Bless me, father, from your pickup truck

Tribune-Star/Austen Leake Absolving at a distance: The Rev. Dan Bedel hosted a drive-thru confession on Friday behind Saint Margaret Mary’s Catholic Church off Seventh Street in Terre Haute.

Parking a pickup truck in the lot of a church may not be unusual for a Catholic priest.

Hearing confessions from that pickup, though, is.

The Rev. Dan Bedel thought some creative thinking was needed to help maintain people's faith during the COVID-19 pandemic -- especially when Catholic churches across Indiana are closed to Masses, meetings and gatherings.

"I established times for a drive-thru confession," said Bedel, who serves both St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary Catholic churches in Terre Haute.

The 32-year-old pastor uses a gray Toyota Tacoma to conduct the confessions.

He turns on the truck's hazard lights "just so people know which Toyota Tacoma is the right one. It would be a little embarrassing if they confessed at another Tacoma," Bedel said. 

Parishioners their vehicle up to his driver's side window, roll down their own window and the confession starts.

Bedel wears a black robe with a purple stole on his shoulders, as is typical for administering the sacrament of confession, he said.

"Purple is the ancient color of forgiveness as the Roman emperors, who wore purple, were the only ones capable of pardoning criminals of their crimes. The priest does the same in confession; pardoning sinners of their sins on behalf of God," Bedel said.

The "drive-thru" confessions easily meet the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention's recommendation of staying 6 feet apart from car window to car window.

"They confess their sins, and I listen. Usually they also confess their worries and doubts about our present crisis, and I remind them to trust in our Lord. He is, after all, the savior of the world," Bedel said.

"At the end, I give them a penance, usually a simple Our Father, and they say their Act of Contrition, which, if they've forgotten, they simply say, 'Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.' After I give them absolution, they make the sign of the cross and drive away. And the next car pulls up," he said.

When not in a confession, Bedel passes the hour reading a book. He leaves his truck running so as not to drain his battery and to keep the heat on.

Bedel began the drive-thru confessions on Wednesday at St. Patrick's and had his second session Friday, at St. Margaret Mary.

Six people participated on the first day, "which was impressive given the last-minute email that went out," he said.

The idea, Bedel said, "came via Facebook and Pinterest, seeing other priests from around the country doing the same. With it being the season of Lent, I thought it appropriate to still offer confession, even if from inside our vehicles," he said.

"People were really appreciative. One even gave me a bottle of hand-sanitizer and a protein bar," Bedel said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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