Confession Question


#1

A while back I started a thread with the hypothetical question: What if you made a sincere confession but the priest recognized your voice, was angry with you about something and refused to say the absolution? Would you still be forgiven?

It was completely hypothetical. It has never happened to me or to anyone I know. The answer was almost if not completely unanimous: You are not forgiven.

Today I was listening to a talk by some Evangelicals. They were discussing forgiveness of sins and mentioned the Catholic view of confession which, of course, they disagreed with. As is often the case with non-Catholics, they got the facts wrong and said that, even if you were not truly repentant, once the priest said the absolution your sin was forgiven.

CCC 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.

However this made me think of the previous thread. If the priest’s absolution of an unrepentant sinner does not result in forgiveness, why should the repentant confession of a sinner who, through no reason of his own is being denied absolution, not be forgiven?

I know the teaching of the church says this is the case but where is the justice in this? It seems inconsistent. Thoughts?


#2

It remains hypothetical injustice. Contrition is a requirement for forgiveness.


#3

Hello Gary.

Actually I think it is a simple answer in two parts:

If the sins confessed are venial, then the actual forgiveness of them can be achieved outside the Confessional. The priest withholding his absolution wouldn’t matter although the Sacramental confession of venial sins applies remedy to their defeat.

If the sins confessed were mortal and the priest refused absolution, he usually gives his reason in the Confessional. If it is something that needs remedy, then DO IT. If not, then just go to another priest.

An example would be if the man doing the confessing admits to living in sin with a woman but seeks absolution because he wants the Eucharist. Here, the priest would be correct in withholding his absolution until he can be assured that there is sufficient contrition on the part of the penitent and a firm purpose of amendment and may say something to the effect that the relationship needs to end or be rectified by marriage if the penitent is to be absolved.

Every priest is to gauge whether or not the penitent is truly sorry for his or her sins BEFORE he gives absolution. He is bound by his sacred duty to do so. But they usually aren’t given lots of times when they cannot give absolution. Most folks don’t go to Confession to tell the priest they aren’t sorry a bit! Those situations where a priest is correct in withholding Absolution usually are preceded by questions by the priest and he is free to ask any that help him get to the bottom of things or to assist the penitent in understanding his or her sins better and edifying them or helping their contrition to grow. Now THAT is a real gift when they do speak up and you are brought to tears. That IS a marvelous experience. But I’m partial. I weird. I love Confession and have since becoming a Catholic. It really is just another encounter with Christ. Like JPII always said - BE NOT AFRAID!

Oh well, I’m no expert on anything but dougnuts and coffee cause I deserved a treat and these are just my opinions. I hope it helped.

Glenda


#4

Here’s what you’r missing.

Forgiveness and absolution are not the same thing. Forgiveness means that God has remitted the sin. Absolution is a juridic act of the Church.

In the case of a priest who wrongly (your scenario) withholds absolution, the penitent is still forgiven by God, but the juridic act of absolution does not occur. (Now, we can add to this things like “he should go to another priest…” but that’s a different issue).

The absolution of an unrepentant sinner results in absolution (the juridic act), not the forgiveness. A penitent can fool a priest-confessor, but cannot fool God.
Example: a politician who is publicly pro-abortion is refused Communion by the bishop. He makes a “fake” confession that sounds sincere and a fake public renunciation of his “past” position. He’s fooled the bishop, who allows him to resume receiving Communion; but he hasn’t fooled God.


#5

I was assuming mortal sin. While I understand that priests can do all the things you mentioned, I’m 61 years old and have never had it happen to me. I would think that a lot people have received absolution without being truly repentant.


#6

Being repentant, aka having contrition, can come in different forms. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, or that we won’t ever sin again.

  1. When is our contrition perfect?
    Our contrition is perfect when we are sorry for our sins because sin offends God, whom we love above all things for His own sake.
  1. When is our contrition imperfect?
    Our contrition is imperfect when we are sorry for our sins because they are hateful in themselves or because we fear God’s punishment.

Also:
catholicexchange.com/kinds-of-contrition
catholicdoors.com/faq/qu488.htm


#7

True but irrelevant.


#8

**Catechism of the Catholic Church
**1453 The contrition called “imperfect” (or “attrition”) is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.52
52 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1678; 1705.


#9

Fine, but that’s not what I’m asking about. I understand that the confession must be sincere but a priest could easily give absolution to someone who is not truly repentant. The person is not forgiven even though the priest gave absolution.

My problem is reconciling this with the fact that a person who makes a sincere confession but who is denied absolution for whatever reason is considered not forgiven.

This is inconsistent.


#10

But Gary,

If a person makes a sincere confession, but is denied absolution for some illegitimate reason (your original question, right), that person is indeed forgiven, because God forgives the sin.

Now, “By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins”

True, but that’s not “by itself” it’s imperfect contrition combined with the fact that the penitent did everything possible to obtain sacramental absolution. Not just “theoretically” by saying “I want to go to confession” but by actually doing so. The penitent acted rightly. The priest acted wrongly (again, it’s your scenario, so if you say the priest acted unjustly, then it’s a given). God still forgives.


#11

FrDavid96,

The reason I asked this question was because I was told in a different thread that a truly repentant person was denied absolution for whatever reason was not forgiven. Two of the people who told me that were priests.


#12

If one has perfect contrition, the sin is already forgiven by God due to perfect charity. If not, it is perfected by the sacrament of penance. Therefore to say absolutely that one is not forgiven by God without the absolution of the priest, is incorrect.

There is reconciliation with God, and there is reconciliation with the Church.

Absolution is the remission of sin, or of the punishment due to sin, granted by the Church.**CCC

1415** Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.

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.

APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION RECONCILIATION AND PENANCE OF JOHN PAUL II [INDENT]But the essential act of penance, on the part of the penitent, is contrition, a clear and decisive rejection of the sin committed, together with a resolution not to commit it again,(185) out of the love which one has for God and which is reborn with repentance. Understood in this way, contrition is therefore the beginning and the heart of conversion, of that evangelical metanoia which brings the person back to God like the prodigal son returning to his father, and which has in the sacrament of penance its visible sign and which perfects attrition. Hence “upon this contrition of heart depends the truth of penance.”(186)
vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_02121984_reconciliatio-et-paenitentia_en.html
[/INDENT]


#13

Gary,

I know I keep coming back to this—the reason is that it’s very important. Forgiveness and absolution do not mean the same thing. Absolution is a juridic act of the Church; forgiveness is an act of God. Remember that in the sacrament of Confession (completed), we are both forgiven and absolved.

I would suppose that the priests would have said “not absolved” instead of “not forgiven.” I would also suppose that the non-priests might be confusing the 2 words (it happens quite a lot.)

Some of this has to do with the “why” the absolution was not granted. There are many different reasons why this might not happen. I’m limiting my response to your specific original question, in which you say that the priest denies absolution for an illegitimate reason. That’s critical.

Since you’re asking a hypothetical question, it’s up to you to define what’s happening in the scenario. Since you ask about a priest who refuses absolution because he is angry with the penitent, then you are defining a scenario where the priest acts unjustly, and wrongly, indeed sinfully. God does not withhold forgiveness from a penitent because the priest sins. The priest withholds absolution (the juridic act of the Church) but God still forgives.


#14

There is a story where a penitent who keep falling into the same mortal sin came again to a Priest for confession – and he was of course contrite and amended as he should be --but the Priest would not absolve him…(whereas he should have…) so it went something to the effect of the Priest said I will not…but as the Penitent left …a voice was heard “But I forgive you!” and the arm from the Crucifix on the confessional detached towards the Penitent…

I cannot personally vouch for the facts of such a happening --but I have heard the story in the past.

I add this as a kind of “painting” to add to the discussion…


#15

If I am forgiven but not absolved, can I receive the Eucharist? If I am forgiven by God, what difference does it make what the priest does? I didn’t sin against him. If I cannot receive the Eucharist without absolution, which is what the CCC says, then aren’t we saying that God’s forgiveness is meaningless? I understand that the priest is supposed to be acting in the place of Christ, but, if God has already forgiven, then Jesus has forgiven us. If we need both forgiveness and absolution, then what is the real difference between the two? If they are different, how can we point to John 20:23 as evidence of sacramental confession? In that verse Jesus is giving the apostles the authority to forgive, not absolve.


#16

OK.

Forgiveness reconciles us to God. Absolution reconciles us to the Church. In the Sacrament of Confession, when we are reconciled, we are both forgiven and absolved; and reconciled to both God and His Church. (That’s a brief summary, naturally).

To answer your question: if a person makes a sincere effort to confess and actually does so, but the priest wrongly refuses absolution (again, your scenario, so the words “sincere” and “wrongly” are a given) then yes, such a person could receive Communion, and do so with a perfectly clear conscience. God will not hold the sin of the priest-confessor against the penitent, and neither does the Church.

The penitent is still not absolved, because absolution is a juridic act, and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. So a penitent in that situation should go to another priest at the earliest opportunity and be absolved.

To continue with the answer, Confession has 2 sources in Sacred Scripture.
Your question at the end is a very pertinent one.

The source from John (“whose sins you forgive…”) that you reference is the source for forgiveness; while Matthew (“thou art Peter…”) is the source for absolution. St Thomas Aquinas explains this in the Summa.

In your scenario, the fact that the priest-confessor acts wrongly is the hinge on which everything turns here. That’s what makes this scenario very much different than any similar situations.

I can see why you are having difficulty reconciling what I say with the Catechism. The answer is because the Catechism is not directly addressing your question. Let me explain. That portion of the Catechism is simply not addressing the issue of “what happens when the priest wrongly withholds absolution?” There is no conflict.

I really want you to understand this, so please keep posting.:thumbsup:


#17

First, thank you for taking the time to respond. I work in a rectory and I know how busy priests are.

OK. Let me see if I’m understanding your point about the source of absolution. Absolution is based on the fact that Jesus made Peter the head of the church and, I would assume, all of his successors. Do I have that right?

Assuming I have, my next question would be where does the teaching on absolution come from?

According to my understanding, the pope, even when speaking infallibly, cannot just declare a new doctrine out of thin air. It must have some foundation in Scripture and/or Sacred Tradition. Am I correct?

If that is the case, the church’s teaching on absolution must come from Sacred Tradition since the word does not appear in the Bible. Which of the early Church Fathers made this distinction between forgiveness and absolution?

I know I can only ask you to speculate regarding my next question but, why do you think the Bible only speaks of forgiveness and not absolution?


#18

Yes.

Assuming I have, my next question would be where does the teaching on absolution come from?

I’m not sure I understand. You just wrote it above—Christ gave the keys to Peter, just as you said. Perhaps the upcoming quote from the Summa will help…

According to my understanding, the pope, even when speaking infallibly, cannot just declare a new doctrine out of thin air. It must have some foundation in Scripture and/or Sacred Tradition. Am I correct?

Right.

If that is the case, the church’s teaching on absolution must come from Sacred Tradition since the word does not appear in the Bible. Which of the early Church Fathers made this distinction between forgiveness and absolution?

I’m not sure offhand about the early Church Fathers (have to do some research, or just rely on the wisdom of St. Thomas [less research for me]:)). What I can say though is that it is in the Summa of St. Thomas.

God alone absolves from sin and forgives sins authoritatively; yet priests do both ministerially, because the words of the priest in this sacrament work as instruments of the Divine power, as in the other sacraments: because it is the Divine power that works inwardly in all the sacramental signs, be they things or words, as shown above (62, 4; 64, 1,2). Wherefore our Lord expressed both: for He said to Peter (Matthew 16:19): “Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth,” etc., and to His disciples (John 20:23): “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.” Yet the priest says: “I absolve thee,” rather than: “I forgive thee thy sins,” because it is more in keeping with the words of our Lord, by expressing the power of the keys whereby priests absolve. Nevertheless, since the priest absolves ministerially, something is suitably added in reference to the supreme authority of God, by the priest saying: “I absolve thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” or by the power of Christ’s Passion, or by the authority of God. However, as this is not defined by the words of Christ, as it is for Baptism, this addition is left to the discretion of the priest.
newadvent.org/summa/4084.htm

I know I can only ask you to speculate regarding my next question but, why do you think the Bible only speaks of forgiveness and not absolution?

Yes, I can only speculate. I suppose that Christ saw a value in using the words “Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth…” as a way of expressing both bind and loose. Had He said “absolve” then the other half of the Power of the Keys, namely, to bind, would have been missing.


#19

Let’s look at St. Thomas again.

What I’ll do is to:

Put all the words about forgiveness in green

Put all the words about absolution in blue

To put emphasis on the notion of “both” that will be in purple

God alone absolves from sin and forgives sins authoritatively; yet priests do both ministerially, because the words of the priest in this sacrament work as instruments of the Divine power, as in the other sacraments: because it is the Divine power that works inwardly in all the sacramental signs, be they things or words, as shown above (62, 4; 64, 1,2). Wherefore our Lord expressed both: for He said to Peter (Matthew 16:19): “Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth,” etc., and to His disciples (John 20:23): “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.” Yet the priest says: “I absolve thee,” rather than: “I forgive thee thy sins,” because it is more in keeping with the words of our Lord, by expressing the power of the keys whereby priests absolve. Nevertheless, since the priest absolves* ministerially, something is suitably added in reference to the supreme authority of God, by the priest saying: “I absolve thee* in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” or by the power of Christ’s Passion, or by the authority of God. However, as this is not defined by the words of Christ, as it is for Baptism, this addition is left to the discretion of the priest.

  • Those instances of the word “absolve” refer to “reconciliation” which includes both forgiveness and absolution—hence, I put them in purple.

#20

I think I may have been a little more obtuse that I wanted. I understand that the Bible is not our only source of spiritual truth. I am not a believer in sola scriptura. What I have a problem with is the idea that a teaching, especially one as important as this, can be considered part of the teachings which Jesus passed on to the apostles and they, in turn, passed on to us (my definition of Sacred Tradition). Thomas Aquinas wasn’t born until 1225. If he is the first person to mention absolution as something separate from forgiveness, in other words, without the ECFs weighing in on it, how do we know it’s not just an idea that Aquinas came up with. He’s not infallible; he denied the Immaculate Conception, after all. :slight_smile:

I thought - and, perhaps, I’m wrong - that the pope cannot just make any statement about faith or morals and declare it to be infallible. It had to have some foundation in the historic teaching of the church. That’s why I was asking about the ECFs. This isn’t a minor point. I have to think that someone would have mentioned it before the 13th century if it was solid church teaching.

I hope I’ve clarified my thoughts a little better.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.