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Catholics...is confession optional?

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I have a question for Catholics. Is believing in the theological correctness (?) of confession an integral part of being Catholic? I always thought it was, but I don't have a source for that.

 

I was just talking to a Catholic friend, and she strongly disagrees with the idea and practice of going to confession. She thinks forgiveness is between you and God alone, and the practice of confessing your sins to a priest was actually just a tactic used by the church to historically control people (she didn't go into detail). Her family is actively Catholic (attend mass, etc.) so I was surprised to hear her object to it in that manner.

 

Oddly enough, as an atheist, confession is one of the things I like best about Catholicism. I think it's all too easy for someone to gloss over the wrongs they've done when they aren't held accountable to another person, and they can ask for forgiveness in a bat of an eye without changing heir behavior. Knowing that they are going to have to say those sins aloud to somebody changes things, and hopefully the priest can give them a penance that is proactive and makes a difference in the world (eg do something kind and generous for the person you gossiped about, etc). Not that my opinion has any bearing on the original question. I'm just wondering how common not agreeing with confession is among Catholics in general.

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I have never heard that, but even if it was used as a tool for controlling people at one point, I don't believe that is necessarily relevant now. Obviously, don't see a priest that you think is abusing the information, but other than that, I don't know what to say.

 

We're supposed to go to Confession I think 1 or 2 times per year (but I don't know if this is a hard rule, just kind of what I've observed). I generally go before Christmas and Easter and other times when I see fit. If I miss around a major religious holiday but have no mortal sins and haven't gone that long between confessions, I don't worry.

 

Depending on what you confess and who you see you may not be told to do a penance like you describe. You might be asked to pray (they can give specifics). You might be asked to pray and do something. It just varies.

 

I have struggled with my scrupulous nature so as a teen I hated constantly doubting when I should go to Confession before Communion. Even now there are times when I struggle. I'm sure there are times I remained in the pew but didn't need to. I hated the feeling of drawing all this attention to myself.

 

We do not have set Confession hour at some churches around me so I have to deliberately make an appointment in advance or I guess ask the priest if he has time before/after Mass (which although they aren't supposed to refuse to hear you, I don't always ask because I know they sometimes have to dart to another church for Mass). Certain times of year many parishes offer a penance service where several priests attend. Then you can get in line with one out of like five or whatever. Unless you aren't meeting in the confessional, you usually having a choice between face-to-face or some type of screen.

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Receiving the sacrament of reconciliation once a year is one of the precepts of the Church. The precepts are the absolute minimum actions required of Catholics regarding the Church. So in order for your friend to be faithfully practicing Catholicism in accordance with the church she'd need to go to confession once a year.

 

I'm not sure if the belief in the sacrament is a requirement but I would think one would faithfully try to change their mind on the belief and receive it with the intentions of gaining better understanding of its validity.

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Yes, if one is in a state of mortal sin one should confess asap. And before receiving communion. And if nothing else, once a year during lent.

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And for the record, we aren't confessing TO the priest, we are confessing to God in front of the priest. 

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Receiving the sacrament of reconciliation once a year is one of the precepts of the Church. The precepts are the absolute minimum actions required of Catholics regarding the Church. So in order for your friend to be faithfully practicing Catholicism in accordance with the church she'd need to go to confession once a year.

 

I'm not sure if the belief in the sacrament is a requirement but I would think one would faithfully try to change their mind on the belief and receive it with the intentions of gaining better understanding of its validity.

Correct. Once a year is required.

 

I doubt that most Catholic parents teach this to their children, because they don't know, and many religious ed programs don't teach it either. So it's understandable why many Catholics would be unfamiliar with this precept and the others.

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Oddly enough, as an atheist, confession is one of the things I like best about Catholicism. I think it's all too easy for someone to gloss over the wrongs they've done when they aren't held accountable to another person, and they can ask for forgiveness in a bat of an eye without changing heir behavior. Knowing that they are going to have to say those sins aloud to somebody changes things, and hopefully the priest can give them a penance that is proactive and makes a difference in the world (eg do something kind and generous for the person you gossiped about, etc). Not that my opinion has any bearing on the original question. I'm just wondering how common not agreeing with confession is among Catholics in general.

 

I am a protestant Christian and I too find this to be one of the things I am most attracted to about Catholicism. I think repentance spoken out loud better leads to changed behavior. 

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Correct. Once a year is required.

 

I doubt that most Catholic parents teach this to their children, because they don't know, and many religious ed programs don't teach it either. So it's understandable why many Catholics would be unfamiliar with this precept and the others.

 

Your assumption about "most Catholic parents" seems very bizarre. Most Catholic parents have their children do their first Communion. Part of this process includes first reconciliation. So Catholic parents are very aware of this process. Whether or not they continue is another thing.

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Your assumption about "most Catholic parents" seems very bizarre. Most Catholic parents have their children do their first Communion. Part of this process includes first reconciliation. So Catholic parents are very aware of this process. Whether or not they continue is another thing.

Depends on the parish, or maybe the country? I'm in the Netherlands and certainly did not have first reconciliation when I did my first communion as a child. My children now, also do not have first reconciliation before first communion.

 

There usually is a reconcilliation mass in the Holy Week, but no individual confession.

 

Not saying it is right!

I think it's because the great lack of priests. We have one priest for 18 parishes.

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Your assumption about "most Catholic parents" seems very bizarre. Most Catholic parents have their children do their first Communion. Part of this process includes first reconciliation. So Catholic parents are very aware of this process. Whether or not they continue is another thing.

Sorry if I wasn't clear.

 

I'm sure every Catholic knows about confession. I just don't think they know about the once a year requirement. I never was taught it as a child and many Catholic friends I know rarely go to confession if at all, even if they go to Mass every week. I think they don't really know they are supposed to go at least every year.

Edited by Tiramisu
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Depends on the parish, or maybe the country? I'm in the Netherlands and certainly did not have first reconciliation when I did my first communion as a child. My children now, also do not have first reconciliation before first communion.

 

There usually is a reconcilliation mass in the Holy Week, but no individual confession.

 

Not saying it is right!

I think it's because the great lack of priests. We have one priest for 18 parishes.

That's really sad about the lack of vocations. I didn't know it was so bad.

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As lame as my knowledge is in this area, I've always been aware of the once-per-year rule of thumb.  A quick google shows that this is an obligation for grave/mortal sins, but otherwise the once-per-year is just a strong recommendation.  http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/is-a-catholic-required-to-go-to-confession-at-least-once-a-year-if-he-has-not-committ

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I am a protestant Christian and I too find this to be one of the things I am most attracted to about Catholicism. I think repentance spoken out loud better leads to changed behavior. 

 

Lutherans have retained private confession and absolution (fallen into disuse some now, but many pastors in my denomination (LCMS) are working to bring it back into common use).  It's not just about the psychological benefits of speaking repentance aloud (and hearing a personal, specifically-for-me absolution) for us, though - we believe it is a means of grace - that God for-real-and-true forgives our sins through the pastor declaring us absolved "in the stead and by the command of God".  We do differ some from what I understand of Catholic confession, in that it's not about trying to confess *all* our sins (something we believe is impossible), but private confession is for confessing the sins that particularly trouble us.

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Bad Catholic that I am, I'm impressed and humbled that there are Catholics who have so advanced in holiness that they need not confess their sins even once a year. God knows I'm not able to go two weeks without committing a serious sin.

 

Though on reflection, I can call to mind two or three Catholics I've known who, if I were to peer into their souls and discover that they hadn't committed a single serious sin over the course of the past year, I would not be shocked. The irony is that they go to confession frequently.

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I haven't read the responses, but I have to admit that I chuckled reading your post. Yes, confession is a huge part of the faith and if someone doesn't believe in confession then they aren't actually a practicing catholic. Even if they say they are. Just as you can't be pro choice and catholic.

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We do differ some from what I understand of Catholic confession, in that it's not about trying to confess *all* our sins (something we believe is impossible), but private confession is for confessing the sins that particularly trouble us.

We cover for that by ending with ".. for these and for all my sins, I am truly sorry." We get a lot of mileage out of boilerplate.

 

We agree on the impossibility of confessing all one's sins (who could even remember them all and still function normally?); if there's a difference, it's that for us private confession is for confessing sins that particularly trouble God.

 

ETA: In answer to the OP's question: yes, assent of faith to the doctrines regarding the sacraments is an integral part of being Catholic.

Edited by Violet Crown
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Regarding "speaking aloud" - I've been to services where we wrote our sins down. At one service we wrote them down and all threw them in a pot and they were burned. I think we handed the piece of paper to a priest before that, but I don't know if we read it aloud.

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Speaking as someone who left the Catholic Church at age 16 (with forced Confession as a requirement of my Catholic HS being a big part of the reason that I left), returning to the Church about 10 years ago, and only going to confession again for the first time recently (that's 26 years between confessions, if you are keeping track), I have a different view...

 

My husband loves confession... he always comes home happier and walking taller after he's been. He's been encouraging me to go since we married 8 years ago. I didn't go... because I was scared. It is scary to think about having to admit your faults and imperfections and sins in the presence of another person. Also, my faith is no where near as strong as his, and I have a great respect for the sacraments - I didn't want to go while I was unsure that I even believed in it.

 

So, that's my perspective. It might not be the perspective of the many, but might be for a few...

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I have a question for Catholics. Is believing in the theological correctness (?) of confession an integral part of being Catholic? I always thought it was, but I don't have a source for that.

 

I was just talking to a Catholic friend, and she strongly disagrees with the idea and practice of going to confession. She thinks forgiveness is between you and God alone, and the practice of confessing your sins to a priest was actually just a tactic used by the church to historically control people (she didn't go into detail). Her family is actively Catholic (attend mass, etc.) so I was surprised to hear her object to it in that manner.

 

Oddly enough, as an atheist, confession is one of the things I like best about Catholicism. I think it's all too easy for someone to gloss over the wrongs they've done when they aren't held accountable to another person, and they can ask for forgiveness in a bat of an eye without changing heir behavior. Knowing that they are going to have to say those sins aloud to somebody changes things, and hopefully the priest can give them a penance that is proactive and makes a difference in the world (eg do something kind and generous for the person you gossiped about, etc). Not that my opinion has any bearing on the original question. I'm just wondering how common not agreeing with confession is among Catholics in general.

 

Your Catholic friend is a rebel.  :)   It is a requirement. 

 

(Not Catholic, but attended for many years.  I agree with your friend). 

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Speaking as someone who left the Catholic Church at age 16 (with forced Confession as a requirement of my Catholic HS being a big part of the reason that I left), returning to the Church about 10 years ago, and only going to confession again for the first time recently (that's 26 years between confessions, if you are keeping track), I have a different view...

 

My husband loves confession... he always comes home happier and walking taller after he's been. He's been encouraging me to go since we married 8 years ago. I didn't go... because I was scared. It is scary to think about having to admit your faults and imperfections and sins in the presence of another person. Also, my faith is no where near as strong as his, and I have a great respect for the sacraments - I didn't want to go while I was unsure that I even believed in it.

 

So, that's my perspective. It might not be the perspective of the many, but might be for a few...

 

I became a Catholic as an adult, and in our archdiocese we have to do first reconciliation before first communion and confirmation. It's pretty intimidating, for sure, trying to figure out what and how much to say, but after my first and all subsequent confessions with a priest, there is a sense of peace, release and energy that I've felt. Some confessions are more like sessions with a counsellor, some are short with very little discussion from the priest; a lot depends on what is the setting. At a religious retreat, the confessions tend to have a lot more depth to them, as you are usually in a mindset of contemplation; after a personal tragedy a confession may be a building-up discussion. 

 

Confession is meant to be a gift of grace, and when it's used as such, it can have wonderful effects.  The story of St. John Vianney is fascinating. In his time, people came from far and wide to have him receive confession. 

Edited by wintermom
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I have a question for Catholics. Is believing in the theological correctness (?) of confession an integral part of being Catholic? I always thought it was, but I don't have a source for that.

 

I was just talking to a Catholic friend, and she strongly disagrees with the idea and practice of going to confession. She thinks forgiveness is between you and God alone, and the practice of confessing your sins to a priest was actually just a tactic used by the church to historically control people (she didn't go into detail). Her family is actively Catholic (attend mass, etc.) so I was surprised to hear her object to it in that manner.

 

Oddly enough, as an atheist, confession is one of the things I like best about Catholicism. I think it's all too easy for someone to gloss over the wrongs they've done when they aren't held accountable to another person, and they can ask for forgiveness in a bat of an eye without changing heir behavior. Knowing that they are going to have to say those sins aloud to somebody changes things, and hopefully the priest can give them a penance that is proactive and makes a difference in the world (eg do something kind and generous for the person you gossiped about, etc). Not that my opinion has any bearing on the original question. I'm just wondering how common not agreeing with confession is among Catholics in general.

 

A few of my Catholic family members did not/do not believe in it.  My mother in particular refused to do it.  I did it once (I didn't really have a choice) as a kid.  It was pretty dumb.  They don't have you do something proactive that I know of.  They have you say some prayers.

 

I have exactly the opposite thought about it being helpful for making someone think twice about their behavior.  Some people figure they'll be forgiven either way so there is always confession.  My grandfather thought very much like that.  He was a pretty big jerk and thought he was a good person because he went to church every week.  (This according to my  mother because I met him about 2 times total in my life.)

 

 

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Your friend's ideas about Confession are definitely not in line with the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ, Himself, instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation when he commissioned the apostles saying in John 20:22-23 "And when he had said this, 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.'"

 

It takes a great deal of humility to walk into a Confessional and admit that you have fallen short and sinned. I go pretty frequently because I have found that it helps me spiritually to regularly examine my conscience and confess my sins.

 

Confession is like a mini counseling session. If you have sins that you especially struggle with over and over a good priest can help you figure out the root of it and help you overcome it.

 

I hope and pray your friend realizes that she and her children are missing out on such a beautiful and healing grace.

Edited by speedmom4
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Also, there is something called the "seal of Confession," which means that the priest must keep what you say 100 percent confidential. He can't even mention it privately to you afterwards without your oermission. If he breaks this it is a mortal sin for him, and he is supposed to be willing to be imprisoned or even die rather than break it. So it's a pretty big deal. :). Actually if you look at the way The practice of Confession developed, your friend's theory doesn't make much sense. In the early church people confessed their sins to a priest publicly and did their penance publicly, and the penances were pretty harsh. If it was all just about control, then why soften that practice? The way it's done now is out of mercy.

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Also, there is something called the "seal of Confession," which means that the priest must keep what you say 100 percent confidential. He can't even mention it privately to you afterwards without your oermission. If he breaks this it is a mortal sin for him, and he is supposed to be willing to be imprisoned or even die rather than break it. So it's a pretty big deal. :). Actually if you look at the way The practice of Confession developed, your friend's theory doesn't make much sense. In the early church people confessed their sins to a priest publicly and did their penance publicly, and the penances were pretty harsh. If it was all just about control, then why soften that practice? The way it's done now is out of mercy.

 

This could be very problematic.  Like if someone confessed to molesting children or murdering someone.  I don't think priests should be allowed to keep that to themselves.

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This could be very problematic. Like if someone confessed to molesting children or murdering someone. I don't think priests should be allowed to keep that to themselves.

As far as I know, in that situation, the priest can make it part of that person's penance to turn themselves in. If you don't do your penance, your Confessionis not complete and you are not forgiven. Also, if you are not really sorry and you intend to go commit the same sins again, you are not forgiven. What your grandfather did, the "I can do whatever I want and go to Confession later," is the very serious sin of presumption.

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Mindful of today's canonization, some reflections of Mother Teresa of Calcutta on Confession:

 

"And how will you find Jesus? He has made it so easy for us. 'Love one another as I loved you.' If we have gone astray, we have the beautiful sacrament of confession. We go to confession a sinner full of sin. We come from confession a sinner without sin by the greatness of the mercy of God. No need for us to despair. No need for us to be discouraged—no need, if we have understood the tenderness of God’s love. You are precious to him. He loves you, and he loves you so tenderly that he has carved you on the palm of his hand. These are God’s words written in the Scripture. Remember that when your heart feels restless, when your heart feels hurt, when your heart feels like breaking—then remember, 'I am precious to him. He loves me. He has called me by my name. I am his. He loves me. God loves me.' And to prove that love he died on the cross."

 

(Edited for mortal typos)

Edited by Violet Crown
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Not exactly sure where your friend heard that, have never heard of Confession being a tool mandated by the church to manipulate people. As others mentioned, yes, it is mandatory...at least once a year. But the recommendation is ideally once a month.

 

Confession was instituted by Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday after He resurrected. He gave His apostles the power to forgive sins. It was not something just created by the church.

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She is wrong. It is absolutely required.

You don't have to bullet point every item or anything like that.  But "it's just between me and God"  is not how Catholics approach it at all.

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Thanks for the replies, that helps a lot. So would you go so far as to say that she isn't Catholic because of that?

 

No. She may not be fully practicing the faith, but she's still a Catholic. 

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Thanks for the replies, that helps a lot. So would you go so far as to say that she isn't Catholic because of that?

 

No way.

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A few of my Catholic family members did not/do not believe in it.  My mother in particular refused to do it.  I did it once (I didn't really have a choice) as a kid.  It was pretty dumb.  They don't have you do something proactive that I know of.  They have you say some prayers.

 

I have exactly the opposite thought about it being helpful for making someone think twice about their behavior.  Some people figure they'll be forgiven either way so there is always confession.  My grandfather thought very much like that.  He was a pretty big jerk and thought he was a good person because he went to church every week.  (This according to my  mother because I met him about 2 times total in my life.)

 

This has a name, The Sin of Presumption.

 

http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-is-the-sin-of-presumption

 

http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/13686/what-is-the-basis-for-the-roman-catholic-teaching-regarding-the-sin-of-presumpti

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Did your friend grow up Catholic?

 

The view she is expressing is more of certain Protestant denominations than anything else and others have said, it's not a Catholic belief.

 

There has been a larger number of Protestants joining the Catholic Church and with them, they bring their history and views. Many RCIA series are shorter and lighter on content than ever before. I only mention this because even as a non-practicing Catholic who was actively raised in the church I increasingly hear things being said by members of the Catholic Church that are the antithesis of many things I learned as a child from years of continuing Christian education classes that were reinforced by my family at home.

 

I think it takes some time to assimilate fully into a religious and cultural tradition as large and as old as the Catholic Church and that even with good catechization and more in-depth RCIA some new adherents will still hold on to parts a paradigm and values which more closely reflect their childhood and not their decision to join the church.

Edited by LucyStoner

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Along with what level of education she received, I think the priest bears some responsibility here. Mine regularly discusses the importance of confession during announcements or his homily, makes sure there are lots of opportunities, brings it up again every Sunday in Lent, etc etc etc. It's also in the bulletin during lent, the reminder to go once before Easter, etc. 

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She grew up Catholic, her DH converted to it early on in their relationship, their son just went through confirmation (I think that's the term). So you'd think they'd know it was important, but I guess it's just something they differ with the Church on.

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Well growing up Catholic doesn't mean they know all things about being Catholic. My parents are devout and were heavily involved in the Church, but I would get confused about things and still don't have their level of understanding about some things. Peers of less involved Catholics probably had even more gaps in their knowledge. Your friend's dh probably was taught about the importance of Confession, though.

 

I remember in college being essentially scolded by another Catholic for my understanding of what fasting was. We were not raised with the same rule of thumb and even years later I hear conflicting ideas about it. http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Lent/fast-abstinence.html This was not ever spelled out for me as a child in or outside of church.

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Did your friend grow up Catholic?

 

The view she is expressing is more of certain Protestant denominations than anything else and others have said, it's not a Catholic belief.

 

There has been a larger number of Protestants joining the Catholic Church and with them, they bring their history and views. Many RCIA series are shorter and lighter on content than ever before. I only mention this because even as a non-practicing Catholic who was actively raised in the church I increasingly hear things being said by members of the Catholic Church that are the antithesis of many things I learned as a child from years of continuing Christian education classes that were reinforced by my family at home.

 

I think it takes some time to assimilate fully into a religious and cultural tradition as large and as old as the Catholic Church and that even with good catechization and more in-depth RCIA some new adherents will still hold on to parts a paradigm and values which more closely reflect their childhood and not their decision to join the church.

 

That is what I was going to say, that it sounds protestant..especially the whole 'between God and me"..sounds like 'every man his own priest'. 

 

Maybe she has accidentally become protestant, lol!

 

And the Catholics I know, as an ex-catholic, either aren't really practicing and never go to confession (or mass), or are practicing and go every week before communion.

 

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I have a question for Catholics. Is believing in the theological correctness (?) of confession an integral part of being Catholic? I always thought it was, but I don't have a source for that.

 

I was just talking to a Catholic friend, and she strongly disagrees with the idea and practice of going to confession. She thinks forgiveness is between you and God alone, and the practice of confessing your sins to a priest was actually just a tactic used by the church to historically control people (she didn't go into detail). Her family is actively Catholic (attend mass, etc.) so I was surprised to hear her object to it in that manner.

 

Oddly enough, as an atheist, confession is one of the things I like best about Catholicism. I think it's all too easy for someone to gloss over the wrongs they've done when they aren't held accountable to another person, and they can ask for forgiveness in a bat of an eye without changing heir behavior. Knowing that they are going to have to say those sins aloud to somebody changes things, and hopefully the priest can give them a penance that is proactive and makes a difference in the world (eg do something kind and generous for the person you gossiped about, etc). Not that my opinion has any bearing on the original question. I'm just wondering how common not agreeing with confession is among Catholics in general.

 

No, it is not optional, and it is not a tactic blahblahblah. Clearly, your friend does not understand her faith. :crying: But there are many Catholics for whom this is true.

 

You can read about Reconciliation here.

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