Just for Catholics

The Priest is Your Judge

Question: Your statement that priests claim to have the power to "judge sinners" is false. The priest does not judge the sinner. The first thing that must occur before a sin can be forgiven is true contrition. The church does not teach that sins are not forgiven unless they are forgiven by a priest. The priest is there to help the sinner truly know his sins are forgiven.

Answer: I am often ‘corrected’ for my ‘misunderstanding’ of Catholic doctrine. Oftentimes it turns out that I know Catholicism better than my Catholic friends suppose. Please take a second look at what the Catholic Church teaches on the Sacrament of Penance.

Contrary to your statement, the Catholic church teaches that ordinarily, confession and absolution are necessary to receive forgiveness. The Baltimore Catechism asks, “Could God not forgive our sins if we confessed them to Himself in secret?” The answer is given, “Certainly, God could forgive our sins if we confessed them to Himself in secret, but He has not promised to do so; whereas He has promised to pardon them if we confess them to His priests.”

That is an amazing statement, for nowhere in the entire Bible are we told to confess our sins to a priest, whereas the Lord Jesus told us to pray to our Father in secret, to ask Him to forgive us our debts, and assures us that He will forgive us if we forgive others as well (Matthew 6:6-15). This is Christ's solemn promise: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matthew 6:14).

You can also check the official writings of the Catholic Church to see if the priest acts as a judge while administering the sacrament of penance:

It is true that priestly absolution is the dispensation of another’s kindness; yet, it does not consist in the mere ministry of proclaiming the Gospel or of declaring that the sins have been forgiven, but it has the pattern of a judicial act in which the priest pronounces sentence as judge” (Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapter 6).

Absolution is “a judicial act” and “the priest pronounces sentence.” The priest is not there as a friendly counselor or to assure the repentant sinner that God has forgiven him. Contrary to your assertion, your church warns you that:

If anyone says that the sacramental absolution of the priest in not a judicial act but a mere ministry of pronouncing and declaring to the one who confesses that one’s sins are forgiven…anathema sit (Council of Trent, Session 14, Canon 9).

Yes, the Catholic Church teaches that the priest acts as judge over the penitent and that God's forgiveness is mediated through the priest.

While human judges are needed in civil society and even within the church to regulate human relations, they have not power either to know the heart or to grant God's forgiveness. James' admonition applies to the proud pretensions of the Catholic priest: "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:12)

I appeal to you to abandon this human tradition. Listen to the Word of Christ. If you want God's forgiveness, pray to the Father in heaven, and He will most certainly answer you (Matthew 6:6-15).

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A