In my first year of ministry as a priest in Park Street Catholic Church, Port of Spain, Trinidad, I remember in vivid detail what a difficult time I had with the Saturday confessions. Each Saturday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., many Catholics queued up outside the confession box waiting their turn to enter to tell us their sins. I recall how profusely I sweated in those days, not just because I was living in the tropics, but rather it was the first time in my life that I was experiencing how horrific it is to have peoples’ sins poured over oneself, sometimes in intimate detail, for three hours at a stretch. We had one final hour of this, after our evening meal, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. At 8:00 p.m. Carlton, the sexton of the Church, had to close the doors on people who still desired to come in to confess their sins to the priests. I used to feel how nervous people were in telling me of their sins, particularly young women explaining their sexual misconduct. I could see the perspiration just above the lips of many of those who confessed. The task became more difficult as, week after week, people returned confessing the same sins.
In that first year I did not at all doubt that I had power to say, “I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” which words we spoke in Latin. It was only in later years that serious doubts arose in my mind, although even in my first parish in Mayaro, in southeast Trinidad, I began to have some fleeting doubts. This happened particularly in the outstations where people came back week after week with the same plethora of sins, fornications, adulteries and thefts. To add to this difficulty, confessions had to be heard before the Mass, and each Sunday I had three different Masses to say. Sometimes I had to go through the confessions quickly, giving very little counsel and advice to those who confessed because I had other Masses to do, and these were at set times. A growing problem was that after hearing confession, I felt as if I had been in a garbage pit where garbage had been thrown over me until I was nearly succumbing to the sheer weight of the knowledge of sin that had fallen on me. Encumbered as I was with this awful stuff and without any relief personally, I had then to go say Mass. The difficulty continued to grow, for I found the Mass to be of no help for my own increasingly burdened state.
Many years later in my final parish in Sangre Grande in northeastern Trinidad, I had real reservations about confession. From the Scripture, I had learned that forgiveness of sins came as one believed on Christ Jesus. I knew also that the Scripture declared, “Who can forgive sins but God only?” At that time, I stopped hearing confessions with the exception of elderly women who simply recited the list of sins they had memorized from their youth (I knew that they would be offended if I did not hear their confessions). In refusing to hear the confessions of the people generally, I was, of course, reported to the Archbishop. That was only one of the many problems that accrued as I began dealing with issues biblically in my last seven years as a parish priest. With this testimony in mind, perhaps one can more readily understand my plight as a priest who had studied the Catholic teaching, who had put it into practice as a parish priest, and who knew the frustration that the sacrament of Confession caused in the lives of the people as well as in my own.
Sins are only truly forgiven when people believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.” In believing on the finished work of the Lord Christ Jesus, a soul has both the forgiveness of sins and perfect right standing with God credited to him. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.” “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”Thus the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, as the Apostle Paul proclaimed. When one does sin after salvation, it is a relationship problem with the Father in heaven to be resolved as one directly confesses his sin to God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In stark contrast to the clear teaching of the Lord through Scripture, the Catholic is taught to look for forgiveness by confessing his sin not to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, but rather to an intermediary human priest. This is what devout Catholics practice. The thought behind the practice requires some explanation. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are seven sacraments to be explained rather than the two scriptural sacraments of baptism and communion. “The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation” has five names, each name defining a particular element within the whole ritual. The first defining name is “the sacrament of conversion” while the second is “the sacrament of Penance,” which is declared to be necessary for salvation. The official words of Rome are,
“It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church…This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.”
The reason that the sacrament of Penance is “necessary for salvation” is given also,
“Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance [sic] for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace…It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.’”
Such teaching as this—that justification can be lost—flies directly in the face of Romans 8:29-39, I Peter 1:2-5, Romans 11:29, Numbers 23:19, etc. Thus, Catholics have no assurance of their salvation.
The third name by which the sacrament of Penance is called is “the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament….” While the Catholic Church acknowledges that only God can forgive sins, confession to a priest is essential because her doctrine states that “by virtue of his divine authority he [Jesus] gives this power to men to exercise in his name.” The biblical reference cited here is John 20:21-23 when the Lord Jesus Christ in person was commissioning His Apostles. The position of His Apostles was unique to them and to Paul—all directly chosen by Christ Jesus with no hint of succession. The judgment of sins (v. 23) was basically to be made through the preaching of the Gospel, as for example, when Peter preached to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, and when the Apostle Paul preached to the Thessalonians and to the Athenians of Mars Hill.
Failing to understand apostleship biblically, the Catholic Church continued to expand on her own idea regarding the forgiveness of sins. She states, “But he [Christ] entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5:18).” By this statement, it is clear that the Catholic Church has wrongly understood the priesthood of Christ because Hebrews 7:24 states that His priesthood is not transferrable.
Nevertheless, the next step in the Catholic Church’s error is the development of the notion of apostolic succession. It is found in the section entitled “The Minister of This Sacrament,”
“Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’”
Having seemingly wrested power from its rightful Owner, the bishops now use it according to their own ideas of penitence and forgiveness,
“Since ancient times the bishop, visible head of a particular Church, has thus rightfully been considered to be the one who principally has the power and ministry of reconciliation: He is the moderator of the penitential discipline. Priests, his collaborators, exercise it to the extent that they have received the commission either from their bishop (or religious superior) or the Pope, according to the law of the [Catholic] Church.”
Catholic thinking thus runs counter to the Scripture because their leaders, through their notion of apostolic succession, have taken to themselves the idea that they can forgive the sins of the people. From there, they claim the right to administer penance to all their people. This is an un-biblical idea.
Forgiveness, the fourth name in this sacrament, is defined as follows: “It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent ‘pardon and peace.’” The teaching on forgiveness goes much further than just stated. All offenses, no matter how grave are proclaimed to be in the power of the priests of the Church. In the Vatican’s own words,
“There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. ‘There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.’”
The power of the priests is said to be greater than even the power given to angels and archangels. Rome states,
“Priests have received from God a power that he has given neither to angels nor to archangels…God above confirms what priests do here below. Were there no forgiveness of sins in the Church, there would be no hope of life to come or eternal liberation.”
It would be difficult to conjure up words of greater arrogance. It is blasphemy for any creature to undertake the pardon of sin because that is God’s prerogative. “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” This Scripture passage is a gracious assurance that sins are blotted out forGod’s own name’s sake. The pronoun is repeated to make it emphatic that He alone can forgive sins.
The last defining name by which this sacrament is called is “the sacrament of Reconciliation.” Supposedly, it “imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles,” although no priest through this sacrament gives the Gospel, “which is the power of God unto salvation.” The “word of reconciliation,” which is the Gospel, has been left out of Catholic forgiveness and in its place has been put confession to a priest and the rituals of penance.
Obligation to Confess
Rome’s insistence that her people confess is seen in her laws. Samples of these rulings are the following,
“One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience.”
“Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary way which the faithful person who is aware of serious sin is reconciled with God and the Church.”
“A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and in number all serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience.
The humiliating experience of the confessional is obligatory in Catholicism. This system of confession in the ear of a priest cannot but corrupt the Gospel by encouraging and promoting a ritual unknown in Scripture. A pure contrition of the heart as a requirement for forgiveness, minute detailing of “the kind and number all grave sins” to a priest is a degrading practice that often leads to sin.
Forgiveness of Sins as a Judicial Act of a Priest
The rite of Confession in the Catholic Church has necessary words going with it that the priest must use. These are the following,
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Theabsolution that is necessary for the Catholic to obtain is not a declaration that God Himself has forgiven the person confessing, but it is rather a judicial act of the priest who says, “I absolve you from your sins.” It is, therefore,the priesthimself who acts as judge in forgiving the sins. In the words of the Council of Trent,
“However, although the absolution of the priest is the dispensation of the benefaction of another, yet it is not a bare ministry only, either of an announcing the Gospel or declaring the forgiveness of sins, but it is equivalent to a judicial act, by which sentence is pronounced by him as a judge [can 9].”
This “divine power” for priests judicially to forgive sins is also claimed in the Catechism,
“Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, ‘The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ and exercises this divine power: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.”
It is mind-boggling arrogance to claim that divine judicial power is given to sinful men to forgive sins. It is made worse in that the basis for such a false claim is cited in Matthew 16:19, in the account of the Lord’s personal commission to the Apostle Peter. But the Catechism continues,
“In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ ‘The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.’”
The Lord said to the Apostle Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). “Unto thee” relates this promise to Peter alone. This declaration of the Lord was literally fulfilled to Peter, as he was made the first instrument of opening the kingdom of heaven by preaching the Gospel to the Jews (Acts 2:41) and to the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-47). The power of the keys was twofold, to the Jews and to the Gentiles. It was fulfilled in the Apostle Peter and in him alone. There can be no successors to this prophetic commission, since there was but one first opening of the kingdom for the Jews as for the Gentiles. The binding and loosing of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 has to do with the decisions of a church congregation in matters of discipline reached through prayer, the Word, and the Spirit, that will be ratified in heaven. It does not include the Lord’s divine right to forgive sins. The concept of a sinful human being having been delegated divine authority to forgive judicially the sins of others is totally offensive to God and a denial of the truth of the Written Word of the Lord. Nonetheless this is exactly what the Church of Rome claims for her priests.
Church of Rome Claims a Biblical Base for Forgiveness Through a Priest
The scriptural backing claimed by Rome for the priest purportedly being able to absolve others of sin is found in Paragraph 1485 of her Catechism:
“‘On the evening of that day, the first day of the week,’ Jesus showed himself to his apostles. ‘He breathed on them, and said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John20:19, 22-23).
The biblical response to this claim is found in the actual words of John 20:23, “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” The Apostles were sent not to be priests but only witnesses to the truth. They were not mediators of the reconciliation, but rather preachers and publishers of it. Unquestionably the Lord Jesus Christ declared in a few words the sum of the Gospel. The Lord gave authority to His disciples to declare forgiveness to those whom God had already forgiven. The commission given in this passage in John is a parallel to similar passages such as Luke 24:47, Matthew 28:18-20, and Mark 16:15-16. This is the way the Apostles understood and obeyed the commission, as evidenced throughout the Acts of the Apostles, for Christ did not appoint confessors to probe intimately into each sin of people in whispers in a confession box. Rather He commissioned preachers of his Gospel and He caused their voice to be heard. Thus the Apostle Peter proclaimed, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” If we believe in Him, He shall justify us. This is the great remission of sins that all need, without which each of us is still spiritually dead. The manner of forgiving sins in Scripture is the proclamation of the Gospel. It is not the whispering of sins committed into the ear of a mortal man in a confession box.
Dangers Involved in Confession
The real sadness that breaks my heart is the emptiness and wickedness that comes out of what is claimed to be the means to forgive sin. The engineered artifact of a confessional box, with two sinners inside, one claiming to be the overlord of conscience, is substituted for that personal and private spiritual communion with God by the one seeking His mercy and grace, made possible through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus. Souls have been trained to forsake the preciousness of true faith and grovel before another creature in a dangerous ritual. Salvation and forgiveness are no longer flowing to the sinner through the pure Word from the very heart of God, but rather men in their ignorance are attempting to siphon forgiveness into a processor, from which it is to be dispensed to the sinner through sacramental spigots by the mediation of priests.
In the Catholic system, therefore, intimate proximity to a man has been substituted for the work of the Holy Spirit and the joy of knowing forgiveness before the living God. The real vulnerability of boxed confession, however, is that it can be an occasion of sin and even of false accusations. These dangers are all admitted in the rules that go with the sacrament in Catholic system. In the Vatican laws on confession, Canon 977 declares,
“The absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is invalid except in danger of death.” [“Thou shalt not commit adultery” is counted as the sixth commandment in the Catholic Church.]
This is such a problem that Pope John Paul II decided that some offenses by priests involving the sacrament of reconciliation and pedophilia are be judged exclusively by a Tribunal in Rome. The document addresses
“The grave offenses against the sacrament of reconciliation: ‘To give absolution to someone who is an accomplice [of the priest] in a sin against the Sixth Commandment; to invite on the occasion, at the moment, or with the pretext of confession to sin against the Sixth Commandment; to violate directly the secret of confession.’ Pederasty is the crime against customs. It is a ‘sin against the Sixth Commandment committed between a minor younger than 18 years, and a priest.’”
Such legislation may curb the dissemination of the scandals involving Confession on a local level, but it does nothing to curb inordinate desires of unregenerate men facing the abnormal situation of the close proximity of the confession box. To decree that men are so adorned with power that they by a judicial act absolve sins, and then to place them in an intimate and hazardous proximity with women and boys while expecting them to continually refrain from disgraceful sinful conduct is crass and supine arrogance on the part of the Church of Rome. In the ordinary business world, a company who thus treated its executives would be exposed immediately as criminal and citizens would be warned to cease to invest in its activities.
Further, Canon 984 §1declares, “Even if every danger of revelation is excluded, a confessor is absolutely forbidden to use knowledge acquired from the confessional when it might harm the penitent.” The law regarding secrecy that has been maintained as a priest’s right to secrecy, can itself be another great occasion of sin for a priest. Particularly in small groups, such as hearing nuns’ confessions, it is most difficult, if not impossible, to abstain from letting the information obtained in confessional influence one’s actions afterwards when socializing with those whose confessions have been heard. Another of the general Vatican laws regarding confession is Canon 979, “The priest in posing questions is to proceed with prudence and discretion, with attention to the condition and age of the penitent, and he is to refrain from asking the name of an accomplice.” This law shows the pitfalls that can await the posing questions in the confession box. The fact that the priest is forbidden to ask the name of a partner in crime shows also the propensity to sin that is encompassed in these confidential encounters in the confession box. These are just a sample of the grim laws designed to anticipate and limit the potential moral chaos arising from the practice of boxed private confession. If the ordinary rules of biblical counseling were observed, and the priest not left alone with someone to solicit or to be solicited, things would not be so hazardous. The Word of God teaches by precept and example that the knowledge of evil is always a source of pollution to a creature who possesses it.
One of the principal joys of heaven toward which true believers yearn in the depths of their being is to be finally free from the presence, power, and knowledge of sin. The very reason why the Lord God reserved the knowledge of good and evil to Himself in the Garden of Eden was because only an All-Holy, Infinite Being of unlimited power and goodness can retain that knowledge without contracting pollution from it. It is, therefore, the height of spiritual stupidity and silly presumption to devise and mandate a private ritual wherein the depths of human depravity and weakness are explored under a cloak of seeking forgiveness and grace. Nevertheless, it is even a law in the Church of Rome that confessions are to be heard in the confessional box, and not in another place.
It is a tremendous burden to see that under the pretense of forgiving sins, there is the undermining of the unique office of Christ Jesus that can end up as a serious occasion for sin. Sincere priests doing their duty, and devout Catholics seeking to alleviate guilt, can find themselves prey to sin in the very rite through which it is purported they may be delivered from sin. The scandals that have resulted from the confessional and other close encounters within the Catholic system have reached such horrendous proportions that it is difficult to keep up with the documented evidence. Our hearts ought to grieve in anguish and our desire increase to give the pure Gospel to Catholics so that they can come to the Lord Himself, and know the freedom and joy it is to be His very own. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
It is a gracious promise of the Lord to all who continue in His Word that they shall know the truth and that truth will set them free. The Gospel truth frees one from the yoke of the ceremonial rites that routinely deceive and ensnare but do nothing to free a man’s conscience before God. The soul trusting on the Lord alone for salvation, and for His mercy day by day for forgiveness, beholds the glory of the Lord, and is changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Our prayer is that God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, would shine forth into the hearts of those sitting in the gloomy darkness of man-made traditions to give “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
In Scripture, forgiveness is mediated through Jesus Christ alone, the only Mediator between God and man. The instrument of forgiveness is not a church, but rather faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted forrighteousness.”
The forgiveness of all sins is of God and not that of any church. This is so in order that we come to understand that it is He, God, Who is “just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” To attempt to bring the Catholic priest and the sacrament of Confession into the nature of the saving work of the Godhead, indeed to attempt to make the priest and the sacrament the fount of forgiveness is gross blasphemy. In Scripture, forgiveness and acceptance are in Christ Jesus alone.
The God of All Grace
In spite of clear biblical teaching, the Catholic Church claims that a mere man, with the right formula of words, is an effective means of grace in a judicial act of forgiveness. The rite of Confession, in particular, claiming that, “by virtue of his [Christ’s] divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name” is sufficiently serious to merit the full wrath of God for those who have invented and practice this evil parody on the forgiveness of the Lord. In Scripture “the God of all grace” by means of His Word directly seeks, finds, and saves His people. Forgiveness is God’s gift to the believer. It is granted to the believer based on Christ’s finished work on the cross. God’s action in Christ Jesus shows His graciousness to believers so that their eyes of faith are fixed on Him alone. “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.”
Permission is given to copy and distribute this article.
Our MP3s are easily downloaded and our DVDs seen on Sermon Audio at:
1 Mark 2:7
 Acts 13:38-39
 Romans 3:21
 Ephesians 1:7
 I John 1:9
 I Timothy 2:5
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), Para. 1423, 1424
 Ibid., Para. 980
 Ibid., Para. 1446. Square brackets are in the original. Para. 1447 states that the practice of penance originated in Eastern monastic tradition. Thus Para. 1447 contradicts Para. 1446, which states that Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance.
 Ibid,. Para. 1424.
 Ibid., Para. 1441.
 The criteria for apostleship are given in Acts 1:21-22. In the New Testament the Apostles did not appoint other apostles. They appointed elders. (The terms overseer and elder/pastor are used interchangeably, Acts 20:17, 28; I Peter 5:1-4.)
 Acts Ch. 2
 Acts Ch. 17
 Catechism, Para. 1442 Although their proof text states, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation”, they have overlooked the fact that in this epistle the Apostle Paul is not addressing the other Apostles. Rather he is writing to “the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” In verse 19, which is not cited, the Apostle Paul explains very clearly the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to these believers, “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” This ministry does not state or carry with it the idea that there is any “exercise of the power of absolution” accompaning “the word of reconciliation” (i.e., the Gospel). Instead it explicitly denies that idea since the Apostle states that it is “the word of reconciliation” which has been entrusted to the believers.
 Ibid., Para 1461
 Ibid., Para. 1642
 Ibid., Para. 982
 Ibid., Para. 983
 Isaiah 43:25
 Ibid., Para. 1424
 Romans 1:16
 II Corinthians 5:19
 Catechism, Para. 1493
 Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Ed., New English Tr. (Canon Law Society of America, 1983) Canon 960.
 Ibid., Canon 988 §1.
 Catechism, Para. 1449
 Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Tr. by Roy J Deferrari from Enchiridion Symbolorum, 30th ed. (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1957) # 902. Because the Catholic Church claims that she is “irreformable”(Vatican Council II Document No. 28 Lumen Gentium, §25, p.380) and her popes infallible, the Council of Trent still officially stands and can in no way be abrogated by any official statements to the contrary.
 Catechism, Para. 1441
 Catechism, Para. 1444
 Acts 10:43
 Code of Canon Law, Canon 964 §3: “Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause.”
 John 8:36
 II Corinthians 4:6
 John 14:6; Acts 4:12, I Timothy 2:5
 Acts 16:31
 Romans 4:5
 Romans 3:26
 Catechism, Para 1441
 I Peter 5:10
 Romans 4:5-8; II Corinthians 5:19-21; Romans 3:21-28; Titus 3:5-7; Ephesians 1:7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; I Corinthians 1:30-31; Romans 5:17-19
 Romans 5.17