A Scrutiny of Auricular Confession

Auricular Confession
Catholics are taught to confess their serious sins at least once every year

When Pope Francis granted priests the power to absolve the sin of abortion in September 2015, it triggered a debate on social media.

Protestants pointed at the ridiculous idea of men having the power to forgive people’s sins, while Catholics responded by citing Bible verses from their echo chambers.

The Council of Trent declares that this confession to priest (sacrament of penance) is “necessary unto salvation” and places a curse on those who say otherwise.

In Catholic theology, there are two types of sin – the mortal and venial. A mortal sin is a serious offence against God’s law which kills the grace in the soul and leads to hell.

A venial sin is a less serious sin against God’s law which partially kills grace but can be removed by penance.

However, a sin is mortal when the thought, desire, word, action or omission is seriously wrong, the sinner knows it’s seriously wrong and he/she sinner fully consented to it.

A sin is venial “when the evil done is not seriously wrong; second, when the evil done is seriously wrong but the sinner sincerely believes it is only slightly wrong or does not give full consent to it” (The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, 32, 33).

When the penitent enters the confessional – a dark booth with a kneeling place and a window – he is to reflect on his sins until the priest (the confessor) slides open the window to listen to him. He must separate out the mortal from the venial sins. To hold back a mortal sin from the priest will send him to hell.

Three things are thus required: the penitent must show contrition for his sins, confess them and do the works of expiation (penance) that the priest levies on him.

But the Bible doesn’t distinguish between “mortal” and “venial” sins, rather it declares that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Sins are transgressions of God’s law and they are all mortal.

The Bible is replete with examples of people who did not see their sin as “seriously wrong” yet were severely judged by God (Lev. 10:1-2, Num. 12:1-10, 2 Sam. 6:20-23, Acts 5:3-5). In God’s standard, there is no “venial sin.”

Granted, as time changes, what qualifies as mortal sin too changes. Many years ago, eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin, now it’s no more.

Abortion used to a serious sin which qualified a Catholic for excommunication but now, the Pope, with a stroke of his sacerdotal pen, has removed the pain of eternal punishment attached to it.

Nothing more showcases the man-centered system of Catholicism than the fact that priests can even encourage some sins (!):

“If I [a priest] know that someone has made up his mind to commit sin and there is no other way of preventing him, I may lawfully induce him to be satisfied with some less offence of God than he was bent on committing. And so, if a man was determined to commit adultery, I do nothing morally wrong, but rather the contrary, by persuading him to commit fornication instead” (Manual of Moral Theology I:201-202).

When you insist on committing a sin, he bargains with you to commit what he decides is the “lesser sin”. So in most cases, these men “strengthen the hands of evildoers so that no one turns from his wickedness” (Jer. 23:14).

Even with the razzle-dazzle, Catholics don’t confess the sins of idolatry and necromancy because Catholicism endorses them.

Jesus’ denounced such religious leaders who do not enter God’s kingdom and still prevent others from trying to enter (Matt. 23:13).

The Canon law (#989) states that all Catholics above the age of discretion must confess their serious sins at least once a year.

All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret” (Catechism, 1456).

Now, this is a tool used by most cults: to break down the self-respect of their members by persuading them to share their most innermost secrets. Priests are mandated to resort to different tactics to draw out confessions of secret sins from the penitent:

It is necessary that the confessor should know everything on which he has to exercise his judgement. Let him then, with wisdom and subtlety, interrogate the sinners on the sins which they may ignore, or conceal through shame” (St. John of Capistrano, The Mirror of the Clergy, 351).

In a case where a lady goes to confess a sexual sin, she must fully recount the act to the priest (who is supposed to be celibate).

He probes her mind with questions to hear all the details. It’s a two-way thing. Through these questions, the lady’s mind is polluted with sexual ideas she might not have imagined before, while the priest’s mind becomes a reservoir for filthy images. Unless he is dead below the belt, he’s titillated by the sexually graphic details he hears.

I wonder how a lady will bring herself to share sexual details she can’t share with her friends with a priest. And even if she does, one imagines the intense shame it brings.

After confession and absolution, the priest gives the penitent “work of satisfaction” for his sins. This could be to recite “Hail Mary” or “Our Father” a given number of times, or to visit the “blessed sacrament”.

The absolution granted doesn’t take effect until when the penance is done. Interestingly, priests trapped in mortal sins can still remove the sins of the laity:

The Church asks that a priest who absolves a penitent be in the state of grace. This does not mean however that a priest in the state of mortal sin would not possess the power to forgive sins or that when exercised it would not be effective for the penitent” (Bishop Fulton Sheen, Peace of Soul, 1949, 136).

“St” Thomas Aquinas put it more bluntly that “a priest might happen to share in a sin committed by his subject, e.g by [carnal] knowledge of a woman who is his subject … If however, he were to absolve her, it would be valid” (Summa Theologica, 3:4:274-76).

In other words, a confessor may be a rabid fornicator, pedophile, homosexual or indulges in porn, yet he still has ‘the power’ to absolve Catholics of these very sins (sometimes, after his own perverse fantasies have been fuelled by their confessions!)

Little wonder there have been cases of boys sodomised by priests in the confession booth. They went to him to be cleansed from their sins, but ended up more defiled because what the priest himself needs is just a “spark” for his perverted lust to explode.

Auricular confession is mainly based on the belief that “all the bishops and priests of the Catholic Church have the power to forgive sins” – a power they claim was given to them by Jesus (Outlines of the Catholic Faith, 1979, 34). By way of reply:

1. It is God – not man – who blots out sins. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). He is the One forgives all our iniquities.

It’s irrational to suggest God would stop the power to forgive sin in Himself and restrict it only to a select group of people. If He did that, it would diminish His omnipotence.

2. Some Catholics appeal to the Old Testament, but even Trent affirms that the sacrament of penance is not in the OT.

The OT priests only made atonement on behalf of sins, they neither listened to confessions nor granted absolution.

Ezra the priest said “Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure…” (Ezra 10:11).

David said: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt.” (Psalm 32:5).

Even the Jews listening to Jesus quizzed “who can forgive sins but God?” (Mark 2:7).

3. When the Bible speaks of “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), it’s based on what God has done through Christ on the cross.

A believer is reconciled with God by faith in Christ’s sacrifice not by following the penance prescribed by a religion. Sin, which caused enmity, was dealt with at the cross and the veil of the temple was torn, so there is no need to go through priests to relate with God.

To gain a right standing before God, one must receive the righteousness of Christ by faith in His perfect sacrifice.

“However, when someone, without working, puts faith in the one who justifies the godless, it is this faith that is reckoned as uprightness” (Romans 4:5).

4. Catholics usually lean on some Bible verses for support:

I. John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (New American Bible)

Jesus gave all the apostles and disciples power and authority to act in His name. But this was a declaratory power (Mt. 16:18, 18:18). He sent them as the Father sent Him to “to bring the good news to the afflicted” (Lk. 4:18).

They were commanded to proclaim the gospel by which all who believe will receive forgiveness of sin (Matt. 28:18, Mk. 16:15, Lk. 24:44). Jesus was the one saving men from their sins; the apostles were only His emissaries. They were not “little gods” given power to forgive and retain men’s sins.

According to a commentator:

In this Gospel’s discourse sin is primarily failing to acknowledge the revelation of God in Jesus (cf. 8:24; 9:39-41; 15:22-24). Jesus’ words and works have been depicted as bringing about a judgement which the recipients make on themselves, as they either respond in belief or expose their sinful state of unbelief” (Andrew Lincoln, The Gospel According to St. John, Hendrickson: New York, 2005, 499).

Acts 2:38 “‘You must repent,’ Peter answered, ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (New Jerusalem Bible).

Acts 10:43 “It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name”

Acts 26:18 “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to God, and receive, through faith in me, forgiveness of their sins and a share in the inheritance of the sanctified”

The forgiveness of sins is received by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If the apostles had understood the words of Jesus in John 20:23 to mean listening to confessions and granting absolution as Catholicism practices, there would have been several places in the NT where they did such, but there are none.

Catholics desperately latch on to this verse and refuse to consider its proper context.

II. James 5:16 “So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another to be cured...(NAB)

If Catholics must use this verse then as people confess to the priests, the priests must also confess to the people, since the term “one another” is used there. Obviously, the priest-laity distinction is refuted here as with the rest of the NT.

When Simon’s sin was pointed out to him, Peter told him: “Repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that this scheme of yours may be forgiven” (Acts 8:22).

He didn’t take him into a booth to hear his sins and grant absolution, rather he directed him to God who forgives sins.

The Greek word for fault (paraptoma) is different from that of sin (hamartia), though Christians do confess their sins to other believers and get prayed for. But it’s not “necessary for salvation” as Catholicism teaches.

And to say that God will not forgive a person unless he confesses to a priest and does work of expiation is totally false.

III. 2 Cor. 2:10 “But if you forgive anybody, then I too forgive that person; and whatever I have forgiven, if there is anything I have forgiven, I have done it for your sake in Christ’s presence

The import of this chapter is about forgiveness between brethren and how this is to be handled has been addressed by Scripture (Mt. 5:23-24, 18:15). Nothing here supports confession to priests.

4. As Christians, when we sin, the Bible says we have “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the upright.” (1Jn. 2:1).

We are to confess our sins directly to Christ because He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn. 1:9).

Why go to a man – pretending to be Christ – when you can go directly to Christ to cleanse you? A Catholic will keep entering the booth as a sinner and leaving it the same because only “the blood of the lamb” can take away his/her sins (Jn. 1:29).

5. The word “penance” doesn’t occur even once in the Bible. What the Bible teaches is repentance and it’s folly for anyone to equate confession with repentance.

A person can confess a sin many times and still not repent from it. When Judas sinned, he confessed his sin to the priests and hanged himself (Mt. 27:4-5). His confession didn’t remove his guilt.

The idea of “doing works of satisfaction” is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s work and a rejection of Biblical justification.

Since Jesus is the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins, there is no amount of “work” prescribed by man that can cleanse us from sin or guilt. Forgiveness of sins is a gift from God, all we have to do is receive it by faith.

The historical development of auricular confession has been examined here.

How Auricular Confession Developed

download (1)

The Council of Trent Canon 6 states:

If anyone denies that sacramental confession was instituted by divine law or is necessary to salvation; or says that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Catholic Church has always observed from the beginning and still observes, is at variance with the institution and command of Christ and is a human contrivance, let him be anathema.”

Here, a curse (anathema is the strongest word used in Greek) is placed on those – Protestants – who denied that private confession to priest was divine; was necessary to be saved; observed from the beginning and was never altered.

History, however, proves that these four assertions are patently false and misleading.

Though Catholics have attempted to “find” the sacrament of penance in the New Testament (to no avail), the writings of the church fathers indicate that such a practice was unknown in their time.

Clement of Rome: “The Lord of all things, brethren, is in need of naught; neither requireth he anything of any one, except to confess unto him. For the elect, David saith, I will confess unto the Lord, and that shall please him more than a young calf that putteth forth horns and hoofs” (First Clement, 52).

John Chrysostom: “We do not request you to go to confess your sins to any of your fellowmen, but only to God … You need no witnesses of your confession. Secretly acknowledge your sins and let God alone hear you” (De Paenitentia 4:901).

Basil: “I have not come before the world to make a confession with my lips. But I close my eyes, and confess my sins in the secret of my heart. Before thee, O God, I pour out my sighs, and thou alone art the witness” (Commentary on Psalm, 37).

Augustine: “What have I to do with men that they should hear my confessions, as if they were able to heal my infirmities? The human race is very curious to know another person’s life, but very lazy to correct it” (Confessions, Ch. 3).

The earliest work mentioning anything resembling penance (originally called a “second plank”) can be found in Tertuillan’s work, De Paenitentia (or On Repentance). However, it was not a universal practice at the time and it is vastly different from what Roman Catholicism practices today. Here is how he described it:

This act which is more usually expressed and commonly spoken under a Greek name, is exomologesis whereby we confess our sins to the Lord, not indeed as if He were ignorant of them, but inasmuch as by confession satisfaction is settled, of confession repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased.

“And thus exomolegesis is a discipline for man’s prostration and humiliation enjoining a demeanor calculated to move mercy … it commands (the penitent) to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in mourning, to lay his spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe treatment the sins which he has committed; moreover, to know no food and drink… to groan, to weep and make outcries unto the Lord your God; to bow before the feet of the presbyters and to kneel to God’s dear ones; to enjoin on all the brethren to be ambassadors to bear his deprecatory supplication before God” (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, VIII).

This confession was to God, not to a priest, and the gestures were severe and public.

A Catholic work agrees that in the early church, “There [was] no private sacramental penance as we know it, even though the public character of the canonical penance may vary. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the reception of the eucharist seem to have been the normal remedies for the daily sins of Christians” (The New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Joseph Chomonchak, India, 2006, p. 833).

It was also recorded that:

“At the close of the fourth century in the great churches of the Orient, 60,000 Christians received the Eucharistic communion, in one day, in both kinds, with no other than their private confessions to Almighty God” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 3:48)

In Roman Catholicism, a person who has committed a mortal sin and has not confessed it to a priest is forbidden from receiving the Eucharist under the pain of eternal punishment.

This is one more proof that early Christians were not Catholics, because this would have implied that these 60,000 people were without mortal sins, to have received the communion in one day.

The only private confession they made was to God and they were reconciled to Him – without any priestly medium involved.

The term “exomologesis” used by Tertullian refers to a public confession, as an author stated:

“When one studies the question, with the document before his eyes, it is impossible not to confess that the Primitive discipline of the Church exhibits not a vestige of the auricular [private] confession afterwards introduced” (L’Abbe, Le Confesseur, 1866, 15).

Patrologist, J. N. D. Kelly enunciates:

“Inspite of the ingenious arguments of certain scholars, there are still no signs of a sacrament of private penance (i.e confession to a priest followed by absolution and the imposition of penance) such as Catholic Christendom knows today. The system which seems to have existed in the Church at this time [i.e. the 3rd century], and for centuries afterwards, was wholly public, involving confession, a period of penance and exclusion from communion and formal absolution and restoration- the whole process being called exomologesis” (Early Christian Doctrines, Harper Collins, 1978, 216).

When one compares what Tertullian (and the early church) describes with what the Council of Trent says about this issue, one must conclude that, either Tertullian misunderstood and misinterpreted what Jesus meant when He (allegedly) instituted the sacrament of penance, OR the Roman Catholic institution in the later centuries had a “superior insight” into what Christ taught than the early church as a whole.

Either way, Roman Catholicism’s doctrinal continuity is shown to be a hoax.

Church history showed that private confession was stopped in the Eastern Church around 400 AD.

But in the West, scholars “trace the origin of private penance as a normal discipline to the churches of Ireland, Wales and Britain, where the Sacraments, including Penance, were administered usually by the abbot of a monastery and his priest-monks… However it was not until the 11th century that secret sins were absolved at the time of confession and before the fulfillment of penance” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, XI: 75).

In the 8th century, regular confession to a superior at least once a year was recommended. Confession and penance before each mass was allowed.

In the 9th century, the classification of sins made up by Gregory the Great in the 6th century was incorporated into the penitential system of Catholicism and this made private confession to a priest acceptable.

Notwithstanding, “there was no general agreement upon the necessity of sacerdotal confession. In the twelfth century for example, the [Peter] Aberlardian school rejected its necessity, while the Victorine school insisted upon it.” It was not until the Fourth Lateran council of 1215 that penance officially became obligatory and a sacrament (Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei, A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2005, 117-121).

Another work says:

“At the close of the twelfth century a complete change was made in the doctrine of penance … The first elements added by the medieval system were that confession to the priest and absolution by the priest are necessary for pardon. Peter the Lombard did not make mediation of the priest a requirement, but declared that confession to God was sufficient. In his time [12th century], he says there was no agreement on three aspects of penance … The opinions handed down from the fathers, he asserts, were diverse, if not antagonistic” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 5, pp. 573-4).

So Medieval Catholicism purportedly had the “power” to change the penance into a doctrine unknown in the early centuries. Yet the Council of Trent had the effrontery to call this concoction of men in the cauldron of delusion a “divine law…observed from the beginning.” Such deceit!

When Fr. Mitch Pacwa, a notable Catholic apologist was confronted with these facts replied:

Christ didn’t give us formats how the sacrament of confession should be done thereby we are open to the necessity of the Church and so the Holy Spirit leads the Church in every age. He lets the people use one form in one age and then as we continue to learn the different things that needs to be applied in different cultures and ages, the sacrament itself changes. The Church is still learning.”

This is typical Jesuit logic. He implicitly admits that his church has changed her doctrines, but quickly blames it on the Holy Spirit.

By diving into this relativistic theory, he contradicts the position of the Council of Trent and the hoary canard of Rome that: “the Church never changes” (semper eadem). If such “changes” were acceptable for Roman Catholicism, then Protestantism’s Biblical stance on confessing to God remains valid.

Why the switch from public to private confessionals? Some scholars said it was because of the scandals that public confessions created.

That may be true, but it also seems that it was done to mimic the old pagan mystery rites in which secret confessions were mandatory. For example:

“The ritual texts show that both public and private confession was practiced in Babylonia. Indeed, private confession seems to have been the older and more usual method” (A. H. Sayce, The Religion of Ancient Egypt and Babylon, Edinburgh, 1902, p. 497).

The Greeks were also not far behind:

“All the Greeks from Delphi to Thermopylae, were initiated in the mysteries of the temple of Delphi. Their silence in regard to everything they were commanded to keep secret was secured by the general confession exacted of the aspirants after initiations” (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, [first published in 1856] 2007 edition, p. 9).

Among the Aztecs, confession rites were made to their fertility goddess, Tlazolteutl:

“The ‘sinner’ would appear before the priest and list all misdeeds. Wrong-doing would include disobeying the gods, deviating from the mores of the community, cowardice during battle, and neglect of sacrifices. Offerings were made to the gods, and absolution was granted by Tlazolteutl’s priest. If the confession was honest, Tlazoteutl would absorb the sins of the confessor, and purify the soul” (Turner Patricia and Coulter Russell, Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities, 2000, p. 88).

The confessional has long been Satan’s weapon of control and seduction. It has created a suitable environment for perversions in the hearts of father confessors to burn and many women, girls and boys have been consumed.

A Dominican priest candidly wrote:

“With the advent of the private confession of sins came the abuse known as solicitation for sex in the act of sacramental confession. Unscrupulous priests began to use the intimacy of confession as an opportunity to seduce the penitent into some form of sexual contact. This abuse is particularly heinous because it takes advantage of a person when he or she is most vulnerable and susceptible to the abuse of priestly power” (Thomas Doyle, O. P., Crimen Solicitationis Promulgated by the Vatican, March 4, 2010).

This pattern of sexual abuse through the booth has been a huge scandal right down to this day.

Perhaps this is why the Catholic Encyclopedia (11:628) discreetly wrote:

“If at the Reformation or since the Church could have surrendered a doctrine or abandoned a practice for the sake of peace and to soften a ‘hard saying,’ confession would have been the first to disappear!”

So why has Catholicism not given up the confessional seeing the bad fruitage it has borne?

From 1561 to 2001, popes and bishops have handed down disciplinary laws against solicitation for sex during confession, but why has the unbiblical practice itself been maintained? Because it serves their purpose – to wield a system of control over Catholics!

This is what happens when a religious system is more concerned with its public image than addressing the evil being meted out to its adherents.

On March 16, 1962, the Congregation of the Holy Office issued a document Crimen Solicitationis (approved by pope John XXIII). It was sent to all bishops worldwide, yet they were strangely told to maintain a strict confidentiality about the document and to never allow it to be reproduced.

It was not until 2001 that the Vatican publicly mentioned this document. Most bishops were not even aware of its existence. This, as Fr. Doyle said, is due to Romanism’s “culture of secrecy, clericalism and institutional self-preservation.”

They make their own laws, write down the penalty and then do everything in their power to hide it from even the culprits! This is reprehensible.

Technically, most of the documents the Vatican releases against sexual abuse are mere public relations stunts. Their primary aim is to keep the scandals buried in a rat’s nest. All these prove without doubt that Roman Catholicism is a religious system of falsehood and spiritual bondage.