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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Priests Forgiving Sins


Our sins are forgiven already in Christ, we have no need of confessing our faults to any mere man. We can appeal directly to Jesus our Savior and be forgiven.

Mark 2:5-11: “Why does this man speak thus? He blasphemes, who can forgive sins, but God.”


Such was the verdict of the Scribes in repudiating Christ’s role as the Messiah, his testimony and authority, and ultimately his divinity. Little did they know— Christ was indeed the unique Son of God who had come to save his people. Similarly, those who discount the role of priests today stand in the role of the ancient Scribes in discounting the full ramifications of God coming upon us. Christ’s ministry of forgiving sins is perpetuated in the Church, particularly in the priests who have been specially configured to Christ for this purpose. If Christ’s mercy were a one-time deal or a general affair, then why did he spend so much time going out to individuals, liberating them from demons and forgiving their sins? Why then would he give Peter the power of the keys and explicitly tell him and the other apostles that they might loosen and bind from sin? “‘I will give you [Peter] the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 16:19-20). When speaking about the referral of a sinful brother to the Church, Matthew repeats this teaching: “‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 18:18). Only God can forgive sins, but he has made priests living vehicles, instruments of his mercy. After his death, the resurrected Lord appeared to his disciples, and the context makes clear that we are talking about his apostles in the locked upper room. Christ extends his peace to them: “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:21-23).

Acts 10:43: “To Him all the prophets bear witness, that through His name all who believe in Him may receive forgiveness of sins.”


These words belong to Peter and come just before he is challenged for entering the homes of uncircumcised Gentiles and the issue of their baptism. People given the saving faith of Jesus come to baptism which brings forgiveness of sins. The sacramental life, and especially confession, makes possible our steadfastness in God’s grace and mercy. The absolution prayer used by the Church today acknowledges that it is “through the death and resurrection of his Son” that reconciliation is made with God. Further, the Holy Spirit continues to work among us “for the forgiveness of sins.” Then it takes note that Christ continues his saving work “through the ministry of the Church,” and we invoke the Almighty to shower upon the penitent his “pardon and peace.” Speaking in the first person, as he does at the altar during the Mass consecration, the priest absolves the person of his sins in the holy and triune “name” of God.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

6 Responses

  1. “She is angry at the Church from a feminist standpoint and she also says she doesn’t need Confession because of her relationship with Jesus.”

    MaryO, maybe your friend is a Protestant nun.

  2. I don’t know whether she accepts Communion from a priest or a female EMC; but either way, she must realize that the only way she receives is through a priest. Nonetheless she is coming from anger not reason. I also think that because she has avoided Confession for so many years, she must feel that she would have to explain why to her confessor and she may not feel able to do that since her anger seems unreasonable.

  3. Fr. Joe, I am currently going through RCIA now and I will admit when I first started, this was one issue I wasn’t sure how I felt about.

    Now that we are nearing the end of the classes I think confession is a very important thing. I think a lot of people who feel they are fine just asking the Lord for forgiveness are missing out. To actually sit down, take your time and do a good examination of conscience is really helps you to re-call all that you need to ask forgiveness for and I think that in itself will help people to abstain from committing the same sins over again. Plus the grace you get from the sacraments can never hurt 🙂

  4. No Father. She goes to Mass and Communion regularly. She simply refuses to go to Confession. She is angry at the Church from a feminist standpoint and she also says she doesn’t need Confession because of her relationship with Jesus. I have tried reasoning with her and I also told her how beneficial Confession has been to me. All I can think of now is prayer. Won’t you please join me in this?

    FATHER JOE: Along with you I can certainly pray for her. We cannot say for sure what might be the state of her soul. However, the rejection of one of the sacraments and the graces she might receive is indeed quite serious. If a feminist theology has made her angry and she stays away from confession, why does she still take communion at Mass? Does she take it from a priest or a woman extraordinary minister?

  5. Father Joe

    Please pray for a friend of mine who is an elderly nun. She has not been to Confession in many years, says she doesn’t need it. She is a woman who has dedicated her life to the poor and the outcast and I feel so sorry for her and all she is missing.


    FATHER JOE: Inform a priest and let him contact her. Maybe she will let him come to her with the sacraments?

  6. The sacrament of penance is a great gift to the Church and mankind. Absolution from a priest gives us an assurance that our sins are truly forgiven. Further, there are graces or supernatural helps made available by the sacrament. Of course, the Church has never taught that God cannot forgive sins outside of confession. But the Church reserves certain sins to its jurisdiction, meaning that even after a personal plea for pardon or even general absolution, that we are obliged to confess all mortal sins to a priest when the opportunity arises. We are also forgiven, not merely as individuals, but in a corporate way, as part of the mystical Body of Christ.

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