When does a priest retain a sin on a person's soul?

This is a question I have: when does a priest retain a sin, that is, choose not to absolve it during a confession, and also, why does he do it? Doesn’t going to confession demonstrate repentance on the sinner’s behalf? I always found it a little confusing and, truth be told intimidating. Also, what happens if a priest retains a mortal sin? Is the sinner damned for eternity?

If the priest thinks that the penitent’s Confession is not sincere he will not give absolution.

All the penitent has to do is be sincere at their next Confession to be absolved.


Actually, I had a VERY fierce argument with a person regarding this one time. He was the type that thought he knew EVERYTHING. Looking back, it was a waste of an argument.

He claimed that “as a Priest you need to do the Lord’s work, and forgive no matter what”. I kept trying to explain that if one is not repentant, and doesn’t want the forgiveness, isn’t sorry, than how on EARTH could a Priest grant absolution! Not possible at all.

YHWH is a God of justice and mercy. Without repentance there can be no mercy.

Sister Ann Shields told of being refused absolution once.

In the convent she was in the habit of reciting her grocery list of venial sins at each confession. Once the priest refused her absolution and instructed her to come back the next week with one or two sins for which she was truly sorry. She was shocked but came to realize that just reciting a list of sins was not true contrition.

Following her advice I now review my sins and try to find one of the capital sins which is the root of several of them. I then focus on that and try repent and reform one step at a time.

You know how some people come on to the forums and state something that is clearly not a sin or at least an extremely minor one in which their culpability is diminished by circunstanced beyond their control? Then they ask if it was a sin even though they know it wasn’t but they want everyone to assure them of how virtuous they are? I bet they go to the priest and confess the same sort of stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if the priest didn’t absolve them in that case. They aren’t looking for absolution for their sins, they want to be told that they didn’t do anything wrong in the first place.

I was denied absolution years ago. When I left the confessional I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I attempted to go to other priests and was given the same result.

God is not an enabler. He may inspire a priest to deny absolution if it will benefit the soul in the long run. I obviously was NOT doing God’s will and He wanted to make it clear to me. I had to make a choice, my sin or HIM! The priest wanted me to prove my repentance in action more than confession…I had to change! I was living with my boyfriend at the time and I was faced with having to move out. The man I was living with had no intention of marrying me and God knew it. God did it out of love for me knowing very well that I would choose Him.

Thank God for His tough love.

Wow! That’s really neat! God is good!

A priest giving a retreat at our parish told us about a young woman who confessed shacking up with her boyfriend. He asked her what she planned to do about it and she said “nothing”. He refused her absolution.

Well, it is not very nice to judge someone’s intentions.

St. Ignatius of Loyola points out rather clearly in his Spiritual Exercises:

The enemy looks much if a soul is gross or delicate, and if it is delicate, he tries to make it more delicate in the extreme, to disturb and embarrass it more. For instance, if he sees that a soul does not consent to either mortal sin or venial or any appearance of deliberate sin, then the enemy, when he cannot make it fall into a thing that appears sin, aims at making it make out sin where there is not sin, as in a word or very small thought.

It is rather common to see things that to some appear unimportant as grave sins. It can be a sign of scrupulosity, or a sign that a soul is disturbed by those subtle temptations mentioned by St. Ignatius. It is up to a confessor to judge the sinfulness of actions.

St. Francis of Sales - just to mention one example, though the Catechism itself says this - recommended to confess even venial sins. The majority of the saints whose diaries or lives we know used to confess weekly…the more we walk on the path of perfection, the more our imperfections weigh on us.

While it is an insightful advice to beware of vanity - a root sin that sometimes leads us to try to appear virtues when we really aren’t, sometimes by embellishing our confessions - looking for comfort and reassurance of being on the right path is something necessary in the spiritual life, inasmuch as a person trying to develop virtues is very often tempted into believing that he’s doing everything wrong.

Great example!

In more than one way. Thank you for posting.

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