Question: If a person commits a capital crime, isn't absolution dependent upon the penitent turning…
Can priests deny absolution?
Question: Suppose for some reason that a priest refuses to grant absolution. What is a person supposed to do? Can you go back to confession immediately? I would be grateful for your insights.
— Name withheld via email
Answer: In the rare cases when a priest refuses absolution, he needs to state why and offer the penitent a way forward. The most common reason that absolution is denied is that the penitent does not manifest a firm purpose of amendment to make reasonable efforts to avoid the sin in the future.
This is often because he or she is living in an irregular situation, such as an invalid marriage, cohabitation or an illicit sexual union. If they indicate no willingness to try and cease committing the sin, the priest must withhold or delay absolution. He will usually explain why and offer to speak to the person more substantially on the matter at another time. He may be able to indicate options, such as annulment, or indicate a willingness to offer absolution if the cohabiting couple can agree to cease their illicit sexual union. In other cases, such as a manifest refusal of the penitent to cease retaliating unjustly, or stealing, for example, the priest can offer counsel and ask the person to reconsider their stance and return later.
Any penitent who has been refused absolution is free to approach the priest again, go to another confessor or seek counsel from others as to resolve the ongoing issue that prevents absolution.
The denial of absolution is relatively rare, but every priest has a duty to ensure that the Sacrament of Confession be celebrated with integrity. Grave sins are to be confessed in kind and number, and the person must manifest a firm purpose of amendment. A firm purpose of amendment indicates a willingness to make efforts to overcome sinful habits and avoid occasions of sin insofar as reasonably possible.
The priest is called to gently ensure that what makes for the sacrament is present and to help the penitent supply contrition and amendment. Thus any refusal to grant absolution ought to be accompanied by a pastoral solicitude that teaches and advises the penitent of a way forward to God’s mercy.
How did John know Jesus?
Question: In John 1:31-33, John the Baptist states he “did not know” Jesus until they met at the Jordan River. Weren’t Elizabeth and Mary cousins, which would mean that John and Jesus were cousins and likely visited each other in their youth?
— Name withheld via email
Answer: It is not certain that John and Jesus would have known each other. Your speculations are not without merit, but they remain speculations.
But let’s presume that your assumption is true and that John and Jesus did know each other as youths. John says, “I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit'” (Jn 1:33).
But note that the Greek verb translated as “know” here is edein, which refers more to an intellectual knowing than a personal knowing (which the Greek verb ginosko would better specify). Hence John can be saying here that, though he knew Jesus, he did not fully understand who he was or recognize him as the Lamb of God until now. Thus he is saying, in effect, that he now knows Jesus in a whole new way. He is not necessarily saying he never knew Jesus at all.