Q. Based on the Letter of James 5:16 (“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”), is it even necessary to confess to a priest?
A. It is true, in the apostle James’ letter, it would seem he is proposing an alternate suggestion to having confession with a priest. However, that is only one way of looking at this passage. What James is recommending is certainly a great practice – the honesty of confessing to others when we have done wrong. Yet, does that mean he excludes everything else? For instance, if a dentist recommends seeing a hygienist every six months and for an annual check-up, does that mean he or she is excluding having a yearly check-up with a medical doctor? Obviously not. Both are necessary; the dentist is merely emphasizing one.
Confessing our sins to others is always an act of humility. Since pride is the root of all sin and is only overcome by humility, confession of all kinds is an outstanding practice. Furthermore, confessing to the person against whom we have committed the transgression would be even better. That being said, there will always be sinful occasions where it is impossible to actually confess to the person we have wronged. However, a priest (who holds these matters in the strictest confidence) serves as a representative of the larger community with whom we need to be reconciled. Additionally, Jesus endowed His apostles and their successors with the power to forgive sins, so we might as well take up the opportunity!