The confessional is a standard practice of the Roman Catholic Church where church members may (or must) go to confess their sins to a priest. As I understand it, the priest then decides whether or not the person's sins will be forgiven and, if so, what is required of the person in order for that to take place.

However, it seems that priests themselves are subject to sin like anyone else. So, I'm wondering if the Catholic Church has confessionals to which priests may or must regularly attend. Also, do Cardinals attend confessionals, and then lastly, does the Pope himself ever confess his sins to anyone. For priests, cardinals, and popes, who determines whether or not their sins will be forgiven and, if they will be, what they must do in order for that to occur?

  • 4
    who confesses the confessors?
    – wax eagle
    Nov 28, 2012 at 14:53
  • 3
    This is a good question, but it's going to take about 2 years to answer the part about denying forgiveness in confession. Short answer is: every Catholic is obliged to go to confession at least once a year and, as the old saying goes, "Is the pope Catholic?"
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 28, 2012 at 17:04
  • 1
    Absolution can be denied if the repentance is not perceived to be genuine. However, this is a very irregular occurrence. And even in cases wherein the priest mistakenly refuses absolution, God's forgiveness, we teach, is still received. His forgiveness occurs immediately upon contrition, before confession. Confession is more-so the incarnation of our contrition and His forgiveness, via the Church.
    – svidgen
    Nov 28, 2012 at 17:36
  • 1
    That's not to suggest that confession is not necessary and important though. A spiritual reality is relatively meaningless to us without its incarnation.
    – svidgen
    Nov 28, 2012 at 17:38
  • 1
    Pope John Paul II confessed at least weekly -- I've also heard daily -- and was famous for asking a subordinate to hear his confession immediately after he (the Pope) had upbraided him (the subordinate) for a screw-up.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Nov 28, 2012 at 23:06

2 Answers 2


Any priest, or any level of priest, can hear confession from anyone. A priest will go to another priest for confession. Similarly, bishops, cardinals, and the pope can (and do) go to priests for confession. Apparently priests and the pope often have a specific confessor and are encouraged to visit him with "some regularity."

As for whether a priest can deny forgiveness, I can't find much information except that they can do it although it's apparently rare and usually only happens in cases where the person does the same thing repeatedly (like an ongoing affair). I don't see any reason why a priest confessor to a cardinal/pope would not be able to deny forgiveness.

  • Sins that also carry the weight of automatic excommunication, like procuring or assisting in abortion, cannot be absolved by a priest unless given prior approval by the Bishop. look here and search for confession
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 28, 2012 at 18:17
  • Any priest who has license from the Bishop of the Dioceses where the confession takes place.
    – ppaulojr
    Feb 27, 2013 at 20:57

The short answer is yes.

Additionally, every priest and bishop, including the pope, is supposed to have a spiritual advisor. The priest they see for confession need not be any special priest, as far as I know. It just needs to be a priest. Confession is not a matter of hierarchical authority. It's just a matter of receiving absolution from "the Church."

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