EWTN Catholic Q&A
Confession without reconciliation
Question from Skip on 08-07-2013:

I understand there are two requirements for absolution: sorrow for my sins and firm purpose of amendment. If I have one but not the other, can I still go to confession, to confess my sins (and tell the priest that I know of my improper disposition) without hope of absolution? Should I?

It is possible to have committed serious sin for which one is not sorry but absolutely intends to never repeat. For example, murdering the one person who abused you. It is also possible to be truly sorry for sin committed or a sinful ommission, but to lack the will to change. For example, recurring substance abuse.

So, is the grace accorded one who confesses conferred only through absolution, or may the act of confessing sin offer grace leading to the proper dispositions to (later) receive absolution?

Answer by Catholic Answers on 08-08-2013:


I think there may be a serious misunderstanding of the nature of repentance here. Repentance is the turning away from sin and desire not to recommit the sin. It is not necessary to feel the emotion of remorse for having committed the sin. All that is necessary is that you know that what you did was wrong, will to turn away from that sin, and be prepared to do penance for that sin. In the first example, that would mean accepting that you are not the final judge of human life and cannot execute anyone (no matter what that person did), willing to turn away from that sin, and doing penance for having committed the sin -- such as providing support for survivors, anonymously if necessary.

As for the second example, all that is necessary is to have the will to change in that moment. Whether or not you fall into the sin again in the future does not change that you can have a firm purpose of amendment while making confession. The grace received from the sacrament can assist you in keeping the purpose of amendment, along with any necessary medical treatment for the addiction. But even if you fall into the sin again, you can always go back again for confession. Any priest can tell you that many people confess what might be called "habitual sins."

Michelle Arnold
Catholic Answers