Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Refusing Absolution?

A good friend told me today that some priests in the Archdiocese are worried that I apparently refused someone absolution. What is refusal of absolution? Furthermore, what is my response to those who are wondering about this?

A priest, in hearing confession, must be convinced that in some way the person HOPES to not fall into the sin again. The Church calls it "a firm purpose of amendment" per Canon 987.

Every priest has had confessions where it was ambiguous as to whether or not the person was actually HOPING to not fall in to the sin again. In those instances, A priest would hopefully explain "firm purpose of amendment", and a way to do that might go like this: "You have talked about sin x. With regards to sin x, the Church asks that you simply be able to say "I hope to never fall into that sin again."" With regards to sin x a person can say, "Wow, it is a really strong thing in my life, I probably will fall there again" - that is perfectly okay for a person to say. What you also must say is "I hope to never do that sin again" - something along the lines of "I WANT to stop." That is it. The Church asks for something very simple. If someone can't say that they hope to never do that sin again, then a priest can NOT give them absolution.

Priests likely have encountered an occasion or two where someone has come in and said, in effect, "Father, I should probably confess some things but I'm really not sorry for them and I know I'll do them again." In that case, a priest would hopefully give some variation of the explanation above, and if they still are adamant about not wanting to stop committing a sin, a priest, for purpose of healing, should refuse absolution. Again, this is a healing gesture because it should hopefully cause the person coming to confession with a "wake-up" jolt to ultimately encourage them to change their outlook on their sin.

Refusing absolution is something that a priest is required to do in certain situations, and a priest hopefully gives penitents every single possible inch of wiggle room, but ultimately it sometimes happens (and many brother priests I know of have had to do this) that a person simply has no purpose whatsoever of amending their situation.

The Church is not asking for a guarantee that a person will not sin anymore, just that they HOPE not to, and that is a VERY important distinction. It would be pretty pointless to ask someone to guarantee that they wouldn't sin.

In those cases where a person confesses to PLANNING to persist in a sin, a prayer or blessing can be given, and then many prayers are offered that the prodigal son or daughter will one day return to the Lord, having recognized the futility of their persistence in their sin, being once again able to say "I HOPE to never fall into that sin again."


  1. Thank you for trying to help penitents understand the sacrament. Too infrequentlypriests "dismiss" opportunities to give good catechesis and it doesn't help the penitent grow in awareness of their responsibility to continually be converted.

  2. Good for you, Father. It's obvious you take the sacrament very seriously.

  3. Thank you, Father! There is so much confusion about this Sacrament in today's culture--and often even within the Church! It's so good to hear about the necessity of having (1) sorrow for one's sins, and (2) a firm purpose of amendment in order to be validly absolved. Thank you!