Confession, Penance, and Restitution

I’ve tried looking through the forums but I cant seem to find a straightforward answer to this question:

Say someone steals $100.00 from his neighbor, who never finds out about the theft. The thief confesses it and is truly sorry, and he has a firm intention not to steal again. He performs the penance the priest gives him, but he does not make restitution.

Is the sin forgiven? In other words, is the theft forgiven if and only if he does the penance and makes restitution?

Since forgiveness does depend on being penitent, the crux of this question is whether the thief’s failure to make restititution was connected to a lack of real sorrow. If, even as he confessed, he was intending to keep stolen money for his own benefit, I’m pretty sure he was preventing himself from being absolved of the sin. On the other hand, if he did fully intend to make restitution, then he was forgiven. The failure to return the money may then become a new sin, depending on why he didn’t end up actually doing it.

CCC 2412 In virtue of commutative justice, reparation for injustice committed requires the restitution of stolen goods to their owner:

Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge: “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another, are obliged to make restitution of them, or to return the equivalent in kind or in money, if the goods have disappeared, as well as the profit or advantages their owner would have legitimately obtained from them. Likewise, all who in some manner have taken part in a theft or who have knowingly benefited from it - for example, those who ordered it, assisted in it, or received the stolen goods - are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen.

that’s a bit of stretch, wouldn’t you say? There could be any number of reasona why a person wouldn’t intend to pay someone back such as lack of means, fear of discovery, lack of opportunity, etc., none of them having to do with real sorrow

Well restitution should yes be intended …and then carried out according to the circumstances.

The confessor can assist him in how such should be made in a particular case.

Sometimes it must even be done indirectly - the person does not have a clue say who to give the money to …so would give it to charity.

so I think we have enough information to make a ruling here.

in regard to theft a person is forgiven if and only if

*]he is truly sorry,
*]he intends to avoid commiting the sin again AND intends to make restitution,
*]and he performs the penance given to him by the priest,
With the obvious proviso that he doesn’t conceal any mortal sins

at any rate, is this a fair way to sum it all up??

I could be the case that the person is truly repentant but has* no clue *that he must do restitution - (maybe honestly believing that he cannot etc…and honestly believing that it is not needed for confession etc…etc…but willing to do what is required by God…etc)

That can mean the person is in good faith etc at the time of the Sacrament…and honestly ignorant…

In such a case I could see a valid reception of the Sacrament at that time (similar to other circumstances where a person is honestly ignorant).

That is my thoughts off the top of my head…one can check it out further…

Ones confessor can advise.

Then if they become aware later down the road that would be addressed then…

One point you have wrong. Absolution is not conditional upon the penance being performed.


A person cannot reject the penance … if they say for example …hey I am not doing penance I do not care what Father gives me - that is a problem.

They may though ask him to change it at the time he gives it or if later it becomes a burden ask for a change later.

And if they do receive it but later change their mind and are not willing do it …well that is a new sin.

What if restitution is impossible? If somebody confesses to murder, then no amount of repentance will bring the victim back to life.

The Confessor can guide them. There are ways that restitution can be made otherwise in such cases…such as to a charity etc.

That’s true. If the penitent refuses to perform the penance that will be a sin required to be confessed at next confession but it does not invalidate the absolution at the Confession in which the penance was given.

Yes right that can be an new sin and does not change the confession.

If they though say refuse it at the time of the confession …that is prior to absolution…then yes that can be said to be a problem in terms of validity.

I agree.

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