adoration; at St. Stephen’s, before the Friday a.m. Mass.

Many of us are lucky enough to have access to daily confession opportunities at our, or a nearby, parish. This is ideal (right before Mass). It means one need never be deprived of the opportunity, ever. But apparently not all pastors want to provide that, can provide that, for whatever reason. I wouldn’t know all the circumstances. But the point is, the local parishes and/or diocese should coordinate so that at the very least there is a regular expectation of frequent confession opportunities at a variety of times.

The availability question still doesn’t directly answer the OP’s question as to immediate service upon request, but if that priest had a legitimate, reasonable justification for saying no, there should have been somewhere else in the local area where they could have gone, and which was publicly known.

Keep in mind that it often does little good to try to ring up other parishes on a Saturday afternoon (to request an immediate sacrament). Typically, the church office does not answer the phone on a Saturday afternoon (because it’s not staffed), but only on M-F during often short hours. Some priests do answer phones on Saturday afternoon, but that is the exception in my area.

I assume that there is no other parish near by? They should call the diocese and ask what should be done about the Sacrament of Reconciliation during these weeks. A priest should be available to hear Confessions at the time posted at the parish or when a member of the faithful (properly disposed) asks for the Sacrament.

It would have been the pastors responsibility to let the replacement priest know when and where Confession are normally heard.

Can’t do that on a Saturday. Diocesan offices are closed.

However, advance notification, in the paper bulletin and (if so) online bulletin should have listed the alternate parishes + times. (Perhaps that did occur.)

Full sacramental schedules should also be available on any diocesan website, for all the parishes therein.

Without having burdened the visiting priest with reciting this info, the info should have been available right inside the church in question. A note on the confessional doors themselves would have prevented the sacristy inquiry. (“Confessions will not be heard today, but are available in the locations & at the times listed in the bulletin in the back of the church.”)

In answer to your question: No. A priest shouldn’t refuse to hear confession without good reason. And, yes. You should say something to this priest. I would like to hear his reason. If you are not satisfied, then go to your pastor. If all else fails, might I suggest you grab him by the collar, throw him in the confessional and lock the door… only, do it in a charitable way.

FYI:
In the Archdiocese of Phila… a priest would have the “Faculties” to celebrate Mass anywhere & to hear Confessions. But to officiate a Wedding, he would have to be “Delegated”. The pastor or the associate can do this for him.

When he travels outside of the Archdiocese, he would need to obtain a “Celebat”. This is an official document saying that he is indeed a priest from the Archdiocese of Phila. in “Good Standings” with his bishop. After that, he would need permission from the pastor to celebrate Mass or hear confessions in his parish.

Is this priest actually staying in the rectory at your parish or is he just coming to say Mass and then going back to wherever he came from? It’s not completely clear from your post what “he will be with us for several weeks” means. Does he have other responsibilities at other parishes?

The reason I ask is because unless it is an emergency a priest doesn’t have to hear confessions at unreasonable times. If he’s only at your parish for the time it takes to say Mass and a few minutes before when he needs to prepare then hearing confessions does seem unreasonable. But even in that case there should have been some instructions to the people as to what they should do if they need confession. (A note on the confesssional at least.)

But if this priest is staying at the parish and is pretty much available whenever the regular pastor was available then it seems like this priest is being unreasonable. (Unless, of course, he doesn’t have faculties to hear confessions.)

In any case, it seems odd that your pastor didn’t make arrangements about confessions.

If the priest had only allowed enough time to prepare himself for Mass, it was reasonable for him to refuse. For some priests, that takes a considerable amount of time. Most priests I know, however, would invite the penitent to approach him again after Mass, or would apologize for not having that time available.

Of course, most priests I know are fairly thrilled to have someone want to make a confession. That doesn’t mean they’ll drop everything they’re doing for anyone who strolls up and asks, though. A priest who does not learn the use of the word “no” is not going to use his time and energy effectively. This does mean that when they have a reason to refuse, they almost always offer to meet at an alternate time or give a reason why no alternate time is available.

I don’t know any priest substitutes who literally take over the parish in the pastor’s absence, unless it is a extended sabbatical. They usually have their own commitments or are retired and are limited as to their energies (or both!) and therefore only commit themselves to handle those things that really can’t wait until the pastor comes back.

OP, I’d ask your pastor about this incident. He may have had so few penitents on, say, a 3rd Saturday, that he did not see a problem with cancelling confessions for that one week. If that was the case, it needs better advertisement, so his parishioners can arrange to visit neighboring parishes for confession. If he had a problem with how his substitute handled the situation, he’ll either ask someone else next time or work the issue out before he arranges to have the same substitute. In any case, he’s the best one to handle the issue. He should certainly be made aware of it, since it seems certain that there was either a misunderstanding between him and his substitute or between him and his parishioners that he might want to handle differently before next time rolls around.

Do be charitable when relating the incident to your pastor, even though it upset you very much. The chances are that it is only an unfortunate misunderstanding.

You might want to refer to the Circular Letter on the Integrity of the Sacrament of Penance. The letter, written in 2000, notes in part that:

  1. Local Ordinaries and priests, to the degree that it applies to them, have an obligation in conscience to ensure that penitents have regular and frequent scheduled opportunities for individual and integral confession of sins in all parish churches and insofar as possible in other pastoral centres.14 In addition, priests are called upon to be generous in making themselves available outside of those scheduled times to celebrate individual and integral confession whenever the faithful would reasonably ask for it.15 "Other works, for lack of time, may have to be postponed or even abandoned, but not the confessional."16

In my parish, not a few folks have approached my parochial vicar for confession before daily Mass begins and he has obliged.

Today is Friday.

It seems sensible for a priest to seclude himself during the time he has set aside to prepare himself for Mass, appearing for Mass only after he has prepared. (I mean interior preparation, not just putting on vestments.) Your parochial vicar, for instance, probably does his preparations before heading over to church, so as to be able to make himself totally available for just such a request, if need be. This priest in question, though, might have reasonably hoped that the sacristy was just such a secluded place. Surely this kind of preparation would be a work that also should not be abandoned for lack of time.

Still, I would think that most priests, even if visiting, would either offer to hear the confession after Mass or to apologize for not being able to be available to do so, the instances where a confessor has discerned that a penitent is overusing the sacrament being an exception (one that is hardly likely to apply here).

As with everyone else I will agree that provisions should have been made ahead of time, and the substitute pastor should have heard the confessions of the parishoners- unless other more pressing matters kept him from doing so. it should ALWAYS be posted somewhere in the church, or in the weekly bulliten, as to if and when confessions are or can be heard. It is irresponsible on the part of the priest, and the diocese for that matter, to leave parishoners ,who wish to confess their sins ‘‘blowing in the wind’’ like chaffes of wheat in a field as to when their confessions can or will be heard.
:Djust wanted to chime in with my feelings on this matter.

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