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Anonymous wrote:


I am a Christian, and out of respect to Catholicism and to you, the reader, I have many concerns and inquiries about many of the traditions a Catholic performs, but will ask each question, one at a time, for it will lessen my confusion.

The first one is:

Why do Catholics confess their sins to human priests, whom we know are not perfect, for, as the Bible states no one is perfect, but all have come short of the glory of God? (Romans 3:23)

The Bible also states that there is only one mediator between man and God, and that is Jesus, the Christ, (1 Timothy 2:5) therefore no man can mediate for another man to God. No man can say that any man is forgiven his sins, for Jesus taught only God can forgive sins.

A man cannot be forgiven sins by being told to say a few Hail Mary's, or by some means like that, because forgiveness of sins requires Godly sorrow, and a true heart-felt repentance.

When it comes to the confession of sin, believers are told in 1 John 1:9 to confess their sins to God. God is faithful and just forgives our sins as we confess them to Him.

James 5:16 speaks of confessing our trespasses to one another? but this is not the same as confessing sins to a priest as the Roman Catholic Church teaches. Priests/Church leaders are nowhere mentioned in the context of James 5:16. Further, James 5:16 does not link forgiveness of sins with the Confession of sins to one another.

I know this was quite long, but given the information I have provided, I ask again:

  • Where does the Church get the authority to have its members confess their sins to a priest?

Thank you,


  { Where does the Church get the authority to have its members confess their sins to a priest? }

Eric replied:


I wish I knew your name. Nevertheless, you are clearly well-educated on the issue. You have most of the verses you need if you put them together.  Permit me to challenge you on a few points.

You say, Only God can forgive sins (which by the way, Jesus never said; the Pharisees did though), but then you quote James 5:16, which says that man can forgive sins through the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

You say that men are told to confess their sins to God, but admit that we are to confess our sins to one another. (By the way, do you follow this Scripture in your church?) In my mind, we are narrowing who we confess our sins to. We only have to do it to a priest, not to everyone (which has some major social implications if we take it in that sense).

The fact is, we aren't to confess our sins only to God.

  • Don't you have to concede this point?

Now you say that Priests/Church leaders are not mentioned in James 5:16, but verse 14 says:

14 Let him call the elders of the church to pray over him . . . and if he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

James 5:14

This is very clearly a reference to leaders of the Church. In fact, the word for elders in Greek, presbyteroi, is the very word where the English term priest comes from and the very term (one of two) used in Latin to refer to priests by the Church.

Another verse that illustrates that men have the power to forgive sins is John 20:22-23:

22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

John 20:22-23

This is significant and we know it is because it is only the second time God breathes on a man: the first is at the creation of man in Genesis.

Here Christ gives the Apostles power to forgive sins and hold sins unforgiven. The only way that they can decide which sins to forgive and which not to forgive, is to hear them confessed.

Now to the remainder of your questions. It is true that priests are not perfect. That is irrelevant, though. We see them as instruments of Christ and His Grace. There is no reason they have to be perfect.

As for one mediator between God and man, priests are not mediators between God (by which is meant God the Father) and man. They are mediators between Christ and man; Christ remains the sole mediator with God (the Father). Now proof that such mediation is anticipated comes from the fact that just a few verses before this one, in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, St. Paul commands listeners to intercede for everyone. Intercession is equivalent to mediation, so St. Paul is requesting us to mediate by our prayers to Christ for everyone.

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.

(1 Timothy (RSV) 2:1-2)

You said:
And a man cannot be forgiven sins by being told to say a few hail Mary's, or by some means like that, because forgiveness of sins requires Godly sorrow, and a true heart-felt repentance.

We concur.

The point of the Hail Mary's is not to secure forgiveness, nor does it obviate Godly sorrow and true heart-felt repentance, both of which are prerequisites to a valid Confession. The point of the penance is to show our good faith and to produce fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8).

8 Bear fruit that befits repentance (Matthew (RSV) 3:8)

It makes more sense when we consider that penance used to be hard, involving fasting and long periods of prayer and exclusion from Communion. Now it's pretty much a mere formality but I like to look at it as an act that is a kind of free-will offering: The priest is not there to make us do it or to pressure us, it's purely an act from our heart that shows our good faith desire to make amends to God for our sin.

It's like giving your wife a bouquet of flowers to make up for a spat. It doesn't earn forgiveness, but it shows good faith.


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