“Ask a Priest: What If I Withheld a Sin in Confession?”

Q: Today I attended a beautiful presentation on the “Treasures of the Church.” The priest who gave the presentation explained that withholding any information in confession would negate all following confessions and communions. In that case I just lost the past 40 years of my life. I’m bewildered and I don’t know what to do now. If this is true, do I no longer belong to the Church? Do I find another religion that will accept me? Do I just worship God myself alone? If I confess my past sin now, can I be absolved? I would appreciate any insights you could share. – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You are still a member of the Church and still a beloved daughter of God. And Jesus doesn’t want you or any of us to just worship God solely on our own. That is why he established a Church, a word which translates the Hebrew word for “gathering.” Worshipping God should bring us together here on earth.

A clarification is in order. “Withholding any information” doesn’t invalidate a confession. We aren’t required, for instance, to mention every venial sin.

The Catechism in No. 1458 says, “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.”

For a confession to be valid, we do, however, have to confess all the serious sins that we might have committed since the previous confession, plus any serious sins from the past that we might have forgotten to mention.

To deliberately withhold mentioning a mortal sin makes a confession invalid.

If this is what happened in your case, you can certainly be forgiven and absolved. All you need to do is make a good confession now. The last 40 years of your relationship with God are still real — don’t worry!

You might want to consider making a general confession of your life. Try to plan it well, including any serious sins you haven’t revealed, as well as any times your receive subsequently received Communion.

If need be, tell the priest that you withheld mention of a serious sin 40 years ago. Here is more information about making a general confession: https://spiritualdirection.com/2018/09/27/what-is-a-general-confession.

You might want to approach a priest when there is ample time to confess what needs to be confessed.

For help to prepare for a confession, you might check out https://thelightison.org/guide-to-confession/. I hope some of this helps to bring you to make peace with Our Lord.

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