Pope Francis on Confession and Confessors

The Holy Father speaks of confession, the Sacrament of Penance, not rarely.

He just gave the Pope’s annual address to a group which participates in a workshop held by the Sacra Penitenzieria Apostolica.  I did that workshop several times.  I urge all clerics in Rome to take it when it is offered during Lent.

This year the Holy Father said (HERE), among other things…

“Let us restore to the centre – and not only in this Jubilee Year – the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a true space of the Spirit in which all, confessors and penitents, are able to experience the only definitive and faithful love, that of God for each one of His children, a love that never disappoints. [If there is anything in the Church that needs a serious effort at restoration, it’s the Sacrament of Penance.  ] St. Leopold Mandic reiterated that God’s mercy outstrips all our expectations. He used to say to those who suffered, ‘We have in Heaven the heart of a mother. The Virgin, our Mother, who at the foot of the Cross experienced all the suffering possible for a human creature, understands our hardships and consoles us’. May Mary, refuge of sinners and Mother of Mercy, always guide and sustain the fundamental ministry of Reconciliation“. [Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us!]

With regard to the issue of what a priest should do if he finds himself unable to give absolution, [It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.  Sometimes a person gets into the box who isn’t Catholic.  Sometimes, a person doesn’t confess anything.  Sometimes a person doesn’t demonstrate desire to change.  Remember that all sacraments have both form (the words of absolution) and matter (the sins that are confessed).  No confession of sins, no matter to be absolved, no absolution.  Examine your consciences and confess all mortal sins in both kind and number.  Learn a good, classic Act of Contrition.] the Holy Father recommended, “First of all, see if there is a way; many times you will find it. [Sometimes confessors have to ask a couple questions.] Secondly, do not focus only on spoken language, but also on the language of gestures. [Not apparent if there is a fixed grate or screen, but his point is good.] There are people who do not want to speak but through their gestures demonstrate their repentance, their pain. [Ummm… they have to communicate something to absolve.  I’m sure he is talking about those who have a hard time spitting it out.] And thirdly, if you cannot offer absolution, [rare… Once a priest is convinced that the penitent is a) finished and b) truly sorry and c) wants to amend her life, he should not delay in giving absolution.] speak like a father: ‘Listen, I cannot absolve you of this, but I can assure you that God loves you, that God awaits you. Let us pray together to Our Lady, so that she may protect you, and come, return, as I will await you as God does’, and give a blessing. … This is always the point: there, there is a father. … God knows how to forgive things better than we do. But may there at least be the image of the Father”, concluded Francis.

I say…


What on earth are you waiting for?  Your last breath?  Does that seem smart to you in even the least way?

Don’t play fast and loose with your eternal salvation.

If you are aware of serious sins,


It’s a matter of eternal life or eternal death.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I don’t think he is referring to not being able to confess the sin but the contrition

  2. iamlucky13 says:

    I was excited to see our parish, which usually has only 1-2 hours available per week despite being a very large parish with two priests, has added two more hours each week for Lent, plus confessions after each session of a 4-day parish mission.

    Almost as importantly, the times are listed in the bulletin each week, and have been mentioned in the announcements. It’s often hard to find out when a parish has confession available, especially beyond their regular schedule, or when regularly scheduled confessions are cancelled for some reason.

    Also, I know of priests who need prayers to develop zeal for the sacrament for a variety of reasons. I try to make a habit each time I go to confession, after I finish my penance, to pray for the priest to be a good confessor and to appreciate the value of the sacrament.

  3. Matt Robare says:

    I wasn’t raised Christian and I found the moral catechesis in my RCIA classes to be lacking, so I’m always looking for a good examination of conscience, because the one on the USCCB website is awful — vague and short. The one in “Blessed Be God” is good, but still brief enough to be ambiguous.

  4. Bosco says:

    And so it continues. Why does everything Francis says require third-party nuancing?

    “There are people who do not want to speak but through their gestures demonstrate their repentance, their pain. ”

    [Ummm… they have to communicate something to absolve. I’m sure he is talking about those who have a hard time spitting it out.]

    He said what he said and what he said, if taken without qualification, is dead wrong.

  5. The Masked Chicken says:

    “With regard to the issue of what a priest should do if he finds himself unable to give absolution,…”

    I have only once had a priest refuse me absolution and it was clear to me (at least), that the priest had no idea what he was doing. After I finished listing my sins in kind and number, he said (approximately), “I don’t hear any sins to give you absolution for, so I will give you a blessing…”

    Now, we all have habits of sins and I have made almost identical Confessions of these sins many times in the past to many different priests, including the head of the local tribunal, and no one every said these weren’t sins nor refused me absolution.

    So, what to make of this? I saw the priest after Mass and, basically, read him the Riot Act, telling him that the confession of venial sins is, while not mandatory (since they can be forgiven in other ways) nevertheless, meritorious and the graces obtained can help one to overcome the sinful habits. Of course, he could not speak of my Confession, but it shows a poor understanding of the purpose of the sacrament in doing what he did. Nothing was lacking in my confession, except a priest who understood what Confession was all about.

    In this same Church, within the same period of time (a few years), I also had a different priest for Confession who used a made-up formula for absolution which was invalid. Needless to say, I stopped going to this Church.

    So, go to Confession, by all means, but make sure the priest knows what he is doing or doesn’t have an agenda. Pope Francis does not address these points, but they can be devastating to someone who is sorry for their sins and sensitive to doing the right thing.

    The Chicken

  6. johnnys says:

    But Father…..but Father…..there is nothing to confess! We are free of that sort of thing. Vatican II said so. It’s in the ‘spirit’ of the documents. It is. You hate Vatican II and want us to go back to the old wrong ways of doing things. Even Pope Francis thinks so. He only speaks of confession to occupy the mean traditionalists as he seeks to liberate us all from oppression.

    I know not as good as you Father. I’m still laughing at Brother Tree and Sister Turtle. :)

  7. sea the stars says:

    I dunno. Maybe the reason just about everything Pope Francis says has to be explained by a third party is rather because there are so many online witchhunters jumping to rash judgment in their eagerness to brand him a heretic.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I just ran into an I know not how reliable article about non-Catholics being invited in England and Wales to non-confession not formally to be impenitent and receive a blessing from a priest – ?

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    The English non-confession article made an interesting contrast with my memories of Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni (1860), which Wikipedia tells me is “also known by the British title Transformation”.

  10. hwriggles4 says:

    Over the last 15 years, I have been fortunate to notice a resurgence in the Sacrament of Penance. Our pastor (and the previous pastor) as well as the parochial vicars (and one of our parochial vicars came in four years ago under the Pastoral Provision) have always taken the time in their homilies to address the importance of the Sacrament of Penance. Our newer bishop (who we have had since 2007) has often done a “leave the light on” campaign during Lent and Advent, with one particular day where all parishes in our diocese take a Wednesday evening to host confession for three hours – 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

    Why do I mention this? First, when priests (and permanent deacons) do not emphasize this Sacrament, the pewsitters don’t think it’s important. By the way, I was a “one hour Catholic” for quite a few years myself, so don’t think I’m talking down to pewsitters. Second, I grew up in the 70s and 80s (was in high school during the mid 80s) and confession was taught to us like “oh, that’s old church, we don’t do that anymore.” That 1980s attitude – it’s really a no brainer why much of my generation “graduated” from the Church the day after confirmation.

    I was also an Altar Boy during that time (early to mid 80s) and my brother and I often did the Saturday evening Mass (i.e. we were about the only volunteers for the 6 p.m. Saturday evening Mass, and had early morning paper routes Sunday morning where we arose at 4 a.m., so we went to Saturday evening Mass.) Our priests had 30 minutes of confession before Mass, (that was the only time our Church did this regularly, and there were two priests assigned there) and I don’t recall anyone going. Normally, when my brother and I arrived to serve (15 minutes before Mass), the main priest we served with was normally having a cigarette outside the sacristy (no joke). That really did not give a good impression on both of us boys, who were between 12 and 18.

    Personally, I didn’t go to confession for at least 13 years (returned Christmas 1995). Now, I probably go at least eight times a year, or when I need it. I’m glad to see this Sacrament being more emphasized. When the bar is set high, men will rise.

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    This examination of conscience guide is out-of-print but can still be bought through Amazon.com or abebooks.com:

    Will You Hear My Confession?: How to Make a Good Examination of Conscience and a Good Confession, by Héctor Muñoz, O.P.

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