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Todd (and Deanna) Finch wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am not a Catholic but I have a friend who is. I asked him, if during Confession, he believed the priest hearing his Confession had the ability to forgive sin, and he said, yes, he does based on John 20:22-23.

I have read this passage a number of times but I believe that only God can forgive sins through His Son, Jesus Christ. I would like to hear your interpretation of this passage from a Catholic point of view.

Thank you,

Todd (and Deanna) Finch

  { Can you give me the Catholic view of John 20:22-23 and how a priest can forgive people's sins? }

John replied:

Hi Todd,

Sins are forgiven in the Confessional, through the ministry of the priest who is acting on behalf of Christ. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the power to forgive sins is given to the man by an ontological union with Christ.

Note: Ontology is the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being. So in effect, it is Christ that is forgiving the sin.

If you read the book of James, you will see that the "elders" are to be called to the bedside of the sick and dying, and the afflicted should confess their sins. The word elder, in the original Greek, is presbyter, which was later abbreviated to prest or priest.

Hope this helps,

John DiMascio

Mike replied:

Hi, Todd —

Thanks for the question.

Let's look at the Scripture passages themselves:

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

John 20:19-23

In these verses, we see Our Lord speaking to His disciples three times.

  1. the first time He gives peace to His disciples.
  2. the second time, He give them the same authority that His Father gave Him and sends them out to others who don't know Christ.
  3. the third time, He, through the Holy Spirit, who He is one with, gives them the authority to forgive and retain sins of other people. The disciples can't discern which sins to forgive and which sins to retain unless they first hear the sins each individual person has.

In the sacrament of Holy Orders, a special mark is put on the soul of the priest. After the laying on of hands and the words of Holy Orders are spoken, that priest's body, is no longer that priest's body! Jesus uses the body of that priest, ontologically, to carry out what He said in John,
Chapter 20, verses 19 to 23.

Although the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), we can see Biblical support for our beliefs from the Scriptures:

Jesus continues his example of priestly forgiveness in the Old Testament.

Leviticus 4:13-21
"Priests shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven."
Leviticus 5:14-26
Sin offering brought to the Old Testament priests, who make atonement for sinners' forgiveness.
See also:
Leviticus 4:25-27, Leviticus 5:5, Numbers 5:8

Interested in what the very first Christians thought, taught, and died for?
Check out what they said on this topic.
Jesus gives his power to forgive sins to His priests.
Matthew 16:19
Jesus gives the Apostles the power to bind and loose sins.
Matthew 18:18
Whatever you bind and loose on earth, so it is in Heaven.
John 20:22
If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.
John 20:23
After saying this he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. (Recall Genesis 2:7)
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
"God ... has reconciled us to himself ... given us the ministry of reconciliation."
James 5:14-15
"Presbyters of the church ... pray over him ... he will be forgiven." (Prayer of presbyters forgives sin.)
See also:
Luke 22:29-30, James 5:16

Interested in what the very first Christians thought, taught, and died for?
Check out what they said on this topic.
Penance as satisfaction for sins.
Matthew 3:8
"Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance."
2 Corinthians 7:10
"Godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret."
See also:
Luke 3:8, Acts 2:38

Interested in what the very first Christians thought, taught, and died for?
Check out what they said on this topic.
After forgiveness, the need for reparation can remain.
2 Samuel 12:13-14
"The LORD ... has forgiven your sin ... but ... child born to you must surely die."
Luke 19:8-9
Jesus praises Zacchaeus for his promise of reparation.

Interested in what the very first Christians thought, taught, and died for?
Check out what they said on this topic.
Hope this helps,

Mike

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
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