An alarming e-mail came to me from a reader. My emphases and comments:
Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,
Two friends of mine recently went to confession at their parish’s regularly scheduled time. [Tip # 3] Of course, they each made their confession individually to the priest in the confessional in the normal manner. They confessed their sins and made an act of contrition. I’m not sure if they said the priest gave them a penance. However, they both said that the priest did NOT say the words of absolution. What is odd is that the priest did not explicitly tell them he was purposefully not going to give them absolution. He just did not say the words of absolution. The priest knew there was a line and asked them to leave so the next person could confess. One of my friends tried to ask to have the priest say the words of absolution, but the priest basically made her leave before she could even ask the question. [If this is really what happened, this is a pretty serious situation.]
I have several questions about this odd situation.
1. Was the confession valid, i.e., was there remission of their confessed sins? (My understand is that the answer is no, since the words of absolution are the form of the sacrament of penance.) [First, God will love them because they tried. Through no fault of their own, they did not received absolution. God works with that. However, they really do need to receive sacramental absolution. It sounds to me as if they did not receive absolution, they did not receive the graces of the sacrament. Absolution is necessary. This is why in Tip #15 I tell people not to leave the confessional before the priest has given absolution. Usually that happens because the penitent is in a rush to get out, but I guess it applies here too. I once had to insist three times that the priest use the correct form of absolution. He was mad by the end, but I was absolved.]
2. If the answer to Question 1. is no, what should my friends do? Should they go to confession again for these same sins? [I would do two things. First, go to confession where you know you can get a priest who will do the right thing, and make a good confession of everything, saying also that you did go before but didn't get absolution. Second, I would speak to the pastor (if the priest is young and an assistant) or write to the priest's bishop or religious superior and explain what happened in bare-bones facts. Remember, the priest can't talk about that confession, even to his bishop. He can't explain his side, one way or another, or he violates the seal. But the bishop should know about this.]
3. Have you ever heard of this kind of a thing where priests just don’t say the words of absolution for no relevant reason? [Sure... they are poorly trained and need to have a 2x4 upside the head.]
4. I’m guessing this sort of thing is a very serious breach of a priest’s responsibility. How serious is it? [How 'bout... REALLY SERIOUS!]
5. What should my friends do to try to address? Talk to the priest? Talk to the bishop? [Bishop. Unless the priest was young and under the authority of his pastor. In that case perhaps the pastor should know so that he can correct the errant priest.]
Thank you and thanks for your blog. It’s a great resource.