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Joseph Hana wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • It is a law in the Catholic Church that the forgiveness of mortal sins can only be done through a priest?
  • Where in the Bible does it say this?
  • Why do we have to do this?
  • Does this means I would go to Hell if I committed mortal sin and did not confess it to a priest?

I mean the Bible says in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

It does not say you have to confess to a priest.

  • Is it not the Holy Spirit the same as Jesus on earth, but in the Spirit, who can forgive us?

Thank you very much.


  { Where in the Bible does it say you have to confess your sins to a priest and why do we do this? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Joseph —

It says this in John 20:21-23:

"21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also 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 them;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

So here Jesus gives the Apostles the power to both forgive sin and hold sins unforgiven.
He breathes on them, which is significant because the only other time God breathed on someone is when Adam was created (Genesis 2:7). Because He granted the Apostles the discretion whether to forgive sins or hold them unforgiven, it is necessary for them to know what the sins are, which is why we have to confess them to them. I expect you should have no objection to this concept, since James 5:16 says that we should confess our sins to one another. There is no justification in Scripture for keeping our sins secret; the command is to share them. This cultivates humility and holds us accountable to one another. More proof that the ordained leadership of the Church has the ability to forgive sins is in James 5:14-15:

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven."

1 John 1:9 doesn't say you have to confess to a priest, but it doesn't say you can go directly to God, either. It is silent on the manner of Confession.

  • He could just as well be assuming you are confessing to a priest, is it not so?

Even if he means confess directly to God, non-mortal sins can be confessed directly to God,
he may have in mind venial sins.

In fact, there is a tantalizing passage later on in 1 John, chapter 5 verses 16-17. It says,

"If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death."

We would call a "sin leading to death" a mortal sin, as it is so translated in some Protestant translations. What this seems to say is that it is possible for us to reconcile one another to God for non-mortal sins, but mortal sins are reserved in some way such that he does not encourage praying for those. This would fit into the Catholic understanding that such people need to be reconciled with God and the Church through a priest and not just another layperson.

One important thing to remember is that your sin is not just between you and Jesus, and my sin is not between me and Jesus. Sin affects the whole community, as is illustrated so many times in the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 12:26-27, St. Paul says of the Church as a body,

"And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually."

This is famous discourse on the Church being like a body with many parts and members. If one member suffers, say by committing sin, the whole body is effected. Likewise, if one part of your body is injured, it affects the whole body. Sin is a community matter, not a "me and Jesus" thing. Therefore, you must be reconciled with the whole body as well when you commit a mortal sin.

So to summarize, Jesus gave His Apostles the ability to forgive sins, and the discretion to hold them unforgiven as well. Consequently, they must be confessed verbally so the priest can make this determination. Confession of sins to others is commanded by Scripture anyway. Your passage in 1 John doesn't specify how sins are to be confessed, and hence doesn't prove your point.
Sin is not between you and Jesus, but it affects the whole community.

You can search our Knowledge base for further information, this is a frequent question we answer and I'm sure there are lots of replies on it.


Paul replied:

Hello Joseph,

Jesus established seven basic ways to touch us on earth with His grace, His supernatural life, which includes His offer of forgiveness. These are the sacraments that He gave us for our salvation, and He set up the priesthood in order to administer them in His name. Check out what John 20:21-23 says, for one. It is the will of Christ that He grant forgiveness and grace to us through these channels He set up for our salvation.

A Catholic must confess his mortal sins to a priest, who sits in the name of Jesus to forgive our sins in the Sacrament of Confession. To claim otherwise would contradict Christ and His Church.

There is no objective reason to avoid this wonderful sacrament. It is like taking a spiritual shower. It reconciles us to God and His Body, the Church.

Mortal sin separates us from God; Jesus through this sacrament reconciles us.


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