Refusal to do penance

Ok… this may be long, so don’t say that I didn’t give fair warning… :wink:

Last October (late) or early November, I was assigned a penance to (if I could find it) read what I later found out to be a heretical book (one of those Rick Warren “Purpose Driven” drivel books). I couldn’t find it at the time, but I’ve seen the particular book at a few of my local stores the past couple of months. At the time I accepted the penance (although I don’t remember being asked if I could fufill the penance at the time… I thought the priest was supposed to make sure that it could be completed before it was assigned) I was unaware of how non-Catholic this book was (I also was pretty uneducated in my faith at the time… thanks be to God that’s in the process of changing).

I have heard that refusal to complete a penance is an additional sin, and since I haven’t confessed that at all in the past 6 or so months, every single confession and reception of the Eucharist could be sacreligious since I’ve been in a state of mortal sin, and piling up each time I thought I was making a good and complete confession!

So, what to do? First off, is refusal to do this penance (seeing how contrary to the faith those books are) a mortal sin? Secondly, if it is, do I need to do a general confession starting back from 6 months ago, plus add on the numerous times I’ve both confessed and received unworthily? I’m really in a state of panic over this!!! I would rather not go back to the priest who assigned this penance in the first place, as this is not his only… unconventional penance I’ve ever been assigned. My regular confessor is out of town until Friday… so I can’t ask him until then, and I’ll REALLY be in a state of panic if I have to wait for an answer until then.

Thanks in advance for everyones answers!


This is a bizarre penance.

I would judge that you are not in a state of mortal sin from not doing this penance. There wasn’t a time limit on it and you later judged that this wasn’t a good book. But at the time that you were given absolution you intended to read. So your sins were really forgiven.

You wrote: I have heard that refusal to complete a penance is an additional sin, and since I haven’t confessed that at all in the past 6 or so months, every single confession and reception of the Eucharist could be sacreligious since I’ve been in a state of mortal sin, and piling up each time I thought I was making a good and complete confession! If you really intended to make a good confession, your sins were forgiven.

My suggestion would be to turn to the Lord, tell him of your confusion and that if you have sinned you are truly sorry, and ask his mercy. Trust in His mercy and don’t panic. Then, this weekend go to your regular confessor or another priest and tell him exactly what you wrote in this forum. Trust his judgment about this situation as to whether you should or should not re-confess everything from the past six months. I doubt that he will require you to read the book or repeat the confessions in the interim.

If the priest that gave you that penance is not the pastor, I would recommend that you make an appointment with the pastor and tell him about this penance. It is one thing for a priest to suggest that a particular book might be helpful to you. But to tell you to read a secular book as a penance is not something that should be done. If no one tells the pastor (or bishop) about the ‘unconventional’ penances of this priest, he won’t be advised to change his ways.


Thank you SO much for your reassuring post! I’ve somewhat suspected that what you advised (especially about the intention of making good confessions) was the case, but I do have a tendancy to be a bit on the scrupulous side (though so far haven’t been labeled as scrupulous)… I need to remember that doubt and fear is from Satan (and boy, oh boy, have I gone through ALOT of doubt and fear the past day or so!!)… so each time that crops up, I need to tell him exactly where to go :slight_smile: I will talk to my regular confessor this Friday (the day after he returns) after morning Mass. I trust his judgement when it comes to moral matters… he refers to the Catechism and the writings of the Doctors of the Church when in doubt. I also am going to pray a Chaplet of Divine Mercy tomorrow (or, er… rather later today), and meditate on Christ’s unending fount of mercy and his Sacred Heart.

As far as the priest who gave me the penance in the first place… he is the resident pastor at that parish. I live in a diocese where there aren’t too many Pastor/associate pastor fillings… just the one priest who is designated as pastor of the parish. I know of at least 6 parishes in the surrounding counties that don’t even have a resident priest right off the top of my head. There are also several missions that are attended to by priests who are residents of other parishes. I highly suspect there are more than I am even aware of in this rural diocese.

I do not wish to bad-mouth anyone who has been ordained to the priesthood (and 99.9% of the time, I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone who has received Holy Orders), but I think that it’s very telling that I’m not the only person who does not pray Mass at the parish he’s assigned to. There are at least 5 others who live in the geographical boundaries of that particular parish who pray Mass where I currently do. I have the shortest drive of them all (and it’s still 35-40 minute drive for me). I am unsure how much stock to put in what I have been told regarding this ‘unconventional’ priest, but… I have heard the some of the same hair-raising and heart-beat pumping (due to shock, horror, and outrage) by different people at different times… some by people trying to criticise him and others who are “praising” his unconventional ways. None I have witnessed for myself (except a few inappropiate jokes and these penances). Any advise on how to deal with that would also be VERY greatly appreciated.

Thank you again!!


Yes… :slight_smile:

Just put off your penance, and wait for your next confession to a better confessor and ask for a different one to replace it.

It’s not a sin to delay a penance. And an improper penance is void at best.

I’d concur with Claire’s advice, but add that, if it is the pastor, talk with the bishop.

So, I confessed this yesterday. I didn’t have to do a general confession for the past 6 months, though I got assigned another penance in place of the one I didn’t do.

As far as my geographic pastor… Writing to the Bishop? …GULP:eek:… I’ve only written to the Bishop once (in defense of my current priest/confessor… long story, so would need a separate thread)… I would have no idea in how to write to him about this penance (and a few of the liturgical… oddities I’ve personally witnessed). If anyone could just give me a suggestion to get me started, I would be greatly appreciative.


I am not sure about this, maybe someone can help here, but wouldn’t it violate the seal of the Confessional for a priest to discuss the penance he gave a particular person, or for the Pastor or Bishop to even ask about it?

Yes it would. I also wonder, what makes the book he asked the OP to read heritical. I haven’t read it but I know our men’s group read it.

I read the book and did the workbook. Generally it was a good book, but the author is a Protestant pastor and some of what he writes comes from that viewpoint. A Catholic should be able to recognize when this appears. It was not so bad that one should term it “heretical”, because a lot of it involves basic Christianity not in conflict with the Catholic Church. The main objection is the Evangelical approach to evangelizing and salvation. I found it helpful in some areas, in putting priorities straight and examining one’s life, and in finding the place of service in one’s life.

However, I cannot understand why a priest would recommend this book for a penance when there are so many Catholic books out there for our edification.:shrug:

Probably a letter written to the bishop would be passed on down to someone who would be considered that priest’s superior. That’s what happens in my diocese. That person would talk to the pastor.

That person wouldn’t say, “Mary Jones from your parish says you gave her as a penance to read a secular book.” It would more likely be, “We have received a letter from someone. The writer was disturbed by a penance you allegedly gave which was to read a secular book. If this was accurate or if you typically give such a penance, I advise you to give this as a suggestion but not as a penance.”

It is most unlikely that the penitent’s name would be given because the priest would not even be able to confirm or deny that the person had ever confessed to him.

The priest would be able to say, “I sometimes give a penance like that.” Or he could get into a conversation about what is appropriate as a penance. Or he could just keep silent. He could not go into specifics about any confession, even to defend himself, and neither could his superior.

I’m going to suggest a different tact then everyone else.

Read the book. Then you don’t have that nagging feeling that you weren’t obedient to the priest I can tell you are having. Or not doing a penance.

No one says you have to take everything in the book to heart. In fact, it might even be both a learning experience and beneficial for you to compare what the book says to the Catechism.

Turn what you think is a poor penance into an opportunity to learn how to dispute certain protestant arguments. It’ll make you a better apologist when you can sit down and study the arguments before someone asks you questions about the faith.

Perhaps you should also ask the original priest why he assigned that penance, and how it was supposed to benefit you. After all, the only one he can really talk to about that confession is you.

I realize why you would panick.

But to make things easier and not judging the priest wait until your pastor returns on Friday and ask him. He is educatred in situation like this.

Try to do some hobby do get your mind set-free.

Try to relax until you see your pastor.

God bless you now.


It might be that there was a certain passage in Warren’s book that he thought might be helpful.

It could also be that he simply made a mistake in mentioning this book, when what he thought would be helpful was in another book.

It wouldn’t hurt to make a private appointment and ask for clarification, and maybe even explain why you’re not finding the book helpful.

One of the things about a penance is supposed to be medicinal. What does the doctor tell you to do if he prescribes a medicine that doesn’t help, or is even harmful?

Think about it.


Are you sure this was a PENANCE and not something given by way of SPIRITUAL COUNSEL? I’ve had Confessors suggest Scriptures, books, articles, and prayers they thought would help my spiritual growth which had NOTHING to do with my PENANCE.

Your Brother in Christ, Michael

Here’s an article you might find helpful-

Of course many Catholics will want to read it anyway so they should get something like this-

First point… according to Merrian-Webster, heresy is defined as: " a: dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice". As was pointed out in the link provided by Seatuck (thanks!) at the very least, these books rely upon Sola Scriptura. Since up until the mid 1500’s, the dominant (and only) theory and opinion was Scriputre and Tradition, anything but that theory is a dissent or deviation… hence my use of the term heresy. I am unsure of the exact natures of the other heresies in this book, but if there is one, I would not be terribly surprised there are others. Besides, as another poster pointed out, there are many… MANY other wonderful Catholic books out there, that one does not need to go through a spiritual landmind to get the “good parts”.

As far as the surity of it being a penance… I specifically remember the sentence “Now, for your penance, read The Purpose Driven Christmas.” (written by the same author… similar book, just with more reflections about Christmas). I am very sure that he meant this book and this author as a penance, as a couple of the Advent Masses he read some of the passages out of it for/in place of a homily. This was one of the many reasons why I have not attended my geographic parish since right around Christmas time.

Thanks a bunch for everyone’s advise/input! May God bless you!


How do you know thats how it happens? In most diocese, when the chancery gets a letter about a priest, they copy the letter and send it to the priest.

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