Absolution of Sin

I once heard a priest say in a presentation that mortal sins would not be absolved after the third confession for the same sin that was repeated. Could it be that i mis-understood or does this have some validity or documentation to this effect? This position would seem to be in conflict with the biblical passage about forgiving seventy x seven.

I have heard other priests say that repetition of a sin would be forgiven innumerable times provided that each time the person was sincere that they did not intend to commit it again.

Any basis for either position?

The bolded part of your post is the correct one. The mercy of God is infinite. As long as we are repentant and have the intention to not commit the sin again we will be absolved. We are all weak and can fall again and again. So long as we rise again (repent and confess our sins, with the sincere purpose of not committing the sin again) we can be absolved every time.

My first instinct is to agree with Joan M’s comments above. However, I have also found the following comments in the book Handbook of Moral Theology, by Dominic M Prummer, published originally in the 1950’s. They may explain the priest’s attitude (paragraph numbers from the book are given):

3. The Recidivist.
714. Definition. In the strict and formal meaning of the term, a recidivist is one who after repeated confession (on three or four occasions) frequently falls into the same sin with the result that there exists just reasons for doubting the good will of the penitent.

In the wide sense of the term everyone must be considered a recidivist, since man falls again into the same sins after his confession. But it is not of such recidivists that we speak here. What we may consider the characteristic sign of the formal recidivist seems to be that after repeated confession (on three or four occasions) the penitent commits the same sin in similar circumstances of time and place, so that one may prudently infer the continuance of an evil will in the penitent.

  1. Absolution. In normal circumstances the recidivist cannot be absolved unless he shows special signs of sincerity such as to destroy the presumption against him of suitable dispositions.

It is possible the priest referred to may be thinking of the situation described above. However the book by Father Michael Woodgate (2008), A Priest’s Guide to Hearing Confessions, published by the Catholic Truth Society of the UK, asks when absolution should be refused. The start of his answer (which covers an entire chapter) reads:

[INDENT]Rarely! This needs to be said first of all. But we have to remmeber the words of Our Lord: “whosoever sins you retain, they are retained”. In order to receive forgiveness, one must have committed and confessed a sin, as noted in an earlier section. The priest in the confessional does have the role of judge and must know when and to whom absolution should be either conferred, refused or defered. Rit Rom. 3 c.xii says: “Moreover the priest must take into consideration when absolution may be given, when and to whom it must be denied or deferred, for fear that he give absolution to those who refuse to lay aside quarrels and emnities, who refuse to make such restitution as is possible, who refuse to abandon a proximate occasion of sin, or to give up their sins in some other way and amend their lives, or such have given public scandal without making public restitution and thus removing the scandal”. A penitent to whom absolution should be denied is one who is clearly impenitent, showing no sign of sorrow, who efuses to set aside what is causing scandal.[/INDENT]
So perhaps the priest may have been thinking of some clear situation where there was something missing in the person’s confession, a lack of willingness to try to change, which he felt was indicated by continuing in the same sins.

Reading the extract above, I think the point lies in the words ‘with the result that there exists just reasons for doubting the good will of the penitent’.

The fact that a particular sin is repeated more than twice or thrice, is not by itself a just reason for doubting the good will of the penitent. Someone can indeed repeatedly sin and repeatedly be sincere in their repentance. And as Christ points out, even if our brother sins against us many times but each time is sincerely repentant, we are to forgive him. He could hardly be Himself less merciful than this, could He?

By itself it is a reason for some doubt as to their strength of character to resist temptation, but then, as the good father himself points out, what is needed is good will rather than a likelihood or certitude of successfully resisting temptation in future. After all, if everyone who repeatedly fell into mortal sin was damned we’d have no St Augustine, no St Mary Magdalene or any of the other wonderful saints who inspire us with their examples of reformation.

I am not familiar with AA, but I suspect some fall more than three times but continue in the program.

I was once involved in a program using weather balloons to test equipment before it was launched into space. We were plagued with failures due to leaky balloons. When being briefed on the next planned launch the general asked; “And how many holes are there in this balloon.” To which the officer in charge replied: “Sir, we have determined that it doesn’t matter how many holes as long as there are the same number of patches.”

Same with sin. It doesn’t matter how often one falls as long as he gets up and tries again that many times. :wink:

All I know is I would in BIG trouble if I could not confess pride or anger more than three times in my life - and I am not even a cradle Catholic.

This would be difficult for the priest to put into practice, since confessions are normally anonymous. Perhaps there is the possibility that, in the context of spiritual direction, the priest may use the “hard-line” approach, but I should think that it would take great discernment by the priest to discern that the person is not truly repentant, including a good knowledge of the person’s past history of sin.

This is the crux of the matter: if the penitent is indeed repentant, then the priest must absolve.

Indeed, how in fact does the priest determine whether someone is truly repentant? As someone who has “difficulty” with certain sins, adopting a hard-line approach, a priest could possibly refuse to give me absolution. And yet, one priest has told me that as one of my particular sins appears to me habitual, I may be less cuplable due to acquired habit. So that makes me wonder which would be the correct approach - assume lack of repentance or assume that the habit is so-ingrained the penitent is having difficulty removing it and may not be fully culpable?

On the anonymity question, many years ago I had the experience of going to confession in the traditional manner, behind the grille, and the priest recognising my voice and addressing me by name! Now that can be off-putting!:smiley:

This is one of the reasons it is important to have a regular confessor. Even behind the grille - he knows. He also knows what your intentions and struggles are.

Yes, that’s one of the reasons why I have a regular confessor. :smiley:

My understanding is that once a Confession is over the Seal of Confession binds a priest so that not only can he not bring up anything to anybody about what was said during that Confession but he cannot even bring it up again with the penitent at the next Confession. That means a priest would not be permitted to keep score of grave sins of a particular person because once the Confession is over and absolution given the priest cannot discuss sins confessed at a previous Confession.

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