Breaking Seal of Confession

Are there ever situations where a priest is allowed by the church to break the seal of confession? Has there ever been a time in the past where this has occurred?

Cindy confesses that she has killed someone and disclosed where the hidden body is.

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A priest cannot break the seal of confession, full stop. As far as I’m aware a priest can’t even say that they’ve heard a particular person’s confession.

I’m sure there have been priests who have broken the seal, but it wasn’t something they were permitted to do. It comes with an automatic excommunication.


A priest may never break the Seal. It is absolutely forbidden.


It is forbidden in all circumstances.




I would note that we have at least a dozen past threads on whether priests can break the seal of confession when it involves a murder or other felony.
The answer is always No.


This is What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

Bold text is my emphasis for this post:

CCC 1467 " Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal,” because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains “sealed” by the sacrament"


Can’t be done.

Canon 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.

The only thing I could venture, is that a court might be able to subpoena witnesses (other penitents as well as people who might have been in the church) who saw Priest X and accused defendant Penitent X go into the confessional. Video surveillance archives, showing comings and goings in the confessional area, might also be admissible as evidence. Even then, this would only establish that Penitent X confessed to Priest X, or at least was in the confessional, and would not address anything said in the confessional.


Nope. A Priest would die before he breaks the deal of Confession


NO. Not even to save a life let alone the world.

AFAIK, no.

Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess (trailer & movie):


Here is a better example from the British TV show “Father Brown.”

Woman walks into Father Brown’s confessional and confesses to him that she is planning on murdering him.

He still cannot say anything!

Point: Priests cannot break the Seal of Confession, period.


What episode is that? Father Brown is on PBS here in the Philadelphia area (it’s either ch. 12, 23 or 39 on Verizon - I forget which one).

You know what… I actually mixed two episodes together.

  • There was episode 34 (season 3, episode 14) called The Deadly Seal where someone confessed to Father that they planned on killing the Bishop. He really can’t do anything to save the Bishop.

  • There was episode 51 (season 5, episode 6) called The Eagle and the Daw where Katherine Corven is on death row and confesses to Father Brown that she’s going to kill someone else & (with help from someone on the outside) frames Father Brown for the murder. He really can’t do anything to save himself.


That second one sounds like I Confess in 45 minutes without Montgomery Clift. :laughing:

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I’m sure it’s happened. There have probably been what, millions of priests and millions upon millions of confessions?

I’m sure some priests have broken the seal. Obviously, they weren’t supposed to, but there’s no way it’s never happened

And I’m sure some of the ones who broke the seal were punished severely by their bishops or other superiors for doing that.

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No doubt. As they should have been.

Other than assuming such things, has anyone found a documented case, where a priest was disciplined? It should be so remarkable as to make the news, right? Right?

It’s really not necessary to slather your posts in sarcasm this way, friend.

Think about it. The Church has a 2000 year history, most of it in an era when what we’d think of as “reporting” would be very limited. And there have been millions of priests and many more confessions. You really think none of those priests have been bad apples with regard to the seal? It’s just not credible.

I’m not making some kind of anti-clerical point here. Obviously the vast majority of priests would never dream of breaking the seal. But when you have a two thousand year history with millions of priests, obviously there will be some who fail.

That said, here: Priest excommunicated for breaking seal

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I liked that episode so much - Father Brown doing all kinds of contorsions to try and save his Bishop without telling why !

Just two years ago, February 2018, a Fr. Ezinwane Igbo, a Nigerian priest working in Queensland, Australia incurred automatic excommunication for breaking the seal of confession: Pope excommunicates Father Ezinwanne Igbo for breaching confession secrecy

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