Confessing crimes


#1

I am deeply troubled and in need of accurate information. I deeply desire to confess sins I have committed, some of which were illegal. However, I am scared to death that the priest will not absolve me unless I will turn myself in to the secular authorities. I am in my early 20s and have my whole life ahead of me. I don’t want to further ruin my life by permanently damaging my reputation and incurring other kinds of damage; I want to make a true confession to God and expel my grave sins so that I can move on with my life and start anew.

Can a priest force me to turn myself in?


#2

No.


#3

A priest cannot force you to turn yourself in or in any way reveal what is said within the confines of a confessional. To do so is beyond his authority as it would be forcing you to breach the seal of confession.


#4

I have heard different people say different things about this. How do you know?


#5

To start with, canon law:

Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.


#6

Oh my… I have confessed a lot over the last 18 months in confession. I confessed all my criminal activity whilst I was in active drug addiction.I returned to the Church just under 2 years ago and it took me about 4 months to pluck up the courage to go Confession. The fear,guilt and shame. Not once have I been told by a Priest to hand myself in. I have been absolved. I no longer lead that life any more. It was a great relief and weight lifted from me. I never want to be separated from God again.


#7

What I believe a priest can do is withhold absolution until you’ve told him what you’re going to do about your sins (ie. have convinced him you’re truly sorry). Once he’s satisfied you’re going to do what you have to to sin no more then he may be willing to grant absolution. If you’ve told him you’re going to do something and don’t do it then it’s a lie and you’ll have to go to confession again; in fact this may even likely make it a bad confession. That said every priest is different and of course you haven’t really any idea what he’s going to say until it happens. I’ll say a prayer for you.

Hail Mary… :gopray2:


#8

Michael, your post speaks volumes about your character, no matter what your sins in the past were. Peace be upon you.

Hail Mary, full of grace, our Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Amen!



#9

To receive absolution, a confesee must have the intention to make reparation. So a priest is within his rights to withhold absolution if he feels that reparation for a crime is required but that the penitent has no intention to do so.

eg if I steal money from someone and go to confession, the priest may ask if I will return that money. If I say no, then he will with-hold absolution.

The example of stealing is easy, because reparation is clear - you return what you stole. For many other crimes, it is less clear what sort of reparation could apply. In such cases, another penance will be given.

For some very serious crimes (eg murder, rape), it might be said that the person ought to hand themselves over to police in order that the crime be solved, and justice served, which can greatly help the victims of that crime recover from it. But this is only for very extreme crimes.

In any case, you should go to confession and discuss this further. It is likely that you will be given absolution and a suitable penance. If absolution is withheld, the priest will indicate why and you can assess your situation from there.


#10

No, no, no! A priest can require restitution but he** cannot** require the penitent to betray him/herself. Nor can he withhold absolution if the person is sorry for their sins.

If a priest does **anything **that would break the seal, including instructing the penitent to make an admission of guilt to another party, the priest is subject to excommunication.


#11

Where are you getting this information, because I have never seen anything like this before.

The intention the ones confessing must have is to amend their lives, and they will of course need to make spiritual reparation either here in this life or in Purgatory, but that is all I have ever heard.

The example of stealing is easy, because reparation is clear - you return what you stole. For many other crimes, it is less clear what sort of reparation could apply. In such cases, another penance will be given.

For some very serious crimes (eg murder, rape), it might be said that the person ought to hand themselves over to police in order that the crime be solved, and justice served, which can greatly help the victims of that crime recover from it. But this is only for very extreme crimes.

You seem to imply that there would be a requirement of turning oneself in for a serious crime, but this is absolutely *not the case. *The priest can never impose a requirement like this for absolution.

In any case, you should go to confession and discuss this further. It is likely that you will be given absolution and a suitable penance. If absolution is withheld, the priest will indicate why and you can assess your situation from there.

Michael,
It is extremely unlikely that absolution will be withheld unless you give some sort of indication that you plan to continue in your sin. For example, for a men who has married outside the Church, the Church does not recognize his “marriage” as such. If he explains that he and his wife are living as brother and sister until the marriage situation is straightened out, then the priest will absolve his sins. If he explains that he and his wife have no plans to stop sinning, the priest ought not absolve the man’s sins.

And what matters is the intention (sufficient contrition is assumed by the person’s coming to Confession). So if a person intends to stop sinning, but they mess up and commit the sin again, they just have to confess the new sinful action.


#12

From the catechism for starters:

1491 The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.

and

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.62 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.”


#13

If the penitent does not intend to make reparation, absolution can/should be withheld.

What exactly that reparation/penance consists of is another matter.

I have not said anything whatsoever about breaking the seal of confession. A priest may not do this. The penitent of course can.


#14

I “imply” it because I do accept it is an area for legitimate disagreement. But some make the strong case that for such crimes (eg murder, rape) the reparation required - to restore as much as possible the wellbeing of the victim (including eg familes of those murdered) - would be that the guilty person comes forward. The closure, and apparent temporal justice, that this affords the victims is perhaps the only real reparation that can be offered.

But it is a matter for legitimate disagreement.


#15

It’s not a “legitimate disagreement” if you are disagreeing with the Church’s teaching regarding a Sacrament.


#16

Requiring the person turn himself into the authorities would break the seal of confession. A penitent can only do this if it is purely his/her choice - not because the priest directs him to do so or withholds absolution as a form of blackmail unless he does.


#17

If you have some clear Church teaching to correct me with, please offer it and point out where I am wrong.


#18

catholic.com/quickquestions/can-absolution-be-withheld-from-a-murderer-until-he-agrees-to-give-himself-up-to-auth

jimmyakin.com/2005/11/can_a_priest_fo.html


#19

Yes, you are right here. But there is concern that a person who has committed such crimes and has no intention to make reparation for them should not receive absolution. As you point out, this may amount to blackmail, so seems to be a real catch-22.

A priest cannot apply a penance that will harm the penitent. But a penitent must have the intent to make reparation. This remains a very complex matter for serious crimes, where reparation seems to be difficult without the guilty person coming forward. In practice, I think may priests apply another penance and move on. But for the penitent, will they ever have real peace while the victims of their crimes still suffer? So early when I said “it might be said that the person ought to hand themselves over to police” I have deliberately used soft language, for it is a difficult matter.


#20

Thanks. The first link here is very useful because it suggests concrete ways in which reparation can be acheived while anonymity is retained.

But is this always possible? And if not, what then? This remains a difficult issue. Like I said, a potential catch-22.

The link also notes that “The priest also may encourage the penitent to turn himself in to authorities”. Which is not very different from what I said: “it might be said that the person ought to hand themselves over to police”.


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