Boston Legal

Maybe you remember this wonderful series between 2004 and 2008. Lots of excellent legal and moral problems discussed. Here is the synopsis of one episode.
A 5 years old child is kidnapped by a known rapist and child molester. The police does not know where the child was taken. However, they know that the molester has a relative, who has information about the kidnapper’s whereabouts. This relative happens to be a Catholic priest, who refuses to reveal what the kidnapper told him under the seal of confession. Also, time is of the essence, if the victims of kidnapping are not found within 48 hours, they are not found at all.
What morally acceptable solution can you offer, which will find the child and arrest the kidnapper? (The original story is a bit more complicated, but I am only interested in this scaled-down version, for the sake if simplicity.)

Your scenario is irrelevant. A priest may not reveal anything from confession. Period. Ever.

I see. So you cannot offer a solution. The kidnapping is irrelevant. The sexual molestation is irrelevant. Murder is irrelevant. Impending terrorist activities are irrelevant. Everything is irrelevant when it comes to “confession”. I sure feel sorry for your priests.

The funny thing is that there is a lawyer-client privilege, and there is a doctor-patient privilege, but these are superseded by the secular laws in extreme cases - like terrorism, child molestation, kidnapping and the like. But not confession. The canon law trumps the law of the land. :slight_smile: Imagine what would happen if we lived in a theocracy… /shivers uncontrollably.

Well, many people who argue these types of positions with Christians don’t seem to mind much at all if other types of theocracy are imposed.

It’s just Catholicism they seem to have a problem with.

The information could be given it if does not betray the penitent and does not have to do with external governance.

Latin Canon Law (CIC)

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.
§2. A person who has been placed in authority cannot use in any manner for external governance the knowledge about sins which he has received in confession at any time.

Vico has this entirely right,
Here it is explained in more mundane terminology
As mentioned in the above article (and by Vico), there may be a way that a priest could provide general guidance to the police using oblique references, (i.e. I heard that there may be a child lost in an industrial area… we’re skirting on 984 in that obliquely the information could be detrimental to the criminal; however, the intent is to save the child and no mention of the penitent is made - the priest could call the precinct after the police left so that there is no direct correlation; thus, we may have a case of “double effect”… :shrug: I’m not a Canon lawyer in any way shape nor form ! ) and the priest more than likely would be seeking help from the Bishop, and I would hope, the Vatican.

Also keep in mind, during the confession, the penitent MUST have the intent to atone for the sin. IMHO, in this scenario, because the crime is already public knowledge, the priest might be able to impose upon the criminal that they turn over both themselves and the child in order to receive absolution and is well within their privilege to withhold absolution entirely in light of the on-going criminal act and the fact that the criminal has no intent to stop the sin.

This kind of question has come up before:

Absolutely not.

I’m wondering in what world does a known child molester frequent the sacrament of confession.
Seems highly unlikely.

To a far-fetched, made up scenario based on a TV show? No need. Your parameters are wholly created to try to force Catholics to denounce the seal. That is neither possible nor desirable.

You’ve established made up parameters-- the criminal goes to confession in the middle of committing a crime and while on the run from police, the person tells their whereabouts in confession. The child has to be found within 48 hour or won’t be found at all.

All of that is just silly.

Sins revealed in confession must have the utmost privacy. The penitents have an inviolate right to confess to God via the priest. The salvation of souls is just that important. Nothing can come between the penitent and his opportunity to receive confession and absolution-- he cannot be in fear of confession. Many a communist leader has tried and failed to break the seal. It is a solemn duty for a priest.

Not relevant in any way. These things have no eternal consequences.


Non sequitur.

Problems with this scenario.

  1. How does the police know that the priest has information about the location of the kidnapper? If the priest had this information only from a Confession, he would not have revealed that he even knew this, let alone the specific details.

  2. If the priest is a relative of the kidnapper, he presumably has lots of information about the kidnapper that comes from sources other than the Confessional. A priest is not prohibited from revealing information he gained from other sources.

Given this incomplete and fictional story, the moral response is to gain the cooperation of the priest and any other relatives and get as much information as possible that may have been disclosed through normal family interactions. There is a lot to be found via clues, interviews and police work, that does not involve the seal of the Confessional.

A scenario contrived by non-Catholics to discredit Catholics and specifically, priests.

As has been said, if he’s a relative he knows where he lives.
Without the detail of a fictitious “confession”.

Highly unlikely does not equal impossible. When you investigate a moral system, you need to examine even the most unlikely, far-fetched, but NOT impossible cases, and find out if the system offers a solution for the presented problem. Based upon the responses (so far), the Catholic system does not have a solution. That would be no problem, if the responders would have exhibited the intellectual honesty and actually ADMITTED it.

If you wish to see the whole story, it was in Season 2, Episode 9 of the series. The one line summary is: “When the FBI’s hands are tied with red tape, Brad helps Denise go undercover as a rogue agent in order to find a missing boy who is close to her heart but when legal and ethical roadblocks appear, they must make some difficult decisions”.

Brad and Denise are able to find a resolution to the case, but their methods are unconventional. Maybe even illegal, or immoral - depending upon the ethical system you subscribe to. But the outcome is successful, the victim is found, the criminal is apprehended. It all boils down to your priorities. What is more important, to save a child from being raped and murdered, or protect the “seal of confession”?

What makes the responses so astonishing is that all the responders overlooked the obvious solution. Get the information to the police, and then immediately confess and get absolution for the sin of breaking the seal of confession. After all any and all sins are forgiven (maybe excepting the blasphemy against the holy spirit) upon confession and repentance. That is all the priest would have to do.

Don’t forget, you always have the “get-out-of-jail-free” card. You can do anything (no matter how heinous the act might be) as long as you repent.

And with these two paragraphs, you show you know nothing about both the priesthood and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Uh, how quickly we forget…

Probably don’t want to bring this up as a point. Lots of child molesters confessed and heard confessions.

^ This is the big hole writers can’t seem to grasp.

An unrepentant kidnapper is not the type who would confess to a priest, and if the priest has information from sources OUTSIDE of the confessional, he CAN reveal the information.

Says who? YOU may feel a need to examine extreme and unlikely cases, but most logical people do not.

What makes the responses so astonishing is that all the responders overlooked the obvious solution. Get the information to the police, and then immediately confess and get absolution for the sin of breaking the seal of confession. After all any and all sins are forgiven (maybe excepting the blasphemy against the holy spirit) upon confession and repentance. That is all the priest would have to do.

Uh — no. The priest would be excommunicated and unable to avail himself of the Sacrament of Confession. There is a process by which he could seek absolution but would not be a priest any longer (or would be laicized). It’s not a “get-out-of-jail-free” card at all.

Maybe TV shows are not your best source for information about Catholicism. :shrug:

Using a “get out of jail free” approach is actually a sin in itself called presumption. And it can be regressive… One can presume upon being forgiven for presumption, etc. True repentance means recognizing that any corrupt intentions or attitudes which constitute separate sins but are connected to the one act were WRONG.

Many people have damned themselves with this sin, having gone to their deaths thinking they are safe and sound.

As to the original question, it’s been answered pretty well. Search some commentaries on the canons for what “external governance” and “detriment” mean.

But I think you’ve blocked me so whatevz man. :shrug: I continue to question what your goal is. It is not to understand… that is manifest.

A “moral” system, which is unable to provide solution for hard-hitting problems is useless.

An excommunication is lengthy process. If you perform any sin (except maybe “blasphemy” against the holy spirit) you can go and seek absolution. You say the words of repentance, the confessor hears them, ACCEPTS the repentance as genuine, and says the words: “Ego Te absolvo a peccatis Tuis”. Now at that moment the absolution is complete… or the whole process is useless. The confessor cannot KNOW if the repentance is real or not.

I am using this forum to get information. The show only presented the problem, and gave a highly satisfactory but SECULAR solution. I was wondering if there exists a Catholic solution, but so far there does not seem to be.

And you have some names of these people, printed on heavenly paper, signed by a heavenly authority? Or you just exercised a “presumption”?

As this post shows, I did not block you; though usually I am not interested in having a conversation with you. Read the last two sentences of YOUR post, and you might understand the reason.

That’s not relevant to this fictional scenario. :rolleyes:

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