Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 29: “Whose Sins You Shall Forgive” Part 5: Qualities in a Confessor

There are virtues a person already possesses and some a good confessor must cultivate. Which do you think are the most important? Or do they all need to be of high quality, already in the toolkit, and ready to be utilized?

For the effective performance of this ministry, the confessor must necessarily have human qualities of prudence, discretion, discernment and a firmness tempered by gentleness and kindness.

Of these natural qualities, prudence always tops my list. Some things can be said, but shouldn’t. Some thoughts can pop into mind, but need dismissal, quick.

While some confession advocates believe in firmness, I think of it in terms of a moral and ethical structure. Some offenses are serious sins. Circumstances might temper the gravity, usually when some objective wrong is committed to help another person. Sometimes help isn’t helpful. A lie is a lie, for example. When a penitent lies to hide one’s own error, that’s one thing. Perhaps getting caught in a lie with the intent to spare another person’s pain is a bad choice, but it might be understandable.

A confessor can’t rely on human qualities alone:

He must likewise have a serious and careful preparation, not fragmentary but complete and harmonious, in the different branches of theology, pedagogy and psychology, in the methodology of dialogue and above all in a living and communicable knowledge of the word of God.

Of these, psychology is important. I think a familiarity with Scripture is vital. “Living and communicable” was John Paul II’s preference. I might add “deep and broad.”

But it is even more necessary that he should live an intense and genuine spiritual life. In order to lead others along the path of Christian perfection the minister of penance himself must first travel this path. More by actions than by long speeches he must give proof of real experience of lived prayer, the practice of the theological and moral virtues of the Gospel, faithful obedience to the will of God, love of the church and docility to her magisterium.

I can’t imagine a confessor listening to people without a serious preparation, continuous and immediate, in prayer. Perhaps this is the most important of all the listings in this paragraph.

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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