At the Register: Some Questions about the Seal of Confession

As far as the state is concerned, the statutory respect for the seal of confession is intended to protect the penitent, not the confessor (although an unscrupulous confessor could certainly take advantage of the privilege in order to protect himself, if he did something wrong in the confessional). As far as I can tell, the same is true as far as Canon Law is concerned: the seal of confession is there to protect the penitent, not the confessor.

However, a penitent may give a priest permission to talk about what was confessed. The penitent may release him from the seal.  And this is why the recent legal case in Louisiana doesn’t quite make sense to me.

Read the rest at the Register.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • DeirdreMundy

    I wonder if the issue is that the PARENTS want the seal broken, but the girl may not? In that case, the priest would have to remain silent.

  • Kristen

    I’m no canon law expert, but I was under the distinct impression that the seal was inviolable and could not be waived by anyone, including the penitent. So, if I made a sacramental confession and then wanted to have a follow up conversation with the priest, he couldn’t even talk to ME about it unless one of two things happened (1) we started another sacramental confession and were back under the seal, or (2) started the conversation from square 1 so we weren’t referring back to the confession.

    It was also emphasized to me that the priest could not break the seal even if he were facing death. If a situation occurred where my confessor were facing dire threats unless he broke the seal WHICH HE COULD ONLY DO IF I GAVE HIM PERMISSION then that puts me in an impossible position. How could I not waive? Bye bye seal of confession. That isn’t supposed to happen. If, on the other hand, the seal cannot be broken even by me, then the seal is preserved.

    • Kristen

      Civil law is different. Under civil law, privileges belong to someone and that someone can waive them. I’m no expert on evidentiary rules in Louisiana, but I’m guessing the privilege belongs to the penitent. So then, as far as the court is concerned, the privilege is waived and the priest should start talking. If he’s still bound to secrecy under canon law (which I think is the case but could be wrong) then I totally understand how a conflict could arise.

  • Monica

    I think you’re mistaken in this case, Simcha—the Diocese of Baton Rouge says in their statement that “Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession.”