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.
“As we go through this Coronavirus, I hope to be in daily communication with you to create a sense of being connected as a parish throughout these uncertain days,” he said.
The drive-up confessions will be available every day at varying times posted on the parish website, with an extended time of confessions from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. A seminarian has been recruited to direct traffic, the priest noted, and the confessional will only be closed in cases of inclement weather, like heavy rain.
“This is turning out to be a Lent unlike any other. I believe the Lord is inviting us to an increased concern for the welfare of our neighbors and offering us the opportunity to make sacrifices for them. What a great Lenten penance for us all,” Holmer said in the letter to parishioners on the parish website.
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“Be assured of my prayers for you. Please pray for the health and welfare of all in our parish and in the surrounding community. I miss you all terribly,” he added. The photo of Holmer’s creative confessional inspired Fr. Ryan Salisbury of Syracuse, Nebraska to think about what he could offer his parishioners.
“A number of parishioners kept sharing that photo with me, and it was like, yeah, this is something we need to do.”
Like Dietrich, he decided to set up a walk-up confessional through a window of the parish social hall.
“The way our social hall is designed, we have a classroom (where) the roof overhangs it. That way they're kind of protected even if it would rain or anything like that. And it has a direct line of sight from the parking lot. So, I can open a window, be inside and be there with my back to the window to remain anonymous for confession,” Salisbury told CNA.
Salisbury said he planned on posting the new available confession times on the parishes website and social media pages, and that he planned on offering even more times than normal.
The priest said so far he has had about seven or eight parishioners ask him how they will be able to access confessions while ordinary Masses are suspended, so he knows it’s something on the mind of many Catholics. He encouraged people to use the walk-up confessional even if they just wanted to talk.