QUAERITUR: wronging a priest and confession

From a reader:

If one has wronged a priest, in such way as that the wrong should be confessed sacramentally, ought one
    * to approach that priest, if possible before any other
    * to approach some other priest at all costs
    * not worry, just go to one’s usual confessor even if it was him
    * ?

No, you don’t have to go to confession to him on this point.  But you do have to make amends.

Also, if he is the only priest around, and the alternative would be not going to confession for a long time, then you should simply go to him for your confession.

Keep in mind that in wronging a priest, you are not simply wronging a man.  You wrong a man who has sacred orders.  Depending on how you wronged that priest, you may also have to confess the sin of sacrilege.

Sometimes wrongful actions are more than one sin at once.  Anytime something or some place or someone consecrated is involved, you usually also are committing a sacrilegious act in harming them.

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  1. Chris says:

    Father, obviously we all complain here about religious, for example Cardinal Mahoney and they clearly deserve it. But at what point does the complaining become “wronging”? And is that bar even higher if we were complaining, let’s say, about a pope?

  2. coeyannie says:

    Father, can you be a little more specific about the sacrilege in “wronging a religious” . I sent my Archbishop (since retired) a sarcastic, probably angry letter concerning his stand on “global warming”. I was preey incensed to read that he was in full support of, unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what he suggested we do, but the temperature was 10 below zero. I said that most of us do not have a limo we can jump into, etc. I don’t think I apologized, basically, because I meant every word. Does that constitute a sacrilege. If so, I’m in pretty big trouble.

  3. Julie says:

    It’s an interesting question, thanks for posting it.

    I have a friend who went to Confession to a priest with whom she was a little uncomfortable due to some previous angry conversations (on her part) about something in the school. He was fine in confession, and before she left, she said that she believes they’d gotten off on the wrong foot and apologized to him for having lost her temper.

    He actually could not recall the incidents, long forgotten, and said that he understood parental anger…and deals with it EVERY DAY.

    So..she HAD wronged him, dunno if that was something confessed, but she certainly made amends with the priest!

  4. Ana says:

    While I totally agree we need to avoid wronging a priest, I would think in many ways a priest has similar obligations towards laymen. Frankly, there are two priests I know of that I am always civil towards and refrain from speaking ill of them, but I do avoid unnecessary interaction with them due to their previous treatment of me. This is a touchy issue for me, because I have had a priest stab me in the back and break a confidence in a manner to damage my reputation(no, it wasn’t the seal of confession, but if a parishioner wants to speak to a priest in confidence and he can’t keep a confidence then he should be meeting with parishioners coming to him for advice) and then another priest corrects me every time I speak to him or is condescending, as if I am an idiot. Parishioners also deserve a certain amount of respect from priests too.

  5. It would seem that such wrongs would rise to the level of sacrilege if they a) harm or impede his just and sacred labors as a priest and/or b) cause grave harm to his person. This is only a guess, but I am curious what Father Z. would offer as well by way of specifics…

  6. Ed Francis says:

    God’s Mercy is, ultimately, the arbiter.

    Confession with a different priest might be a good choice. It depends on whether a person cares about the impact the wrong may have had on the priest. Is the concern about it based on wanting forgiveness for oneself, or on wanting to bring love and healing to the wronged?

    What, when a priest or religious harms a lay person?

    Could be something as trivial as being deliberately curt or offhand in regard to a question posed by a troubled lay person. The impact on the lay person seems to determine the severity of the wrong.

    In other words, per the Gospels, we all matter to God, priests do not matter “more” to God than lay persons, they are not more important in God’s eyes, though they carry the greater weight of responsibility as shepherds.

    The necessity for a priest to practice charitable forgiveness is therefore greater, it would seem. Confessing the wrong directly to the injured priest could bring greater healing and grace all ’round.

    Other, more grave wrongs than the example above are available to priests.

    We’ve seen that.

    Is the harm greater than a mere non-religious harming a non-religious? Is the wrong, in God’s eyes, more wrong? Should the penance, even at the parish-level, involve direct amends? Should those amends, given the priest’s greater responsibility, be generally disseminated?

    Christ speaks to these issues in parables of profound depth and beauty.

  7. Peg says:

    We learned that hitting a priest,or religious or spreading rumors (calumny),even if true, that disparaged his/her reputation was a sacrilege. (Much of the second kind has been committed in relation to the “priestly” scandal).
    However we are obliged by the virtue of charity to correct when we see error, especially in those who are the leaders or shepherds of the flock. Naturally, this should be done with as much kindness and charity as possible, but sometimes things can get a bit heated. That’s human. Some folks wait to calm down before writing or speaking, good advice for those of us “hot-heads”.
    A friend once told me that he writes a letter, then waits a day or so and rereads it.
    It often happens that he rewrites the letter, toning it down a bit.

  8. teresa says:

    I justed looked the word “sacrilege” up:

    the personal sacrilege can be summed in three ways – 1)by laying violent hands on a cleric or religious
    2) by violating the ecclesiastical immunity in so far as it still exists.
    3)by any sin against the vow of chastity on the part of those who are consecrated to God
    please confer: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13321a.htm

    Point one is clear, and there is also written in the CIC that the one use physical force against the Pontifex and bishops and clerics will be excommunicated.

    Point two, as I understand it, says, that a cleric should not be sentenced by a secular court, as long as the ecclesiastical immunity exists.

    Point three means that you should not seduce a sacred person.

    I think we should show due respect to the clerics. But I also think they should also respect laypeople. As we have the baptism so the mutual respect is also a commandment of God. So why shouldn’t I take a cleric as my own equal? But in the sense that he represents the Mother Church, I am alway read to respect him.

  9. teresa says:

    And as far as I understand it, what happened to our Holy Father in the last weeks, it is almost (if not already is) a kind of sacrilege (offending point 2).

  10. Christopher says:

    But whatever is one to do if one’s priest has spoken out against the Holy Father (during the homily at Mass), encouraged his parishioners to write to their bishop about the recent Williamson débâcle (in the negative) etc. This is a difficulty I have right now, and I have in deference to my priest (trying to take St. Josemaría’s advice) kept silent through it all. That has been quite a heavy burden to me. But am I still wronging him by thinking critically, even negatively, even maybe badly of him, in my heart?

  11. Brandon says:

    What if that priest has been defrocked? Does it still carry the sin of sacrilege?

  12. “you are a priest forever…”

  13. David says:

    I really struggle with this, as I believe I have been very wronged by my parish priest. Whether naive or indifferent, this priest’s words, I believe, were not insignificant in the breakup of my marriage. How am I to deal with the anger I have towards this priest. Is my expressing how upset I am with him somehow “wronging” him, or are there times when having strong words with a priest (not swearing at or otherwise vulgar language, but raising one’s voice in protest over what happened) justified?

    I will never leave the Church, but the indifference of some in the Church towards the indissolubility of marriage is disheartening. Now I will be trying to defend the validity of my marriage to a tribunal in the U.S. and most likely will face the indignity of having my marriage “put asunder” against the words of Christ, because of what is hard to argue is not a huge scandal with regards to the numbers of marriages declared null in the U.S.

    And in part because a priest offered an “out,” rather than encouragement to keep one’s vows and urging to reconcile.

  14. wsxyz says:

    Remember you can appeal a decree of nullity to Rome. It would probably not change the situation de facto but it may bring you some consolation if your marriage is eventually upheld.

    Given mandatory premarital counseling I don’t see how it is possible for otherwise unimpaired Catholic adults to have an invalid marriage unless one of the two was not of a sound mind at the time the vows were made.

  15. David says:


    In the likely event that she receives an affirmative decision in the court of first instance, I definately intend on appealing the decision to the Roman Rota.

    That being said, it still doesn’t help me with the anger and frustration I have with my pastor.

  16. Steve says:

    What if the tables were turned and the priest
    offends a layperson, not necessarily in the
    confessional, but through gossip, calumny, etc.
    What should a layperson do, who should they
    complain to? Do they confront the offending priest
    or go to their superior?

  17. Fr. Orlowski says:

    I recommend that penitents not reveal which priest they wronged unless it is necessary.
    Also, I think it is wrong to seek personal forgiveness of the priest in the confessional.
    If you feel you need to seek the forgiveness of the priest you should not muddy the confessional
    with something that should be done outside. The priest acts on behalf of the church in the confessional.
    The confessional is for the serious business of forgiving sins against God and his church.
    The aim of the penitent and the priest should be the clarity with regard to the worst sins of the penitent,
    and the road to reform from those sins and other likely sins of the penitent.
    Perhaps after absolution it is sometimes appropriate to ask questions and talk about other issues,
    but remember that other people may want the sacrament behind you.

    Here is another thing, the priest does not remember what goes on in the confessional. So he cannot forgive the penitent of personal wrongs in the confessional because the personal forgiveness will have no effect outside the confessional.

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