They isolated priest from penitent, ensuring privacy and safety for both; and, having become used to this format in the Latin Mass parish we attend, I can attest to its efficacy.
This article from the Remnant Newspaper is excellent in describing them.
Several years ago, when it was becoming increasingly common for adults to allege childhood sexual abuse long past based upon so-called repressed memories, one of the most esteemed pastors of a local diocese was accused of sexual abuse of a child while hearing his confession. The attorney representing the alleged victim did much grandstanding in the media in preparation for the trial, only to have the case thrown out of court when it was determined that the abuse alleged to have occurred decades ago would have been physically impossible, since confessionals physically isolated priest and penitent back then.
The conventional confessional booth or box, in which the priest is physically isolated from the penitent, had its origin in the 60’s. Wait a minute, you may say, that can’t be right. Can anything good have come from the 60’s? Indeed, much good did come out of the 60’s following a Church Council–the 1560’s, that is. The Church Council was that of Trent, out of which divinely guided Council came a great number of dogmatic declarations occasioned by the Protestant revolt. Among the many positive fruits of this Council was the standardization of the manner in which confessions were heard, in a wooden confessional booth.
But four hundred years later another, quite different Council was convened and nearly all the fruit of this Council has proven to have been poisonous. Among the many reforms of the 1960’s, following in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, was the widespread abandonment of the conventional confessional booth in favor of reconciliation rooms in which the priest and penitent are physically situated together. So long to protection and privacy for penitents and protection for innocent priests accused of a crime as well! The abandonment of conventional confessionals was not the only bad fruit served up by V2 Modernists in the form and administration of the Sacrament of Penance.
Coming out of the 1960’s Modernist reformers produced a new Rite of Penance which expanded options for the Sacrament to three: Reconciliation of Individual Penitents; Reconciliation of Several Penitents; Reconciliation with General Absolution. Is anyone surprised that in many parishes soon after this many pastors all but abandoned individual confessions in favor of communal forms? It was not uncommon to see parish schedules that listed confessions as “Available by Appointment” rather than scheduled weekly prior to Masses. It was also common practice in many dioceses and parishes to offer General Absolution regularly as the ordinary form of the sacrament. This despite the instruction of the rite that explicitly states that General Absolution may only be used in danger of death or when there are such large numbers of penitents that a priest would be physically unable to hear individual confessions within a “reasonable period of time.”
Ah yes, a typical V2 ambiguous choice of words and a perfect Modernist loophole: reasonable period of time. But not all communal forms of the sacrament involve General Absolution. Some lazy pastors who do not want to hear confessions regularly and some well-meaning pastors who need the help of additional confessors use the second form of the rite, wherein there is a communal quasi-liturgical ritual followed by individual confessions, heard by any number of priests invited to hear the confessions of the faithful.
I used to make myself available to parishes for this second form of the sacrament, since it required individual confessions by the penitents. But no more do I do so, after a number of troubling experiences. In some cases the liturgical aspect of the ritual was overly long or poorly done. In other cases the number of penitents far exceeded the number of available priests and the confessions went into the twilight hours. I also had concerns about the lack of privacy for penitents, with public stations for confessions too closely spaced within a church. And there were priests who were clueless as to an appropriate limit of time to apportion for each confession, having ten minute confessions for each with hundreds of penitents waiting.
The final straw for these communal rites was when I was placed at the communion rail as confessor and a woman penitent was confessing only inches from my face. I listened to her confession with my head down and eyes closed in order to have some sense of decorum, only to be scolded by her for not looking her in the eyes while she was speaking. I assigned her a stiff penance and never returned to that church! I also stopped assisting other pastors in hearing the confessions of their parish children. Too many times I was burned by some spirit of V2 novelty perpetrated by the pastor or DRE. In one parish the children were instructed to finger paint their sins as pictures and then explain their pictures to the priest confessors, after which their pictures were displayed on a church wall. So much for the seal of confession! In another parish I heard the confessions of dozens of middle school age children and not a single one of them knew a single prayer which I could assign as a penance.
All I could tell them to do was to go talk to Jesus. But back now to our original concern about the V2 change from confessional booths to reconciliation rooms. Confessionals were mandated in times past, in part, to protect adult female penitents from the groping hands of predator priests; who could have imagined then that the greater concern one day would be to protect children and teens—mostly boys—from the predator behavior of homosexual priests? Not to say that there were no homosexual clerics in the past but certainly not nearly the high numbers of today. The effects of V2 changes have been catastrophic, to say the least. Take, for instance, the Catholic Church in Australia, which is facing intense scrutiny and intervention by civil authorities, occasioned by rampant clerical sex abuse of children. At stake is the seal of the confession itself and the manner in which the confessions of children are heard. Already the Australian bishops have directed that the confessions of children must be heard in an open setting in the full view of all participants, who are supervised by staff.