How can I explain to Protestant friends why Catholics go to confession?

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How can I explain to Protestant friends why Catholics go to confession? They ask, “Can’t God forgive your sins directly?”


Fr. Eamon Tobin has written in The Sacrament of Penance:

In response to this question, the first remark I often make is, "Why do we not object to having a mediator, another man, at the sacrament of baptism? Why don’t we just baptize ourselves?" Baptism, among other things, cleanses us of sin. The sacrament of reconciliation is like a second baptism; it cleanses us of post-baptismal sin. If we have no objections to another man’s mediating to us God’s grace in the sacrament of baptism, why should we object to another man’s mediating God’s grace in the sacrament of reconciliation?
The primary reason, however, why the Catholic Church asks her members to confess their sins to a priest is simply because the Church has always believed that sin, however private, is a community affair. Every sin, however small, wounds the Body of Christ, the members of the Church. . . . When any of its members sin, they all suffer. Moreover, because my sins wound the community and diminish its effectiveness, reconciliation must include the community and not just God. In the confessional, the priest is the representative of God andof the community. In the confessional, the priest represents the whole Christ, the Head (Jesus) and the members (the Church). [Emphases added]

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a “private” sin—not in the sense of a sin that affects nobody but myself. There are secret sins, but there are none which are matters affecting “only myself and God.” Likewise, our penitence benefits the whole Church, so we celebrate reconciliation communally.


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  1. Jesus instructed call no man Father for you have one Father which is in heaven. Yet with His own finger wrote in stone in the Ten Commandments, Honor thy mother and “father”. My mother is named Sherry. Jesus’ mother is Mary. Unless your birth mother is named Mary, Jesus’ Mother is not your mother. She is extremely blessed but only chosen. She is mother of the Son of Man. She is not diety

    • toby, you are obviously woefully uneducated in catholic doctrine and the history of Christianity. as Jesus is “God”, mary is the mother of God. therefore she is the mother of all Christians. this does not mean literally/physically, it means in her representative capacity as Christs “mom”. catholic doctrine reserves “worship” for only God, not mary, not saints, nor anybody or anything else.
      protestants often confuse “praying to” with “worshipping”.
      the 2 are not the same.
      in old english, “to pray” was to “request”, so just as a protestant might ask his pastor to pray for him or for someone else, so catholics ask Jesus mother and others to intercede for them. it is not required, but it is ok.
      another point here is that protestants believe that God is outside of time and space. therefore the prayer you pray today for you long dead grandmother, was known of by God even while she was alive and so He in His infinite wisdom would taken it into consideration at the proper time.
      as for you “father” comment, that is again a debate on who is God. your own argument on who your mom is defeats this argument as you cant have it both ways.
      man is not to call anyone the “Creator” or “father of all” would be a more appropriate way to describe Christs point in that passage… or shouldnt you call your dad “father” ??
      so in essence you are actually correct in what you are saying on these points, but are just misinterpreting the extent of the reach of what you are saying.
      be patient and study with a little more discernment.
      best to you !!

  2. I have a question that has bothered me since I was a child. I get great comfort in praying the rosary,but have never been able to remember the mysteries. I do have a couple of copies but they are not the same. Are they equally important? Also ,do I get the same benefits if I don’t include the mysteries in praying the rosary? Sometimes if I have trouble going to sleep I will pray an extra rosary and don’t want to wake my husband by turning on the bedside lamp to read the mysteries.

    • Dolores, I sometimes have trouble sleeping. So in order that I do not wake my husband up if I want to pray the rosary in the middle of the night, I put my headphones on and listen to it on Youtube from my mobile or Kindle. Hope that helps

  3. Delores, there was a time when I, after neglecting to say the rosary for years was again introduced to the Rosary. Like you I had forgotten the sequence of the mysteries. However after a bit of thought I finally realised that the mysteries follow the sequence of events in the Bible. For instance Glorious, ! Resurrection, 2 Ascension, 3 Decent of the Holy Spirit, $ Assumption, 5 Crowning of Lady as Queen

  4. I just wanted to point out something in this article that is not Biblical, the writer said “Baptism, among other things, cleanses us of sin.”. There is NOTHING that can cleanse us of our sins except the blood of Jesus! Baptism is simply something we do as believers to identify with Christ in his death and resurrection.

    • Actually, this line of thought is sadly mistaken. First of all — ” ‘Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name’ ” (Acts 22:16) — baptism does cleanse us of our sins. See also: Jn 3:5, 22; Tit 3:5; Acts 2:37-38; 1 Cor 6:11; Rom 6:4; 1 Pet 3:21; and Heb 10:22. Additionally, there is more to baptism than “simply” identifying with Christ in his death and resurrection; baptism is when we die to original sin and are reborn into the life Jesus has purchased for us. It is at this new birth that we are created anew, pure in the sight of Christ, free from sin and we receive the Holy Spirit.

  5. I would have also point out the fact Jesus says many will call his name and say I do not know you. I know there are also a few bible verses about going to tell another about you sin my grandma used to say them if we made bad choices.

  6. Jesus said, wherever two or more are gathered, I am present. (Paraphrasing) When we go to confession, there are two people, therefore Christ is present, and when we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness in the presence of Christ, that is when we can be absolved of our sin.

  7. The problem with this is that a lot of protestants don’t believe that baptism cleanses us of sin so that analogy wouldn’t really work. Not to mention that Jesus was blameless, without sin, so he wouldn’t need baptism to cleanse him yet he was baptized anyway. He did it as an outward sign to others, which is what in the non-denominational church we believe it is, an outward sign of faith. As a non-Catholic this didn’t really clear up confession for me and it still doesn’t make much sense to me which is sad because I am genuinely curious about other denomination’s beliefs, even if I don’t agree with them as I am open to converting to a different denomination if it makes sense to me as my salvation isn’t exactly at risk if I switch factions within the same basic religion.
    I did have a friend once who explained it much better than this and she was 17 and was doing it from memory. She did it in a way that made it personal and relatable as opposed to pious and a bit difficult to grasp (unlike this article).
    I’m afraid if you wanted to explain it to someone who doesn’t have a catholic up-bringing in anyway, this just won’t quite cut it.

    • I will repeat what I said above in case you didn’t see it there — ” ‘Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name’ ” (Acts 22:16) — baptism does cleanse us of our sins. See also: Jn 3:5, 22; Tit 3:5; Acts 2:37-38; 1 Cor 6:11; Rom 6:4; 1 Pet 3:21; and Heb 10:22. Additionally, there is more to baptism than “simply” identifying with Christ in his death and resurrection; baptism is when we die to original sin and are reborn into the life Jesus has purchased for us. It is at this new birth that we are created anew, pure in the sight of Christ, free from sin and we receive the Holy Spirit. As far as confession goes, I could point out these verses to be considered together, please have a look — Mt 9:2-8; Jn 20:23; Jn 20:22; 2 Cor 5:17-20; James 5:13-15; James 5:16; Mt 18:18; and 1 Jn 5:16. Please prayerfully consider these verses as you discern the validity of the Catholic view on Baptism and Confession. God Bless!

  8. “Truly I say to you, Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” from Matthew 18:18. Coming from a Catholic school, the teachers/nuns taught us that this is the reason why we do confession. Whatever is forgiven on earth is forgiven in heaven. Furthermore, in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Personally, I like going to confession, I like hearing the personalized message of the priest/ God’s representative. I feel that personal relationship with God. True, you can go directly and confess your sins (after all, priests are sinners too- Protestants say- it’s true) but there’s a reassurance that your sins were actually forgiven with confession. It is a very humbling experience to go to another human being and confess your sins.

  9. The article should also mention that Jesus himself gave us the sacrament of reconciliation when he told his Apostles “that whatever sins you forgive are forgiven and whatever sins are not forgiven are retained”. This pretty much sums it up. We go to a priest who are the successors of of the the first priests (the Apostles). My belief is that Jesus doesn’t want to make it too easy for us. We can all confess our sins directly to God, but it requires some effort to go into the confessional where Jesus is actually present and confess your sins to the priest. Confession has made a world of difference in my life. To sum up, Jesus gave us this wonderful sacrament, so to not take advantage of it is denying what Christ himself gave to us.

  10. Related to your article, effects the entire community and the priest represents the community, why can’t a deacon give absolution? Liturgically, they are the representative of the community at mass… Not that I want deacons to be given that faculty, but it is the natural conclusion (IMHO) from your argument…

  11. When a Protestant asks why we can’t confess our sins to God, the simple answer is “We can and do.” God is the first person we should say we’re sorry to. Venial sins are forgiven by God alone, and there is a penitential rite during Mass that takes care of it.
    The sacrament of Penance, strictly speaking, is for people who have separated themselves from the church due to serious sin. I know it’s not popular to say so, but we need not run to the clergy every time we stumble. That’s not the way it was done in the early church. You confessed serious sins — only once after baptism — to the bishop — a far cry from today’s push for “frequent confession” which keeps us children to the end of our lives. But like the public penance of old, our current form of confession is also dying a natural death.
    Ironically, many evangelicals often imitate the penitents of the early church when they stand and give their “testimonies.” They may not have to wear sackcloth and ashes, but confession, in one form or another, is always cleansing. It’s like a car wash for the soul. 🙂

    • But we are God’s children. The Sacrament of Confession, like all the Sacraments, imparts badly-needed grace to assist us in our lives here on earth and to aid us in reaching our eternal salvation. Strictly speaking, yes, one is only required to go to Confession once a year, and also any time one has committed a mortal sin. But why would one reject grace which is so freely and lovingly offerred? Things frequently done become habits–why not develop a good one.

      • Because it’s not working, Margarett. The sacrament only imparts grace if people show up to receive it. Have you seen the lines to the confessional lately? Our current form of confession is dying a natural death, just as public penance died long ago. People are rejecting it not because they don’t think they are sinners, and not because they don’t believe the Church has the power to forgive sins; they are rejecting a structure designed to keep us infantile and over-scrupulous.
        Sadly, our church leaders have blind spots when it comes to the needs of the church. They are not the best at introspection and self-correction. Authentic tradition is not a slavish imitation of the past; it’s a courageous effort to discriminate between the transitory and the essential. The essential part of confession is the forgiveness of sin. The transitory part is the method (or discipline) in which the sin is forgiven. We don’t want to give up on old practices too quickly. On the other hand we don’t want to cling to practices that are dying a natural death, or revive old practices that Catholics abandoned years ago and have no interest in practicing again.

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Written by Raphael Benedict

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