When the Diocese of Wilmington stopped holding in-person Masses at its parishes in March, communion was not the only sacrament that the faithful lost access to. Reconciliation also was a casualty of the shutdown.
Since the first weekend in June, parishes have resumed their scheduled confession times, with the same modifications to which people have become accustomed. That includes at least six feet between priest and penitent, facial coverings, hand sanitizer and disinfecting surfaces regularly.
“When shelter in place started in mid-March, everything was locked down and we were really saying no confessions, no contact whatsoever. It was very strict. However, since Delaware went into phase 1 … we told the pastors they could begin when they’re ready,” said Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, the moderator of the diocesan curia.
He said priests are free to hear confessions outdoors in a private space if they want. The diocese has given its pastors some autonomy. Msgr. Hurley noted that some priests are immune-compromised, and a few pastors are in their 80s. Some, he added, are under doctor’s orders to remain away from other people.
“We don’t expect them to put themselves in situations where they are at risk,” he said.
Msgr. Joseph Rebman, the pastor at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Greenville, said the parish is holding reconciliation at its regular time, 8:30-9:30 on Saturday mornings. When they restarted in June, he said there was no big rush of people. Confessions are heard in a classroom in the parish center with a table between the priest and penitent.
“They can turn the other way around, but most of the people seem to be OK face-to-face,” he said. “Most of the people that come are very appreciative of the opportunity. We’ve only been doing it in the hall since the beginning of June.”
In Hockessin, confessions are back at St. Mary of the Assumption, said the pastor, Father Charles Dillingham. The number of people showing up on Saturday afternoons is about what it was before the pandemic, and it looks largely the same.
“Further apart, sanitizing afterward, asking people to social distance. We haven’t had much of an increase, actually. Pretty much our average numbers,” he said.
Msgr. Hurley is also the pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Wilmington. He said they have been seeing the normal number of people. He has been hearing confessions in the church.
“People can sit two pews behind me, or they can remain anonymous. Every church is different with its architecture and seating,” he said.
“I think it was a huge relief for many of them because it’s something that’s so important for them. They were just happy to be back. Same thing with Mass. Some of them were moved to tears. I think the first time people came back, it was an emotional experience.”