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Dear Father Angelo,

My name is Domenico and I am … years old. I am writing to you because I have been going through a time of, I think, deep spiritual crisis. 

Let me start by saying that I have always been a devotee of Our Lord God, of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Catholic Church. However, recently I have been ceaselessly tormented by various doubts that will not let me live a peaceful Christian life. 

In particular, I have been tormented by the fact that I have gone to confession asking forgiveness of sins even though I could not forgive people who had hurt me in the past. God forgives us if we forgive our neighbour. I have received the absolution, but I wonder whether God has forgiven me or not, given that I have not confessed that I was unable to forgive some people who had hurt me. When I am finally able to forgive, will I have to confess again all the sins that I have already disclosed to the priest? 

Another doubt has to do with those confessions in which the penitent does not disclose a particular sin out of shame, but s/he does confess other sins. When the penitent finally finds the courage to disclose that particular sin he is so ashamed of, will he have to confess all the other sins he had declared in the previous bad confession? 

Another doubt is this: when we do not remember a sin well, how can we confess it?

Thank you in advance for your kind reply.


The priest’s answer

Dear Domenico,

  1. Forgiving does not mean feeling no bitterness for being treated wrongly. And it does not mean renouncing to demand the return of what has been taken away from us. 
  2. Forgiveness is a gift through which the offended person offers to the offender the opportunity of a new relationship that is not necessarily a prosecution of the pre-existing one. As a matter of fact, there has been a rupture. But whoever forgives commits to establish a new bond and to give the opportunity of a new relationship with the people who offended him. This frame of mind must be there even when the offender does not repent and keeps hurting us. 
  3. Of course, forgiveness leaves unchanged the responsibility of the guilty party and his duty to compensate for harm. A beautiful example of forgiveness was set by John Paul II, who, soon after facing an assassination attempt, said: “ I sincerely forgive my attacker”. But, at the same time, he did not ask for the guilt to be cancelled and for the penance to be eliminated. He let justice perform its duty. However, in his heart he wanted to establish a new relationship with his attacker. He tried to do this by visiting him in jail. He talked to him, he hugged him. As we know, the attacker remained as cold as ice. He never asked him for forgiveness. But John Paul II did his part and he is sure to have renewed his forgiveness for that man any time he has recited the Lord’s Prayer. 
  4. As for what your confessions are concerned, I get the feeling that you thought that forgiveness had to meet requirements that are not actually needed, such as forgetting or asking for justice not to perform its duty. 
  5. As for the other questions: if someone was ashamed of confessing a grave sin and withheld it, the disclosure of sins is incomplete, therefore the priest has not remitted that sin. When the same penitent decides to go to confession and to disclose what he had concealed, if he goes to the same confessor he can simply say: “I am going to confess a sin I have always concealed, and I am aware I made a mistake both in approaching the sacrament of penance and in receiving communion”. In this case, there is no need to renew the confession of past sins, because the priest might say: I remember them all. If the penitent goes to another priest, he has to confess everything from the beginning.
  6. If someone does not remember a sin well and doubts he has committed it, moral theologians say that he is not bound by an obligation to confess it, because one must confess the sins he is sure of. Anyway, given that the situation of doubt is not optimal, the best thing to do is saying things plainly as they are: namely, admitting that one does not remember well and is unsure whether he has committed the sin or not. 

I wish you peace of conscience, I remember you to the Lord in prayer and I bless you.

Father Angelo