THE PRIESTS AT ST. ANDREWS were in the habit of hearing confessions before the 5:30 Mass on Saturday, though not every Saturday the way it was in former times. Hardly anyone now ever came except old ladies who used to belong to the Altar Society, and very occasionally a parishioner with some sort of real problem, usually of a domestic turn not having any- thing to do with serious sin exactly. And sometimes a stranger would enter the confessional, someone whose voice the priest had never heard before, someone perhaps from a neighboring parish hoping for anonymity . These cases would generally involve something more recognizable as sin.
Given all this, Father Louis Reilly, pastor of St. Andrews, decided, reluctantly enough, that confessions need only be heard before the 5:30 every other Saturday. His young assistant, Father Timothy O’Brien, the parochial vicar, certainly had no prob- lem with this arrangement. People with a pressing problem on those off-Saturdays can always call the rectory and make an appointment.
That’s just what happened on one of those Saturdays. It was close to five o'clock and Father Louis, who had the 5:30 that Saturday, was in his study with the door closed. Father Tim was already dressed in sweater and jeans for an evening out and was about to leave when the phone rang.
“Confessions are held on the first and third Saturdays,” he said when he heard the reason for the call.
“To tell you the truth I really don't know if any of the parishes are hearing confessions today,” he answered pleasantly, his foot up on the desk. “Probably not this late,” he added, noticing a spot of some- thing on his new Reeboks.
“Well, it is pretty late now,” Father Tim said looking at his watch.
“No!” he said laughing. “We don't hear confessions over the telephone. That's one thing we can't do, at least not yet!” He laughed again.
“Well,” he said, “is it something that can't really wait? How about tomorrow before Mass maybe?”
“No, sure, fine. No, hey it's OK,” he said, his voice masking a sour look. “Are you nearby?”
“All right, just come to the rectory,” he said. “I’m Father Tim. I'll be here.”
He hung up and immediately dialed another number.
“Joe,” he said, “I've gotten tied up here for a bit. No, I don't think so. Maybe ten, twenty minutes tops. If it's more than that, you guys go ahead. I'll catch up with you at the restaurant. Save some calamari for me!” he added with a laugh and hung up.
A thick-set, blue-collar gent in his early forties arrived ten minutes later, looking rather glum. “Shall we go into my office?” Father Tim asked, pointing to a door. “Or we could go over to the confessional in the church. Suit yourself. We still have time before the 5:30.”
“This is OK,” the penitent said, moving to the office.
“I haven't been to confession for a while,” the man said when they were seated.
“That's no problem,” Father Tim said with a wave of his hand. He liked to get people to relax. . . .