ASK FATHER: Anglican confession… valid?

From a reader…


On my journey to the Catholic Church, just prior to deciding to join the Church we investigated a High Anglican church (most of ours are Low, and the High are much more Catholic in feel though not as common); thankfully our desire for the Eucharist was not satisfied (how could it be, I hear?).

Whilst we were there though, I was very convicted of attending confession, which I did.

My question is: Is the confession / absolution (though I can’t remember if that is part of the Anglican Confession?) valid? I’ve recently become a much more regular confession attendee, and I was wondering if I needed to re-confess in a Catholic confessional?

We were not re-baptised when we joined the Church. Or re-married.  [The Church often recognizes the baptism and marriage of other major churches and Christian ecclesial communities.]

Thanks (and thanks again for the continued encouragement to confess)

First, Anglicans do have a practice of confession.  However, the Catholic Church holds that Anglicans do not have valid orders.  They do not have valid Apostolic Succession or valid ordination.  Their “priests” are not, sacramentally considered, priests as the Catholic Church understands them.  In courtesy, we recognize the titles of “Father” and “Bishop” and so forth, but they are not priests and bishops in the Catholic Church’s sense.

Therefore, what happens in Anglican confession, while praiseworthy for what it is, and no doubt helpful on a human level, is not sacramental confession.  Sacramental absolution is impossible.

That said, we cannot place limitations on God.  If an Anglican penitent makes a sincere confession of sins and is sincerely sorry and sincerely desires to amend her life, it is hard to image that God will not offer some graces to that sincere penitent.  Unto forgiveness of sins? I don’t know what God offers, but surely He looks kindly on such a sincere penitent and offers graces.

As far as re-confession of sins after entering the Catholic Church as an adult is concerned, before your reception into the Catholic Church you should have made a confession of all your sins, as best as you could.  A general confession.  If you did not do this, you probably should.  Make an appointment and make a general confession.

Remember: We should do our best with such a confession.  You won’t remember everything.  Don’t fret. If you remember things later, take them to confession with you.  If you have done your best in such a confession of sins, all your sins will be absolved, even if you didn’t catch everything over the course of your life before conversion.

Let us pray that God will also move these good people – out of their sincere desire for God and His will – to consider becoming Catholics, so that they can benefit from the ordinary means of grace which Christ gave to His Church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Thanks for mentioning general confession (not nearly the same thing as general absolution). My first confession was kind of a goat rodeo. The whole RCIA group was brought to a parish penance service where there were several out-in-the-open face-to-face options. Before I got very far into an attempt at a complete confession, the priest cut me off and started dispensing advice. Some of my most troublesome past sins came roaring back not long after being received into the Church.

    Several years later I made a general confession and started going to confession regularly. Now I’m still nowhere near where I want to be in terms of virtue, but I’m in much better shape than I was before that. Please go to confession and don’t put it off! Someday it will be too late.

  2. ray from mn says:

    After 20+ years of being away from the Church, mostly out of laziness, one Saturday I found myself attending a day retreat in a local parish. I’m not sure how I knew about it. Anyhow, not having planned to do so, I ended up making a short, but extremely heartfelt confession and received absolution for my sins. I assumed that all of my sins of my past life (and they were considerable) that I neglected to mention were forgiven. Today, I’m not sure that that is indeed the case.

    But over the next 20 years I was regularly plagued by guilt for some of the things that I had done but not confessed and I decided to make a general confession. I made an appointment (these confessions generally take some time) and then over the next week or two made my examination of conscience and typed it up so that I would be sure not to omit anything. And I met the priest I slightly knew in his office and went over my list. It took about an hour. The priest told me that mine was the first general confession that he had ever heard. But he thought I did a good job.

    When I got home, I destroyed my list and removed it from my computer so that I would not dwell on those sins any more. And I have ceased to be plagued with guilt by them. I would recommend a general confession to anyone who has been away from the confessional for a long time. St. Thomas Aquinas (?) said that the just man sins seven times a day.

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