Confession ONLY to a Priest?

Is it correct that the Catholic church says you can only confess to a priest, not directly to God?

I have heard “exceptions” like if you are in the middle of a desert or stranded at sea - please don’t include those things.


No, that is not correct. We can, and are encouraged to confess our sins directly to God. Confession to a priest is only required for mortal sins (i.e. a grave sin that destroys our relationship with God). We believe confession to a priest is required for mortal sins because we believe that this is the way that Jesus set it up when establishing his Church.

[quote=John 20:21-23] Jesus ] said to them (his Apostles) again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirirt. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

We believe that Jesus conferred his power to forgive and retain sins onto his Apostles. It is significant that he breathed on them when he did this. The only other time that scripture records God breathing on someone is when the Father breathed life into Adam. Thus, Jesus act of breathing on the Apostles when he conferred on them the power to forgive or retain sins is very significant. We believe that this power has been passed down through the ages from the Apostles to their successors (Bishops and priests) through the laying on of hands. In short, Catholics confess sins to a priest because we believe that that is the way that Jesus instructed us to do it.

Also, when we confess our sins to a priest we believe we are confessing our sins directly to Jesus and are receiving forgiveness directly from Jesus. This is because we believe that during sacramental confession the priest acts in persona christi (that is, in the person of Christ). We believe Jesus acts directly through his ministerial priests to confer his grace upon the laity.

I hope this helps and isn’t too confusing.

Okay, barring unusual circumstances, we are to confess through a priest. That is correct.

Why? Well, we base this on scripture where Jesus breathed on the apostles saying to them to receive the Holy Spirit, that those whose sins they had forgiven would be forgiven! At that moment, Jesus gave the divine authority to forgive sin! Now, they used it in accordance with Christ’s instructions.

Now, if that had not been necessary, if we were to use the old method of confession directly to God, why would Christ have even bothered with this, if it were only to be later rendered “unnecessary”?

Confessing is a priest IS confessing to God.

God gave us confession as the regular mode of forgiveness. It is His will that we use it to confess our sins and do penance. Why should you presume to ignore God’s will and say that you won’t confess your sins according to the mode which He has provided?

In cases that confession to a priest is impossible, there are other ways to tell God you are sorry, but these other ways are only usable if the normal method, that is, confession through a priest, is unavailable.

Pease remember that there were others in the room when Jesus breathed on them. Not just the apostles.

Yep, except that it’s not just the church, but the Word of God.

Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest, rather than going directly to God?

Well, the quick answer is because that’s the way God wants us to do it. In James 5:16, God, through Sacred Scripture, commands us to “confess our sins to one another.” Notice, Scripture does not say confess your sins straight to God and only to God…it says confess your sins to one another.

In Matthew, chapter 9, verse 6, Jesus tells us that He was given authority on earth to forgive sins. And then Scripture proceeds to tell us, in verse 8, that this authority was given to “men”…plural.

In John 20, verses 21-23, what is the 1st thing Jesus says to the gathered disciples on the night of His resurrection? “Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’” How did the Father send Jesus? Well, we just saw in Mt 9 that the Father sent Jesus with the authority on earth to forgive sins. Now, Jesus sends out His disciples as the Father has sent Him…so, what authority must Jesus be sending His disciples out with? The authority on earth to forgive sins. And, just in case they didn’t get it, verses 22-23 say this, “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

Why would Jesus give the Apostles the power to forgive or to retain sins if He wasn’t expecting folks to confess their sins to them? And how could they forgive or retain sins if no one was confessing their sins to them?

The Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another. It also tells us that God gave men the authority on Earth to forgive sins. Jesus sends out His disciples with the authority on earth to forgive sins. When Catholics confess our sins to a priest, we are simply following the plan laid down by Jesus Christ. He forgives sins through the priest…it is God’s power, but He exercises that power through the ministry of the priest.

*]“I Find No Sacraments In the Bible” he said.
*]Catholic Confession

*]Scriptures About Penance

The context of that chapter doesn’t necessarily support that.

You’re right, it doesn’t. But the same event as described in Luke states there are others in the room. If you read from Luke 24:13-36 you can see it’s the same event. In Luke 24:33 states there were others with the eleven.

Not even close…

You might want to rethink that. Even the NAB shows the cross reference of Luke and John. It’s the same event.

It may have been the same day but there is a lot going on and it does not infer that it was at that same time.

There were 2 other disciples in the room at some time that evening.
Not exactly hard “proof.”

And it doesn’t say that Jesus breathed on everyone in the room.

The sacrament of reconcilliation was given to us by God so we can know the peace of his healing power. All sins should be confessed to a priest mortal and venial. Its obvious why the big ones should be confessed but the smaller ones build up over time and it becomes very easy to dilude oursleves into believing that we have no sins to forgive. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that sin can become so familiar to us that it can blind us into believing we are virtuous. The church teaches we should attend at least once a year and of course that can only be to a priest.

This is half true, the priest is acting persona Christi which means Christ is acting through the priest so you are actually confessing to Jesus


I confess my sins to God EVERY day, and I ask for His forgiveness :thumbsup:

Sometimes, I confess a few to my wife and ask for her forgiveness. :o

Occasionally, I confess them to a priest (when serious sin is involved). :frowning:

I plan on making regular, monthly confession a part of my spiritual life in 2014 because I am looking more closely a smaller, venial sins than I have done in the past.

So, confession to a priest is mandatory when you have committed serious/mortal sin and helpful when you are desirous of growing in holiness the rest of the time. But talk to God about your sins the moment you realize you have committed them.

:thumbsup: I think this is right. As Catholics we are supposed to regularly examine our conscience (list our sins) and ask God for forgiveness (we have many prayers that do this, generally called an Act of Contrition, but occurs in many prayer including those in Mass). Then, either regularly or when we have committed a serious sin (or at least once a year), we are to make a sacramental confession (which is a confession with a priest).

Good answers already. I just want to build a bit on the idea of mortal sin and needing confession.

First, Mortal sin is defined as sin that meets 3 conditions.

  1. Grave matter (see the 10 commandments)
  2. Knowledge that it is a sin
  3. Free consent to the sin.
    In short, you intentionally and freely choose to do something you know is a serious sin.

Committing such a sin “kills charity” in the heart. - or put another way - - breaks our relationship with God.

Now - having done this, and having turned back to God in sorrow…we are - in a sense - undergoing a new or a re-conversion. And having done so - does it not make sense that we need to be “re-baptised” in a sense?

That is how I look at confession. When we have broken our relationship with Christ through serious sin…we reestablish our relationship through confession and absolution - and this is sort of like being re-converted and re-baptised…

Now this is not “church teaching” but it might be an image or an outlook that can help you, along with the other explanations, to understand the teaching.


In each and every scriptural case where Jesus forgave sins, He told the sinner “Your sins are forgiven” Their ears heard those comforting words.

Has anyone who confessed “directly to God” ever heard those words of absolution, as Jesus taught and intended His Church to practice?


To “presume” forgiveness only heaps sin upon sin.

When asked how to pray (to God), Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer. In that He tells us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses…”.

This tells me he is directing us to ask God for forgiveness.

Then why give anyone the authority to forgive sins?

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