As a follow up to this question I'd like to ask if a person, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, can obtain God's forgiveness outside of the sacrament of confession.

I would imagine Protestants would say yes, but what is the Roman Catholic teaching? If the answer is yes, how can one be sure he was forgiven without a priest's absolution?

I know a Catholic would still be required go to confession, but I know Catholics who don't understand this theology but have sincere hearts, and they desire forgiveness outside of the sacrament.

5 Answers 5


Yes, if one has perfect contrition, which Fr. John Hardon, S.J., defines in his Catholic Dictionary as:


Sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human love. Its motive is founded on God's own personal goodness and not merely his goodness to the sinner or to humanity. This motive, not the intensity of the act and less still the feelings experienced, is what essentially constitutes perfect sorrow. A perfect love of God, which motivates perfect contrition, does not necessarily exclude attachment to venial sin. Venial sin conflicts with a high degree of perfect love of God, but not with the substance of that love. Moreover, in the act of perfect contrition other motives can coexist with the perfect love required. There can be fear or gratitude, or even lesser motives such as self-respect and self-interest, along with the dominant reason for sorrow, which is love for God. Perfect contrition removes the guilt and eternal punishment due to grave sin, even before sacramental absolution. However, a Catholic is obliged to confess his or her grave sins at the earliest opportunity and may not, in normal circumstances, receive Communion before he or she has been absolved by a priest in the sacrament of penance.

cf. imperfect contrition (also called "attrition"):


Sorrow for sin animated by a supernatural motive that is less than a perfect love of God. Some of the motives for imperfect contrition are the fear of the pains of hell, of losing heaven, of being punished by God in this life for one's sins, of being judged by God; the sense of disobedience to God or of ingratitude toward him; the realization of lost merit or of sanctifying grace. Also called attrition, imperfect contrition is sufficient for remission of sin in the sacrament of penance. It is also adequate for a valid and fruitful reception of baptism by one who has reached the age of reason. And if a person is unable to go to confession, imperfect contrition remits even grave sin through the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

Protestants believe they always have perfect contrition, when the reality is most penitents do not (although they easily could, with God's grace), hence the necessity of Sacramental Confession to a priest.

See also the Council of Trent Session 14 on Penance and Extreme Unction, esp. ch. 4 "On Contrition" and the following canons condemning Protestant heresies regarding confession.

Perfect Contrition Implies Desire for Sacramental Confession to a Priest

Also, the Council of Trent session 14 chapter 4 on contrition notes that perfect contrition is incompatible with a lack of desire for sacramental (auricular) confession to a priest:

The Synod teaches moreover, that, although it sometimes happens that this contrition is perfect through charity, and reconciles man with God before this sacrament be actually received, the said reconciliation, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to that [perfect] contrition, independently of the desire of the sacrament which is included therein.

  • oh wow, this is a great answer! Now I see how it is important to have a good death and almost impossible to have perfect contrition on the deathbed. Because I can see that I have imperfect contrition pretty often. Thanks for the answer. It is really an eye-opening.
    – Grasper
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 20:48
  • @Grasper Tox is the best way. You can find my Tox ID in my SE profile.
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 17:23
  • @Grasper See also the resources linked in "Perfect Contrition: The Key to Heaven, especially for Our Times," esp. the interview with Fr. Bernard Uttley. (Also, I've accepted your Tox friend request; you'll receive my message one you get back online in Tox.)
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 20:32
  • @Grasper You'll have to re-send me the Tox friend request. My computer ran out of memory and had to restart, so it didn't save it on my end.
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 20:19
  • 2
    I don't think many Protestants would say they "always have perfect contrition". There are of course many Protestant theologies, but I think the most common response would be along the lines that absolution is a gift from God's grace for believers that does not require any sort of perfection nor the declaration of clergy.
    – aschepler
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 16:34

CCC states that unbelievers can achieve eternal salvation- I would assume forgiveness is necessary for this, though I don't understand how this is reconciled with the biblical account.

CCC 847

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

(CCC Online)

According to the Pope:

It must first be kept in mind that every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The various religions arose precisely from this primordial human openness to God. At their origins we often find founders who, with the help of God’s Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience. Handed on to others, this experience took form in the doctrines, rites and precepts of the various religions.


It will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their own conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Saviour

(Full Text)

These instances would necessarily be outside of the sacrament of confession.

  • "those too may achieve eternal salvation" is a simple rewording of St. Paul's teaching in Scripture: Rom 2:14-15. It doesn't teach 'universalism' or that it isn't by Christ that they are saved, as though He were restrained Himself by His own restrictions, but that "perhaps" they can be saved. Besides this, catechisms are not strictly infallible. "every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The various [FALSE] religions arose precisely...with the help of God’s Spirit..." is downright heretical. cf. 1 Cor 10:20. Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 23:58
  • 1
    @SolaGratia The quotation does not say that the religions arose "with the help of God's spirit." Your ellipsis changes the meaning. Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 7:10
  • False, in two places he asserts the same heresy: " every quest..analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit...The various religions arose precisely from this." And "founders [of false religions] who, with the help of God’s Spirit.." See? Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 14:55
  • @SolaGratia It's certainly true that every quest for God is inspired by the Holy Spirit in its inception, at least, even if it goes astray. (Note that this isn't the same as the inspiration given to sacred scripture.) The other statement is also fine (note that it doesn't say that the founders founded religions with the help of God's spirit, but merely that they, "with the help of God’s Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience"). Also, these are standard Catholic positions, and this is a thread tagged [catholicism]. Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 3:12
  • Ascription of false religious experience in false religions to the Holy Ghost is nothing short of blasphemous, objectively speaking. His intentions I don't know; but objectively. I am Catholic, and it's by no means 'standard Catholic position' to believe that the Holy Ghost aids founders of false religions experience 'religious experience' outside the Catholic Faith. I would even contend that "It's certainly true that every quest.." etc as it assumes good intentions with the founders of false religions, and thus that the Holy Ghost helped aided them all. Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 13:53

Can a person be forgiven outside of confession?

It seems that no one has taken up the point of martyrdom yet. It should be added to the list of previous answers.

True martyrdom requires three conditions: (1) that the victim actually die, (2) that he or she dies in witness of faith in Christ which is directly expressed in words, or implicitly in acts done or sins refused because of faith, and (3) that the victim accepts death voluntarily. They are not martyrs who do not actually die, or die from disease, for the sake of merely natural truths, or heresy, or for their country in war, or through suicide, etc. - True and False Martyrdom

In the Early Church only martyrs were honored as saints. In 197 AD, Tertullian wrote: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

The Church has always held that martyrdom is equivalent to baptism for those not yet baptized. Baptism of Blood is the name given to this. It is Catholic doctrine that the Baptism of Blood blots out Original Sin, and all actual sin, together with the punishment due to it. This is evident from the words of Christ: He has absolutely promised salvation to those who give their lives for the Gospel: "he who loses his life for my sake will find it"; and again He says, "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven". Moreover, from the Tradition of the Church: the Church honorrs as martyrs in heaven several who were never baptized: the Holy Innocents massacred by Herod; St Emerentiana (c. 304); one of the 22 Ugandan martyrs, St Mukasa Kiriwawanvu, who was still a catechumen. St Augustine says, "it would be an affront to pray for a martyr: we should rather commend ourselves to his prayers." (Sermon 159) - True and False Martyrdom

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on this:

1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one's neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one's neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity "which covers a multitude of sins."

  • Well, this is pretty obvious. I was asking for the forgiveness where a person keeps on living on Earth.
    – Grasper
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 15:33
  • 1
    @Grasper Well the desire to die for Christ is made while the person is still alive is it not.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 16:42

If you're just talking outside of the normal priest-to-penitent sort of confession, there is yet another proviso in Canon law besides the provisos already mentioned called "General Absolution":

Can. 961 §1. Absolution cannot be imparted in a general manner to many penitents at once without previous individual confession unless:

1/ danger of death is imminent and there is insufficient time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents;

2/ there is grave necessity, that is, when in view of the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available to hear the confessions of individuals properly within a suitable period of time in such a way that the penitents are forced to be deprived for a long while of sacramental grace or holy communion through no fault of their own. Sufficient necessity is not considered to exist when confessors cannot be present due only to the large number of penitents such as can occur on some great feast or pilgrimage.

Canon 961

That's the case that covers mega-volcanoes, cataclysmic meteor strikes, and non-trivial alien invasions, etc...

But, the faithful are still instructed to go to confession (especially if you have grave sins) as soon as possible.

It would be an interesting follow-up question to ask when this actually has been granted in the history of the Church, might even be worth making a wiki page out of.

But here are three such events from American history (via wikipedia)

  • Fr. William Corby in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863
  • Three Mile Island nuclear accident
  • New York firefighters heading into the World Trace Center on 9/11
  • but that is involving priest's absolution which is part of the sacrament. And on the side: if there is an alien invasion I don't think it would matter because the existence of aliens would deny the existence of Christian God.
    – Grasper
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 20:34
  • 1
    @grasper, I don't believe there's anything in Catholicism that would make the existence of aliens negate Christianity. Makes it more important if anything!
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 20:47
  • @also, you asked about "confession" but that is not the sacrament - the sacrament is reconciliation. But I know what you're getting at.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 20:49
  • If there are aliens God would have revealed it to us according to some theologians. As an argument, they use in the bible(apocalypse) John see a multitude of human souls/people and the angelic beings. No mentions of any other forms of life - Revelation 7:1-17
    – Grasper
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:10

According to the answers given to a recent question of mine, the Penitential Act in a Mass, which involves an absolution from the Priest, does allows for the possibility of forgiveness of venial sins. Yet, such rite is not efficacious when it comes to mortal sins, which require the Sacrament of Penance.

Also, notice that the Sacrament of Baptism also involves a forgiveness of sins (including the original sin). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.66 In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.

  • Thanks but I wasn't asking about this. I was more asking about how the forgiveness is granted outside the sacrament of confession, not baptism.
    – Grasper
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 20:41
  • @Grasper But baptism is outside of confession and takes away all sins committed by the individual being baptized.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 11:27
  • 1
    @KenGraham But I guess the OP means forgiveness of sins after baptism (which is when confession comes into place).
    – luchonacho
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 12:01

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