Refusing absolution

Question: Under what conditions may a priest refuse a penitent absolution?

Peter Tate, Long Beach, California

Answer: The denial (or delay) of absolution is rare in a typical confession. When it does occur, it usually is because the confessor is not able to observe sufficient contrition from the penitent. As the Catechism teaches: “Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (No. 1451). So, mere sorrow is not enough; there must be sufficient resolution to avoid the sin in the future.

A confessor must do his best to dispose a penitent for absolution. Usually sorrow for sin and a firm purpose of amendment are evident in someone who has sought confession. However, in some cases, a penitent may give no signs of sorrow or may show no resolution to avoid obvious or near occasions of sin. Perhaps a penitent indicates a refusal to restore what is possible to rightful owners. Or a penitent who does not indicate a willingness to end illicit sexual unions or practices. Though they may experience sorrow or feelings of guilt, they cannot or will not supply a resolve to avoid the sin in the future.

The priest should do what he can to draw both sorrow and a firm purpose of amendment. But if there is no evidence of these, he should deny or delay absolution in a kind and fatherly manner, explaining the reason and also a way forward so that the penitent can return more properly disposed to receive the sacrament.

Generally, the simple fact that a penitent has sought confession is a demonstration of contrition and amendment. But there are rare times when during the confession something essential regarding contrition is found to be lacking. To simply overlook this does harm both to the sacrament and to the proper care of souls.

Battling envy

Question: I am very competitive and struggle with envy. Are there things you can recommend to overcome this?

Name withheld, via email

Answer: Envy is sorrow or sadness at the excellence or goodness of another person because I take it to lessen my own standing. It is different from jealousy, since jealousy seeks to possess the good another has, but envy seeks to destroy the goodness or excellence of others.

The remedy for envy is to cultivate joy and zeal. It is proper to rejoice that others have gifts, because their gifts bring blessings to others. Thus, ask God for joy whenever you observe goodness or excellence.

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Zeal is also a virtue to cultivate. Zeal is the desire to imitate or possess for ourselves the goodness and excellence we see in others. It is not always possible for us to lay hold of every gift or talent that others have. Perhaps they have a talent we cannot reasonably possess — for example, being a concert pianist. But where possible, we can observe gifts in others, such as self-discipline or patience, and be encouraged to develop them in ourselves.

Thus, by joy and zeal is envy crowded out.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at