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"Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained." These powers to forgive and retain are Divine Powers that belong to God alone. God shared it with His priests but His priests must use them according to His mind and not in any way they want. 

Firstly, the priest must know what sins the penitent has committed. Which means he must know all the commands of Christ and how to observe them, since sin is disobedience to the commands of Christ. It is possible that a penitent had obeyed a command of Christ, like helping the poor, but did not do it in the exact way that Christ wants it but more according to his own way. There is still disobedience and, therefore,  sin. If the priest is ignorant of Christ's commandments, he has no competence to judge anyone's act. 

Secondly, he must be one who is conscious of all his sins, has judged himself guilty of his sins and has amply repented for his sins. A priest who cannot find out his sins and does not know how to judge himself surely cannot judge others. He will end up retaining when he should forgive and forgive when he should retain. 

St. Thomas reminds such priests that they are merely the mouth and hands of God. They should only say what God wants them to say. If they do not know what God wants to say, they should remain silent. 

The priest, at least, must know what are the fruits of repentance as exemplified in the just read parable of the prodigal son. By the fruits he can be certain that the soul is penitent and, therefore, worthily absolved. For the priest to see the fruits of repentance in others, he, himself, must have produced fruits worthy of repentance. He must have repented for all his sins.

The priest must remember that he merely shares this power from God and therefore must dispense it according to the mind of the Giver and not in any way he wants. 


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