‘Bless me father’ – but from 2 meters away

Demand for confessions at St. Mary’s in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, has always been high: it’s a centrally-located church with convenient, daily confession times and often multiple confessors.

During the parish’s normal 11:30-noon weekday confession times, penitents on their lunch breaks line up, often 20 people or more deep, for absolution and sacramental grace, before returning to work, or before attending the 12:10 p.m. Mass.

“It’s a big ministry,” Fr. Douglas Dietrich, the pastor of St. Mary’s, told CNA.

“And then we have a lot of people who come by the door and call up and just want to go to confession; that’s great.”

“I always joked about how I should just put up a walk-up confessional” available outside his rectory office window, Dietrich told CNA.

These days, the usual daily confession lines would violate new state and federal coronavirus guidelines, which dictate that no more than 10 people should be gathered in any space.

To further complicate matters, the Diocese of Lincoln announced on Monday that public Masses would be suspended until further notice, also in an effort to combat coronavirus.

But Fr. Dietrich is not deterred.

What started out as a joke has now become a reality, in an effort to keep the sacraments available to Nebraska’s Catholics during this uncharted time of restrictions on public gatherings.

“When we got the word that they were suspending all public liturgies and the churches were basically shut down, that was my first concern was – what about people who have to get to confession?”

Starting just one day after the new restrictions, Fr. Dietrich set up shop at his office window, and advertised the new set-up to his parishioners.

The line was a little shorter than usual, but Dietrich said he heard confessions until a little past noon.

Dietrich is not the only priest getting creative at this time of unprecedented closures of liturgies and churches in the United States and beyond.

Over the weekend, a photo circulated on social media of Fr. Scott Holmer of St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Bowie, Md., offering drive-up confessions.

Holmer sat on a chair outside in the church parking lot, a safe six feet away from cars, which lined up behind traffic cones for the sacrament.

In a note on his parish website, Holmer said that while it was a “great sorrow” to be unable to offer public Mass, the “drive-through confessional” was one way he could offer sacraments to the people at this time. Continue reading

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