Ask a Priest – Can a Priest Break the Seal of the Confessional?

16 Nov

Nov 16, 2012

Can a priest break the seal of confession (i.e. reveal sins that someone has confessed) if he is forced by law?

There are no exceptions to the seal of confession and whatever civil law may say about this matter a priest is bound to maintain the seal.

This position is made clear in Canon Law here:

  • Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.
  • §2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.
  • Can. 984 §1. A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.

And also here:

  • Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.
  • §2. An interpreter and the others mentioned in ? can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication.

In any case this demand by some politicians is simply a distraction from the real issues. As one commentator pointed out we don’t know of a single case where maintaining the seal of confession facilitated acts of abuse.

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