Restitution for sins as condition for absolution?


I recently read an article by Jimmy Akin in which he writes that if someone committed murder, the priest would be wrong to have him turn himself in as a precondition for absolution.

BUT…let’s use the example of stealing. Let’s say a guy stole an iPad from someone, went to confession for it, but admitted in confession that he’s not yet returned it. Ought not the priest receive an assurance that he intends to return it? If he doesn’t return it, then how sorry can he be?


Things can be returned without “turning oneself in”. Or it can even as I recall be dealt with at times in other ways (the Priest can guide the person accordingly).


This is true, but could the priest make returning the iPad anonymously a precondition before absolving him?


As I understand it, no one has said reversing the sin you committed, as far as you can, can’t be a penance.

That’s what you’ll be doing in Purgatory, anyway, isn’t it?

Of course, the priest can’t make you confess your sins to anyone else. But he can have you, say, if you broke a window and lied about it, replace the window (assuming you could afford to). You don’t need to say why you are replacing it. You could say you are doing it out of the goodness of your heart (which would be true, hopefully).

Same with stealing. Paying someone for goods stolen, or making a “donation”, need not necessarily be an act of self-incrimination.



The penitent must be willing to make restitution. The priest can advise the penitent of the responsibility to return it, but cannot attach that as a precondition to absolution.

To clarify:
What cannot happen here is a “precondition” to absolution. That’s the point.


A priest cannot compel a penitent to do anything that would betray the penitent’s identity or the sin itself.

Now, if the victim already knows who broke the window, that’s different because it’s not revealing the sin or the sinner. Those facts are already known.

The same applies to a public sin—one that is already known to others. If the sin itself, and the guilty party are already known to the community, then the priest can impose some kind of “visible” penance.


restitution in some way is part of the repentance of the theft…but he cannot though say "now go give it back to him’ for that would make him tell of his sin.


As a precondition to absolution? No. But he can remind the person that not providing restitution, if serious enough, could be another sin in and of itself. Notably, not providing proper restitution to a person whom you have wronged could be considered a form of lying by omission.


This really needs some clarification.

A priest cannot actually require the act of restitution as a pre-condition for absolution.

But he might (depending on circumstances) require a willingness to provide restitution, since that goes to proper contrition.


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