How can protestants be ignorant of the need for Absolution of their mortal sins?

All protestants have access to the Bible and most of them have read John 20:21-23 and 1 John 5:16-17. Based on this, how can protestants be ignorant of their need to have their mortal sins absolved by a Catholic priest? If Catholics who die in the state of death with no intention to receive absolution go to hell does that same principal apply to protestants who die in a state of death with no intention to receive absolution?

Hi Paul,

The fact that the aposles and their successors received the power to forgive sins does not mean that there is no other way to regain sanctifying grace. Protestants, as well as Catholics who make an act of perfect contrition do regain sanctifying grace. However, to have access to the sacraments, Catholics must have the intention of confessing to a priest, by virtue of Church law.


No where in John and 1 John does it say anything about a Catholic priest. Now that said, Lutherans are quite aware of the necessity to confess our sins and receive Holy Absolution.


EDIT. To clarify, Catholics ought to go to a Catholic priest to confess and receive Holy Absolution. Lutherans, of course, should go to their pastor.

The Catholic Church does not state that any particular individual or group of people is in hell, even Catholics who appeared to have died in such a state. That would be “playing God”. God has created the sacraments but He himself is not bound by them and can save anyone He deems worthy of salvation.
That being said, of course, we should regularly avail ourselves of Reconciliation. But I think it is unnecessary to worry that our Protestant brothers and sisters cannot be saved because they don’t go to confession. The Church does not teach this.

This does not align with what I read in the Catechism nor in the answers on this site.

There is always the clause that Catholics who make an act of contrition without confessing to a priest need to have the implicit intention to confess to a priest as soon as posslbe. Protestants have no intention of confessing their mortal sins to a priest so I do not think the Catechism supports the idea that protestants can obtain sanctifying grace. Is this not why Catholics need to teach protestants about why they need absolution for their mortal sins? Is it not wrong to give protestants false hope that they can go to heaven when their souls are in a state of death since they all at one point in their life have commited a mortal sin?

Does the Catholic church teach that if a Catholic commits a mortal sin and has no intention to confess that sin to a priest and seek absolution for their mortal sin that they will go to hell if they die? Also, all this is based on the Bible which the protestants have access to…so why does this Biblical truth only apply to Cathoilics and not protestants? This does not seem to be consistent nor fair to Catholics who have to live by God’s rules to inherit eternal life.

We as individuals are not in a position to judge whether another Catholic has committed a mortal sin, never mind a Protestant. Remember the qualities that all need to be there: Not just the sin itself but the person’s full knowledge that it was a mortal sin and free consent to it. Given that most Protestants don’t even draw a distinction between mortal and venial sin, how can they “give full consent to mortal sin” in the sense that a Catholic would?

The teaching is that they are at risk of going to hell. But we have no way of judging whether another Catholic has met all the requirements of committing a mortal sin, and even if they did, we don’t know if at the last minute they had a change of heart.

As of course you are aware, people interpret the Bible differently. We believe the Catholic Church’s interpretation. Protestants interpret certain things differently. We believe they are wrong about certain things. But it’s playing God to state that they are all going to hell because most of them don’t believe in sacramental confession.

Protestants don’t have a concept of mortal vs. venial sins. When I was a Protestant I heard that we were all equally sinners, we could confess directly to God, and we could confess our sins to the other members of the small group. I went to one Protestant church where there were several people who proclaimed that they were under no obligation to meet any behavioral standards because they were saved by Grace. That wasn’t exactly what the church was teaching.:wink:

I managed to commit a mortal sin as a Protestant. It fit all the criteria. I asked God over and over to forgive me but I never felt forgiven. A big issue in converting was having to confess this sin to a priest. I finally decided to do it anyway. I felt very relieved once I confessed it.

So I would say that a Protestant that did recognize themselves as having committed a serious sin that estranged them from God, would simply do the best they could with what means they had.

You are correct that the Bible does not mention confessing to a Catholic priest, but I am pretty sure the Catechism does. Also, Lutherans are one group of protestants…what about all the other protestants who do not follow the sacarament of confession?

I not sure I follow. Being in a “state of death” is very clear and absolute. I have family members who are protestants so this is very relevant for me.

Why don’t they have this concept when they can read 1 John 5: 15-16? Why are they excused from the need to receive absolution while Catholics are not? Does not add up in my mind.

I’m not a catholic, but I have read the new testament more than 8 times. I never came to that same conclusion on my own, nor was it taught to me.

Whether I’m ignorant or incapable is another matter I intend to avoid, but to answer your question of “why”, it comes down to interpretation for protestants (vastly broad term). We don’t have an ultimate authoritative resource like a pope or magisterium. The closest a protestant could come to the same thing is the denominational body.

Personal interpretation, and the continuation of that interpretation through teaching is usually the reason why we differ in certain areas. That is not always the case, but it is the main difference that gives birth to all our other differences.

The Church teaches that either a valid confession or an act of perfect contrition will remove the eternal punishment due to mortal sin.

So any soul in mortal sin that doesn’t take advantage of one of these means of forgiveness will go to hell, yes.

Since Protestants don’t have a valid sacrament of confession, their only resource is perfect contrition.

In the end it’s much easier to get to Heaven as a Catholic, since even imperfectly contrite souls are forgiven by a priest’s absolution.

As an aside, it’s interesting to hear this in such a blunt way from a non-Catholic Christian. Does that lack of ultimate authoritative source ever bother you in situations like this? If not, why? How much do you trust your personal interpretation?

As an evangelical once you have asked Jesus to be your personal Savior, you are “no longer a sinner but a saint,” Your sins are somehow covered by the blood of Jesus and as such God only sees that rather than your sins. When I was an evangelical that concept practically drove me to the brink of insanity. It was only when I was taught the Catholic idea of salvation as being a process rather than a one time event then I was able to see myself as a child of God. When you confess to God through a priest your sins are actually taken away rather than just “covered over” like animal droppings covered with snow, to paraphrase Luther.

Does the Catechism have clauses, is it some kind of contract or rule book then?

I thought it was a teaching aid for educating Catholics. Why do you think it applies to non-Catholics?

Because, despite of the corpus of writings of the Early Church Fathers on the matter - and the fact that they learned the faith from the apostles or their immediate successors during centuries in which there was no Bible as we know it today - each protestant doctrine follows the interpretation that has been passed on to them, and each interpretation is different.

So we go from the protestant community believing in general confession to the protestant community believing that even if they sin God won’t care and still admit them to heaven, to the protestant community that believes there is in fact no such thing as hell and that all will go to heaven (now we are stepping into pseudo-Christianity of course, but still they term themselves Christian, so go figure).

Someone born within such a community has no way to know that the doctrine contains elements of heresy (and of course they all share the common belief that the Catholic Church is wrong, so they won’t take note of our teaching authority on the matter and ignore us when we point out the error from the standpoint of both Scripture and Tradition). To acknowledge even the slightest error in the protestant doctrine of their community requires a heroic act of faith, for it would require one to immediately depart from it and follow the truthful doctrine.

Unfortunately this has been an issue literally since apostolic days :shrug: Clement of Rome, third successor of Peter as well as his disciple, wrote around 90 AD:

Heretical teachers pervert Scripture and try to get into Heaven with a false key, for they have formed their human assemblies later than the Catholic Church. From this previously-existing and most true Church, it is very clear that these later heresies, and others which have come into being since then, are counterfeit and novel inventions.

Now, as for the Sacrament of Confession in Scripture and Tradition, we can offer a few quotes.

Confession in Sacred Scripture

John 20:21 - before He grants them the authority to forgive sins, Jesus says to the apostles, “as the Father sent me, so I send you.” As Christ was sent by the Father to forgive sins, so Christ sends the apostles and their successors forgive sins.

John 20:22 - the Lord “breathes” on the apostles, and then gives them the power to forgive and retain sins. The only other moment in Scripture where God breathes on man is in Gen. 2:7, when the Lord “breathes” divine life into man. When this happens, a significant transformation takes place.

John 20:23 - Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In order for the apostles to exercise this gift of forgiving sins, the penitents must orally confess their sins to them because the apostles are not mind readers.

Matt. 9:8 - this verse shows that God has given the authority to forgive sins to “men.” Hence, those Protestants who acknowledge that the apostles had the authority to forgive sins (which this verse demonstrates) must prove that this gift ended with the apostles. Otherwise, the apostles’ successors still possess this gift. Where in Scripture is the gift of authority to forgive sins taken away from the apostles or their successors?

Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10 - Christ forgave sins as a man (not God) to convince us that the “Son of man” has authority to forgive sins on earth.

Luke 5:24 - Luke also points out that Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is as a man, not God. The Gospel writers record this to convince us that God has given this authority to men. This authority has been transferred from Christ to the apostles and their successors.

Matt. 18:18 - the apostles are given authority to bind and loose. The authority to bind and loose includes administering and removing the temporal penalties due to sin. The Jews understood this since the birth of the Church.

John 20:22-23; Matt. 18:18 - the power to remit/retain sin is also the power to remit/retain punishment due to sin.

2 Cor. 2:10 - Paul forgives in the person of Christ:

Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

cui autem aliquid donatis et ego nam et ego quod donavi si quid donavi propter vos in persona Christi, ut non circumveniamur a Satana non enim ignoramus cogitationes eius.

2 Cor. 5:18 - the ministry of reconciliation was given to the ambassadors of the Church. This ministry of reconciliation refers to the sacrament of reconciliation, also called the sacrament of confession or penance.

James 5:15-16 - in verse 15 we see that sins are forgiven by the priests in the sacrament of the sick. This is another example of man’s authority to forgive sins on earth. Then in verse 16, James says “Therefore, confess our sins to one another,” in reference to the men referred to in verse 15, the priests of the Church.

Lev. 5:4-6; 19:21-22 - even under the Old Covenant, God used priests to forgive and atone for the sins of others.

Acts 19:18 - many came to orally confess sins and divulge their sinful practices.

1 John 5:16-17; Luke 12:47-48 - there is a distinction between mortal and venial sins.


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