The confession policies at the Church of the Precious Blood were more strict than those the Diocese of Trenton recommended in its pandemic directives from late 2020.
Those directives stated that “as has been the case throughout the pandemic, confession continues to be available as needed,” although “confessionals should not be used.” The directives encouraged outdoor confessions as well indoor confessions in a well-ventilated, socially-distant setting.
“All arrangements for confessions must safeguard the health of both priest and penitent, respecting the dignity and confidentiality of the Sacrament,” the directives stated. Kneelers and chairs were to be sanitized after each penitent.
While the parish now requires that non-vaccinated persons confess their sins face-to-face, both the Code of Canon Law and the sacramental norms of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stipulate that confessional screens must be available in churches.
According to Can. 964 §1, bishops’ conferences must “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.”
The USCCB Latin Rite bishops’ complementary legislation for canon 964, §2 states that “[p]rovision 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.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican has said that canonical norms remain in place for the sacrament of confession, although bishops themselves could determine how the sacrament could be administered safely while upholding the sacramental seal.
In March, 2020, the Vatican’s head of the Apostolic Penitentiary said in a formal note that “[i]n the present pandemic emergency, it is therefore up to the diocesan bishop to indicate to priests and penitents the prudent measures to be adopted in the individual celebration of sacramental reconciliation, such as the celebration in a ventilated place outside the confessional, the adoption of a convenient distance, the use of protective masks without prejudice to the absolute attention paid to safeguarding the sacramental seal and to the necessary discretion.”