Bad Catholic Theology on TV

Can a priest withhold absolution from someone in the Confessional?

In tonight's episode of House, Chase visits a confessional. He recently killed a dictator while at work, and his conscience was causing him great grief. He went looking for forgiveness. He asks the Priest, "what do I have to do for God to forgive me?" The Priest answers, "you must accept responsibility for what you have done." This is true - if Chase does not accept responsibility for what he has done, he cannot be forgiven. And Chase does not want to accept responsibility. The television Priest then makes a big mistake! The Priest says Chase's forgiveness is conditional upon his turning himself in to the Police. This is absolutely not allowed. A Priest cannot withhold forgiveness if he thinks the penitent's confession admits a sincere admission of guilt. Requiring Chase to turn himself in to the Police would violate the Seal of the Confessional by forcing him to admit to his sin outside of the Confessional. The Priest could certainly encourage Chase to turn himself in, but he could not make his absolution conditional upon this action.

This episode is also a great illustration of the natural law. Chase thinks that he is doing the right thing by killing the dictator - it is justifiable given the monstrous evil. But he cannot avoid the guilt that comes with actually going through with the deed. Guilt is part of nature. Having transgressed the moral law, he seeks the only thing that could ever give him peace - God's forgiveness. He needs to know that he can be forgiven for what he has done. And not any person will do - he has already told House and received his indifference as justification. This is insufficient, and really, no human person's forgiveness can ever really heal the wounds caused by great sins. This type of forgiveness can only be a gratuitous gift of the Divine Person.

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