Can a priest retain sins?


As far as I’ve heard, a priest cannot choose to not forgive sins. (He has to.)

But then I was thinking… When Jesus gives the apostles authority to forgive sins,

“Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”
-St. John 20:23

he says that they can also “retain” sins.

How does this go with Catholic teaching?

And also, if sins are retained, then can’t that leave a truly repentant man in a state of Mortal Sin, but unable to confess? (Because the sin has been retained)

I’m confused…

Thanks and God Bless

The priest will only refuse Absolution for sins **if a person is not repentant **and intends to commit the sin again.
Note the word 'intends’
A person may fall into the same sin again but if he honestly intends not to, and will sincerely avoid the sin, he will receive Absolution.
Or if a person has stolen something from another and will not return it, he can’t receive absolution. He must make restitution or his repentance is not sincere and therefor doens’t merit Absolution.

I get it. Thanks!

A priest is not required to absolve you of all sin regardless of the situation. If he feels that there are circumstances that suggest that for some reason absolution should not be given, he does have the ability to refuse.


I am not sure that is correct. The priest may give restitution as a penance, but in the same way he cannot force a murderer to turn themselves in as a condition of absolution he cannot force restitution. Absolution is unconditional.

See canon 980
"If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of a penitent who asks for absolution, absolution is not to be refused or delayed."

In other words, a priest must give absolution unless he has doubt. That’s not quite the same thing as saying that the priest must be convinced of the penitent’s sincerity.

Sister Ann Shields tells of being refused absolution, and she was in a convent at the time. Like many of us, she had recited her usual grocery list of venial sins and waited for a penance and absolution. Instead the priest refused absolution and told her to come back next week with one sin she was really sorry for.

Hearing that kicked me out of the grocery list format. :smiley:

I believe there would be a difference between refusing to return something stolen and agreeing to then not doing so. If you agree to return something and then change your mind, your absolution is not revoked, once given. However if you outright refuse to even consider returning the item, there would be reasonable doubt as to your true repentence and sorrow for the act. The priest could withold absolution.

“Restitution” can come in many different ways. The priest can never require that a penitent do anything to reveal his identity, or the fact that he comitted the sin. Returning a stolen item, might sometimes do that. The penitent can return it on his own, without being outright “required” to do so by the penance. Sometimes, returning it just isn’t possible (it might be long gone). Sometimes a priest will asign a penance whereby a person is performing an “internal restitution.” Example: someone steals money, but cannot return it. The priest might asign a penance of making an anonymous donation to a worthy charity.

I would think the Priest is allowed under the circumstances of retaining sin, if the priest feels that you are not being sincere in your confession or does not feel you are being contrite in confessing your sins., JMO

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