Is the "Total obedience in one's confessor" for the scrupulous a Church teaching?


We know of the age-old advice to cure scrupulosity: The scruple should place complete trust in the advice of their confessor in regards to knowing what they are doing is lawful or not, even if the confessor is mistaken.

I always assumed this was a church teaching, based on how absolute everyone made the rule seem, but I never found an actual document from the Church stating this. All I’ve come across are apologetics and saints giving pius advice.

This causes some alarm in me. How can a scruple trust in this advice if it hasn’t ever been taught in an authoritative manner by the Church?
(or has it?)


It’s authoritative in the sense that lots of Popes (and saints) have applauded the virtue of obedience towards a Confessor and its value.

I wouldn’t expect some kind of Ex Cathedra statement talking about it, if that’s what you’re looking for. There’s a very selective number of things that fall under dogma and as far as I know they all came about as a result of major crisis or attack on the Faith, not arbitrarily.


Not everything has to be spelled out in Church teaching. Some things are just reasonable. Having that kind of accountability with one’s confessor is simply a wise and practical way to deal with the issue of scruples.



It’s practical advice — “if someone whose brain is not lying to them about such things tells you a behavior isn’t sinful, listen to them” — backed up with the Church’s general principle of obedience to lawful spiritual authority.

Your brain is also lying to you about not being able to trust any guidance not formulated as a formal Church teaching, by the way.


I am personally not too sure about this. Note the word personally.

I very “loudly” protested child abuse when I was in my early teens, and was made to do severe penance due to disobedience to the church when I would not shut up about it. I felt then, as I still do, that my confessor was dead wrong. So may the Lord forgive me if I do still question advice, especially when it goes against the grain.

That incident when I was very young may have “damaged” my trust somehow. I have since then not “obeyed” my confessor in one other aspect which just felt wrong. I sourced two another confessors to confirm my doubts. Maybe I should have done this when I was younger too, look for another priest….hindsight is always 20/20 like they say. I guess I was too young to know any better….sigh.

PS. I have since spoken to a priest about this lack of total and immediate obedience on my part, explained why, and he understood. Told me to learn to discern things on my own, aside from speaking to a priest. And when in doubt, look for a second opinion. :blush: So far so good. Apologies to God fearing priests who give solid advice for my attitude. Just ran into the wrong people at the wrong time I guess.


I have suffered from intense scrupulosity until I worked with a spiritual director.

Well, first I would say that there is instruction pamphlets online that have the “Nihil obstat and Imprimatur” that give the advice to trust completely in a spiritual director’s advice. I even own a book on scrupulosity that has a “imprimatur” That is worth something.

No, there is no Church document from The Vatican about Scrupulosity that stated the advice you want in a “authoritative manner” At least that I know of either. And, believe me, I have looked for as much info about the topic as humanly possible.

The matter is simply not on such a grand level of a problem in The Church that it has been addressed. Scrupulosity is not on anyone in the Vatican’s mind I am sure. Scrupulous people are a small minority. The bigger concern is those with a lax conscience. If there was a big heresy revolving around scrupulosity that was leading many away then perhaps The Vatican would address scrupulosity and give a “authoritative” outline of what a scrupulous person is to do.

Since no such thing exists, we can only work with what we have. And what we have is very learned men and women and saints and clergy who overwhelmingly agree that a scrupulous person should follow certain guidelines. These guidelines, at the very least, do not contradict Catholic Teaching in any way. THAT is all The Church has to offer us now on Scrupulosity. With the approval of some Bishops who have the authority to give a “nihil obstat’ or 'imprimatur” God does not expect more of us than what is possible. And that is ALL we have to go by at this time. How will God condemn anyone for following the advice of a loving Cleric or saint trying to help us with our affliction?

It is learning to Trust Gods mercy and love when one can listen to their spiritual director in regards to scrupulosity. I admitted to God that I did not trust Him fully and that was ]why I felt I needed to treat every little sin as if it was grave matter and I was so worried that I was going to go to hell for every little sin. Either I was going to trust only myself and make God let me into heaven by torturing myself in my scrupulosity and probably mess it up and be sent to hell anyways or I was going to trust that someone that I knew was more holy than me MIGHT know a bit better than me. My money is on Gods mercy and that holy priest who God put in my life to help me. And thanks be to God, my scrupulosity is 95% under control now and has been for about 2 years.


Scruples are a form of anxiety/OCD. Rather than deal with problems as they arise, I would address the OCD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is drug free and is the gold standard for anxiety/OCD therapy. Millions have benefited from it. You deserve to live in peace.

Just saying.


I spoke to a psychologist and she asked me how I was doing and I said fine thanks. She asked me how my faith had helped me and I told her simply that counselling and psychological techniques are great but do they give you complete relief from all life’s problems? She said no, I told her that strong belief in God and the teachings of Christ do. She could see my point.

If faith can move mountains perhaps it can also heal scrupulosity, no?


It seems that recovery is not an either/or situation, but a both/and

Sirach 38:1 “Deny not a physician his due for thy need’s sake; his task is of divine appointment”
Sirach 38:9 “Son, when thou fallest sick, do not neglect thy own needs; pray to the Lord, and thou shalt win recovery.”
Sirach 38:11b-13 “and so leave the physician to do his work. His task is of divine appointment, and thou hast need of him; let him be ever at thy side. Needs must, at times, to physicians thou shouldst have recourse”


Father you are giving medical advice here. "The issues of scruples’ is a mental illness, OCD. Scruples are a religious manifestation of it, just as people who have hallucinations are more likely to have religious hallucinations if that it their background. OCD needs treatment.


OCD does need treatment, which is one of the things a confessor or spiritual director would be prudent to advise in cases of scruples. But we cannot deny that there’s a spiritual aspect to these things; nothing is solely a physiological or psychological problem, since we are body, mind, and spirit. The problem must be dealt with on all fronts. This is why I routinely advise people on here who are apparently scrupulous to sell the help of a priest and a mental health professional. And what I have said is no more medical advice than if I’d said that someone who’s physically ill should see a doctor. I’m simply talking about what’s prudent in the course of answering the question asked.


Father, to be clear: I was saying that the quote above was ‘medical advice’. I stand by that. You did not suggest seeing medical professional. You said that a ‘wise and practical way to deal with the issue of scruples’ was to follow the direction of a confessor.


That is not how it works. Scrupulosity is very much a mental illness most the time and cant be “faith’d away” as nice as it would be. It can be a form of OCD. St. Alphonsus Liguori dealt with scrupulosity his whole life and I am sure he had a lot of faith. The Church recommends trusting a spiritual director. If just “faith” healed scrupulosity that would be the recommendation. Also people with other illnesses like cancer would be able to “Faith” themselves healed. That is just not how it works. A priest would never tell someone with OCD “Just have faith and you might be cured” I mean he might tell him that but first he is going to tell them to “Go see a doctor” you know?


Perhaps I should be clear. If you have a strong faith then you might pray for healing. When we pray we not only commune with with God we also affect our own minds, our psychology, both these things can affect our physiology.

I’m sure I read somewhere that saints have healed too.


Indeed one should pray but it is not wise to presume you can overcome scrupulosity without help just by praying. Believe me, I have read account after account of scrupulosity and not many (Like, almost none) have gotten better without help. Yes, we should pray to be healed but would a good priest tell a person with a disease to simply have faith for healing? Sure… but also “Get help” and “do treatment”. God gave us doctors for a reason. It is not a lack of faith to see a doctor or this case a spiritual director. It is wise. Also, God does not heal everyone regardless of faith. I am sure many people with great faith die every year with all kinds of diseases. There is no promise from God that he will “Move mountains” every single time with Faith. Sometimes God tells us “No” such as with St Alphonsus Liguori who is the patron saint of confessors and suffered from scrupulosity his whole life. God never healed him and I am sure he had a lot of Faith, he became a saint after all.


Generally speaking I agree with you about this, I’m just reminding the casual reader of the importance and power of prayer.

The promise we were given;
Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Father Solanus Casey relied heavily on this promise.


Fair enough. I was just worried you were going to be telling people with terminal diseases to just have faith and they might be healed. Yeah, maybe but also see a doctor, ya know?


I do admit, this does happen to me many times; even with Saints.

Sometimes it gets as bad as “If it isn’t written in an Ecumenical council or ex cathedra statement, I can’t trust it completely”

Sometimes I even doubt the Catechism, unless its something to where they cite the above mentioned.

It even gets bad enough to where I have trouble trusting an INTERPRETATION or EXPLANATION of a Council document or ex cathedra statement by someone, even a Saint. “There interpretation isn’t infallible. It’s not mentioned in any of the Church documents”.


I am going to tell anyone here who is scrupulous to follow their spiritual directors advice or to get a spiritual director. It is not the same as giving “medical advice” and if it is then let the mods remove it and suspend me. They wont, because it is not medical advice. Do you know the suffering of scrupulosity? I do.


Wait, who told you to do penance because you were calling out abusive priests? That was just plain wrong. You did the right thing.

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