General Confession - Confessing doubtful sins and estimating number of times committed


I have to make a general confession and had some questions?

How do I handle number and doubtful sins?

Is it a lie to say I did something 5000 times when in reality I am not sure, and I may have only did it 100 times, and the rest were just temptations? I would only say that to cover myself and take responsibility for the times I did do it or maybe have done it, not to lie. But it is really probably not “true” that I did it 5000 times, I may not have ever done it at all, and they were all temptations. I figured I would just let God figure it out.

Then i think that I am misrepresenting myself to the priest, but mostly I just want to confess my sins and have them forgiven, and if I confess something I think I did, then it should be covered, and that is all I care about. But then I think I am doing myself a disservice by accusing myself of something I am not sure I really did, or that the priest will think I am worse than I really am, and that him thinking that is somehow a bad thing.

Sometimes I think, I never did something i wrote down at all, and just saw it in a movie or something. Sounds stupid, I know.

I guess I do not understand how you can take responsibility if you say something like, “I do not know if I did this, but I might have have done it about 5000 times, and if I did I am sorry.” - is that taking responsibility?

How am I supposed to do it?


[quote="NNCatholic, post:1, topic:317129"]
if you say something like, "I do not know if I did this, but I might have have done it about 5000 times, and if I did I am sorry." - is that taking responsibility?


Short answer: yes.

This question should really be answered by a priest, but since no one is taking it up, I'll bump the thread.

I asked a priest a similar question before my first confession, and he said (in a nice way) to avoid legalism. By all means, try to be honest and accurate, but if you can't remember the exact number, you're not going to invalidate your confession by giving your best estimate, even if it's off.

If you're not even sure you did it at all, there is indeed something called confessing a doubtful sin (I learned about this from a priest also). But I'm not going to give you a cookie-cutter answer because it depends on the person. You could, for example, be someone who struggles with scrupulosity (many people do) and in that case your confessor might discourage confessing doubtful sins to avoid encouraging the scrupulosity; or he might encourage you to confess them in order to give you peace of mind.

In short, ask your confessor what to do, but I think your approach is fine.


For mortal sins -- when one does not know the number --one can approximate according to ones knowledge.

Around 5 or so times a year for the last 20 years.....around 15x.....5-6 times....or even many times, few times, several times, alot...

If one knows it was around 10 times do not say many times...

In what you mention it may perhaps be along the order of "I did Y around 100 times at least but may be more and even x number but that may be way off and just my fear..." so something like that...

Depending on what one knows.

We are to make an integral and honesty confession...

But our memory does not always serve well and it can even be on the side of impossibility to know after years and years for example.

We are to proceed in humano modo (in a human way) not in vulcano modo (a vulcan way....twas 1000.2356 X Caption)

If something is doubtful and one confesses it -- note it is doubtful in some way.


Dear OP,

I think this is an important question, simply because so many are going through RCIA right now, in parishes. It came up yesterday, informally, by a young candidate in my own parish. Several of us were discussing it with him -- how to be thorough without being legalistic.

I try to put myself in your shoes, and here is how I personally would proceed. I would literally do Commandment by Commandment, beginning with the First. Discern the most serious offenses (if there are any), of each Commandment, and indicate the approximate frequency. ("I've been doing ____ as a regular part of my life -- weekly, monthly, etc.-- for X years. It's become so habitual I hadn't even though of how I had been offending God, hurting my neighbor and myself by doing so. I am sorry for the casual attitude I have had for what I now see and experience as serious sin.")

In each case think of your relationship with God, and his longing for you, and your repudiation of Him, by sin. You can make your confession comprehensive without making it a gigantic list. I know I could.

Most people have broken most or all of the Commandments at some point in their life, which is why I like the approach of examining what each Commandment asks us to do, and looking at what we have violated and what we haven't done (omission) to live up to that Commandment. The Jews understand and understood the Commandments as covenantal relationship. The point of confession is to acknowledge our break with our convenantal personal relstionship with God, and restore that intimacy.

This is also why I like the more thorough (deeper) Examinations of Conscience, because I think that often we go into our regular confessions simply thinking of the sins most obvious to ourselves, instead of looking at all of the Commandments in their scope. That's why I take so long to prepare for regular confession, and it would take me even longer to prepare for a General Confession. (What I'm saying is, most penitents forget past unconfessed sins; even though the past sins have been absolved if forgotten, they were actually never confessed, in many cases. That's the value of a General Confession for a revert or a catechumen: you can really clear the decks and receive tremendous graces by that self-awareness and emptying.)


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