Generally, absolution of sins was a power given to the apostles as a sign that they were all eligible servants of God. Catholics adopted this practice from our first pope Peter, so now Catholics gather at a given area to confess their sins to a priest and are granted absolution for sins. The Catholic church lawfully grants absolution without prior confession in only two circumstances:
- there is imminent danger of death and there is no time for a priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents (e.g., to soldiers before a battle),
- a serious need is present, that is, the number of penitents is so large that there are not sufficient priests to hear the individual confessions properly within a reasonable time (generally considered to be 1 month) so that the Catholics, through no fault of their own, would be forced to be deprived of the sacrament or communion. The diocesan bishop must give prior permission before general absolution may be given under this circumstance. It is important to note that the occurrence of a large number of penitents, such as may occur on a pilgrimage or at penitential services is not considered as sufficient to permit general absolution. The second circumstance is thus envisaged more for mission territories where priests may visit certain villages only a few times a year.
5 basic Scripture verses that back up the practice of confession by Catholics:
- Matt 16:18-19: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
- Matt 18:18: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
- John 20:21-22: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he has said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
- James 5:16: Confess our sins to one another.
- In Matthew 9:6, Jesus tells us that He was given authority on earth to forgive sins. And then Scripture proceeds to tell us, in verse 8, that this authority was given to “men”.
Now to answer our initial question with our already gathered background knowledge on confession and absolution; we can now say with certainty that Catholic priests can absolve sins but not their own, even Priests have to go to confession as often as everyone else in the Church. The precept of the Church says that we must confess once a year before receiving our annual communion during Easter. This is like saying, “I take a bath once a year, whether I need it or not.”
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