Appropriate Penance for Murder?

Hello everyone! I hope you’re having a lovely day!

I am researching for a character for a short story I’m writing, and I must say I need others’ perspectives. In this story, one of the more dramatic scenes involves a very humane Catholic doctor being ordered by a powerful political figure (who is sort of on par with a king in authority – almost infinite power within a given territory) to assist in a person’s suicide. The man who wishes to die is a Catholic priest who has suffered severe burns and has lost one of his arms in an explosion.

The doctor of course makes his objections clear – but is overruled with force. He ultimately complies, but accidentally. He was, in fact, only trying to give the priest a non-lethal dose of morphine – one that would be high enough to make the priest appear dead, but not actually enough to prevent the priest being revived later.

Of course, the doctor fails in this, and the priest dies. And of course, even accidental murder is, unless I’m mistaken, still considered murder, a mortal sin.

I’m just curious – in confessing this to a priest (and extremely contrite about it – this act has spiritually devastated the character), what sort of penance might one expect?



An Our Father and two Hail Mary’s.

You cannot accidentially murder someone… Murder is the Intentional killing of an innocent person.

Thank you for the quick reply!

Hmmm… Would that be a usual penance for actual murder, as well? That is, if the character had intentionally and in full awareness that his actions would lead to the priest’s death, still assisted in the suicide?


No it’s not a mortal sin. One of the prerequisites for mortal sin is that the act must be commited with deliberate and complete consent.

In fact, accidental murder is an oxymoron.

There would be no need to even confess this.

What if the reason for the accidental killing is negligence? Do you think this would require confession?


That would depend on whether the negligence involved constituted ‘grave matter’. Certainly if the pentinent was willfully negligent in a matter of life or death, then the negligence in itself could be considered mortally sinful, but the accidental death would be at most a venial sin.

Yes, I was thinking that, too, Darrel – the character was being rather reckless, using a strategy that he knew was very likely to go awry and kill the priest.

Although I do wonder – what if the character had actually caved into the pressure and deliberately and with full consent killed the patient as was requested?

Then it constitutes euthanasia, and it would certainly be mortal sin.

No, that would have been intentional.

Ahhhh, so what do you think a confessor might respond with?

A confessor could respond with anything, depending on how sorry the person is. However for the purpose of your story Spending 20 minutes a day praying for all the souls that will be murdered today, for the next 60 days.

Who was that medieval king who was made by Pope Innocent III to come on his knees to beg forgiveness for whatever he had done?

In Jean Anouilh’s play “Becket,” as penance for killing St. Thomas Becket, King Henry II(?) is whipped by monks at his tomb.

In the Middle Ages, people used to enter monasteries, or found monasteries with monks to pray for them, or put their sons in monasteries, as penance for things like murder.

In Mexico today still, people will go “walking” on their knees from some distance outside the church into the Mary altar at the church to give roses to Our Lady–apparently assigned by confessors there sometimes. I saw a woman doing this at a largely Hispanic cathedral in the US, too.

A priest may assign a penance that seems totally out of proportion to the sin in order to show that the price of sin has truly been paid by Jesus on the Cross. Nothing we do could ever make up for any sin, including/especially murder. It could be 3 Hail Marys if that’s the priest’s usual penance. That would be an interesting lesson to include in your story.


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Not being a priest, I can’t say what a penance for murder would be, but if I WERE a priest, I would probably first insist on 10-20 minutes, every day, for an undetermined amount of time and, if the person was not in custody, I would make the absolution contingent on the person turning themselves into authorities.


You can’t include turning yourself in as part of the penence or a requirement for absolution.

may i ask where that is stated? Not that I doubt you. I’m just curious.


The reason for this, as explained by Fr. Mitch Pakwa, is that if sinners know that a condition of absolution would be to turn themselves in, they probably wouldn’t come to confession and become reconciled with God.
The importance of coming back into Grace with God highly outweighs the person being arrested for their crime.
If you think this is unjust, remember that God knows exactly what they did and will give them complete and fair justice, much moreso than we humans could or would do.

The appropriate penance would be to serve the proscribed prison sentence. That’s why prisons are called penitentiaries.

But it appears that the priest is going to be killed if he doesn’t do this, so I can’t see that he would be doing anything wrong.


Br. Rich SFO said “*You can’t include turning yourself in as part of the penence or a requirement for absolution.” *NetNuncio then asked: “may i ask where that is stated? Not that I doubt you. I’m just curious.”

It is Canon 980. See this posting for more info (hoping I copied and pasted correctly):

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