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Question 93: In a penance service followed by individual confession, is the penitent allowed to write his/her sins on a sheet of paper to be read and then burned by the priest without the penitent actually having to confess their sins with their lips as the catechism states? 

Answer:

Regularly, confession should be vocal. One accuses himself with by spoken words. This does not belong to the essence of confession, since any sign by which sins are sufficiently made manifest would suffice, and there is no divine precept to confess orally; but it is the custom of the Church, which has obtained the force of law, confession must sub gravi (under pain of mortal sin) be made orally by those who can speak, unless a serious reason excuses from this obligation, though in certain cases not all the sins need to be told vocally. For example, if they are already known to the confessor the words, I accuse myself of the sins already known to you, would suffice.

Hence, one is in no case bound to confess by writing, confession may be made by signs or in writing for grave reasons, e.g., if the penitent is bumb (unable to speak), or the confessor is deaf; or if there is danger of being heard by those nearby; or if one sick with throat trouble finds it very hard to speak; or if one, out of excessive shame, cannot explain his sins; or if one fears that because of scruples or temptations to conceal sins he cannot make a complete confession; or if there are similar grave reasons. But in these instances it is advisable, if possible, that before absolution the penitent say these or similar words, I accuse myself of the sins which I have written down and am sorry for them. But this is not strictly necessary since, in circumstances like those mentioned above, he is simply excused from oral confession.

 

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