My aunt claimed that she has been refused absolution during confession when she admitted to being in a civil marriage. Since then, she has been avoiding confession altogether for fear of repeating the incident. Her husband has atheistic views, so getting married in the church would pose as a problem too. Should she still pursue confession despite all that’s happened?
The sacrament of confession requires that there be some attempt to rectify our wrong choices. If someone in a civil marriage refuses to attempt to correct their situation then the priest could refuse absolution since the sin is ongoing.
Assuming there are no other impediments, there is a solution to your aunt’s situation. It’s called a radical sanation. A radical sanation is when a regular validation is not possible and so the Bishop chooses to accept the original vows of the civil marriage. One spouse’s refusal to exchange the vows in a new ceremony would suffice for a reason for the radical sanation.
This process begins with the local parish priest. He will need to collect the necessary sacramental and civil records. He will also want to be assured as much as possible that you and your husband from the moment of your civil vow have been and will continue to be (until death) faithful to the Church’s understanding of marriage. He would then forward the paperwork to the Bishop’s office for review and approval.
The diocese of Los Angeles has good information on their site: Radical Sanation Instructions