Confessional Secrecy


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A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action. Even if a confession is made in a less formal atmosphere or in a less formal way, if a priest imparts absolution, what he absolves is under the sacramental seal never to be revealed by him.

As a priest, I was in agony during much of the movie. There are certain circumstances in which the priest would have to discuss the matter of a confession with another but would do so without revealing the identity of the person.

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For instance, some sins are so grievous that the priest must ask for permission from a superior to grant absolution. While keeping the seal of confession, some arrangement would have to be made for the penitent to return to the priest and receive absolution and the appropriate penance.

Or, if a priest needs guidance from a more experienced confessor to deal with a difficult case of conscience brought to him in confession, he first must ask the permission of the penitent to discuss the matter and make arrangements for another meeting. Here again, the priest must keep the identity of the person secret.

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Respecting the seal of confession, the priest would have to ask the penitent to refresh his memory, so as to revisit the particulars again outside of confession. What happens if a priest violates the seal of confession?

The Catechism cites the Code of Canon Law The Fourth Lateran Council produced one of the first comprehensive teachings concerning the Sacrament of Penance. Addressing various problems ranging from abuses to heretical stands against the sacrament, the council defended the sacrament itself, stipulated the need for the yearly sacramental confession of sins and reception of the Holy Eucharist, and imposed disciplinary measures upon priest confessors. In case he needs expert advice he may seek it without, however, in any way indicating the person.

For we decree that he who presumes to reveal a sin which has been manifested to him in the tribunal of penance is not only to be deposed from the priestly office, but also to be consigned to a closed monastery for perpetual penance.

Seal of the Confessional in the Catholic Church

A beautiful story perhaps embellished with time which captures the reality of this topic is the life of St. John Nepomucene , the vicar general to the Archbishop of Prague.

King Wenceslaus IV, described as a vicious, young man who easily succumbed to rage and caprice, was highly suspicious of his wife, the Queen. The sacramental seal of confession from the Canadian civil law perspective Description Title: The sacramental seal of confession from the Canadian civil law perspective Authors: Zubacz, Gregory J Date: In light of current legal developments, there is a need to analyze the interface between canon law and civil law with respect to the seal of confession.

This study integrates the theology, history, canon law, and civil law in order to ascertain the status of the seal of confession as a privileged communication in the law of evidence and whether it is subject to disclosure in court.

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The ethical basis may be founded on the exhortation to cover sin which appears in Scripture and patristic writings. After public confession fell into disuse, this ethic later crystallized into a rule, first of local application, then of universal application by the fifth century. By the thirteenth century, the Fourth Lateran Council affirmed its universal application and attached severe penalties to violations. Throughout history, there has been always been an interaction between the canon law and civil law.

Can the seal of confession be broken or the secrets ever be revealed by priests?

First, the civil law seems to have reinforced the rule of secrecy. Later, when the Church became established, civil legislation appeared enforcing the rule of secrecy, or alternatively recognizing the canon law.

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In the Catholic Church, the Seal of Confession is the absolute duty of priests not to disclose There may be conflict between the obligation of confidentiality of confession and civil law. The US state of Louisiana's Supreme Court ruled in The clergy–penitent privilege, clergy privilege, confessional privilege, priest– penitent privilege, The sinner will not confess, nor will the priest receive his confession, if the veil of secrecy is removed: To decide that the minister shall promulgate.

With the Reformation, civil legislation and case law appeared threatening the integrity of the seal of confession, and the Church responded with reaffirmations and legislation forbidding the breach of the of confession. The reason that the Church insists so strongly that the rule be upheld is that it is based on natural law, divine law, and positive law.