Confession is the means by which God forgives sins after baptism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion (CCC 1422).”
After his resurrection, Jesus passed on his mission to forgive sins to his ministers, telling them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).
Most Protestants and even some Catholics object to the sacrament of confession, asking the question, “why do I have to go to a priest for confession instead of going straight to God?” Jesus wants us to come to him when we fall into sin. He wants to bring us forgiveness so much that he gave the apostles the power to forgive sins. This power given to the apostles and their successors does not come from within them but from God.
The sacrament of penance is the most private of spaces; the penitent confesses sins to a priest who is acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). The seal of the confessional is absolute and guaranteed by the succession of multiple interlocking padlocks and tightly worded turnstiles within the Church’s own laws.
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