"Morally impossible" to go to Confession - what does that mean?

I was browsing through the Catholic Answers cite and came across something on who can receive the Eucharist and in one part of it it listed 4 things that if they apply could cause someone with a mortal sin to receive the Eucharist and one of those 4 things were that it had to be either physically or “morally impossible” to go to Confession. What does that really mean?

How could it ever be morally impossible to go to Confession?

I have no idea what it means to be morally impossible. to me if there was something that was a great magnitude morally detrimental i would thing a person would be running to confession.

Can you post a link so we can see exactly what it said?


Perhaps it refers to someone who does have not the intellectual development whether do to disease, injury, birth defect?

Just a guess…

Was it here?


Note that there are four conditions that must be fulfilled before going to Communion:

There must be a grave reason to receive Communion (e.g., danger of death).
It must be physically or morally impossible to go to confession first.
The person must already be in a state of grace through perfect contrition.
The person must resolve to go to confession as soon as possible.

I can imagine two scenarios:

  1. My habitual sin is, say, using contraception. I’ve confessed it to this priest in the past and each time he has said “That is no sin”. After several times he has told me not to confess it to him again. If I have to confess using contraception then it may be morally impossible to confess to that priest.

  2. My habitual sin is, say, sleeping in and being late for Mass. Each time I’ve confessed it the priest has yelled at me, so loud that it can be heard outside the confessional. If I had to confess it again then it may be morally impossible to confess to that priest.

  3. I’m not sure about this one, but I’ll put it out there. I have a position of trust in the parish and have betrayed it, eg. I am a collection counter and have stolen from the collection. It may be preferable not to confess to the parish priest, or even “morally impossible” to do so in some situations.

The first two scenarios are based on “real-life” situations I’ve heard of, and are also similar to situations I’ve been in (although with not exactly these details).

The Church does accept that it may not be possible to confess to a particular priest, for a variety of reasons.

I am not certain on this, but I think physical inability to actually get to a Priest as from illness or disability, or the total absence of a Priest as can occur in some areas where a Priest can be in the area only 1-2 times a year, but a Communion Service can still be held.

The morally impossible situation may be that the person does not the mental capacity to be held totally responsible for the sin. Like someone with a brain injury who no longer can be said to act freely or to understand circumstances, or someone who is developmentally disabled and who cannot comprehend what a mortal sin is.

You have given me reason to review this topic and the related situations. Thanks.

Ask an Apologist!


A “moral impossibility” is something that is not physically a totally impossible thing to do, but which is so difficult that it is practically impossible (or it’s a really bad idea).

For example, let’s say that an evil government said that they weren’t going to outlaw receiving Communion, but that Mass could only be said in open space or 300 feet under the sea in open water, with all the attendees in separate individual airsuits or spacesuits. Obviously it would be physically possible (barely) for the attendees to receive Communion by unscrewing their helmets, and they might possibly even survive the experience (barely). But it would be a moral impossibility to do all that silly, murderous jumping of hoops. (So you’d be better off just holding secret Masses on dry ground on Earth, or even inside perfectly good buildings.)

So if going to Confession means that you have to walk two weeks to get there and then walk two weeks back, starving most of the way, and you also have to cross a multi-lane superhighway on foot while endangering other people and risking rape, mugging, and murder by the neighborhood on the way there, that would be a moral impossibility too.

Moral impossibilities can also involve thinking of other people’s safety, or your own. For example, you’re not obliged to go to church when you’re contagiously sick, because it would be physically possible for you but it would endanger others who are more frail than you.

For another example, it may be physically possible for you to make it to Mass a couple miles away by walking there after a really bad ice storm, but there’s also a strong possibility that you’re putting yourself in danger of injury. The time I did that, I found out abruptly that it was not quite physically possible for me to make it to church (when I suddenly fell and broke my arm in two places); so I should have had the sense to see beforehand that it was morally impossible.

It doesn’t have to be anywhere near that difficult, to be morally impossible. But there do have to be grave circumstances, or really stupid circumstances.

IMO, it already says everything that needs to be said. But if you like, I’ll make up an example: if I am physically able to get to confession, but only by leaving someone alone who is extremely ill and needs me to be there, then I would say it is “morally impossible” for me to go to confession.

Maybe it means that, in order to confess the sin, it would be necessary to mention something that would indict another person whom the priest knows? Or maybe if the
priest was actually involved somehow, it would be hard or very difficult to get around that.:shrug:

I think Peter J’s explanation is a good one.

It probably can mean a number of things.

Wouldn’t that (mental incapcity/brain injury) still be a physical problem vs. a moral problem?

That makes sense…but if that same person is able to manage to leave that sick person to go to Mass to receive Holy Communion, why couldn’t do the same thing to get to Confession?

No priest I’ve ever Confessed to has ever asked for names…???

Priests are always willing to come to the sick to give the sacraments, so this would not be a realistic scenario.

My understanding is that if one becomes mentally impaired to the extent that they cannot morally feel contrition for their sins, or even be aware of them, then it is “morally impossible” to confess them.

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