Are penances too light?

Let me propose a hypothetical situation for you. Say a man confesses to a priest that he murdered someone. The priest, obviously, cannot go to the police and, obviously, must forgive this contrite man. However, should not the priest give as a penance to this man that he turn himself in?

It just does not seem right to me that this man is forgiven without any justice.

A penance is binding, so no, a priest cannot do so as this will divulge the confession, which indirectly violates the Seal. The sanctity of the Confessional trumps civil justice.

As for justice, do not worry. If the man does not turn himself in, then he will happily have this purified in Purgatory as needed. But what is more important than anything is that the man’s soul is saved.

I’m with you Windfish. While I accept the teachings on this, it’s grossly unfair to the victims families.

I thought a preist could assign any penance he saw fit?

Are you suggesting that if a Catholic who has done nothing but evil his whole life and never been caught and punished but on his deathbed genuinely confesses and sincerely repents should not be saved?

I clearly don’t speak for the OP, but that does seem grossly unfair to the all victims of crimes the perpetrator has commited.

I’m glad that any evildoer repents, I think that is great, but we should never forget the victims of crimes-they have a right to be angry/hurt.


But in terms of civil authorities and what not, should the penitent be held accountable? And what does Catholic teaching have to bear on the question?

No one is obliged to turn himself in for a crime, and this is shown also in the US’s Fifth Amendment. In the Church, one is supposed to give reparations as one can, but it is not required that someone do this at the risk of discovery, and one might even be required not to reveal his sin if, for example, a husband and father would then leave his family destitute.

However, the original question has a bearing on this, which is about penance being too light? The penance that the priest gives in the sacrament of Confession does not remit the temporal punishment. The punishment of Hell for committing a mortal sin is remitted by the sacrament, and graces are given to the penitent, but the temporal punishment must be paid either in this life or the next. It is easier and less painful to pay that price here, and so it is important to make a lot of penitential acts: prayer, fasting, and mortification.

Thanks for the explanation. This helped me alot. Emotionally though, I still think the victims have a right to be angry.

But this is true with all sin, not just murder.

If the Church required everyone who looks at porn, commits adultery (or fornication), steals, or cheats on taxes to stand outside the church door in sackcloth with a sign stating their sin, there is no question that the amount of sin would decrease among us.

That the Church no longer does this is a concession to our weakness.

But the logic applies to every serious sin, not just murder.

I’m not an advocate for letting murderers go at all, however, punishing the murderer does very little for the victim. No amount of jailtime or punishment will bring a loved one back to life. In the end, it makes very little difference.

It still does not sit right with me. Do you know if the Catechism goes into this? Or any other resource?

No they don’t. No one has the “right” to be angry. They can be justified and understandably angry, but it’s not a right. If anything, anger will just eat them up and destroy them from the inside. I know it’s easier said than done but only forgiveness will heal them, not the punishment of the killer (I had argued in the past that “closure” is NOT one of the purposes of punishment).

That said, it’s a decent thing for a repentant killer to turn himself in to the civil authorities as due punishment for his sin. It can be meritorious for him to join his punishment with the Cross. But in answer to the question NO, a confessor cannot OBLIGE a penitent because it breaks the Seal. And civil justice be damned, but I would rather see Confession survive and its holiness protected than see the guilty punished. Confession is a refuge, a forum where the dead soul is restored to life. There should be NOTHING that serves as a disincentive for the sinner to receive forgiveness.

You forget there are three parts to deal with here:

First, there is authentic and genuine contrition. You have said that the man is contrite, so OK.

Then there is confession. You have that covered.

Then there is also satisfaction. The CCC says the following about satisfaction:1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. **One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). **Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. **Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. **This satisfaction is also called “penance.”
1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. **It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. **Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, “provided we suffer with him.”
The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of “him who strengthens” us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth “fruits that befit repentance.” These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.
In addition, keep in mind the words of Canon 981:Can. 981 The confessor is to impose salutary and suitable penances in accord with the quality and number of sins, taking into account the condition of the penitent. The penitent is obliged to fulfill these personally.
Then the Rite of Penance in the Roman Ritual has the following to say:6c. True conversion is completed by expiation for the sins committed, by amendment of life, and also by rectifying injuries done. [33] The kind and extent of the expiation must be suited to the personal condition of penitents so that they may restore the order that they have upset and through the corresponding remedy be cured of the sickness from which they suffered. Therefore, it is necessary that the act of penance really be a remedy for sin and a help to renewal of life. Thus penitents, “forgetting the things that are behind” (Phil 3:13), again become part of the mystery of salvation and press on toward the things that are to come.
Paragraph 18 says:
A penitent who has been the cause of harm or scandal to others is to be led by the priest to resolve to make due restitution.
Next, the priest imposes an act of penance or expiation on the penitent; this should serve not only as atonement for past sins but also as an aid to a new life and an antidote for weakness. As far as possible, therefore, the penance should correspond to the seriousness and nature of the sins. This act of penance may suitably take the form of prayer, self-denial, and especially service to neighbor and works of mercy. These will underline the fact that sin and its forgiveness have a social aspect.
I would also refer you to the Council of Trent (cited in the 1974 Ritual) Session XIV Chapter 8, titled: On the necessity and on the fruit of Satisfaction. (I won’t paste it in because it’s a bit long).

The problem with assigning a penance of turning oneself in to the Pagan courts is covered in Sacred Scriptures:[bibledrb]1 Cor 6:1-8[/bibledrb]

But this is not to say that the person who confesses a serious crime would not be assigned a satisfaction of making restitution…nor is it that he couldn’t be encouraged to turn himself in, as his eventual punishment would likely be less if he openly admits his guilt. But it wouldn’t be appropriate to force him to do so.

Sorry for the long answer, but I always figure that it’s best to read what the Church has to say than to read the opinion of an anonymous Internet user.

That’s all nice and sweet, and I’m sure there are exceptions, but tell that to people of violent crime. Yes, I’m sure some victims of violent crime have embraced those that have killed their daughters, but most of them still have the right to be angry.

You are right. A person has a right for justice.

[bibledrb]Matt 18:21-22[/bibledrb]

[bibledrb]matt 6:12[/bibledrb]

Unfortunately, nobody said being a Christian was easy.

Yup. I never said it was either. At the very least we should understand how difficult it might be to “forgive those who tresspass against us”. It’s very easy to say “Pray for those who persecute you” if you’ve never been seriously persecuted.

Again, I’m sure that some people want to be say “It’s easy! I forgive those who tresspass against me! Aren’t I noble?” But in the real world, it’s much harder. We should pray for those that are the victims of crimes.

Those were excellent posts, Mark. It really pierces straight into my soul, and makes me think if I have ever made satisfaction for the temporal affects of my sins. With that said, maybe I can get your opinion. With this murderer,the only satisfaction possible for those wronged is to turn himself in. Am I wrong?

No they don’t. No one does. They have right to justice but not anger. But the sinner has an even greater right to the sanctity of the confessional no matter what and priests would die to protect that sanctity.

I never said it was easy especially for the survivors. Nothing of the Christian life is ever easy.

And lest anyone forget, Christ has scary words for those who refused to forgive.

You know, you might be on to something. The next time someone steals from a good friend of mine, I’m going tell my friend to "Forgive and forget. " While I’m at it, I might tell my friend to give the theif an extra 500 bucks, the key to a new car, and his Rolex. (It’s tongue-in-cheek everyone! :wink: )

Being a Christian doesn’t mean being stupid. Yes, we are called to forgive our enemies. However, it’s much easier said than done. Yes, it’s tough to be a Christian, and you need time to heal from your wound. Anger is a normal process of that.

If a child is brutally murdered, (God forbid a thousand times) and you walk over to the father and say, “Hey! Forgive that murderer!” He has the right to-well, act ungentlemanly to you.

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