Ask Fr. Z – Can Absolution be Granted with No Firm Purpose of Amendment?

The Vital Role of a Firm Purpose of Amendment

Fr. Z’s Blog, by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf:

 Firm Purpose of Amendment - Confession

Have a Firm Purpose of Amendment – Confession

Question: Can absolution be granted where no firm purpose of amendment exists? If granted, with no purpose of amendment, does it even ‘take’?

No. And No.

In normal circumstances, when there isn’t danger or some other odd condition, in order to absolve a penitent who is sui compos (conscious, able to make a confession, etc.) the priest must be reasonably certain that the penitent 1) has actually confessed a sin (even a previously confessed and absolved sin is enough), 2) has, in that moment, at least imperfect sorrow for sin (attrition – fear of punishment), and 3) has a purpose of amendment at that time. If any of these three conditions are lacking, the priest MUST withhold absolution.

Since the Council of Trent, Holy Church has taught that the essence of the Sacrament of Penance includes acts of the penitent, that is, the confession of sins, the expression of sorrow, desire for amendment and atonement.  On the other hand, we have also the action of the priest, that is, the granting of absolution.  The actions of the penitent and of the priest relate to each other as the matter of a sacrament relates to its form.

Most priests do not have psychic powers to read minds and few have the gift from God to read souls. We have to listen to what the penitent says and then discern the truth. A confessor will try prudently and carefully to “tease out”, so to speak, any of the necessary elements that are lacking.  “Do you know an Act of Contrition?  No?  Okay, are you truly sorry for your sins and do you intend not ever to commit them again?  Very good. Now I’ll give you absolution….”

However, if finally a person evinces no firm purpose of amendment – that is, she clearly doesn’t intend to avoid sin(s) again – then the priest cannot, must not, give absolution. His absolution would be, in effect, improperly given and would therefore be sacrilegious. He would abuse the Sacrament, to the offense of Christ, the detriment of the whole Church and his own soul as well as the soul of the poor person on the other side of the grate. He would be, in effect, faking it.

How is that compassion?  How is that “accompaniment”?

How wicked would that be?  To lie to people like that under the guise of compassion.


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This is pertinent to the whole discussion of the objectively ambiguous content of Amoris laetitia, Ch. 8.  Any suggestion that a penitent can be absolved if she isn’t sorry for sins and doesn’t say she’ll change is contrary to what we have always held about the Sacrament of Penance.

Keep in mind that, after confession of at least all mortal sins in kind and number, the saying the classic “Act of Contrition” expresses clearly both sorrow for sin (attrition and contrition) and purpose of amendment.  Contrition consists of three acts of the will which form a unity: grief or sorrow, detestation, intention.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, [grief] and I detest all my sins [detestation] because of Thy just punishments, [attrition, imperfect, based on fear] but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. [contrition, more perfect, based on love] I firmly resolve, [intention] with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.  VARIATIONS INCLUDE … to sin no more, to do penance, and to amend my life.

Sorrow, detestation, intention.  If one is lacking, then the matter of the Sacrament is lacking.  If the priest knows the matter is lacking, he may not proceed with absolution because he would simulate a sacrament.  If the person is unconscious or there is true reason for “general absolution (that is, without auricular confession), the priest can proceed.  That’s a whole different growler of beer.

“But Father! But Father!”

Some of you lib screwballs and progressivist sapheads now jibber, “She came, didn’t she, to your retrograde torture booth of uptight patriarchal oppression! Didn’t she?  HUH?  That must mean that she’s really sorry even if she doesn’t say she is.  She… right, or whatever non-judgmental gender… ummm….  YOU ARE MEAN! Why does she have to affirm that she’ll stop committing the sinful acts?  What are ‘sins’, anyway!??! What does she… he… umm… have to be ‘sorry’ for anyway? Sin.  HAH! That’s an outdated category and the Council says that’s all gone now.  This is the time of mercy and caring… and… and, oh yes… ACCOMPANIMENT!  The age of hate is OVVVVERRRRRR!  Show some COMPASSION, DAMMIT or … or… ooooh yes yes yes we’re gonna GET you!  Yessiree.  We’ll fix you, you … functionary! You… funeral-faced museum mummy!  Sourpuss! Authoritarian fundamentalist! You gloomy moralistic quibbler!  We’ll write letters, yes, we will, precious.  YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

Firm Purpose of Amendment - Confession

Firm Purpose of Admendment

I respond, with Lumen gentium, saying:

11. Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offence committed against Him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins, and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion.

Just showing up is enough, eh?  NO.  That’s sentimental twaddle.

The priest cannot simply assume that the person has the necessary sorrow, detestation and intention by the simple fact that she showed up in the confessional!

I am seeking your conversion and your salvation.  And I am going to apply this bitter but effective medicine until it takes effect.  If you listen or you don’t listen, I’m going to persevere anyway and thus save my own soul.  However, like Augustine, “Nolo salvus esse sine vobis! (s. 17.2).

The confessional is a tribunal of mercy, but it is a tribunal.  The confessional is not a “safe space” where tender snowflakes are given hugs and puppies and crayons and affirming coos.  There is a juridical character to the confession.  The facts of each case must be brought to the Judge, who binds and looses with the power of the keys received in priestly ordination and wielded with the permission of the Church via the faculty granted by proper authority.  The penitent is her own Accusatrix and Prosecutrix.  The fact that the person has come is a sign that grace is at work.  Coming to the confessional is a really good start.  But coming is not, in itself, enough.

So, everyone think about the effect of your heinous black sins on yourselves and on the whole world.  When you sin, you hurt everyone.  Examine your consciences with one eye on the depths of Hell and the other on the gates of Heaven.  Choose.  Be truly sorry for your sins and …

GO TO CONFESSION! Have a Firm Purpose of Amendment – Confession!

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3 comments to Ask Fr. Z – Can Absolution be Granted with No Firm Purpose of Amendment?

  • Kirsten

    If someone confesses with no purpose of amendment for a mortal sin they are ‘confessing’, and the words of absolution are said in good faith by the priest, has a sacrilege been committed by the penitent (provided they are fully culpable)?

  • Vincent Kingsley U. Ohaeri

    How can one apply to the very Priesthood order/Seminary of the Couragious-Priest Congregation to becomes a Priest of God? It’s the very l found this site.

  • Hart

    Saint Paul foretold this situation at 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,”

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