ASK FATHER: Can absolution be granted when no purpose of amendment exists?

penance_confession_stepsUnder another entry here a commentator asked:

Can absolution be granted where no purpose of amendment exists? If granted, with no purpose of amendment, does it even ‘take’?

No. And No.

In normal circumstances, when there isn’t danger or some other odd condition, in order to absolve a penitent who is sui compos (conscious, able to make a confession, etc.) the priest must be reasonably certain that the penitent 1) has actually confessed a sin (even a previously confessed and absolved sin is enough), 2) has, in that moment, at least imperfect sorrow for sin (attrition – fear of punishment), and 3) has a purpose of amendment at that time. If any of these three conditions are lacking, the priest MUST withhold absolution.

Since the Council of Trent, Holy Church has taught that the essence of the Sacrament of Penance includes acts of the penitent, that is, the confession of sins, the expression of sorrow, desire for amendment and atonement.  On the other hand, we have also the action of the priest, that is, the granting of absolution.  The actions of the penitent and of the priest relate to each other as the matter of a sacrament relates to its form.

Most priests do not have psychic powers to read minds and few have the gift from God to read souls. We have to listen to what the penitent says and then discern the truth. A confessor will try prudently and carefully to “tease out”, so to speak, any of the necessary elements that are lacking.  “Do you know an Act of Contrition?  No?  Okay, are you truly sorry for your sins and do you intend not ever to commit them again?  Very good. Now I’ll give you absolution….”

However, if finally a person evinces no purpose of amendment – that is, she clearly doesn’t intend to avoid sin(s) again – then the priest cannot, must not, give absolution. His absolution would be, in effect, improperly given and would therefore be sacrilegious. He would abuse the Sacrament, to the offense of Christ, the detriment of the whole Church and his own soul as well as the soul of the poor person on the other side of the grate. He would be, in effect, faking it.

How is that compassion?  How is that “accompaniment”?

How wicked would that be?  To lie to people like that under the guise of compassion.

This is pertinent to the whole discussion of the objectively ambiguous content of Amoris laetitia, Ch. 8.  Any suggestion that a penitent can be absolved if she isn’t sorry for sins and doesn’t say she’ll change is contrary to what we have always held about the Sacrament of Penance.

Keep in mind that, after confession of at least all mortal sins in kind and number, the saying the classic “Act of Contrition” expresses clearly both sorrow for sin (attrition and contrition) and purpose of amendment.  Contrition consists of three acts of the will which form a unity: grief or sorrow, detestation, intention.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, [grief] and I detest all my sins [detestation] because of Thy just punishments, [attrition, imperfect, based on fear] but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. [contrition, more perfect, based on love] I firmly resolve, [intention] with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.  VARIATIONS INCLUDE … to sin no more, to do penance, and to amend my life.

Sorrow, detestation, intention.  If one is lacking, then the matter of the Sacrament is lacking.  If the priest knows the matter is lacking, he may not proceed with absolution because he would simulate a sacrament.  If the person is unconscious or there is true reason for “general absolution (that is, without auricular confession), the priest can proceed.  That’s a whole different growler of beer.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you lib screwballs and progressivist sapheads now jibber, “She came, didn’t she, to your retrograde torture booth of uptight patriarchal oppression! Didn’t she?  HUH?  That must mean that she’s really sorry even if she doesn’t say she is.  She… right, or whatever non-judgmental gender… ummm….  YOU ARE MEAN! Why does she have to affirm that she’ll stop committing the sinful acts?  What are ‘sins’, anyway!??! What does she… he… umm… have to be ‘sorry’ for anyway? Sin.  HAH! That’s an outdated category and the Council says that’s all gone now.  This is the time of mercy and caring… and… and, oh yes… ACCOMPANIMENT!  The age of hate is OVVVVERRRRRR!  Show some COMPASSION, DAMMIT or … or… ooooh yes yes yes we’re gonna GET you!  Yessiree.  We’ll fix you, you … functionary! You… funeral-faced museum mummy!  Sourpuss! Authoritarian fundamentalist! You gloomy moralistic quibbler!  We’ll write letters, yes, we will, precious.  YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

padre_pio_confessionalI respond, with Lumen gentium, saying:

11. Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offence committed against Him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins, and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion.

Just showing up is enough, eh?  NO.  That’s sentimental twaddle.

The priest cannot simply assume that the person has the necessary sorrow, detestation and intention by the simple fact that she showed up in the confessional!

I am seeking your conversion and your salvation.  And I am going to apply this bitter but effective medicine until it takes effect.  If you listen or you don’t listen, I’m going to persevere anyway and thus save my own soul.  However, like Augustine, “Nolo salvus esse sine vobis! (s. 17.2).

The confessional is a tribunal of mercy, but it is a tribunal.  The confessional is not a “safe space” where tender snowflakes are given hugs and puppies and crayons and affirming coos.  There is a juridical character to the confession.  The facts of each case must be brought to the Judge, who binds and looses with the power of the keys received in priestly ordination and wielded with the permission of the Church via the faculty granted by proper authority.  The penitent is her own Accusatrix and Prosecutrix.  The fact that the person has come is a sign that grace is at work.  Coming to the confessional is a really good start.  But coming is not, in itself, enough.

So, everyone, especially you libs, think about the effect of your heinous black sins on yourselves and on the whole world.  When you sin, you hurt everyone.  Examine your consciences with one eye on the depths of Hell and the other on the gates of Heaven.  Choose.  Be truly sorry for your sins and …


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. Mike says:

    Loophole-seekers can, and regularly do, make Swiss cheese of Vatican II documents. It seems significant that Pope St. John Paul II, never chary of citing conciliar writings, bypassed the Council in the relevant section (31) of his 1984 Apostolic Exhortation Reconcilatio et pænitentia, instead reaching all the way back to Trent to reinforce his discussion of purposeful repentance.

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    Hey Fr. Z., that was a right fine little string of insults! You’re going to get your own generator for those if you keep that up, lol.

    [Not to worry, there are plenty of examples to be had.]

  3. Godisgood says:

    Thanks for your clear articulation of the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation, and for your unblinking clarity on the true nature of mercy, compassion, Christian charity, and accompaniment – meeting people where they are with the loving intention of helping them get to a better place.

  4. JordanH says:

    Several times, I’ve been confronted by someone with a poor understanding of Confession who says something like “But, if you commit even Murder, all you have to do is say you are sorry and everything is forgiven, right?”


    I tell them, “Well, you actually have to be sorry and if you are not, the sin is not forgiven.” If you are truly sorry, that would include a firm purpose of amendment.

  5. Joe in Canada says:

    What is a priest to do if a penitent says “I’m one of those people the Pope says can’t live according to ideals, therefore I can’t amend my life, and so I don’t need to”?

    [“His Holiness the Pope is in my constant prayers. You should pray for him too. I ask your prayers for myself as well, for I must follow the clear teaching of the Church in this matter, even when this teaching seems hard. It only seems hard, however, for at its core it is the reflection of Mercy itself. This means that, unless I am morally certain that you have a firm purpose of amendment, I am not permitted to give you absolution. Were I to do that, I would betray what I swore to solemnly at my ordination. I would harm my soul and your soul as well, for we would be participating in a fraud. Even were it well-meaning, it would be a fraud. You must repent your sins and amend your life, for your eternal salvation is at stake. You must choose. I will help you as well as I can in the hard time ahead, but as a confessor, not an enabler of that which we both know to be wrong.]

  6. JustaSinner says:

    Love those graphics from the old Baltimore Catechism book, Fr. Z!

  7. Ultrarunner says:

    “The facts of each case must be brought to the Judge, who binds and looses with the power of the keys received in priestly ordination and wielded with the permission of the Church via the faculty granted by proper authority.”

    As the priest binds and looses the faithful, so too the Pope binds and looses the priesthood and the entire Church.

    I may be mistaken, but this really is the nut of it, in my mind at least.

    The most fundamental and charitable description for Pope Francis and the base from which he projects his authority via Amoris L is indeed contained in Matthew:

    “And Jesus answered him, Blessed art thou, Simon son of Jona; it is not flesh and blood, it is my Father in heaven that has revealed this to thee. And I tell thee this in my turn, that thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

    We as Catholics believe Christ personally, uniquely and directly conveyed this authority to the Office of Peter.

    Pope Francis is a legitimate successor to Peter. He therefore possesses the absolute authority to loose and bind whatever he deems fit to loose and bind on earth and in heaven.

    Christ defined what constituted adultery some 2000 years ago.

    Pope Francis has now authoritatively defined, or redefined, however you want to look at it, how the Church is going to accompany adulters and sinners of every stripe going forward.

    Can he do this? As a matter of faith and morals, is it not completely within his exclusive power and domain to do so?

    If yes, then in the process, as this article and countless others demonstrate very well, dramatic secondary and tirtiery consequences are undoubtedly going to follow which will effect an inconceivable number of fundamental norms and practices which have been observed by the Church for who knows how long.

    This essentially describes the lay of the land today as I see it.

    Given the reality of the Holy Father and his unique role as the Vicar of Christ on earth, with all due respect, humility and deference, I must confess that when I read articles like this one, I have begun to feel they have the following sense of despair attached to them:

    “Then one of the criminals who was hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ 

    I am in no way trying to be disrespectful to our good and holy priests or other Catholics in this observation, but fundamentally, isn’t there a kernel of this in what we are thinking when we say or believe the Church is falling into the pit of serious or irrevocable error by the hand of the Pope?

    “But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?”

    What a profound and immensely personal truth. Standing at the brink of death, we are all sinners.

    “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43)

    Perfect Confession.

    It took less than 10 seconds for the Good Thief to utter those words and attain an eternal reward with Christ in heaven. 15 second if you count Christ’s reply!

    Modern Confession appears to be in the process of undergoing an overhaul and priests are clearly caught at a crossroads with respect to the manner and conditions under which they grant absolution. But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in that given so very very few Catholics avail themselves of it today, perhaps it’s time for the Church to let loose in this area as opposed to binding so tightly.

    Mercy. Forgiveness. Love.

    Perhaps this is the sound of God desiring more souls.

    As a layman, I see and understand what great anxiety and confusion are being wrought upon so many good and faithful Catholics today. I experience it myself. Here we are, watching Peter seemingly sink in the the water before our very eyes. But we know with certainty the Lord will save him. And how fortunate indeed we are to be in the same boat as our Lord and His hand-picked fisherman as the winds and waves rise to seemingly devour us.

    He is always with us and we are with Him. The waters will be calmed. The winds will subside. Be not afraid.

  8. Grant M says:

    In the Inferno an impenitent sinner “receives” a premature absolution. (“Finor’ t’assolvo.) It doesn’t work. A demon explains why.

  9. Facta Non Verba says:

    What should one do if, in the past, perhaps due to poor cathecesis, one did not really have a firm purpose of amendment during years of confession?

  10. iprimap says:

    “The confessional is not a “safe space” where tender snowflakes are given hugs and puppies and crayons and affirming coos. There is a juridical character to the confession. ”
    I agree. That’s how it was given to me. Very early in sobriety some decades years ago my sponsor was a Catholic and his sponsor was a Franciscan priest who in turn was my priest confessor. It was really something how these men worked together to meld the 12 steps with what Father Z wrote above about:
    (1) Confession – 4th and 5th steps
    (2) Contrition – 6th and 7th steps
    (3) Amendment – 8th and 9th steps
    CONFESSION: The 4th step is where we write our moral inventory and the 5th were we admit our wrongs to God, to another human being and to ourselves.
    CONTRITION: The 6th step is where we become entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character and the 7th is where we humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.

    AMENDMENT: The 8th step is where we made a list of all whom we harmed and the 9th is where we make direct amends.
    I had to write out my initial 4th step, read it to my sponsor who then sent me to Confession where I read it again. Then I had to write out my defects of character and my shortcomings, explaining what I was willing to do to have God remove them from me. Then I had to list everyone whom I had harmed (my Sponsor and Father took prostitutes and dope dealers off the list, and put Mom at the top of the list). And then my Sponsor and Father both said, “You don’t rank up there with Adolf Hitler; you’re just a garden variety drunk,” and sent me out to make amends.

    And that basic process still exists today in the 10th step: continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it (my sponsor always added for me, “And when we are right, we promptly shut up – no one likes a self-righteous alcoholic.”) Today using the 10 Commandments I list (sometimes in writing) where I screwed up (that makes the actual confession short and to the point). Priests who know something about AA have almost always made allowances for me since this is how it was given to me. And sometimes my penance isn’t a simple, “Pray ten Hail Marys.” Sometimes it’s direction on what amends I should make to clean up my side of the street. In that way I stay sober and sane and (hopefully) gain some measure of grace.
    Frankly, I don’t know a different way to do this. For me, if I don’t go to Confession, then I will surely drink or drug, and my hell will start not after I die but now. No thanks. I don’t need to hang onto nagging resentments, hidden lies, and covert lust in my life. Those things always lead to a drink or a drug.

  11. frmgcmma says:

    From the Code of Canon Law:

    “Can. 980 If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is to be neither refused nor deferred.”

    If I remember logic — and recall the examples of saintly priest-confessors — we can examine Can. 980 this way:
    “If not-A, then not-B” = “If A, then B” — which enables Can. 980 to be restated thus:

    If the confessor HAS DOUBT about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is TO BE REFUSED OR DEFERRED.

  12. Imrahil says:

    Of course, again, I wasn’t asked.

    That said, the short answer is “no”.

    The long answer is “no, but …” – the “but” being that our “ossified unreconstructed” good old Manuals usually teach that a weak or very weak purpose of amendment – which I would interpret as “I do realize that it is truly a sin, I do wish to amend myself, but t.b.h. I cannot see myself doing it” – while certainly not a desirable state of affairs – does suffice for the validity of confession.

    Our less Catholic and more perfectionist age would, of course, call this “downright unrepentant”… but not necessarily our good old friendly Catholic morality.

    Rev’d dear frmcgmma,

    the equivalent of “if not-a then not-b” is “if b then a”. “If a then b” is not, but the so-called converse. You were just implying that (to use the classical example) “In case the street is wet, it must be raining at the moment” was a true statement.

  13. GregB says:

    There has been some mention about the Good Thief. I hope that people remember that the Good Thief had his legs broken and he died. Having one’s legs broken and being crucified is a pretty heavy penance. I get the impression that some mercy advocates Photoshop out the capital punishment part of the story.
    Based on the current events in the Church some sinners sound more like Cain, who when punished by God for having killed Able, cried in his beer about how his punishment was more that he could bear.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Ultrarunner,

    You wrote:

    “Pope Francis has now authoritatively defined, or redefined, however you want to look at it, how the Church is going to accompany adulters and sinners of every stripe going forward.

    Can he do this? As a matter of faith and morals, is it not completely within his exclusive power and domain to do so?”

    First, Pope Francis has not authoritatively redefined anything. He has produced a vague statement in a non-authoritative document (Familaris Consortio is much more authoritative) which may be read in the light of tradition or as a shadow statement of a revolution. Let me be absolutely clear, in the Fourteenth Session of the Council of Trent, the Sacrament of Penance and its constituent elements are precisely defined:

    On the difference between the Sacrament of Penance and that of Baptism
    For the rest, this sacrament is clearly seen to be different from baptism in many respects: for besides that it is very widely different indeed in matter and form, which constitute the essence of a sacrament, it is beyond doubt certain that the minister of baptism need not be a judge, seeing that the Church exercises judgment on no one who has not entered therein through the gate of baptism. For, what have I, saith the apostle, to do to judge them that are without? It is otherwise with those who are of the household of the faith, whom Christ our Lord has once, by the laver of baptism, made the members of His own body; for such, if they should afterwards have defiled themselves by any crime, He would no longer have them cleansed by a repetition of baptism–that being nowise lawful in the Catholic Church-but be placed as criminals before this tribunal; that, by the sentence of the priests, they might be freed, not once, but as often as, being penitent, they should, from their sins committed, flee thereunto. Furthermore, one is the fruit of baptism, and another that of penance. For, by baptism putting on Christ, we are made therein entirely a new creature, obtaining a full and entire remission of all sins: unto which newness and entireness, however, we are no ways able to arrive by the sacrament of Penance, without many tears and great labours on our parts, the divine justice demanding this; so that penance has justly been called by holy Fathers a laborious kind of baptism. And this sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation; as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated.

    [Page 92]

    On the parts, and on the fruit of this Sacrament.
    The holy synod doth furthermore teach, that the form of the sacrament of penance, wherein its force principally consists, is placed in those words of the minister, I absolve thee, &c: to which words indeed certain prayers are, according to the custom of holy Church, laudably joined, which nevertheless by no means regard the essence of that form, neither are they neces sary for the administration of the sacrament itself. But the acts of the penitent himself, to wit, contrition, confession and satisfaction, are as it were the matter of this sacrament. Which acts, inasmuch as they are, by God’s institution, required in the penitent for the integrity of the sacrament, and for the full and perfect remission of sins, are for this reason called the parts of penance. But the thing signified indeed and the effect of this sacrament, as far as regards its force and efficacy, is reconciliation with God, which sometimes, in persons who are pious and who receive this sacrament with devotion, is wont to be followed by peace and serenity of conscience, with exceed ing consolation of spirit. The holy Synod, whilst delivering these things touching the parts and the effect of this sacrament, condemns at the same time the opinions of those who contend, that, the terrors which agitate the conscience, and faith, are the parts of penance.”

    This is a part of the unchanging teaching of the Church, which no Pope may change. Not any Pope. The Pope is not the pronouncer of an arbitrary truth of his own making. He binds and looses based on what God has already bound and loosed. God has bound adultery in sin and damnation, but he has offered to loose it if properly repented of. It is the obligation of the Office of Pope to clearly and truly pronounce on the method of repentance, not on what counts as repentance. Thus, the Church has developed the formulae for absolution, but what counts as repentance has been established by God and must accord with correct reason. To be absolved, according to God, as expressed by the Council of a Trent (and approved, forever, by Pope Sixtus V), requires contrition, confession, amendment, and satisfaction (if possible). This is an eternal law that all Popes must a claim and none may alter.

    In fact, Pope Francis knows that he cannot alter this teaching. That may be why AL is vague – to allow those not properly catechized to read a change into the document, but this merely exposes their poor formation (yes, even bishops), not an actual change. It is true that certain compulsions may make leaving a sin behind, every difficult, to the point where a penitent may be pretty sure that, dispute his best efforts, he will repeat the sin, again, but that does not make his desire to never do that sin again, expressed in the confessional, void. “Father, I resolve not to take God’s name in vain at stupid drivers, ever, again,” expresses the firm purpose of amendment necessary for the sacrament, even though the person may get so angered later on at the near accident the stupid driver almost caused that he, momentarily, looses sight of his resolution. This does not mean that he did not fully, consciously, deliberately resolve not to do this in the future when he confessed his sins in the confessional. Perhaps, he even had some initial successes. The point is that he really meant his resolution when he stood before God and the priest in the confessional.

    A man who says that he won’t resolve not to have adulterous sex with a woman who has not clearly been permitted to be his wife because of a prior presumptively valid and not annulled marriage, does not, really, want mercy from God. He wants God permission to sin. He wants God to consider him to be, “special,” apart from the commonality of Adam’s sin. This is an affront to both God and men. It is the fallacy of Special Pleading. To the extent that the man has a compulsion (and ordinary sexual appetite does not satisfy this) to have sex, his culpability might reduce his sin to venial, but such a situation is rare. There is the case in the neuroscience literature of a man with a brain tumor who had such a compulsion and one may argue that his will is compromised by the tumor. If this were what Pope Francis were referring to, then, this would be nothing new and standard moral theology covers this case.

    What Pope Francis may be interpreted by some to be doing in AL is to make ordinary sexual desire into an irresistible compulsion (at least to some people) so that seeking relief with a person who is not clearly ones spouse becomes merely a venial sin. This would be to misinterpret paragraph 2325 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”137 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”138
    To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.

    Those who read AL against tradition want to extend this not only to sinful, private and self-singular acts, but to acts involving another person outside of marriage. Now, one may slip and sin, but when one confesses, one must intend, resolve, never to do this, again, otherwise, one declares that the sin wasn’t really a sin – sins, by their nature MUST be avoided.

    Also, many other sins can, likewise, claim compulsion or abberant psychology – “Forgive me, Father, but I keep yelling at my wife because she is a substitute for my mother, who abused me when I was young, so, you know, I have to take out that anger on someone – please, forgive me.” You see how incoherent that is, but AL, read apart from tradition, should, by rights, apply to this as much as to adultery.

    This reading of AL is fatalistic, at best, blasphemous, at worst, because it denies the action of grace. Sure, a man may not be able to overcome his sexual desire by his own strength, but that is not a reason to, essentially, despair in the confessional and claim that he cannot amend the behavior. He must resolve to stop the behavior and earnestly implore God’s grace to accomplish it. God will grant the grace, even if little by little, with many slips, if the penitent is sincere. After all, Christ said (Matt 21: 28 – 32):

    “[28] What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
    [29] And he answered, `I will not’; but afterward he repented and went.
    [30] And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir,’ but did not go.
    [31] Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
    [32] For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.”

    The tax collectors and prostitutes cooperated with God’s grace, but the Pharisees could not believe that repentance was possible. May AL never be read that way.

    The Chicken

  15. gaudete says:

    @frmgcmma: if I remember correctly, this logic does not apply here, as suprema lex salus animarum; each provision has to be formulated to be least incisive and interpreted in favour of saving souls. So if there’s no doubt, there’s no withholding = c.980 as provision to protect the penitent; whereas even if there was doubt, there might still be no withholding or deferring for other (pastoral/discretionary) reasons.
    But I call upon the specialists to chime in.

  16. AnnTherese says:

    It’s wearisome when people treat the Sacraments like they’re an insurance policy. It seems like someone who isn’t sincere, who lacks contrition and intention, would just not bother to go to confession at all. But, I’m sure you hear everything..

  17. rmichaelj says:

    The Pope hasn’t bound anything. That’s the whole point, he does these unofficial correspondences but refuses to define anything.

    I’m a fan of Saint Dismas, and the whole point is that he had perfect contrition, not some symbolic ritual which had no commitment to change.

    And for those who think the Pope can change what Jesus taught, a review of Galatians 1:8 is in order “but though we or an angel from heaven , preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you let him be anathema.”

    Your line of reasoning leads to papal posivitism.

  18. Fr. Kelly says:

    I too wish to thank Fr. Z for his helpful encouragement to proper practices in confession. These are always timely.

    This is a gentle correction of the post by frmgemma above:
    Canon 980 is written in the negative for a very precise reason. This canon does _not_ say that if the confessor has doubt … that absolution must be refused or deferred.

    If not-A then not-B is not equivalent to If A then B. This would only be true if the stipulation was iff (if and only if)

    If the confessor has doubt of the penitent’s contrition, he may refuse or defer absolution, but this is _not_ an exceptionless requirement. I can think of several reasons why the confessor ought not to act on this doubt. eg. if it were an unreasonable doubt in him that did not correspond to the true state of the penitent. The circumstances might even call for him to absolve conditionally.

    In general, it is not good practice to interpret canon law more restrictively than the plain text indicates.

  19. Phil_NL says:

    This discussion is taking place in a certain context (best illustrated by the ““But Father! But Father!” paragraph) which is on the one hand very much necessary to hold the line, keep the faith and stand fast against the times as well as whatever-you-want-is-by-defintion-good liberals.

    On the other hand, it does detract from real problems as well. Purpose of amendment is probably the hardest part of all in the process of confession. No doubt there are many people who list X or Y, have purpose of amendment, and next time – be it a week, a month or a year later – have X or Y to confess again. And next time, again. After a couple of iterations like that, it doesn’t take much intellect to estimate a chance approaching 100% that X or Y will be on the list for the umpteenth time at some future confession. Maybe for lack or trying, but maybe not.
    Knowing that the desire is there, but that it is – perhaps barring more direct divine intervention – quite unrealistic, can in itself gnaw at the purpose of amendment. Which in turn can raise hurdles to going to confession. And that shouldn’t be the aim either, so some care in preventing swings of the pendulum to the other extreme is warranted too, I’d say.

  20. jhayes says:

    Archbishop Fernandez responds at the end of the Crux article:

    “I would never admit that anyone can receive Communion if the person is not in a state of sanctifying grace. This profoundly contradicts my own theology, and cannot be based on my texts. I say only that [a person in] an objective situation of sin can be subjectively not guilty. In that case, the objective situation of sin would not deprive [the person of] the state of sanctifying grace.

    AL 301 puts it this way

    “it…can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”

    [So what? This avoids the issue of conscience, which Card. Caffarra addressed, and the public issues, which can. 915 address.]

  21. Windswept House says:

    Her is a quote from Archbishop Fernandez: “I would never admit that anyone can receive Communion if the person is not in a state of sanctifying grace. This profoundly contradicts my own theology, and cannot be based on my texts. I say only that an objective situation of sin can be subjectively not guilty. In that case, the objective situation of sin would not deprive the state of sanctifying grace.”

    So when a man (say a divorced and remarried man ) is informed by the priest that his irregular situation is objectively sinful, does the man’s situation then become subjectively sinful? He now knows. Or is the subjectivity only determined at the time his irregular second marriage took place?

  22. Plebs Sancta Dei says:

    Does the following count as purpose of amendment: “I firmly resolve, with the help of Your Grace, to do penance, avoid the near occasion of sin, and to amend my life.”?

    I was once told by a priest that we most certainly will sin again, so saying “to sin no more” isn’t as accurate as saying I will avoid the occasions of sin and will amend my life (so as to do my best not to sin again).

  23. Ave Crux says:

    Thank you so much for this clarity, Father. It is so easy to begin to doubt whether one is upright and faithful or just downright “merciless” for trying to hold what the Church has always held for centuries to be true.

    I had to confess to Our Lord the other day that Pope Francis is making me doubt His teachings and what the Church has always taught.

    What a scandal this Pope is causing in the Universal Church!

    Come, Lord Jesus!

  24. comedyeye says:

    I spoke to a senior priest once who actually said he would still give absolution to someone who was not repentant. When I asked why he just said “because I can’t read hearts”.

    [?!? Fail.]

  25. The original Mr. X says:

    Speaking of absolution, Father, I went to confession earlier today, but the priest hearing it was rather deaf and I don’t think he heard much of what I said. Was he able to validly grant me absolution, or do I need to go to confession again?

    [No, in a situation like this, if you did your best, I am sure that absolution was valid. Be at peace.]

  26. rmichaelj says:

    To sin no more, likely refers to mortal sin. Could the priest in question be dealing with someone he thought was scrupulous? And our intent, even if it is unlikely to be successful should really be to sin no more- which could be possible for anyone. You might leave the confessional and get hit by a bus outside the Church. I personally get annoyed when a priest just absolutely has to “fix” something which doesn’t need to be fixed.

  27. iPadre says:

    St. Pio, St. John Vianney, and of course St. John Paul II and a slew of others would have something to say about our current situation. And they wouldn’t mince their words.

  28. Thomas Sweeney says:

    The most distressing thing about Vatican II is that it has made men like Pope Francis possible. Thanks to him and and all the liberal nonsense that flowed from that council, we have all become pettifogging canon lawyers. I liked it much better when any question that I had, could be answered by my Baltimore Catechism.

  29. iprimap says:

    Truly no disrespect intended, but all these “if….then….” and “if and only if….” statements get me confused. Maybe clarity could be rendered by putting them in Boolean Logic diagrams such as what would used for Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) and Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLDs). After all, it’s just Boolean Algebra. I am not being sarcastic. I am just a very visual engineering type. Tnx.

  30. mo7 says:

    I think you’re the only other person beside me who knows that version of the Act of Contrition. Hubby knows and older form, my kids a newer one. I started using the kids’ version since I had to help them memorize it for school. But now, memory being what it is, I’ve reverted to that one, the one taught to me as a child.

  31. Daniel W says:

    Thanks for this post,
    I agree purpose of amendment is central to the current crisis, along with the possibility of following the moral law with the help of grace. It reminds me of the Jansenist crisis, when some were preaching a discouraging rigorism. Even four bishops were arguing their way around the papal condemnation of five propositions of Jansenism (interestingly one was about the possibility of following the commandments).
    I think the resolution of the current crisis will come through a clearer explanation of the necessary minimum purpose of amendment. In the good old days of the early Church, big sinners only got one chance at the sacrament of Penance. Up till Amoris Laetitia, the penitent needed to indicate a clear purpose of amendment, to not sin again, for example, through a commitment to live as brother and sister….
    What needs to be clarified is whether such an explicit purpose of amendment can be expected of a person who does not directly desire adultery, but is in a situation such as that described by Jesus, where someone else “causes her to commit adultery” (Mt 5:32). No doubt, the priest must be clear in his exhortation to “Go and sin no more.” Is it enough that the penitent does not reject that exhortation and commits themselves to do all in their power to remove the occasions of sin?

  32. DAndrew says:

    But Father, what about that Gospel passage?
    “Jesus chuckled warmly, ‘Don’t change, brother, I love you just the way you are.'”

  33. frmgcmma says:

    @ gaudete, Imrahil and Fr. Kelly:

    Thank you for your clarification — and forgive my poor logic.

    My intention, however, wasn’t to give a restrictive interpretation to the law (or a manifestation of my ignorance), but to respond to the original post which said: “Can absolution be granted where no purpose of amendment exists?”

    The reference to c. 980 was to connect this question with the reasonable conclusion of the priest that “no purpose of amendment exists”, which is to say, the priest has a doubt AND a conscience of his own, too.

    If the penitent says his or her conscience is clear, but the priest in fact DOES have doubt — and I would suppose a REASONABLE doubt, not an unreasonable one — then how can he, in good conscience, give absolution? I referred not only to logic and the law but the examples of the saints who did not hesitate to send penitents away without absolution when there was a doubt about the disposition. The law serves the good of the soul of both the penitent and the priest, no? We cannot read souls without a special grace from God. But we’re supposed to use good judgment based on the signs we see and hear after some examination. A priest actually violates his own conscience by absolving penitents who are not disposed, which indisposition can be readily known by him.

  34. Supertradmum says:

    The Church has always made the distinction between weakness leading to habitual sin and willed continuation or attachment to sin.

    For example, if a woman decides not to give in to her Protestant husband when he wants to use birth control and says no, after confessing going along with this bad practice, she has repented and has good will in not living in sin. If she fails once again, that is habitual weakness, which needs to be purified by grace and mortification.

    If she goes to confession and has no intention of not practicing birth control, she will not receive absolution, as she is not truly sorry and has no firm purpose of amendment. One of my friends long ago got an annulment as his wife refused not to use birth control…In order not to be part of sin, he and she divorced and his annulment came quickly, as she was not living up to her marriage promise. He remarried a lovely, faithful Catholic woman and had children.

    I had two friends who were in a similar situation with practicing birth control on purpose, and finally stopped going to confession, as they had no intention to not practice birth control. Sadly, they fell away from the Church, but one has come back, gratefully, after her husband died. So sad it had to happen this way….

    Also, I appreciate, Fr. Z. your use of the same act of contrition I learned from the nuns so long ago and still use….It covers all the bases.

  35. frmgcmma says:

    Plebs Sancta Dei said:

    “Does the following count as purpose of amendment: ‘I firmly resolve, with the help of Your Grace, to do penance, avoid the near occasion of sin, and to amend my life.’?

    Yes, that’s it.

    “I was once told by a priest that we most certainly will sin again, so saying ‘to sin no more’ isn’t as accurate as saying I will avoid the occasions of sin and will amend my life (so as to do my best not to sin again).”

    To say that “we most certainly will sin again” is a judgment of the understanding — a prophecy of the future is a kind of knowledge. But the purpose of amendment and resolution to sin no more is NOT an act of the understanding, it is an act of the WILL. Another way to express it can be found, not in the question: “what do you think you will do in the future?” but rather: “what do you WANT to do in the future?”

    A priest should seek to assist the penitent to make that resolution. Fortunately, many penitents are well-disposed. Some need assistance which the priest should be willing and able to give so as to move them to make that resolution. And it can happen that sometimes sinners come who are in no way disposed and will not make the resolution to sin no more. In which case, absolution cannot be given without a sin on the part of the priest. It’s in this context that St. Alphonsus wrote that “easy absolution means easy sin.”

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  37. Laurence England says:

    Let’s not rule out a move to ‘reform’ the Sacrament of Penance so that everything is made to fit into place and actual sorrow and actual purpose of amendment is deemed no longer necessary.

    Let’s not rule out anything because nothing is safe.

  38. Steph C says:

    True story that my former OB/GYN would be glad to have shared here – she regularly shared her conversion witness story: As a Catholic OB/GYN who routinely prescribed contraception, she confessed this mortal sin. Her confessor priest then asked if she planned to continue to prescribe when she went back to work the next week. She said yes. “Then I cannot grant you absolution,” he said. A light went on and she realized that her soul was truly in mortal damnation. She abandoned that aspect of her practice, focused exclusively on natural family planning, and became a Creighton Method / NaProtechnology Medical Consultant for the duration of her career, until her retirement.
    As indebted as I am to her for the lives of my children, I praise God even more for that priest! His words to her that day effectively touched countless souls – both adult and those yet-to-be-conceived. I pray that some day both she and that priest will be able to learn the extent – the direct and indirect results of their words and actions. Sins matter. Heaven matters. Purpose of amendment matters. Absolution is real.

  39. Steph C says:

    ** Meant to say, “…she realized that her soul was truly in *risk* of mortal damnation.”

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