As a convert, do I have to go to confession for the sins I committed before I became Catholic?

This question was submitted to Busted Halo’s Summer School Contest.

Q: My question is about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As a convert, I have always wondered about the sins I committed before I became Catholic. Because I was Protestant, I did not go to confession, but instead asked for forgiveness directly from God, without a priest in prayer. Are those sins forgiven or do I have to go to confession for them? Am I living in past sin?

oldsins-2Forgetfulness is not a sin, so if you merely forgot to mention these, then it’s just suggested that you add them to your next confession. If you purposely withheld them, then that is a sin (often called a sacrilege), and you will need to confess that you purposely withheld these sins and then reveal what they are.

In the latter case, I would venture your first confession as a Catholic was merely an opportunity to experience the sacrament as best you could. We need to remember that intention is a big part here and that God doesn’t need the sacrament to forgive us, rather WE need the sacrament to understand God’s mercy and forgiveness, which is boundless.

One can make what is called a “General Confession” where you review the sins of your entire life and then the priest offers you absolution. You would need to make an appointment to do this, as it obviously would take some time. Finding a spiritual director who is a priest might be helpful here, as he could lead into this process over time or during a retreat.