Role of priest during confession


Hello everyone,
I would like to know why Catholics are required to confess their sins to a priest. I was born and raised a protestant and was taught that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and us and that we can confidently approach the throne of grace knowing that God hears and answers our prayers in the name of Jesus, and that we can confess our sins directly to God. He will forgive us provided we are truly repentant and contrite in spirit. If we need counseling, we are to seek out a counselor or a member of the clergy for advice and counsel. I want to better understand the role of the priest during confession because I realize it is important to Catholics.

Side note:
Can a protestant go one time to a confessional to experience it if he is sincere and truly repentant of his sins? I thought of doing that once but figured I was ineligible because I was protestant and figured they would probably kick me out.

Respectfully in Christ,


Catechism of the Catholic Church has:1422 "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion."4

1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

  • reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
  • reconciliation with the Church;
  • remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
  • remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
  • peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
  • an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
    The confession is to God with a priest representing the Church as a minister of divine justice and mercy, so that, through the power of the Church, even those with imperfect contrition may be absolved (reconciled) and strengthened, and for remission of sins. The role of the priest is to:1) absolve,
  1. impose appropriate works of penance,
  2. offer appropriate counsel.
    From the eastern Catholic canon law.CCEO Canon 720
  1. Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the ordinary way by which the Christian faithful who is aware of a serious sin is reconciled with God and the Church; only physical or moral impossibility excuses one from confession of this type, in which case reconciliation can take place in other ways.
    CCEO Canon 725
    Any priest can validly and licitly absolve any penitent in danger of death from any sin, even if there is present a priest endowed with the faculty of administering the sacrament of penance.

CCEO Canon 732

  1. The confessor is to offer a fitting cure for the illness by imposing appropriate works of penance in keeping with the quality, seriousness and number of the sins, and considering the condition of the penitent as well as his or her disposition for conversion.
  2. The priest is to remember that he is placed by God as a minister of divine justice and mercy; as a spiritual father he should also offer appropriate counsel so that the penitent might progress in his or her vocation to sanctity.

A validly baptized non-Catholic who believes in it, may receive the sacrament of Penance from a Catholic priest in grave situation, if it is impossible receive from one’s own ministers. In what follows 1 and 2 pertain to Catholics, 3 to Christian Churches with valid sacraments, and 4 to ecclesial communities (e.g., Protestant).CCEO Canon 671

  1. Catholic ministers licitly administer the sacraments only to Catholic Christian faithful, who, likewise, licitly receive the sacraments only from Catholic ministers.

  2. If necessity requires it or genuine spiritual advantage suggests it and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is permitted for Catholic Christian faithful, for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers, in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

  3. Likewise Catholic ministers licitly administer the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick to Christian faithful of Eastern Churches, who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask for them on their own and are properly disposed. This holds also for the Christian faithful of other Churches, who according to the judgment of the Apostolic See, are in the same condition as the Eastern Churches as far as the sacraments are concerned.

  4. If there is a danger of death or another matter of serious necessity in the judgment of the eparchial bishop, the synod of bishops of the patriarchal Church or the council of hierarchs, Catholic ministers licitly administer the same sacraments also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach the ministers of their own ecclesial communities and who request them on their own, provided they manifest a faith consonant with that of the Catholic Church concerning these sacraments and are rightly disposed.

  5. For the cases in 2, 3 and 4, norms of particular law are to be enacted only after consultation with at least the local competent authority of the non-Catholic Church or ecclesial community concerned.


Well for one, I, being raised Catholic, was taught that we Confess to a Priest because it was a Sacrament instituted by Jesus. I don’t quite remember what book, but in one part of the Bible, Jesus says to his disciples something like, “Who’s sins you forgive are forgiven, whoever’s sins you retain shall be retained.”

Also, I’ve heard that you can still go to Confession even if you’re not Catholic. You have to be sorry for your sins, and resolve to stop doing them.

For more info, try asking a local Priest. He can give you the best answers.


Hi Tom! Great question.

We can and should confess our sins directly to God as soon as possible; but because of our nature, which requires sense-perceptible signs, Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance (see John 20:21-23).

As to the role of the priest, Christ acts through the minister. So we believe we are really confessing our sins to Jesus, with the priest being his ears, so to speak, and his voice, and exercising the authority which Christ gave to the Apostles and their successors in the priesthood.

Forgiveness is not “automatic.” We have to be truly sorry for our sins from a supernatural motive (love of God, or less perfectly, fear of his punishments), and have firm purpose of amendment (sincerely resolve not to sin again).

Anyone can confess their sins to a Catholic priest, but normally you can only receive absolution if you are Catholic. If you decide to go, you should tell the priest at the beginning that you are Protestant and just want to talk or get advice. If the confession line is long, it would be courteous to wait for the others to go first, in case they are in real necessity. In fact, it might be a good idea to just make an appointment outside normal confession hours (which we occasionally do anyway).


As a convert I “confessed to God” directly, but I also believed in once saved always saved so I never felt that big of a need to confess my sins. They were already forgiven in my mind.

That said I carried the burden of a couple sins for many years. Confessed them often to God and sought forgiveness. I am sure God forgave me in my sincerity but I still felt attached and burdened.

Once I had my first confession (amongst joyous sobbing) I felt and continue to feel free of the burden. Hearing those words of absolution make it very real. Confessing your secrets to a man who humbly hears it and prays for you and tells you you are forgiven despite it all is extremely powerful.

All the apologetics in the world paled in the beauty of that moment. The power of God was clear.

I really believe Confession is for us more than God. A way to heal us, and transform us into Saints. A way to always have accountability guidance and forgiveness.

I would recommend you go to confession. Tell the Father you are Protestant but want to confess. He will hear you and advise you although he probably won’t absolve you until you are ready to become Catholic.


Jon that is such an enormous switch to go from
OSAS to Catholicism ESPECIALLY in the area of
the confessional.

Would you share how or why you made that change?
What inspired you?
If it is too private I will understand.
But I’m just, wow, blown away at this.


No problem Mary.

Here is a link to my blog post that sums it up. If you have more questions after reading it, or more questions about confession specifically let me know and I will gladly respond!


Beautifully expressed :thumbsup: Blessings to you!


Fabulous! I’m glad you found us!
So for you the key to experiencing the joy of the
Sacrament of Reconciliation was begun once you
determined from ECFs that the priestly and papal
authority was the truth? That was your biggest hurdle?


The key is definitely authority. The Bible is not an authority strictly speaking since it cannot interpret itself. The different interpreters are truly the authoritative ones. So when determining which interpreter I should lend authority to, it had to be in line with the early church. Then to learn what the early church taught about the one church was icing on the cake.

I don’t know if I’d say authority was my biggest hurdle, because I was seeking authority and found it in Catholicism.

Once you assent authority to the church I just put my hands up and said I believe it all because you say so and You have authority from Christ.

So then it was just a matter of understanding and learning about Mary and the Sacraments and purgatory Etc…


Ah yes excellent. Thank you.


Welcome! Let’s look at scripture:

2 Corinthians 2:10
King James Version (KJV)
10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ

James 5:16
King James Version (KJV)
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Remember that, in scripture, each and every tine that Jesus forgave sins, He told the sinner, out loud, that their sins were forgiven. There was zero doubt. See Mark 2:5, Luke 5:20, Luke 7:48 for example. When you confess directly, what do you hear? Are you certain that your sins are truly forgiven?

Remember also that Jesus gave the twelve power over sins (Matthew 18:18, John 20:23). How could they forgive sins (or hold them bound) if no one confessed to them? And, as to holding sins bound, look at what happened to sinners Ananias and Sapphira, when they lied to the Holy Spirit and failed to repent (Acts 5:1-10).

Another point is that, the 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians have the same Sacrament of Confession, and have for almost 2,000 years. It’s not just the Catholic Church. During confession, the Priest is Christ to us, with all of his power and authority over sin.


All these posts are truly amazing and I’m shocked that I have nothing to add to this.

I think this entire thread belongs in a sticky somewhere as a model of Christian virtue in action.


Thanks for all for your replies, especially Jon S. What you say makes a lot of sense. I perceive that you are spiritually wise and mature in the Lord. A lot of things to ponder, for sure…

Follow up question:
I am still a little leery about an imperfect priest having the power of absolution of sins unless I knew for sure that the priest was truly a man of God in the true sense of the word. For example, what happens if a bad priest who is masquerading as a man of God (pedophile, etc) says durng confession that your sins weren’t forgiven. What then? I believe a few bad priests exist just like a few protestant ministers are morally or otherwise bad. If the priest is truly Christ’s representative on Earth during the confessional process and he says that the sinner’s sins were not forgiven, the sinner would be in a world of hurt because he must go through the priest to recieve absolution of sins from God. Forgive me if have misunderstood or twisted something out of context because I don’t mean to do that. I just don’t know how common it is for a priest to not grant absolution for sins for which that the sinner truly repents.


The priest has the faculties to absolve through the Church and it is not dependent on his spiritual state at the time of the confession. He gives absolution after he is convinced of the proper contrition and if allowed to absolve for the particular sin confessed.

Baltimore Catechism No. 3****Q. 725. How does the Sacrament of Penance remit sin, and restore to the soul the friendship of God?**
A. The Sacrament of Penance remits sin and restores the friendship of God to the soul by means of the absolution of the priest.
Q. 727. Does the priest ever refuse absolution to a penitent?

A. The priest must and does refuse absolution to a penitent when he thinks the penitent is not rightly disposed for the Sacrament. He sometimes postpones the absolution till the next confession, either for the good of the penitent or for the sake of better preparation – especially when the person has been a long time from confession.

Q. 733. How do you know that the priest has the power of absolving from the sins committed after Baptism?
A. I know that the priest has the power of absolving from the sins committed after Baptism, because Jesus Christ granted that power to the priests of His Church when He said: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”

Q. 738. How do the priests of the Church exercise the power of forgiving sins?
A. The priests of the Church exercise the power of forgiving sins by hearing the confession of sins, and granting pardon for them as ministers of God and in His name.


Yes Jesus is the mediator between God and Man – it is he who forgives the sins – it by his Death and Resurrection that the Christian is absolved in the Sacrament that he gave us. The Holy Spirit restores a person or gives him even more life. * True life* is in Jesus of Nazareth the Lord!

Yes the person must be contrite – to repent.

Does that mean that we cannot not already before confession ask forgiveness by prayer? No. We certainly are to. And daily we pray for forgiveness - and often for smaller sins. “Our Father…forgive us our…” etc


Bad Priests do not bother trying to “withhold” absolution. And the Person could then go to another Priest and confess and tell him a Priest would not give him absolution.

And Jesus can of course if something unfortunate happens in the meantime -can forgive him outside the Sacrament.

So long as the person is repentant - a Priest *cannot *withhold absolution.

Also what about a Priest who is corrupt? How can a Corrupt Priest forgive sins? – This sort of thing came up in the early Church - the Church Teaches that yes even a Priest who is not living as he ought - a corrupt Priest - that such does not impede the power of Jesus in the Sacrament.


It is indeed an awesome power for God to entrust to fallible men. Why stop there? He entrusted his *Church *to fallible men. He entrusted his *gospel *to fallible men. He entrusted his scriptures to fallible men. He entrusted his teaching authority to fallible men. In all those cases he gives the appropriate supernatural aid (indefectibility, inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, etc.). In the case of sacraments, it is possible for them to be invalid or simulated, but I think this is quite rare. God knows our limitations, and still chose to build his church on men!


Yep - that’s what happened to me too. :smiley:


OK, so let’s back up a little because you are getting some good responses to this, but they are coming from more of a ‘Catholic mindset’. (By the way - I love your questions - they are very insightful and clearly thought-out.)

So, what you need as a foundation is to understand how important the ‘Sacraments’ are in the Catholic church. Sacraments are instituted by Christ as outward signs of interior and spiritual graces that are imparted to us. The way I like to think about it is that the priest is really just a channel - through which graces flow. Sometimes, like in Confession, they stand in the shoes of Christ himself.

A priest, when he is ordained, receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which gives him ‘special powers’ let’s say to forgive sin, offer the sacrifice of the mass, and to anoint the sick. This Sacrament, like our Baptism, can never be reversed - i.e. those powers are permanent. No matter what the state of the soul of the priest, the powers of his priesthood are always intact.

As Ad Orientem has noted, Jesus built his Church on fallible men. But there are certain guarantees he has given us - for example, that the Holy Spirit would protect the deposit of the faith so that the Church never interprets scripture improperly. It is protected against officially declaring anything but the truth - no matter how corrupt past popes and bishops have been, the deposit of the faith - the teachings of the church have not been affected. The Truth remains intact. It is like this also with the Sacraments - no matter how corrupt or unholy the priest, the Sacraments are still valid.

As far as your concern about a priest not offering absolution to someone who is truly repentant - that just doesn’t happen. The only time absolution is withheld is when a person is clearly not repentant - i.e. has no intention or desire to quit the sinful behavior.

Hope that helps. (Though I suspect it may have opened up one or two more cans of worms!)

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