ASK FATHER: A priest complains about another priest’s form of absolution in his confession

From a priest reader…


At the risk of testing your patience . . . is it valid if the Priest (after improvising the first half of the absolution formula) says: “I absolve you from all the sins of your life . . .”?

I am a Priest, and I cannot find ANYONE I know that doesn’t mess around with the absolution formula! I say it (and all sacramental formulae) EXACTLY as they appear in the rituals. It drives me crazy!

I have mentioned it to the offending priests , only to get a snotty reply; I mentioned to the Priest who was pastor at the time. He was kind and seemed concerned–but nothing happened.

Given the state of the Church, I have lost confidence in our Bishop and even the SCDF–it’s cardinal against cardinal and bishop against bishop! I am so disgusted and disheartened at this point.

Father, I hear you.

First, what the well-meaning and likely soft-headed improve amateur said was probably valid.   That doesn’t in any way excuse this sort of thing.

As far as I know, the only approved English translation – at least in the USA – for the new-fangled post-Conciliar form of absolution is (with my emphasis):

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

It is amazing how many questions I get about the antics of jackass priests in the matter of the words of absolution or some other fundamental aspect of the sacrament.

Priests have to get the word out about the legitimate form of absolution.   Furthermore, they should not in any way allow another priest to say something weird and questionable during their own confessions.  No.  This has to be firmly resisted, put to an end.

By the way, I have an old PODCAzT about the Latin Forms of Absolution

PODCAzT 155: Latin Forms of Absolution, Vetus and Novus Ordo

Finally, in the document Redemptionis Sacramentum we read at the end:

Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist [all sacraments, actually] will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.

I would add to this that, in a parish, start with the pastor – if feasible – and work your way up.

And always always always say a prayer for any priest who might be doing something a little dodgy.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I will say this: in my former home, the diocese was solid and I rarely ran into anything kinky as to the form of absolution. Most priests said it straight-up.

    I moved, new home, new state, new diocese: interestingly the priests are pretty much better than I expected, all things considered. And mostly (thanking God again) that they mostly use the formula for absolution pretty straight forward.

    But they seem to have volume problems. Now, I have hearing problems, so I have hearing aids – pretty good ones, too. Yet I have had confessions where I have turned the hearing aids up to max volume, and even so could barely even hear that the priest was saying ANYTHING, much less what he was saying. I tried to get him to repeat the penance, but finally gave up. I have repeatedly run into confessions where I can hear the priest OK when he is giving the absolution, and mumbles the penance given 3 times. I would credit my bad hearing, but again: good hearing aids, max volume, and I COULD hear the absolution. And then there is the Mexican priest: a really good priest, gives good homilies, is careful with the Mass: but as far as I can tell, he never even gives a penance at ALL, unless I prompt him… “Father, what was the penance?” Is there a Mexican difference in confession where, maybe, there is a standard “say 5 Hail Marys” so the priest doesn’t need to mention it? Or what? I can’t account for this. And I am near my wit’s end about getting priests to specify the penance so I can hear them, COVID has made it much worse, given the masks over everyone’s face. I don’t intend to walk in not hearing the priest, but at a certain point I have to begin to expect it, what does that do to validity?

  2. OssaSola says:

    I have a similar problem with inexact penance. Now when a priest tells me to “say a few prayers” I ask respectfully about which prayers and how many. After all, that’s how we’re supposed to confess our sins, right, in kind and number? Usually they’ll be more specific, but sometimes throw in a comment about being too scrupulous.

    I just want to feel sure I did my part or I’ll worry “how many is a few?” and “should I say the “Jesus I Trust in You” prayer 3 times or recite the Dies Irae 10 times?”

  3. mo7 says:

    I don’t like to be disrespectful. Q: Can the penitent say, “Father that’s not what your supposed to say” or “could you use the formal absolution prayers”?

    [If your local priests regularly goof around with the words of absolution, perhaps you should have then printed out on a card which you could give in a pinch.]

  4. Fr. Kelly says:

    I always use the official form of absolution myself.

    I also keep in all of my confessionals a printed copy of the form of absolution according to the old and new forms. For the new form it includes Latin, English, Spanish and French.
    This way any priest who hears confessions in my parishes has no excuse.

  5. Ave Maria says:

    My own spiritual father went to confession in his home town and the priest did something weird for the absolving prayer and my dear father asked if he would do the standard one and the confessor refused to do it. My spiritual father then went to another parish for his valid confession. As for me, I am blessed where I am and our pastor recommends weekly confession and there is no funny business in the Mass or for Confession. But back in the day I used to encounter all sorts of strange things and rarely the standard form of absolution and for a penance something like “go and be a blessing to someone”.

  6. iPadre says:

    I’ve had a few priests give me invalid absolution throughout the years. No use correcting them because we are the rigid ones. I’ve come to believe that men who do this don’t have divine faith.

  7. iPadre says: No use correcting them

    If you know for sure that priests are giving INVALID absolution and they refuse correction from you, then I think you must tell the local bishop and hand it over to him. If nothing happens, then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must be informed.

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