Need help with a question on the Sacrament of Confession

Had a question and am not sure how to answer it. I would appreciate any help.

Lets say someone is in the confessional. They do one of two things. 1) They purposely keep back a sin and do not confess it or 2) they are not really sorry for the sins that are confessed. The Priest then gives absolution.

Because of the two scenarios above, does this individual really receive absolution? Is this a valid confession (how is the Priest to know, he does not have ESP, and Jesus knows what your are holding back)?

Thanks for your help.

If memory serves me correctly, the sin not confessed remains if it is knowingly not confessed. If accidently not confessed (the person simply forgot about it), it is forgiven, but the Church recommends the person confess it at a later date when recalled.

If you confess a sin with the intention of committing it again, you might as well stay home. That one is definitely not forgiven.

I bet those here will have a lot more eloquent responses than I, but that’s how I remember it.

  1. If they purposely keep back a serious (mortal) sin, the confession is not valid. What’s the point of going to confession if not to confess serious sins?

Not confessing venial sins has no effect on the confession, since we are not required to confess them.

  1. What does “not really sorry” mean? One can be sorry because (a) one has offended God by doing the sin, or (b) one is afraid of going to hell for the sin. Either a or b is sufficient for confession and for valid absolution.

If one is just not sorry at all in any way for the sin, what’s the point of going to confession? Lack of any sorrow either for God’s sake or for the avoidance of punishment would make the confession invalid and pointless. The priest has to assume by the mere fact of the penitent’s presence in the confessional that he is sorry to some degree for the sin. Otherwise he wouldn’t be there.

See, I told you. Much more eloquent than I.

Jim, that makes me wonder about knowingly leaving out a mortal sin. Does that invalidate the whole confession, or is just that one sin not forgiven?

Never thought about that one before…

If one conceals a mortal sin by deliberately leaving it out of the confession, the whole confession is invalid. (But if one just forgets to confess it, the confession is valid and the forgotten sin is forgiven.) Intent to conceal is the determinant here.



Thanks for your response. It is a great help to me.

The prior replies were good and correct Catholic teaching.
One poster mentioned that there are 2 inner dispositions associated with confession: 1) Sincere sorrow for offending God that extends from real love of God and 2) the less ideal motive of just wanting to avoid hell but recognizing God’s justice and the need to repent.

#1 is the best confession since one is confessing out of genuine remorsefulness for being selfish and inconsiderate in offending God. By better I mean that it is possble that God will hold us to less severe personal penance (to be paid either on earth or in purgatory).

#2 is least desirable but absolutely preferable to living in sin and risking dieing impenetant. This is a typical case where a “Sunday morning only” Christian who goes to mass out of duty rather than desire but lives the rest of the week pretty much indifferent to God is just not in a deep relationship with God. This is indicative of a luke-warm relationship and a person who needs to really wake up and get mature in their faith. It is very common though for those who are deeply into the secular world and not living a daily prayer life.

God reads the human heart and knows when there is fear based confession vs love and relational based confession. A person who is confessing simply to avoid damnation will normally have a higher personal penance requirement from God. In other words even though the sin is forgiven there is remains a consequence that only God Himself knows about. This temporal debt may require this person to suffer more severely in either life or later in purgatory or a combination at God’s election. We can however, immediately start offsetting the temporal debts of our forgiven sins through genuine prayer rather than letting it all build up for purgatory. Purgatory is no cake walk and we should try very hard to not have to spend much or any time there. The saints have revealed to us that those in purgatory would gladly have suffered the worst pains on earth to escape the intensity of even a moment in purgatory. In fact purgatory is said to have the same spiritual intensity of suffering as the souls in the upper regions of hell but the intense joy of certain salvation makes the suffering a suffrage of love.

This is why it is first of all important to come to confession out of genuine sorrow for offending God (case #1 above). To these God will be more lenient in remitting temporal debts. If one is honest one will know the difference and where he stands here. This is also why all Catholics should practices indulgences and do extra personal penance up and above what the priest gives. I am talking about praying deliberately for an extended time (perhaps in front of the Blessed Sacrament) and doing daily rosaries and working full plenary indulgences. This kind of personal penance will help one genuinely repent and not only help us work to remit our temporal debts but also speed our repentance and transformation so we don’t repeat the same sins over and over again.


From the catechism:

1491 The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.

1492 Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called “perfect” contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called “imperfect.”

1493 One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.

For Scenario 2: If the person is not really sorry, there is no repentance (aka contrition). If we aren’t seeking forgiveness, we won’t be forgiven.

For Scenario 1: We are to confess the unconfessed grave sins that we remember. We are encouraged to confess venial sins also but it is not required.

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