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

16 Nov 2012

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?

Answer:
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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