As an Episcopalian, we technically have the rite of Confession and Reconciliation as one of the things we are supposed to do, but I've never seen it done in actual practice.

In contrast, I know that most Roman Catholics do regularly incorporate the practice, and it seems like a wonderful thing—tangibly hearing the sacramental words of absolution from a man who is understood to speaking in God's stead. As one who deals with abstract things all day long, it would be nice to hear "God with flesh" sometimes.

The question is, would a Roman Catholic priest technically be able to hear the confession of a non-Catholic? I mean, since I'm not a Papist (I don't mean that pejoratively, I promise!), technically I'm a heretic. As such, could a Roman Catholic priest hear my confession even if he wanted to? More importantly, can he pronounce absolution?

  • From RCIA study book #479 one who was born and baptized outside the visible communion of the Catholic Church is not required to make an abjure toon of heresy, but simply a profession of faith. I don't know if that means technically you're not a heretic, but it seems to imply it doesn't much matter.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 2:59
  • 3
    Oops, iOS doesn't know abjuration (you may abjure toons on your own time)
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 3:29
  • 1
    @AffableGeek You can only be an excommunicate if you were a member of the communion to begin with (and as excommunication is actually a canonical penalty, it is highly unlikely that you have incurred that). Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 4:59
  • I am not Catholic but a Catholic priest has heard my confession and pronounced absolution. He knew I wasn't Catholic but he said it was fine.
    – bobbyalex
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 8:35

7 Answers 7


Perhaps surprisingly, Canon Law appears to allow it.

Can. 959 In the sacrament of penance the faithful who confess their sins to a legitimate minister, are sorry for them, and intend to reform themselves obtain from God through the absolution imparted by the same minister forgiveness for the sins they have committed after baptism and, at the same, time are reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by sinning.

So who are "the faithful"? Naturally, that question is answered, too:

Can. 204 §1. The Christian faithful are those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through baptism, have been constituted as the people of God. For this reason, made sharers in their own way in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal function, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each.

The issue, therefore, is whether the penitent regards the priest as competent (in the legal sense of that word) — does he regard the priest as a priest and able to forgive sins? Many in other denominations would not; it may well be that they do not regard such an earthly representative of the heavenly as necessary at all.

Supplementary issue: if the penitent does regard the priest as competent, and presumably does not wish to approach clergy of his own denomination, why is he not a Catholic? That may be a basis for another question.

Disclaimer: Although I know where to find things in Canon Law, I'm not a lawyer. We could do with a Catholic priest in these hallowed halls.

  • 1
    I'm also not a canon lawyer, but 844.4 says "If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed," which seems to restrict it in practice if not in principle. Am I reading right?
    – James T
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 20:04
  • I would posit that 844.4 is not inconsistent with 959 or 204.1 or my answer. One would not approach a Catholic priest for confession without manifesting Catholic faith in respect of the sacrament. Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 22:22
  • OK, thank you for this additional help in interpretation! I was perhaps concentrating too hard on the danger of death part.
    – James T
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 22:26
  • @AndrewLeach I fell onto your answer and I was surprised, following the links to your profile, to know that something like your personal ordinariate exists! Sometimes I positively struck by the richness of the church.
    – Daniele B
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 17:54
  • @AndrewLeach The phrase "the Church" in 204 might, because of how it is used, only apply to those in communion with the RCC, but I won't die in a ditch over that. See also the context of "the Church" in 959. Since the priest, during that sacrament, is acting in persona Christi ... for a given case he may be moved by the Spirit to offer absolution -- and who's going to know? The confession is bound by The Sacramental Seal! (Canon Law 965). Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 19:28

I am a priest who deals mostly with children. At schools, camps, and youth events we have penance services or just plain opportunities for confession. Quite a few non-catholics often come to confession. First, it is unlikely that any of the young people who come have done anything serious. It is mostly the usual childhood faults. If it becomes obvious that they are not Catholics, I ask them if they are Baptized. If they are, they are capable of receiving the sacrament, have asked for it, so I give it. If they say they aren't, I give them a blessing and assure them that God forgives all their sins. If they don't know, I might get enough information from them to indicate that they are or are not baptized and give them absolution or a blessing according to my best judgement, realizing that I don't want to withold sacramental absolution, if it is valid, but that God always forgives when a person says "I'm sorry."


Yes, a non Catholic can confess to a Catholic priest. (The canon law point has already been addressed).

What the non Catholic is not generally eligible for is the full sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.; thus the priest cannot grant you absolution.1 Our priest makes that clear to folks who are married to Catholics but who aren't of that denomination yet. It is OK to unburden your heart, but the full sacrament is only for those in communion with the Church.

Where this gets flexed a bit is during the Candidate process during the RCIA. A few weeks before being confirmed and received into the Church, the normal flow is that shortly before Easter Vigil, or other Confirmation event, a priest hears the Candidates' confession. (A Candidate is someone who received a valid Baptism from another denomination of Christian).

In the case of the non-baptized (Catechumens) entering the church, I've seen it done both ways.

  1. The priest hears the Catechumens' first confession before baptism and confirmation.

  2. Rely on Baptism washing away all stain of sin (which it does).

    After the latter(2) way of doing this, the new Catholic is eligible for and encouraged to receive (due to any loss of Baptismal grace via mortal sin, and at least annually per the "Easter duty") the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Confession).

    CCC 1446 Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."

    The Vicar General in our diocese advocates for the latter form(2), but the priests in a given parish are allowed to do either. (Ours did the former(1) for years). As I understand it, the Canon Law that Andrew cites offers that flexibility.

The above applies to those entering the church; it is not technically applicable to your case unless you intend to leave the Episcopalian Church for the Roman Catholic Church.

Any Priest whom you approach with the request that he hear your confession will be able to give you (at the very least) pastoral guidance and assistance. If you feel it would be beneficial to you, all you can do is find a local Catholic priest and ask if he'll hear your confession.

1 Exception to the general rule: a non-Catholic Christian who is at the point of death (or in danger of death, per and makes a profession of faith to a priest, may also receive absolution via this sacrament. This is one of those edge cases. (844)

This answer was originally in this question, and was moved here.

To capture a point from two comments, and thus preserve them:

Not exactly “at the point of death;” but “in danger of death.” For example, I would gladly hear the confession of a non-Catholic soldier who was about to go on a dangerous mission, or a non-Catholic who was in an area in which a dangerous epidemic had begun, and so forth (provided he professes the Catholic faith in the sacrament, obviously). In other words, the person does not have to be actually dying to be in “danger of death.”
In other words, the impending death of the person need not be certain, or even probable—just reasonably possible. (This applies to all similar cases; for instance, in danger of death, a Catholic may go to confession to an Orthodox priest, or even a laicized Catholic priest.)

As ever, many thanks to @AthanasiusOfAlex

  • Not exactly “at the point of death;” but “in danger of death.” For example, I would gladly hear the confession of a non-Catholic soldier who was about to go on a dangerous mission, or a non-Catholic who was in an area in which a dangerous epidemic had begun, and so forth (provided he professes the Catholic faith in the sacrament, obviously). In other words, the person does not have to be actually dying to be in “danger of death.” Commented May 8, 2016 at 6:21
  • In other words, the impending death of the person need not be certain, or even probable—just reasonably possible. (This applies to all similar cases; for instance, in danger of death, a Catholic may go to confession to an Orthodox priest, or even a laicized Catholic priest.) Commented May 8, 2016 at 6:26
  • 1
    I have witnessed an inmate on death row, make a last moment profession of faith to a catholic priest, moments before he could no longer do so and made a spontaneous confession and received absolution at the last moments before being led away. Deo Gratias! Even without he profession of faith, being a baptized Christian would have been enough for the sacrament to be effective because he believed in it.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 19:50

Andrew's got the canon law side of things down, but I think a majority of non-Catholic confessions are said by those coming in to the Catholic Church according to the norms of the rite of Christian initiation for adults chapter 5 concerning the reception of baptized Christians (also done for Children in a separate chapter).

Any baptized Christian willing to make a profession can (and probably should) make a general confession of sins to any priest prior to reception into the Catholic Church. The confessor should be told of the intention to be received into the Church and will most likely help out with the confession. If extra time is needed, it's a good idea to schedule these by appointment rather than to make the old ladies wait before Mass (lest they have to confess more impatience than they were previously disposed to confess)

(Note: this answer references the RCIA as approved by the North American Bishops, so compulsory pre-entrance confession may exist elsewhere, as it apparently does for those entering the Church en masse from the Anglican Church to Our Lady of Walshingham Ordinariate)

  • 1
    "Probably should" would not have been strong enough in my case. I wasn't given the choice: confession is part of the process! [And none the worse for that; it's always cathartic and I'm convinced some major changes in my life happened as a result of that pre-reception sacrament.] However there's an intention to become a Catholic at that point, which may not be the case in the situation the OP asks about. Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 7:13

The short answer is, "Yes, he can." At a minimum, the confession of those of us came into the Church, already having been baptized, it is necessary and necessarily efficacious.

My RCIA director (a canon lawyer) basically explained that for all practical purposes, a priest has the authority to allow confession and communion to anyone, so long as it is pastorally appropriate. I have a couple of friends who went to confession repeatedly and well before they came into the Church (one left RCIA after first confession but before reception, another went to confession inadvertently and only in doing so realized the power in it (he came into the Church with me)).

  • 2
    No, a priest cannot give Communion to anyone.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 6:21

My Catholic friend answers this question thus:

A non Catholic can enter the confessional to talk to the priest in private. However, to infer in any way that it is a "confession" is sacriliege to the sacrament.

Basic theology, matter form and intention. Being a believing Catholic is a requirement for the sacrament, nothing wrong with having a chat with a potential convert.

The priest could make an appointment with the non-Catholic to chat in private with him about any concerns he might have. The point is for the priest not to drive him away, but make the non-Catholic understand that this sacrament is instituted by Christ for those who have the faith already and are baptized Catholics.

  • This post indicates that you are not a Roman Catholic. Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 22:30
  • @KorvinStarmast Are you saying that my answer does not give a Catholic perspective?
    – Geremia
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 22:44
  • No. My Catholic friend answers this question thus Try not to put words into my mouth. Your alleged "Catholic friend" is hardly the kind of source that supports an answer on SE. Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 0:08

Non-Catholics, being spiritually dead, are also permitted to enter the confessional, but they are obligated to reveal that they are not Catholics. There is no question of receiving Sacramental absolution: that is possible only for members of the Catholic Church. Entry to the Church involves various rites, including formal abjurations of heresies. Of course, a traditional priest would quickly realize that he was dealing with a non-Catholic. Now, I am talking about a traditional priest. A modernist Novus Ordo would probably be perfectly happy giving absolution to just about anybody, if they even use that ritual. The real answer is that non-Catholics are not permitted to go to Confession; they must first enter the Church through Baptism.

  • Welcome to Christianity! However, this answer could be improved by citing sources -- can you cite anything for your claims?
    – Null
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 16:10

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