It was encouraging to read the highly relevant suggestion made by Michael Gilchrist in the February AD2000 (page 6) that individual confession be made more available, especially now when the majority of those Catholics who still go to confession do so without the option of anonymity, an option which would also be more likely to attract long-lapsed Catholics.
Michael Gilchrist's suggestion reminded me of a story by Fr Richard John Neuhaus, Editor of the American monthly, First Things (November 2001).
After referring to an episcopal letter on the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he quoted the bishop's statement: "If you have had a bad experience going to confession, don't let that hold you back! Our priests have grown in pastoral sensitivity and kindness ..., etc."
Whatever happened to ex opere operato?
Fr Neuhaus then told the following story: "A friend of mine after many years away from the sacrament decided it was time to get right with Christ and his Church. He called the local parish to find out when confession was available and was told it was not regularly scheduled and that it was no longer called confession but 'the Sacrament of Reconciliation' which was 'celebrated by appointment.'
"Not a good sign. He showed up at the appointed hour and the priest invited him to take an easy chair in the living room and began with 'how do you feel about yourself, Bob?' Bob (not his name) fled the scene as gracefully as he could and for some months forgot about being reconciled. But he later popped into a downtown church that posted the hours for confessions, went into the confessional, knelt and began: 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,' said what needed to be said, received some sensible words of advice, was absolved, did his penance, and walked out a free man. He didn't say whether the priest was sensitive or kind."