In Catholicism and other sects of Christianity, there is a focus on a confession of sins to others, such as priests or a congregation. Are there similar actions in the various Buddhist sects?
There are many examples of monks and laypeople “confesssing” various things to the original Buddha. One story goes as follows:
A wealthy householder from Shravasti, who became known as Anathapindada (“Giver of alms to the unprotected”), confessed to the Buddha that he enjoyed his investing and business cares. Shakyamuni suggested that he be a lay disciple and continue his work and use it as a blessing for other people. So Anathapindada invited the Buddha to spend the next rainy season at Shravasti, the chief city in Kosala, where he purchased and built the Jetavana Monastery. Later when Anathapindada was dying of a painful illness, Shariputra went and taught him the mental concentration for the avoidance of pain usually only taught to monks; Anathapindada died in peace. Source
As you can see, this is more practical than spiritual. The man had reservations about becoming a monk, so by “confessing” his doubts to Buddha, he was advised to take a more appropriate path. In this particular case, the man had not done anything wrong, but as time passed, the practice of monks confessing their doubts, faults, and broken precepts became more and more common.
Guilt is yet another form of suffering, and by confessing one’s guilt, that suffering can be relieved. A punishment may be assigned for some offenses, but overall, the guilt will be gone.
Unlike Catholicism, there is no forgiveness of sins, since that just can’t happen in Buddhism. No matter what the offense, there is no avoiding the effects of karma. You must (and eventually will) take full responsibility for your crimes, mistakes, and bad judgment, just as you will for all your compassion, help, and kindness. All the good and all the bad from your past matter, and confession won’t help that, but for the sake of justice and removing your guilt, then confession is a good thing.