Absolution of Sins

Disclaimer I am not a practicing Catholic.

I am troubled by the practice of the Catholic church to have its priests absolve patrons of their sin. I have reviewed the Church’s doctrine and the scriptural support seems very thin at best. This also seems to run hand in hand with the Pope’s authority over the Church and his purported infallibility(I don’t mean to raise two issues, but they seem related).

Shouldn’t the confession of sins be to God, as he is the forgiver? How do the priests claim this right, and then assert that if you do not go to confession you risk eternal damnation?


Matt you are absolutely correct. We confess all our sins to God and only God absolves our sins. The priest is speaking “persona Christi” in the person of Christ. Read here -

More reading about confession and forgivness of sin here-


I would recommend this book for further reading…catholiccompany.com/lord-have-mercy-healing-power-confession-i2942/

First we have to understand that the Bible is not a proof text for doctrines/dogma. Rather, it is the witness to Christ and his Church. The Church preceded the NT, was its author in its Apostles and Saints. Their writings were never meant to be exhaustive in matters of faith and morals. To use the Bible for that which it was not written or give it authority God never gave it is to misuse it, intentionally or unintentionally. :slight_smile:

Peter’s authority to “bind and loose” came directly from Christ himself. To try to argue otherwise is to dispute the plain words of Scripture as well as the Early Church Fathers, of whom the earliest ones sat at the feet of the Apostles. One reference, is: [Mt. 16[18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
[19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

How many references does it take to make Christ’s words effective? :wink:

As for priests having the authority to forgive sins in the person of Christ (not on their own authority as men) the reference is: Jn.[19] On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
[20] When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
[21] Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
[22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
[23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Apostles laid hands on others to carry on this commission and institution by Our Lord. It’s just that simple.

Only grave sins need be confessed to a priest/bishop because grave sins cut us off from God’s love and from the graces of the Church, which Jesus established in the sacraments.

We can certainly ask God directly for forgiveness of sins–an act of perfect contrition will even satisfy for grave sin if one cannot go to confession for good cause, such as at the point of death, although no one is to presume upon that for that in itself is a grave offense against God’s mercy.

We know that confession with the priest endows us with the grace of God’s forgiveness, so it is reassuring to go to confession. It is good to receive God’s grace for us and for everyone. It keeps us honest with ourselves to have to admit before another that we have sinned. It is very easy for us humans to excuse our sins, but when we go to confession we have to acknowledge our sins and our need of God’s grace.

Wow, thank you for all of the replies. They are very well reasoned and I appreciate the time spent in responding. They definitely give me a lot on which to reflect.

On the absolution of sins, this may be a simple question, but is there an assumption/belief that the power to forgive sins granted to the apostles has been transferred to the Catholic priests? If that is the belief, why can’t all believers forgive one another’s sins? (Or can we?)


Priests don’t claim the right to forgive sins. That privilege was given to them by Jesus.

*I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19)

**If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. *(John 20:23)


You might want to note that absolution is not the same as forgiveness. Absolution is the passing to us of the sure knowledge of God’s forgiveness through the ministry of the priests.


So do priests forgive sins, or absolve us of our sins per Steve’s definition? Thanks for the clarification.

In the Lord’s Prayer…we are to forgive those who trespass against us…when we ask for forgiveness…so we forgive those who offend us.

But there are those sins which are mortal:

I John 5:16-18:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that is not a deadly sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not deadly. There is sin which is deadly; I do not say one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not deadly. We know that anyone born of God does not sin, but He who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.




Others have given good answers. I just want to add two things:

  1. It is not directly tied into papal infallibility. That is a separate topic. Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian Church of the East Christians all believe that ordained priests, in apostolic succession, have the authority to absolve sin, but they do not accept papal infallibility.

  2. Protestants already accept the concept of human beings participating in the ministry of Christ. While on this earth, Jesus preached. When he ascended into heaven, he conferred His ministry of preaching upon the apostles.
    John 20:21 *Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ *
    Matthew 10:40 *Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. *

Jesus has the power to appear before every single human being and to preach to each person directly…yet He sends His ministers in his place. If Protestants can this in regards to preaching (and in fact practice it), while not the absolution of sin?

They absolve sins in the same way a Baptist preacher might baptize a believer, or marry a young couple. The married couple has a covenant with God, not the preacher who marries them. Similarly, the penitent receives grace and forgiveness from God, not the confessor (priest).

From a Lutheran perspective, we always have maintained the role of the pastor/priest in persona christi for the absolution of sins, both in private and public confession. Typical announcement of of forgiveness:

“As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all of your sins. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Article XI: Of Confession.

1] Of Confession they teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession 2] an enumeration of all sins is not necessary. For it is impossible according to the Psalm: Who can understand his errors? Ps. 19:12.

Augsburg Confession


It is God Who forgives the sins. In fact, the Catholic is confessing their sin to God and asking for forgiveness from God. The priest is an instrument of Christ. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest is given special authority to act in the Person of Christ for certain occasions. The consecration of the Eucharist is another time when you will see a priest acting in the Person of Christ as he speaks Christ’s words “This is My Body…” For the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest, speaking in Persona Christi says “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I found this on EWTN which might be helpful in explaining more about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I think paragraph five may be helpful for you and it does have some Scriptural references. Particularly important is this part "The Church professes belief in “the forgiveness of sins” and is fully aware that only God forgives sins. It also believes that
Jesus, through his death, washed away all sin and, after his resurrection, gave to his Church the power and authority to apply to us the redemption he won on the cross, namely God’s forgiveness of our sins.

It’s just the way the Christian Church, that wrote the bible BTW, has always done things, as per instruction by its Leader.

I’m sorry Matt, but you don’t seem to know the doctrine nor understand the scriptural support.

Please, give us your best understanding of the doctrine and what you think the scriptural support is?

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