Definition: In Catholic teaching, the Sacrament of Penance is the method of the Church by which individual men and women may confess sins committed after baptism and have them absolved by a priest. A priest who hears a confession is absolutely forbidden to reveal this confession to any other person, so says Catholic dogma.

QUESTION: What happens if a person confesses that he has kidnapped a young child? What if a father has confessed that he is molesting his daughter?

RESPONSE: Catholic Canon.  983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

NOTICE that it is not biblical, it is church canon. Did not Jesus authorize his apostles to forgive sins?

John 20:21-23 (JB): “‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’”

This would seem to suggest that the apostles had the ability to forgive sin. There is NOT ONE ACCOUNT in the New Testament where an apostle listened to a private confession and then pronounced ABSOLUTION. The Bible does set the requirement for being forgiven of our sins. The apostle, as well as church leaders today, and even churchgoers under the direction of the Spirit inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God can discern whether the repentant one is meeting the biblical requirements for forgiveness. In this instance, a church leader could declare that God had either forgiven them or not forgiven them. For examples, see Acts 5:1-11, also 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 2 Corinthians 2:6-8.

Confessing Faith Publicly

Rom. 10:9-10 (UASV): that[1] if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness,[2] and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.[3]

Matt. 10:32-33: 32 “Therefore everyone who confesses me[4] before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in the heavens. 33 But whoever will deny me[5] before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in the heavens.


Sinning against God

Matt. 6:6-12 (UASV):

How to Pray

“And when you pray, you are not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

The Model Prayer

Pray in this way:

“Our Father who is in the heavens,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,[6]
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from the wicked one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Ps. 32:5 (UASV): I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my error;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to Jehovah,”
and you forgave the error of my sin. Selah

1 John 2:1 (UASV): My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not commit a sin.[7] But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one;


When A Christian Wrongs Another or Is Wronged

Matt. 5:23-24 (UASV): 23 If, then, you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matt. 18:15 (UASV): 15 “If your brother should sin, go reprove him between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Luke 17:3 (UASV): Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

Eph. 4:32 (UASV): 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.[8]

Involved In Serious Wrong Doing and Needing Help

Jam. 5:14-16 (UASV)14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the congregation,[9] and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick,[10] and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The supplication[11] of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Prov. 28:13 (UASV): 13 He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Sinners that Do Not Seek Help

Gal. 6:1 (UASV): Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

1 Tim. 5:20 (UASV)20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest may have fear.[12]

This public rebuke would not explicitly state the sinner’s name to the congregation. It would be shaming them. It would be a talk about that particular sin and then letting them know that a brother or sister has succumbed to this sin. Only those who knew the person and the sin would have the public knowledge.

1 Cor. 5:11-13 (UASV): 11 But now I have written to you not to associate with any so-called brother, who is sexually immoral[13] or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even to eat with such a man. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside? 13 But those who are outside, God will judge. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 372.

On what basis could human beings forgive the sins of others? Obviously, much has been made of this in some segments of the Christian faith. Perhaps the best interpretation emphasizes the difference between absolution and proclamation. The duty of the disciples was to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; the actual forgiving would take place in heaven by the Lord who paid for those sins. Nevertheless, the claims of the gospel are clear—forgiveness only on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross.

Morris notes, “It should also be borne in mind that, according to the best text, the verbs ‘are forgiven’ and ‘are retained’ are in the perfect tense. The meaning of this is that the Spirit-filled church can pronounce with authority that the sins of such-and-such men have been forgiven or have been retained. If the church is really acting under the leadership of the Spirit it will be found that her pronouncements on this matter do but reveal what has already been determined in heaven” (Morris, p. 849).


[1] Or because

[2] Lit into righteousness

[3] Lit into salvation

[4] Lit will confess in me

[5] Or whoever denies me

[6] Or our bread for tomorrow

[7] Gr hamartete, a verb in the aorist subjunctive. According to A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by James H. Moulton, Vol. I, 1908, p. 109, “the Aorist has a ‘punctiliar’ action, that is, it regards action as a point: it represents the point of entrance . . . or that of completion . . . or it looks at a whole action simply as having occurred, without distinguishing any steps in its progress.”

[8] Two early mss read us

[9] Gr ekklesia (“assembly;” “congregation, i.e., of Christians”)

[10] The “sickness” here is a reference to spiritual weakness or sickness, not some physical sickness. The J. P. Lang Commentary says, 1. The calling for the presbyters of the congregation in the Plural; 2. the general direction concerning their prayer accompanying unction with oil; 3. and especially the confident promise that the prayer of faith shall restore the sick apart from his restoration being connected with the forgiveness of his sins. Was the Apostle warranted to promise bodily recovery in every case in which a sick individual complied with his directions? This misgiving urges us to adopt the symbolical construction of the passage, which would be as follows: if any man as a Christian has been hurt or become sick in his Christianity, let him seek healing from the presbyters, the kernel of the congregation. Let these pray with and for him and anoint him with the oil of the Spirit; such a course wherever taken, will surely restore him and his transgressions will be forgiven him. – John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: James (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 138.

[11] I.e., prayer

[12] I.e., fear of living in sin

[13] Sexual Immorality: (Heb. zanah); Gr. porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality.–Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1