The priest is not the one who forgives. The forgiveness comes from Jesus. Before every confession the priest calls upon Jesus to come. He is simply performing a service for Jesus.
Just like the 12 apostles were given the authority to forgive only by the Holy Spirit which Jesus breathed on them.
Now lets look at the succesion of this which continues on today;
First Generation: “me” = Paul, “an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Saviour and of Jesus Christ our hope” (1 Tim 1:1)
Second Generation: “you” = Timothy, who was most likely ordained by Paul: “Do not neglect the gift you have which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.” (1 Tim 4:14) “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” (2 Tim 1:6)
Third Generation: “faithful men” = successors who will receive this “imposition of hands” after Timothy.
Catholics believe that what is handed down in succession is twofold: (1) the teaching of Christ given to the Apostles (known as Apostolic Tradition), and (2) the power to teach it with binding authority, one aspect of the “gift” conferred 1 Tim 4:14 above (known as Apostolic Authority)
Catholics feel that the sinner sins in the material world and therefore the forgiveness must also manifest itself in the material world as well as in heaven. The only way that this can happen is through a human being - a priest. Jesus recognized that forgiveness must still be manifested in the material world after he died. This is why he commissioned the apostles to do it, and this is why Catholics believe this has continued to this day through priestly secession in obedience to Jesus’ command “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” This does not take away from Christ’s role as the One True Priest, it actually empowers his role on earth. There is a great song by Evangelical Christian bock band Audio Adrenaline that says, “I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet.” Catholics have no problem that Jesus has ordained some to act on his behalf in the material world.
One of the big complaints against the Catholic practice of Confession with a priest is that people can just run back to the Priest every week and live poorly the rest of the time. God was clear that it will not go well for those who willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth. (Heb 10:26) So if a Catholic makes insincere confession there could be some serious “Temporal Punishment.” And God knows the heart. In my experience, the Catholics who go to confession are usually sincere. The nominal Catholics (the Christmas and Easter crowd) wouldn’t be caught anywhere near a confessional.
Here are some other biblical passages Catholics like to note:
2 Cor 5:18-19 "…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…"
2 Cor 2:10-11 “What I have forgiven… in the presence of Christ…” Paul has forgiven people’s sins in the name of Christ.
1 John 1:19 "If we confess our sins…"
James 5:14-16 "…Let him call for the elders of the church… he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another…"
2 Chronicles 26:1, Uzziah was chastised for performing priestly functions because he wasn’t a priest. He got leprosy and died
We must remember, the priest is not the one who forgives. The forgiveness comes from Jesus. Before every confession the priest calls upon Jesus to come. He is simply performing a service for Jesus.