“Can a priest forgive sins?” That is a deceptably complicated question that has several answers.
- No, not in his own power. It is Christ who forgives through the sacramental act of the priest. He uses what Jesus refered to as “the keys to the kingdom.” 16:19
- Yes, in the sense that Christ has given authority to His Church to bind or to loose sins. “Then Jesus breathed on them (the apostles) and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you don not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” Jn 20:22. It is with this authority that the priest absolves after the General Confession or in the Reconciliation of the Penitent.
- No, if the penitent is not truly repentant. The absolution begins, “Almighty God who of His great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto Him….” The implication is that without hearty repentance and true faith, sins are not forgiven just because the priest says the right words.