Let us say we have a priest, who is a licensed psychiatrist as well. A devout Catholic confesses their sins to said priest. The Catholic person chats with the priest, and priest asks follow-up questions like a doctor would. Priest then determines that the person is suffering from a psychological disorder, in this example, depression.

From a professional/moral standpoint the penitent/"patient" should not be obligated to pay the priest for his profession, since they came to confess, not to seek medical help. But as the priest orders penance, is the priest allowed by Church law to disclose to the penitent his diagnosis, offer counseling, and/or suggest to the latter to at least seek another psychiatrist for a second opinion?

  • 1
    Ooh interesting. Hmm. Other Besides the priest not really staying within his job boundaries here, there are a few things to consider. I may be able to come up with an answer tomorrow, if the resident priest doesn't beat me to it :-) Commented May 8, 2016 at 17:57
  • Hehe. Counting on your thoughts. Thank you for your interest! :) Commented May 8, 2016 at 18:04
  • 3
    Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for taking the site tour. Thanks also for asking a question here. I've edited the title to more clearly reflect the question you asked in the body, and to ensure that the question is clearly on-topic here. I hope you get some good answers! Meanwhile, for more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Commented May 8, 2016 at 18:12
  • Wow, thank you Lee! My question is clearer now, thanks for editing! Commented May 8, 2016 at 18:58
  • 1
    Ask the Catholic priest Fr. Chad Ripperger, who hold a degree in theology and a PhD in psychology; he is author of the excellent book Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, which discusses, inter alia, the sacrament of confession. His contact info is here.
    – Geremia
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


In essence, care should be taken lest the Sacrament of Confession be confused with psychological counseling. A priest with a degree in psychology should be sure not to confuse the spiritual purpose of the Sacrament with the therapeutic purpose of psychology.

Therefore, the proper procedure would be for the priest to instruct the penitent to bring up his psychological issues outside of Confession. In Confession, what is dealt with is sin and grace (see Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 1422); psychological counseling regards the cognitive and emotive faculties.

Naturally, if the priest is acting in the capacity of a licensed professional psychologist (outside of Confession, obviously), then he may seek remuneration like any other. He may not, of course, charge for Confession. (See CCC 2121.)

(I do not believe there is any official legislation regarding this issue, but I suggest reading the overview on the Sacrament of Penance in CCC 1422-1470; you will see that psychological therapy does not really belong to it.)

Aside from the theological issues, confusing Confession and counseling poses practical issues: for example, a priest can never divulge anything he has learned in Confession for any reason. (See Code of Canon Law, 983.) Hence, for example, it would be complicated for him (if not impossible) to consult other psychologists, or refer the “patient” to other psychologists.

The proper procedure, then, would be to counsel the penitent to seek psychological counseling (should that be advisable). If the priest is himself a licensed psychologist, he could even suggest that the penitent seek his help outside of confession.

(I think that most priests in this situation, however, would advise the penitent to go to a different therapist or counselor, since it can be complicated to keep track of what has been said under the seal of Confession and what has not.)

  • To some extent this answer posits a distinction which doesn't entirely exist in Catholic theology. Yes, Confession and therapy do have different domains, but those domains are related. The cognitive and emotive faculties do influence whether and how we sin.
    – eques
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 14:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .