According to the Catholic Church, "Absolution proper is that act of the priest whereby, in the Sacrament of Penance, he frees man from sin." That is, a Catholic member can go to his priest, confess his sins, and receive forgiveness from that priest. Granted, the article goes on to explain, "It presupposes on the part of the penitent, contrition, confession, and promise at least of satisfaction; on the part of the minister, valid reception of the Order of Priesthood and jurisdiction, granted by competent authority, over the person
The Catholic doctrine is explained as an application of the words of Jesus (John 20:20-23): "When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.'" This passage is from one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Therefore, it was after, and presupposes, His redemptive work in the crucifixion and resurrection. Therefore, He had already achieved what Paul describes in Romans 3:25: "Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith."
What that means is that Jesus wasn't giving an original power to the Apostles - much less to any church hierarchy - to forgive sins. Ministers, instead, have the authority to declare to the true believer what Jesus has done on his behalf (Romans 5:6): "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." If the person lacks faith, then any declaration by the minister is ineffectual (Matthew 10:13). It cannot save him apart from faith, not in the minister, but in Jesus Christ.
One may claim that there is no harm done by Rome to the person who understands the truth. And I would grant that (except, why then is he looking to a priest for absolution?). However, what about the person who doesn't understand? The harm is that he has been convinced to find his salvation in a man and the organization that man represents. And there can be none there! Rather, his only hope for absolution is by faith in the God-man who purchased that absolution on the cross two-thousand years ago. His conscience has been assuaged on a false basis, leaving him still in his sins! It is as if he has a cancer and thinks he has been cured by a sugar pill.
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