Confession is a sacrament of healing and mercy. And while some may disagree with Catholics on the need to confess their sins to a priest, those who are struggling with guilt, shame, or distress may desire to speak with a priest in Confession for guidance and spiritual direction. But can someone who is not Catholic go to Confession?
A listener recently called-in to Father Simon Says™ and asked Father Richard Simon if non-Catholics can go to Confession and whether they receive the same sacramental grace.
Father Simon responded, “They can go to Confession. And when a non-Catholic goes to Confession what he has to say still comes under the rubric of the Seal of Confession.”
The Seal of Confession is a priest-penitent confidentiality privilege that forbids the priest from making known the sins he heard in Confession. If a priest does expose the sins of a penitent by word, sign, or any other matter, he is immediately excommunicated, and can only be brought back into communion with the Church by the pope himself. So even if the person going to Confession is not Catholic, what he or she says will still remain completely confidential.
However, while those who are not Catholic can go to Confession, Fr. Simon pointed out an important caveat, saying, “But he can’t receive absolution. He can’t be absolved because he has to be in that covenantal relationship of baptism.”
The reason for this is that Confession is not just about the forgiveness and absolution of sins, but the reintegration of the person into communion with the Church. If a person is not Catholic and does not desire to be Catholic then they do not desire this integrated and communion with the Church.
Fr. Simon noted that even non-Catholics who are baptized cannot receive absolution, though they are in relationship with the Lord through their baptism.
“They’re in relationship with the Lord and with the Church by baptism, but they are not in the fullness of that relationship,” he said.” And the point of Confession is to be brought back fully into communion. They’re not going to be brought back into communion fully, because they don’t want to be. So that’s why they couldn’t receive absolution.”
So while a non-Catholic can go to Confession and will hopefully find healing and mercy in their conversation with the priest, they cannot receive the sacramental graces that come from Reconciliation.
“In danger of death or in a serious situation one could give a non-Catholic absolution,” Father Simon said. “But in general you can’t absolve the sins because that person is not in the relationship to the Church that he should be. But he can still go to Confession to get the counseling help, and that would be under the holy Seal of Confession.”
Listen to the full conversation below: