Accidentally breaking the Seal of Confessional?


#1

Hi there.

I enjoy reading the read here, but I’ve never actually posted anything. However, I have a question which I’m hoping some people might be able to answer. This evening, after Mass, our priest stayed behind to hear confessions. These were not heard in a box, but at a kneeler near the sanctuary rails. There were a few people still saying private prayers in the church, when one penitent went to confess. It quickly became apparent that he could be heard, even by people such as myself sitting at the back of the church. I quickly took myself out of the main body of the building to avoid hearing any of what he was confessing. Anyway, afterwards I took the opportunity to speak to the priest, and told him that I–and persumably others–could hear what his first penitent was saying, and so perhaps he should hear confessions elsewhere. However,when I was saying this to the priest, I told him that I hear the penitent beginning his confession with ‘I confess to almighty to God…’ and at that point took myself off (those are the words printed on the confessional card for penitents to use). Now, I’m worried, did saying I heard those six words break the seal? Does the seal of confession apply to word ever word in confession (including the standard prayers which we all know a penitent says, as they are obligatory), or simply to the substance of sins confessed?

A somewhat scrupulous question, perhaps, but issues reading the seal of confession are issues to be scrupulous about!

Thanks!


#2

[quote="Seb1945, post:1, topic:320180"]
Now, I'm worried, did saying I heard those six words break the seal?

[/quote]

Why are you worried and what makes you think this broke the seal of confession? You did not actually hear anyone's confession.

[quote="Seb1945, post:1, topic:320180"]

Does the seal of confession apply to word ever word in confession (including the standard prayers which we all know a penitent says, as they are obligatory), or simply to the substance of sins confessed?

[/quote]

You are WAY overthinking this.

[quote="Seb1945, post:1, topic:320180"]
A somewhat scrupulous question, perhaps, but issues reading the seal of confession are issues to be scrupulous about!

Thanks!

[/quote]

Yes, very scrupulous indeed.


#3

I commend you for removing yourself and can hope that all the others present did the same. It is my understanding that the "Seal of the Confessional" is more about the priest not telling what was said during the Sacrament of Confession (not even if pressed to do so in a court room, for example).
Blessings to you!


#4

[quote="18trouble, post:3, topic:320180"]
I commend you for removing yourself and can hope that all the others present did the same. It is my understanding that the "Seal of the Confessional" is more about the priest not telling what was said during the Sacrament of Confession (not even if pressed to do so in a court room, for example).
Blessings to you!

[/quote]

Great answer! I was wondering how to respond to the OP, as he or she seemed to have done nothing wrong, and yet, was, possibly, breaking the seal of the confessional. As you have explained, the seal of the confessional applies to priests, but not people who may accidentally overhear a confession. Of course, if they (the person who overhears) needlessly uses that knowledge in any way then then they are betraying a confidence, as would apply to any overheard conversation, but that is not in the special category of the Seal of the Confessional.

Another aspect is that the seal applies to revealing details about individuals and what they have confessed. Priests sometimes discuss things they have heard in the confessional, and tell funny stories about them, when there is no chance of tracing it back to any individual.


#5

It would be wrong of you to repeat anything you heard to others, but no the Seal wasn’t broken. It is actually put on the priest, forbbiding him from repeating what he heard. You can’t break the Seal because it isn’t on you.


#6

[quote=Another aspect is that the seal applies to revealing details about individuals and what they have confessed. Priests sometimes discuss things they have heard in the confessional, and tell funny stories about them, when there is no chance of tracing it back to any individual.
[/quote]

You never know when something may be traced back!

There is a funny story that illustrates this point:

"An old priest who had spent forty years in a small town was assigned somewhere else. The retired mayor of that town decided to throw him a farewell party. Everybody gathered because everybody loved the old priest very much.

Since the priest did not arrive, he was delayed on Church, the mayor decided to give a small speech to the gathered crowd while they waited. He said that he was proud to mention that he was the very first person to go to Confession when the priest arrived in town forty years ago.

After this, the priest finally came to the party.

Everybody asked him to say a few words.

He said he was very moved by this party, and that he was going to miss everybody very much. That he never thought he would grow so fond of people in this town because when he first arrived forty years ago, he was shocked to find that the first person that went to Confession thought it was ok to lie, to steal and to cheat on his wife... " :eek:

As you see, one never knows who may remember something or make a connection that may lead to know who confessed what. That is why priest may never ever talk about what they heard in Confession, regardless of the time passed by.
[/quote]


#7

[quote="18trouble, post:3, topic:320180"]
I commend you for removing yourself and can hope that all the others present did the same. I*t is my understanding that the "Seal of the Confessional" is more about the priest not telling what was said during the Sacrament of Confession *(not even if pressed to do so in a court room, for example).
Blessings to you!

[/quote]

Not true! Yes, the priest may not tell what was said during Confession, but anyone who acts as an interpreter for someone in confession, or overhears the confession of sins, is bound by the Seal of Confession, and if they break that seal, it is a mortal sin.

The Seal of Confession is binding on anyone who hears what another person confesses. The only person who is not bound by the Seal is the person confessing. He or she may tell anyone what he or she confessed.

That said, the OP realized that the confession could be heard and moved away before any sins were confessed.


#8

While that makes sense to me, Joan, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church I could only find a reference regarding the priest hearing a confession being bound by the seal. From #1467.
Peace,
RC ;)


#9

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.


#10

[quote="Joan_M, post:7, topic:320180"]
Not true! Yes, the priest may not tell what was said during Confession, but anyone who acts as an interpreter for someone in confession, or overhears the confession of sins, is bound by the Seal of Confession, and if they break that seal, it is a mortal sin.

[/quote]

Well it wouldn't have been a mortal sin until you just informed the person who spoke in a misinformed manner :p.


#11

[quote="Allegra, post:5, topic:320180"]
It would be wrong of you to repeat anything you heard to others, but no the Seal wasn't broken. It is actually put on the priest, forbbiding him from repeating what he heard. You can't break the Seal because it isn't on you.

[/quote]

That's not right. If you, for example, overheard someone giving their Confession to a priest YOU are also bound by the Seal of Confession.


#12

[quote="thistle, post:11, topic:320180"]
That's not right. If you, for example, overheard someone giving their Confession to a priest YOU are also bound by the Seal of Confession.

[/quote]

Yes and the seal was not broken by you accidentally Hearing the confession it would be broken if you told ANYONE what you hear. (and did the right thing by moving as soon as you heard something.


#13

I've often wondered in recent weeks if it would be difficult for a priest to avoid accidentally breaking the Seal in a small parish setting. Like if he hears the parish's confessions and then he still spends his life having conversations with people all the time. He'd have 'the know' on everything.

Tom: "My son is going to be spending some more time with Tabatha over the weekend"
Priest: "Noooo"
Tom: "?"
Priest: "Errr.. I mean... nothing. What were we talking about?"
Tom: "My son is dating Tabatha."
Priest: "Cool"
Tom: "What about it?"
Priest: "Does anybody else smell Lemon Squares? I love Lemon Squares. I'll talk to you later."


#14

Correct.


#15

[quote="18trouble, post:8, topic:320180"]
While that makes sense to me, Joan, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church I could only find a reference regarding the priest hearing a confession being bound by the seal. From #1467.
Peace,
RC ;)

[/quote]

From the Code of Canon Law:

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.


#16

(I think this falls under the same question - if not, my apologies for not starting a new thread).

Is the penance a priest gives also under the seal?

Assume it is a penance requiring some time and a set of activities to complete - let's use the example of working X hours Habitat for Humanity as a penance for someone who vandalized some property in his youth.

Could the priest ask how the penitent how it is going, etc. about it (if they happened to speak after mass for example). Or once the penitent leaves is the subject closed until/unless they bring it up themselves in a conversation?


#17

quote="CradleJourney, post:16, topic:320180".

Is the penance a priest gives also under the seal?

Assume it is a penance requiring some time and a set of activities to complete - let's use the example of working X hours Habitat for Humanity as a penance for someone who vandalized some property in his youth.

Could the priest ask how the penitent how it is going, etc. about it (if they happened to speak after mass for example). Or once the penitent leaves is the subject closed until/unless they bring it up themselves in a conversation?

[/quote]

The priest is forbidden to discuss with the penitent outside Confession anything discussed in Confession unless he asks the penitent for permission first and it is given. If the priest asks for permission and the penitent says no then the priest cannot talk to the penitent about whatever he wanted to talk about.

The penitent on the other hand is not bound by the seal and can go on youtube if he wants to tell everything discussed in Confession.


#18

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