Question: Can a Protestant confess his sins to a Catholic priest and have them forgiven?
—Richard J. Moore, Covington, Louisiana
Answer: Not usually. There are, however, a couple of exceptions. The first exception is in danger of death. Canon law says, “If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the national conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer sacraments to other Christians who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community, and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed” (No. 844.4).
Notice two requirements. First, a minister of their own denomination cannot be found and, second, the Protestant or other baptized non-Christian, professes a Catholic belief in the Sacrament of Confession. For two such conditions to arise together is rare, but, technically, confession and absolution may be given to a Protestant in danger of death.
Another exception is that a baptized non-Catholic seeking to enter the Catholic Church ought to have their confession heard prior to being confirmed and being received into full communion. Hence, even though they are preparing to enter the Catholic Church, they are technically still a Protestant when the confession is heard.