Confession in Kind and Number

In order for the confession of mortal sins to be valid, so that all sins are forgiven by contrition and confession with absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the penitent must confess all of the actual mortal sins that can be remembered after a diligent examination of conscience. If the penitent knowingly chooses to omit even one actual mortal sin, the confession is not valid.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, ‘for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know.’ ” (CCC 1456)

The penitent is required to strive to confess all of his actual mortal sins, as well as they can be remembered. If he does so, then he certainly places all of his sins, mortal and venial, remembered and forgotten, before the Divine Mercy to be pardoned. For the sins that are not remembered after diligent examination of conscience are implicitly included in those that are remembered and confessed.

However, if the penitent knowingly withholds some actual mortal sins, then in effect he places “nothing before the divine goodness for remission” through the priest and the Sacrament — in other words, the confession is not valid, and none of his sins are forgiven. For he does not intend to do what the Church does in this Sacrament, if he deliberately withholds any actual mortal sin.

But in order to fulfill this requirement of confessing all actual mortal sins, the penitent must confess the kind of sin and the number of times it was committed — as well as can be remembered. If he deliberately withholds the kind of sin, then he has not truly confessed the sin that he committed.

For example, if a man confesses that he had sexual relations outside of marriage, but does not confess that he was married at the time, he has not confessed the kind properly. The sin of sex before marriage takes its kind from the non-marital nature of the act. The sin of adultery takes its kind both from the non-marital nature of the act and from the offense against the marital vow. Or if a man confesses that he upset his wife and is sorry for upsetting her, but he does not admit that he upset her by the sin of adultery, then his confession is not valid.

In another example, if a man confesses that he lied, but does not confess that his lie was told under oath, he has not confessed the kind properly. For a lie under oath takes its kind both from the assertion of the lie and from the breaking of the oath. Similarly, if a man lies with the intention of causing grave harm to an innocent person, but he only confesses that he lied, he has not confessed the kind properly. For a lie that would be only a venial sin, becomes a mortal sin with a gravely disordered intention, thereby changing the kind of sin.

So, when a penitent deliberately chooses to omit the kind of the sin, he has in effect not confessed that sin at all. It is as if he is deceiving the priest, confessing one sin, rather than another. If this error on the kind of sin happens due to a lack of understanding about the kinds of sin, and is therefore not knowing and deliberate, then the penitent has confessed properly, as well as he can know. But if the kind is knowingly withheld, the confession is not valid, and his sins are not forgiven.

The same is true for the number of times that any kind of actual mortal sin was committed. If a man commits murder twice, and he only confesses that he committed murder once, he has knowingly withheld the number, and in effect has knowingly withheld one of these two grave sins. As a result, his entire confession is invalid. But again, this requirement takes into account the weakness of our condition, in the fallen state, so that the penitent only need confess the number as well as he can remember. He might say “a few times” or “many times” or “a few times a month over the course of many years”, etc., and then, as long as he is sincerely placing his actual mortal sins, in kind and number, as well as he can remember them, before the Divine Mercy, all his sins are forgiven.

The Council of Trent infallibly taught this doctrine, that the penitent must confess all of his actual mortal sins, including the kind (“species of the sin”) and the number (“each and all”)

Council of Trent: “all mortal sins of which they have knowledge after a careful self-examination must be enumerated in confession by the penitents…. While, therefore, the faithful of Christ strive to confess all sins which occur to their memory, they undoubtedly lay all of them before the divine mercy to be forgiven [can. 7]. While those who do otherwise and knowingly conceal certain sins, lay nothing before the divine bounty for forgiveness by the priest: ‘For if one who is ill is ashamed to make known his wound to the physician, the physician does not remedy what he does not know.’ [St. Jerome, In Eccl. comm.. 10, 11] Furthermore … those circumstances must also be explained in confession, which alter the species of the sin [can. 7], because without them the sins themselves are neither honestly revealed by the penitents, nor are they known to the judges, and it would not be possible for them to judge rightly the gravity of the crimes and to impose the punishment which is proper to those penitents.” (Council of Trent, 14th Session, Chapter V, On Confession; Denzinger, 899.)

Council of Trent: “If anyone says that in the sacrament of penance it is not necessary by divine law for the remission of sins to confess each and all mortal sins, of which one has remembrance after a due and diligent examination…. let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, 14th Session, On the Most Holy Sacrament of Penance, Canon 7; Denzinger 917.)

By the term “each and all”, the Magisterium understands and teaches that the number must be confessed. By the term “species of the sin”, the Magisterium understands and teaches that the kind of sin, i.e. the type of sin in terms of morality, must be confessed. If any actual mortal sin is deliberately omitted, the confession is invalid. If any sin is confessed, but with a deliberate omission or lie or deception about the kind of the sin, then the sin is essentially not confessed; the penitent has not really admitted to committing that sin. If any sin is confessed, but with a deliberate omission or lie or deception about the number of times that sin was committed, then the sin is essentially not confessed; the penitent has not admitted to committing each and every sin of that kind.

This requirement is the definitive teaching of the Roman Catholic Magisterium; it is not a matter of theological opinion. No bishop or priest, and certainly no layperson, has the ability or authority to proclaim a different requirement, greater or lesser. For this requirement was taught by the Council of Trent, and is the continual teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium (e.g. in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). When Canon Law states this requirement, it is not expressing a changeable and dispensable rule under discipline, but rather it is expressing a doctrine already infallibly taught by the Magisterium.

Can. 988 §1. “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience.”

“Since ‘the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession (Can. 988, § 1)’, any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved.” (Pope John Paul II, Misericordia Dei, n. 3.)

Even the Pope does not have the authority to change this requirement for the validity of the Sacrament of Confession. It is not a discipline that can be changed; it is an essential element of a divinely-established Sacrament. Whosoever rejects this teaching, omitting any requirement or substituting a different requirement, thereby rejects the teaching of the Magisterium and substitutes his own foolish idea in place of the truths of Divine Revelation.

Jimmy Akin’s Grave Error

And this brings us to yet another grave doctrinal error taught by Jimmy Akin through his blog. After quoting Canon Law 988 on the requirement “to confess in kind and number all grave sins”, Jimmy Akin instructs his readers that they are NOT always obligated to confess each and all of their mortal sins in kind and number.

“So there you have it.

“Kind and number.

“Obviously, there are exceptions to this requirement. For example, if you don’t know how many times a sin was committed then do the best you can in giving an idea (e.g., ‘I think this happened around X number of times’ or ‘Since my last confession I think I did this about once/twice/etc. a [time period]’).

“In some cases — for example, when a person is dealing with scrupulosity or when trying to provide an estimate would itself stir up temptation (e.g., the temptation to have impure or blasphemous thoughts) — then the need to confess number is removed.

“However, barring an extenuating circumstance, it is necessary to confess mortal sins by both kind and number to the best of one’s reasonable ability.” (Jimmy Akin, Confessing by Kind and Number)

Without any basis whatsoever in Catholic teaching, magisterial documents, and without offering even a theological argument, Akin simply asserts that the requirement to confess number is removed. He thereby contradicts the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent and of the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

Previously, Akin repeatedly contradicted the teaching of the Council of Trent on the subject of transubstantiation. He also has contradicted the definitive teaching of the Magisterium on the topics of intrinsically evil acts, conciliar anathemas, contraception, grace and predestination: A Summary of the Heresies Taught by Jimmy Akin. Now he adds to these errors a rejection of the teaching of the Council of Trent on the requirement to confess sins in number as well as kind.

The Roman Catholic Magisterium has never taught that there are any exceptions to the requirement of the Council of Trent, to confess all actual mortal sin that can be remembered after a diligent examination of conscience in kind and in number. There are no exceptions to the requirement that, during confession, a penitent must confess every actual mortal sin, in kind and number, as well as he can remember, just as the Council of Trent taught: “all the sins which occur to their memory.”

Jimmy Akin asserts that there are exceptions, but the Roman Catholic Church makes no such assertion. Akin proclaims, as if he were the Pope, that “the need to confess number is removed”. There is no basis for such a claim in any Church teaching. Akin invents an exception in his own mind, and proclaims it to his readers, with no regard for the teaching authority of the Church. Although it may seem obvious to Akin that there are exceptions, the Magisterium has never taught, nor provided any basis whatever, for such an exception.

If a penitent cannot remember a particular sin, or the number of times it was committed, then he is not required to do what he is not able to do. The confession is still valid, despite what could not be remembered. This is not an exception to the teaching of the Council of Trent; it is an explicitly-stated part of that teaching.

However, if a penitent remembers and yet knowingly chooses not to confess a particular mortal sin — for any reason whatsoever — then his confession is not valid. The Magisterium has never taught that an “extenuating circumstance”, as Akin puts it, removes this requirement. And Jimmy Akin has no authority or ability to make such an exception, regardless of the circumstances. (This error reminds me of one of his grave errors on contraception, his claim that a married couple might morally use contraception in some situations.) A difficult circumstance does not allow a person to do or say whatever he wishes, without regard for the eternal moral law and the infallible teachings of the Magisterium.

Certain elements are absolutely required for a Sacrament to be valid, and cannot be omitted or changed, not even by the authority of a Pope or Council. For example, the Sacrament of holy Communion requires wheat bread and grape wine to be valid. No matter how severe an “extenuating circumstance” may be, the Sacrament is not valid without this valid matter. Even a Pope and an Ecumenical Council cannot change this essential requirement for the Eucharist to be valid.

Similarly, as the Council of Trent and the ordinary and universal Magisterium infallibly teach, the Sacrament of Confession is not valid — no sins at all are forgiven — if the penitent knowingly chooses, within his ability to remember, to withhold an actual mortal sin, or the kind or the number of the actual mortal sin.

The fact that a person is “dealing with scrupulosity” does not remove any of the requirements for any Sacrament to be valid; the penitent must still confess all of his actual mortal sin in number and kind, as well as he can remember. And it is completely false and absurd to claim, when the penitent is trying to recall the number of times a sin was committed, that “trying to provide an estimate would itself stir up temptation (e.g., the temptation to have impure or blasphemous thoughts)”. It is not impure to consider the gravity and number of one’s sexual sins; instead, it is an act of cooperation with grace, which is opposed to all temptation and sin.

As for the idea that considering the number of one’s sins would tempt a person to blasphemy, the claim is utterly ridiculous. If anyone ever said, to a priest in the confessional, “I can’t tell you how many times I committed this mortal sin, because trying to estimate the number of times would tempt me to blasphemy”, the priest would either laugh out loud, or perhaps conclude that the penitent was mentally ill.

But in any case, the penitent must confess all actual mortal sins in number and in kind, as well as he can remember after a diligent examination of conscience, or the Sacrament of Confession is not valid, and none of his sins are forgiven. Neither the Pope, nor an Ecumenical Council, nor a Bishop, nor a popular Catholic blogger has the authority to change this essential requirement for a valid Confession. For “those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest” (CCC 1456).

Jimmy Akin’s assertion to the contrary is yet another rejection by him of an infallible teaching of the Magisterium. Jimmy Akin is a prolific teacher of heresy, who continues to cause grave harm to many souls.

I am continually astounding that so many Catholic bloggers and online commentators will blithely assert their every thought on any matter of faith or morals, with no regard at all for the definitive teaching of the Magisterium. If any thought enters into their mind, they rush to place it online, as if it were a great pearl of wisdom. They act as if they were gods, deciding what is true and false, what is good and evil, based only on themselves. They never accept correction. They never admit that anything they said was in error. And even when two of their own assertions are contradictory, they don’t admit that they have erred. Many souls are being harmed in this way by these false teachers.

[James]
{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.

[2 Corinthians]
{11:13} For false apostles, such as these deceitful workers, are presenting themselves as if they were Apostles of Christ.

[Galatians]
{1:6} I wonder that you have been so quickly transferred, from him who called you into the grace of Christ, over to another gospel.
{1:7} For there is no other, except that there are some persons who disturb you and who want to overturn the Gospel of Christ.
{1:8} But if anyone, even we ourselves or an Angel from Heaven, were to preach to you a gospel other than the one that we have preached to you, let him be anathema.
{1:9} Just as we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone has preached a gospel to you, other than that which you have received, let him be anathema.

I conclude that Jimmy Akin has fallen under the anathema of automatic excommunication, several times over, for his many heretical teachings.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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