What is it with Catholics wanting to control everything all the time? Why do Catholics think they’re the only ones who can tell a person if their sins are forgiven? Priests can’t forgive sins, only Jesus can, so why tell your sins to a priest? I can take my sins straight to Jesus and he forgives them.
Well, if Jesus wants us to take sins straight to him, why does he tell us to use a priest?
What’s that? You haven’t read in the Bible you’re supposed to confess to a priest? Sounds like it’s time for a little Bible study.
First, let’s look at Mark 2:1-12.
This is the story of the paralytic being let down through the roof so Jesus can heal him. It’s sort of long so I won’t quote the whole thing here, but please look it up when you get a moment. This story is significant because, before Jesus healed this man’s paralysis, he forgave his sins. The healing of the paralysis is, as Jesus says, simply proof that Jesus has the power to forgive sins. In fact, the healing of the man’s paralysis is the lesser miracle compared to his forgiveness.
Ok, so Jesus can forgive sins, we all agree on that. Next let’s look at John 20:21-23:
(Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." and when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
How did the father send Jesus? With all authority on heaven and earth, right? That’s how Jesus is sending the apostles. How do the apostles know which sins to forgive and which to retain if no one tells them the sins they committed? Why would Jesus give the apostles the authority to forgive sins if people were only supposed to “bring their sins directly to Jesus in prayer”? Seems like the apostles had the authority to hear confessions and to forgive those confessed sins, huh?
Now one may ask why we should confess to a priest. The apostles are all long dead and Jesus only breathed on a limited number of people in one room. The answer is two parts, one oral tradition, and one written.
The oral tradition holds that the authority of the apostles was handed down through the Church as time went on. The power to forgive sins was passed down from the apostles to the bishops and priests who came after them. In this way, priests today have this authority through their succession to the apostles.
The written part is displayed pretty neatly in James 5:14-15:
Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
Here we see a presbyter (from which “priest” is derived) performing two sacraments, anointing of the sick and reconciliation. The priest has the authority to forgive sins so that if the sick man dies, he isn’t separated from God. James doesn’t make them get an apostle, but he doesn’t have them get some random person off the street either. He has them get a priest to anoint them and forgive their sins.
As we said in the beginning, Catholics confess sins to a priest because the Bible tells us so. Taking sins to Jesus is a great thing to do, there’s no doubt about it, but since he gave us the power of confession, don’t you think we should use it?