ASK FATHER: Father with dementia “absolved” by Episcopalian

From a reader:

Short, short version: my ailing dad thinks he received (and is satisfied with) absolution from an episcopalian “priest” — do I press the point or trust in the Lord’s Mercy on this one?

My father (70) has been away from the sacraments for at least 35 years and has a new appreciation of his own mortality thanks to a fast-moving form of dementia. He hasn’t slept more than maybe an hour in 5 months, which if you can imagine is affecting his sharpness.


Being so far removed and having to overcome significant family
obstacles to having him “go to confession again” (which he may not have the recall capability or penitence for multiple civil marriages to make a good one) I don’t know if I should just drop it and continue to pray for his reconversion or push as much as I can because there isn’t anything more important for him. I tried to seek counseling from my pastor, whom I love and trust, but much of this happened literally with movers in my house….

Difficult situations call for a great deal of prayer. Dementia is a terrible thing, as it robs people of not only their memories, but also their freedom. Your father’s situation indeed seems to be a difficult one.

The Episcopal priest who heard his confession was not able to give valid absolution. He did some spiritual damage to your father if – knowing that your father is Catholic – he let him think that he was capable of doing so. He gave your father a confidence which he should not have had.

That said, there is probably not a lot that you can do for your father other than pray at this point. You could try to contact the Catholic priest in the area. Explain the situation to him, and ask him to make a home visit. But, if your father is unwilling to go to confession, he can’t be forced to.

If his dementia has advanced to the stage where he can no longer remember his past sins, but is still able to express contrition for the fact that he has sinned, of course, he can confess and be absolved.

By all means, continue to pray for him, pray that he be reconciled, continue to encourage him to seek out a Catholic priest. At some point, however, the decision is left with him.

And I will take this opportunity to address all those out there who haven’t been to confession for a long time…


Just, for the love of God, go while you can.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ACTION ITEM!, GO TO CONFESSION, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Moro says:

    Sadly, this sort of incident is not that uncommon. Many hospitals, nursing homes, etc. have a generic “Multifaith” Chaplain on staff. To be sure, its good to make sure to let your priest know that your love ones are near death rather than rely on the chaplaincy (which can be good).

  2. A.D. says:

    I went today. And, yes, it’s getting harder to collect my thoughts as I get older. So go frequently already!

  3. cwillia1 says:

    Maybe the man will forget that he made what he thought was a confession.

  4. tioedong says:

    In rural areas, sometimes the priest isn’t there, so the pastors share being chaplains. There are times that I, as a physician, have called in the Protestant or Episcopal priest in emergencies because Father was away (nearest priest 30 miles, at night, often with snow covered roads) and figured a good prayer would keep the devil away.

    And one more item you might want to discuss. Some Anglican and Episcopal priests, aware of the break in apostolic succession, are “co ordained” by a Catholic schismatic priest (often the breakaway churches after Vatican II). So some might be able to give valid sacraments, albeit they might be irregular.

Comments are closed.