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Why the seal of the confessional cannot be broken

Why the seal of the confessional cannot be broken September 10, 2014

Pope Francis hearing confession

From my blog neighbor Sam Sawyer, SJ, comes this must-read on the subject of confession: 

I try not to make a habit of wading into swamps, but there’s something going on in Louisiana that should not be ignored.

The state Supreme Court ruled that, once a penitent has waived confidentiality, what was discussed in the sacrament of confession can be fair game in court. The diocese of Baton Rouge has recently appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court.  The case is particularly challenging because the confession in question was made by a girl who was being abused by a parishioner, and it appears from her testimony that the priest did not do anything to help her.

Much of the discussion thus far has been about what Louisiana law requires and whether or not the seal of confession supersedes it. But this misses two important questions — one about what should have happened, and one about why the seal cannot be waived, even by the person who made the confession.

He explains further:

…The Church demands the absolute inviolability of the seal of confession, to the point that priests are expected not even to confirm that a particular confession took place. Further, the priest’s responsibility to maintain the seal is absolute even when the penitent desires to break it — to the point that if someone I was counseling outside of confession wanted to talk about matter that they had confessed to me earlier, I would ask them not just to refer to it, but to bring it back up and discuss it again themselves outside the confession.

Why? Because the seal of confession is not a contract between the priest and the penitent. The person who confesses has the right to privacy, but that’s only the beginning of what the seal protects. The Church wants to maintain the absolute freedom of anyone, under any circumstances, to seek God’s mercy without fear. If the seal of the confessional can be broken, for any reason, then that potentially becomes an obstacle to someone seeking to confess.

There’s much more. Read it all. 


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