Fr. Elario Zambakari, parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish in Chandler, listens to a Confession while practicing social distancing April 1, 2020. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Masses suspended. Weddings and Baptisms postponed or severely limited in size. Churches closed. And it’s all taking place during the holy season of Lent. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to grip the nation, how is a Catholic in the Diocese of Phoenix to receive absolution through the sacrament of Confession?

One of the precepts of the Church is that the faithful must receive the sacrament of Confession at least once a year. In practice, priests say some go years without confessing their sins sacramentally. Others make it a practice to go at least monthly, saying the grace empowers them to resist temptation, and God’s mercy heals the wounds of sin.

A sampling of many parishes in the diocese showed pastors have adapted to the challenge posed by the coronavirus by offering Confession outdoors.

Fr. John Greb, pastor of St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, sets up a makeshift confessional using a tent on the parish lawn to maintain both the penitent’s anonymity and appropriate social distancing. (Courtesy of St. Timothy Parish)

At Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, Confessions are now being held in the main parking lot on the east side of the church in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The cathedral’s website advises penitents to “please stay in your car while you are waiting your turn. The priest will raise his hand when it is the next person’s turn.”

At St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, Confessions are being held at the usual time, but instead of taking place in the confessionals, penitents are pouring out their hearts to Christ in the person of their priest in the outdoor Mary Garden.

“Please observe safe social distancing guidelines when in line and follow the signs that are posted. If it rains, bring an umbrella and we’ll do our best to accommodate and adjust as needed,” a Flocknote email read. An avid outdoorsman, St. Timothy pastor Fr. John Greb erected camouflage tents in the garden so he and parochial vicar Fr. Shea Bowora could help maintain social distance.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Scottsdale was recently featured on Phoenix Fox 10 news as an example of a church offering “drive-thru” Confessions. Fr. Gregory Schlarb, pastor, told the station that the inspiration came from an Instagram post from a user in the Midwest.

“It was one of the first ways for us to really venture into social distancing, how can we still offer one of our sacraments with that,” Fr. Schlarb said. “Families need healing and the sacrament of Confession is a great way for Catholics to be able to express where they have fallen and broken relationships.”

At St. Joan of Arc Parish in Phoenix, Confessions are being held in the parish ramada during the regularly scheduled time of 8-8:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 3-4:30 p.m. Saturday.

At St. Anne Parish in Gilbert, pastor Fr. Sergio M. Fita wrote about the new Confession procedure on the parish website. Fr. Fita, who began his ministry at the Gilbert parish several years ago by installing ornate confessionals and increasing Confession times, noted the sacrament is being held outdoors several hours a week every day except Wednesday. A proper safe-distancing protocol is being observed. The CDC recommends a six-foot separation between people, the parish website states.

Fr. Hans Ruygt, pastor of St. Clare Parish in Surprise, told The Catholic Sun he was considering drive-through Confessions, but that he himself is not supposed to leave the house as he is over age 65. “Car fumes, cold weather and long lines of cars are some challenges as well as getting the info out to people.” He lauded the webinar the diocese held for priests to keep them connected and informed during the COVID-19 crisis.

A visit to the parish’s website states that Confessions are suspended but there is an emergency number if sacraments are needed for a person before surgery or in danger of death.

Fr. Dan Vanyo, parochial vicar of San Francisco de Asís Parish in Flagstaff, offers absolution to a parishioner going through a “drive-thru” Confession April 1. (Kirsten Bublitz/CATHOLIC SUN)

It’s a little trickier at San Francisco de Asís Parish in Flagstaff where snow still abounds, and daytime temperatures are a balmy 47 degrees.

“We have worked out the logistics for two ‘drive-thru’ Confession stations where you can remain in your vehicle. We also have a plan for vehicles with multiple family members,” wrote Fr. Will Schmid on the parish website. He planned to have volunteers help with the vehicle lines.

“God’s mercy is always in season,” Fr. Schmid wrote in an email to The Catholic Sun. “There is never a time or a situation where we aren’t in need of experiencing the power of God’s merciful love.”

St. Mary Parish in Chandler sent parishioners information about Confessions — they’re being held outside — but also included thoughts from Pope Francis on the topic of being reconciled to God amid the COVID-19 emergency.

The Holy Father recognized that many are unable to leave their homes at this time in order to receive the sacrament.

“Do what the Catechism says,” Pope Francis said, urging the faithful to “talk with God, He is your Father, and tell Him the truth: ‘Lord, I’ve done this, and that, and that …. I’m sorry,” and ask Him for forgiveness with all your heart, with the Act of Contrition, and promise Him: ‘Afterwards I will go to Confession, but forgive me now.’”

If you do all this, Francis said, you will return to God’s grace immediately. As the Catechism teaches, he reminded, you yourself can approach God’s forgiveness without having a priest readily accessible.