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Tony Cavanaugh wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am writing a novel and I have a character, a murderer, who goes to Confession but not to repent; in other words he is not contrite.

He confesses his grave sin of murder and says he has no intention of stopping unless the priest visits a retired homicide investigator to get him (the retired policeman) to confess his sins
so I guess he is trying to bargain with the priest over his contrition.

  • What would the priest do in this situation?

I'm assuming he would try to get the murderer to cease and to embrace contrition. At the same time, I imagine the priest would be trying to determine is this man was genuine in seeking the Sacrament of Penance.

  • Would he (or, perhaps the question should be: Could he) do what the killer is asking and visit the ex-cop?
  • How far [would/could] he go in trying to deal with this and bring an end to these terrible sins?

Thanks for your time.


  { Can you tell me what a priest would do in this situation for a novel I am writing? }

Mike replied:

Hi Tony,

Thanks for the question.

A priest cannot absolve any sin unless he thinks the penitent has a firm purpose of amendment not to commit that sin again. This can sometimes be difficult for the penitent, especially if it is a habitual sin he/she is confessing but the penitent should still do the best they can.

A penitent who goes to Confession with the intent of making a bargain with the Confessor does not understand what Confession is. That idea itself is laughable from a theologically Catholic view.

The Church didn't invent this in order to bargain. Jesus divinely gave it to his first Apostles to administer to the faithful:

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 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.”

John 20:19-23

Each Sacrament has a form and matter:

The matter for the sacrament of Confession is

The verbal confession of all known sins.

The form for the sacrament of Confession is:

The Confessor saying:

"I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

If you need more of an understanding of this sacrament for your novel you can read the appropriate portions from an on-line version of the Catechism:

You can search on the whole Catechism from here.

I hope this helps,


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