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Alexandra wrote:

Hi, guys —

Thank you for your web site.

I've read that a person must say all their mortal sins in Confession in order to be forgiven.

  • If a person sinned in their thoughts against their confessor, would it invalidate their Confession if they confess their sin but don't say who it was about? (i.e.: the priest)
  • For example, if they sinned through anger or for any other reason should they clarify that point, even if it's very uncomfortable to do, for their Confession to be valid?

I've always thought that if something changes the gravity of the sin, it should be explained, but I'm not sure whether or not that applies in this situation. I've been wondering about that and would appreciate any information on the Church teaching, as I haven't been able to find it anywhere.

Thank you!

Alexandra

  { If the penitent sins, in thought, against their Confessor and withholds it, is the Confession valid? }

Paul replied:

Alexandra,

The Church teaches that in Confession one must specify the kind and number of the sin if you consider it to be a mortal sin. Mortal sin includes grave matter, sufficient knowledge and full consent. It is good to confess venial sins too, but such specificity with them would not be necessary.

Your particular case would depend on:

  • what you were thinking
  • how much you intentionally entertained the thought, and
  • whether or not you consented in your mind to carrying out harm.

Feelings of anger at someone, or fleeting thoughts that are involuntary, are not necessarily sins. However, if your thought was to do grave harm to this person (physically, emotionally, in reputation, or any other serious way), and you consented to do it in your mind once you found the opportunity, then you may have mortally sinned. If you intentionally harbor thoughts of lust or anger in order to derive pleasure from it, you may have as well.

Although it certainly is possible to sin gravely in thought, we don't want to go to an extreme and fear that every negative thought or feeling that passes through our mind is a mortal sin. It is also possible to be angry at someone with a just anger while still caring about their eternal destiny, which is the first priority of one that truly loves one's neighbor.

If there's still confusion about whether a sin is mortal or not, perhaps it would be good to go to another priest for Confession and confess the sin as if it were. "Better safe than sorry", as the saying goes.

Peace,

Paul

Mike replied:

Hi Alexandra,

I just wanted to add to what my colleague Paul has said.

Withholding any information from the Confessor in the sacrament of Confession is not a good idea. It's like a soldier coming back from the front lines and not telling the doctor he has a bullet in his leg.

Quoting the Council of Trent and St. Jerome:

"for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know."

CCC 1456 - Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. St. Jerome, In Eccl. 10,11:PL 23:1096.

If you have to, I would take Paul's advice and go to another priest. Yeah, Confession can be embarrassing, but you want results that yield an optional Catholic Christian conscience especially in this culture.

Mike

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