I Went to Confession. Was Asked to Give My Name for Contact Tracing. I Refused. You Wouldn’t Believe the Grief I’ve Gotten.

By Jennifer Hartline Published on May 28, 2020

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” — St. Augustine

I had an unsettling experience this weekend when I attempted to go to Confession at a local church. I described it in a short Facebook post because I believe it is important that we realize what’s happening, or what likely will happen in parishes around the country.

Briefly, here’s what happened. Waiting at the open church door was a masked woman holding a clipboard. She said hello and asked for my full name. I replied that I only wanted to go to Confession. She said that she was required to get my full name and contact information for tracing purposes.

I made the decision not to go inside, and I quietly turned around and left. I do not believe it is right nor necessary to require a penitent to give his/her name and contact info in order to go to Confession, and I will not do it. I have exactly zero confidence that all this contact tracing will not be used and abused by the State to take greater control and to further erode religious liberty in our country — not to mention every other form of liberty. (I’m also uncertain how this squares with canon law regarding anonymity in Confession, but I did not raise that issue in my post.)

I did not expect everyone to agree with my takeaway on the situation. There’s plenty of room for differing opinions. There are valid points to be made on many sides.

I was stunned at the heat and viciousness of the responses I got.

Irony, Much?

Complete strangers came out with their verbal knives to get some blood. I was called a total liar by one man who insisted I’d made the entire incident up out of thin air. I lost count of how many people called me selfishly indifferent to the health of others; pridefully obsessed with my own rights; lacking in even an iota of charity for my neighbor and thus, a hypocrite and a terrible Christian; and a dangerous Catholic for “misrepresenting the faith and the rules about the sacraments.”

I was inciting “rotten fruit” with my public “tantrum” and refusing the grace of God because it didn’t come on my terms.

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More than a few folks flat out accused me of idolatry. Yes, it seems I idolize my freedom and privacy above all else. Mine is a “spirit of insubordination” and my values “have nothing to do with faith.”

One woman decided it was her place to chastise me that when I finally make it to Confession, I should confess my “massive and selfish indifference to the health and safety of others” and then added, “If you can’t be bothered to make minor sacrifices for the lives of others — ask yourself, is it sloth, greed or gluttony you need to confess?”

Remember, these responses came from other Christians, all in the name of charity.

A Greater Threat

Church, we have a grave problem indeed, and it isn’t the virus. What is the single identifying factor by which Christ said the world would know us as His?

As I said, there are serious issues at stake here and there is much to discuss and debate. There are valid and differing views that should be considered honestly. We must address them like rational adults. More than that, we who are Christians are obliged to respond with honesty, self-control, respect — with love. We may disagree, even vehemently. We can and should debate the merits and demerits of the steps being taken right now to combat this wretched virus.

Our only defense is charity.

Yet if my experience is any indication, discussion and debate are being fed to the lions of viciousness, self-righteous judgment, condemnation, nastiness and hatred. Friends are writing each other off with shocking ease. Acquaintances are slitting one another’s throats. Strangers are mowing down strangers with self-satisfied glee and smug assurance.

We Are Battling Fear as Much as a Virus

The crisis we are living through didn’t come with a guidebook or a map or a formula for guaranteed success. People we love have died, are dying, are sick, are suffering, have lost jobs and businesses, have lost homes, have lost hope, have been overcome. It is frightening to say the least.

Our only defense is charity. To remember, with due humility, that you may be right, I may be wrong, or a little of both, but we are obligated to love one another. We sin by slashing each other with our pompous words of condemnation. We sin by devouring one another’s character with unjust accusations.

Stop it. We need to discuss, debate, disagree, hash it all out and show the world how to do it with love.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.


Jennifer Hartline is a senior contributor to The Stream. You can follow her at @jenniehartline.

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