QUAERITUR: I am not sure if I confessed this sin or not.

From a reader:

I know you have a lot on confession here, but I can’t find an answer for my question. Several months ago I went back to the Church after 30 some years, and gave what I thought a good and thorough confession. Later I thought of sins that I wasn’t sure I confessed, and confessed them at my next confession. Since then, I keep thinking of sins, committed over decades, that I’m honestly not sure if I confessed or not. I think I did, but not 100% sure. This is really starting to get to me. Is there a place I can just start fresh, with a clean slate, without the constant worrying about whether it was confessed or not. This isn’t about remembering unconfessed sin, but about thinking I confessed, but not 100% sure, and this happening over and over again with each confession.

First, laudetur Iesus Christus!  Second, good for you!  30 years.  I really admire people who come back to confession after a long time.  It takes some guts and trust.

If you make a sincere confession, as complete as you can at the moment – even though you suspect you have forgotten things – with true sorrow for sins and a desire to amend your life, then when you receive absolution all your sins are forgiven.  It isn’t that the ones you confessed at forgiven and the ones you forgot are not.  ALL of them are forgiven.

If you remember things along the way, by all means confess them the next time you go to confession.

The confessional may a tribunal in which you are both the prosecuting attorney and simultaneously the accused, but it is not a torture chamber.  I am not saying that you should be easy on yourself.  Examine your conscience and be tough and exacting.  When making your confession, do your best, be clear, precise and hide nothing.   But don’t torment yourself in doubts about vague memories.  If you are not sure about whether you have confessed something in the past or not, something that comes to your memory and you are just not sure about, then tell the priest exactly that: you remembered something and you aren’t sure that you confessed it and then just say what it is.  You don’t have to go into long detailed explanations.  Just say it and move on.

And everyone out there reading this…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Back pew sitter says:

    I think that if we make a sincere confession, trying to recall all the sins we have committed, are sincerely contrite and willing to change our lives and avoid sin in future, then we should not be troubled about sins that we accidentally omitted to confess. I find it helps to say at the end of my confession, “For these and for all my sins I am truly sorry.”

    Sometimes I’ll leave the confession and realise I’d forgotten to confess something that I had intended to confess. God understands my bad memory. Sometimes I feel a little troubled that I have forgotten to confess something, but then I think I should trust in his mercy which forgave all my sins. Sometimes it is as if we want to limit God’s mercy by imposing our own limitations on him.

  2. StWinefride says:

    A talk by the late Fr Hugh Thwaites (R.I.P.) was recently transcribed in the UK’s Latin Mass Society magazine – Mass of Ages. There’s an interesting part where Fr Thwaites speaks about the graces we receive from the Sacrament of Confession (just the first grace he mentions as it’s relevant to this post):

    There are many graces we receive in this Sacrament… Firstly, a greater delicacy of conscience. People sometimes stay away from Confession because they can’t think of anything to say. Well, that’s putting the cart before the horse. Because one effect of the Sacrament is to help you to have a clearer vision of your own soul. The air I’m breathing now looks quite clean and I’m breathing it without a qualm. But if a ray of morning sunlight suddenly came, I’d see little motes and things dancing around and yet at the moment it seems quite blank. So, too, I can look into my soul and it looks blank, not a sin in sight. But then I go to Confession and a ray of God’s grace shines into my heart and I can see things that maybe I never saw. I’ve certainly had the experience of coming out of Confession and remembering things that I could and should have said. That’s the effect of the Sacrament! We can sin without God’s grace but we can’t see our sins without God’s grace…

    If Fr Z doesn’t mind, here’s the link to the talk on proecclesia.com. Talk No. 1 on Confession:


  3. Michel says:

    I wonder how common this reader’s expression is? I ask because the experience they describe is exactly what I went through when I returned to the confessional after a long absence. I admire this reader’s courage in asking because I didn’t at the time out of fear what the answer might be.

    The flip side of it, and I would love to read Father Z’s thoughts on this, is now that I go monthly there are some months when I finish my examination of conscience and trouble myself because what I have to confess doesn’t seem like enough. Then I worry that I’m not being scrupulous enough or think I should be applying a progressively higher standard when examining my conscience.

  4. Heather F says:

    Thanks for this, Father. Helps me to know that I can keep repeating exactly what I have been repeating to the woman attending my RCIA group who suffers from OCD, which manifests itself in her spiritual life as scrupulosity. Namely, to trust the sacrament and trust her confessor if he tells her she shouldn’t make any more general confessions. (She’s already Catholic, but attending our catechetical sessions to get her head back on straight after several years in one of the loopier branches of Pentecostalism, the poor dear.)

  5. Suzanne Carl says:

    Thanks for this post, Father! It is something I struggle with as well. I want to remember that I am forgiven, and move on in trust and hope. When these sins come back to my mind, I feel like it is the forces of darkness tempting me to despair.

  6. Ella says:

    Because of your incessant nagging, Father, I finally got my sorry self to Confession last Saturday. Thanks, I really needed that!

  7. bookworm says:

    I also got my rather sorry and neglectful self to confession TODAY — after 3 months, though I usually aim for monthly or every 6 weeks — due (in part) to your incessant nagging Father… and I was very glad I did. Was able to squeeze it in between getting the car serviced in preparation for a weekend trip out of state, and checking on the state of our vegetable garden (we rent a community plot on the other side of town because we live in an apartment). Guess it was a good day to take care of maintenance tasks….

  8. ray from mn says:

    In 1981, pretty much without planning it, I attended a daylong retreat at my parish and all of a sudden I found myself in Confession after 21 years of not having been there. And I had committed just about every sin in the book. I blurted out some of them and received absolution and resumed attending Sunday Masses and occasional Confessions.

    I knew that all my sins had been forgiven, but over the years I was plagued by my conscience for not having confessed some pretty major offenses, some not even sins, but offenses still the same. Finally, about 2010 or so, I decided to make a General Confession to cleanse my soul of this guilt, if not of sins. I called a priest I knew and made an appointment for the following week. I spent a great deal of time making a list of the sins that I should have confessed had I properly prepared for my confession back in 1981. And I put them down on paper so that I wouldn’t forget them.

    I met with the priest in his office and spent an hour or so going over my list and at the end he gave me absolution, again, for those sins. The priest acknowledged that I had done a good job, although he admitted that this was the first General Confession that he had ever heard.

    I went home, burned the list and destroyed the record of them on my computer so I couldn’t become obsessed with them again. I am extremely grateful for having done that since I no longer am being plagued by the guilt of those un-confessed sins.

  9. LadyMarchmain says:

    Thank you, Father Z, for the helpful explanation.

    I agree that what the OP describes is more common than we realize. I do think that the Holy Spirit sometimes brings past sins to our mind, possibly as a reminder of a weakness or foible and to guide us from a repeat. Or possibly our penitence was imperfect and is now more profound. I like the Act of Contrition that allows us to say, “For these and all the sins of my past life, especially my sins (here name a previously confessed sin or say something general such as “sins against charity”) I am sincerely sorry.”

    I’d also suggest possibly keeping a prayer journal in which notes can be made on one’s examination of conscience and taken to the confessional.

  10. John Knoss says:

    After 20 years of not going to confession I did go – just Wednesday of this week. Recieved absolution, now feeling wonderful and more at peace than for many a long year.
    This question had been bugging me too.
    I’m looking forward to going again – soon!

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