Breaking Seal of Confession

That is just amazing, and outrageous also! Making fun of the penitent and the sin is serious.

Just a question though - was the “making fun” done in a kindly way rather than to mock? While the seal is inviolable, it is more serious to violate it to someone’s prejudice rather than advantage, such as “this dear sweet grandmother, a daily mass goer and church cleaner, confessed to me that she had forgotten to dust the top of the sacristy cabinet” would, I think, be a technical violation but hardly serious. (But I am not a canon lawyer!)

As it is in a published document (a blog) and is (potentially) serious, I think you should consider reporting it.

“Father, I plan to murder you tomorrow.” I don’t understand why the priest can’t act on this. How does the seal apply? Clearly the person is not actually participating in the sacrament of penance in this case… they just happened to enter the confessional and announced a sin they plan to commit in the future.

I mean, we have documented cases of priests being excommunicated for breaking the seal. So I think this one is demonstrably false.

Of course, it’s still exceptionally rare. I’ve never been worried after confession that the priest was going to disclose what I told him. Not that my sins are all that interesting anyway.

Just think for a minute, Priests go to Confession too so they certainly would not want their sins being talked about. This let’s them experience both sides of the Confessional.

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The seal of the confessional is absolute. The person was confessing a sin, albeit a future planned sin for which they were not repentant and did not obtain absolution, but nonethless the priest is not supposed to act on knowledge gained in confession. There is no exception for confessions where the sin is not absolved, or confession of plans for future sins.

A confession - of any sort - and its contents are supposed, really, to be between the penitent and God, with the priest being a mere conduit between the two. None of it is, or is supposed to be used, for the benefit of the priest.

It is rather like someone acting as a translator between a patient and doctor or client and lawyer - in no way are they supposed to convey, outside of that office and that meeting, anything of what went on. Doctors have obligations in some circumstances to disclose certain information to authorities (eg suspected child abuse), but not translators.

But how does the seal apply? I don’t get it. The sacrament did not occur. There was no confession. There was no sacrament.
How would the priest even know if this lunatic swearing to murder him tomorrow is Catholic?
Imagine an atheist terrorist enters the confessional and says “ah ahaha! I am not a Catholic! I reject and despise the concept of a sacrament! I have planted a nuclear device below the city and in exactly 30 minutes 30 million people will instantly die! But you can’t do anything because I am in the confessional! Haha!” I don’t buy it. No sacrament - no seal.

If, on the other hand, a penitent came in and said “Father, over the past year I murdered 12 priests, including many you knew and loved” - then of course the seal applies. I just don’t see why the seal applies if the sacrament is clearly not celebrated.

I would say it is similar to me as a lawyer.

I have many people who are not actual signed-up clients impart information to me. They may be family members of clients, witnesses, enquirers who end up not needing my services as a lawyer etc.

All of it is confidential regardless, because it is still all in the context of my profession and work as a lawyer. Not imparted simply to me as a private individual.


And you are absolutely sure the priest did not have the permission of the penitent to write about the contents of the confession and/or that the penitent hadn’t discussed the contents of the confession outside the confessional with the priest? In either case, the seal would no longer apply. Are you sure the penitent was a real person and not some fictional penitent created by the priest?

What you have posted on this thread is an extremely serious accusation against this priest. If you indeed brought it to the attention of his Bishop and the Bishop did “nothing” about it, is it possible the Bishop determined very quickly there was no violation of the seal either because of the reasons I listed above or some other reason?

I think pretty much any priest is going to error on the side of caution to avoid any danger of this.

Let’s also remember that 99.9% of the time, sins confessed in Confession are boring and forgettable. The extremely rare instances where a priest would violate the seal would either be a tragic accident, flippancy, or an actually compelling reason that would make it a temptation.

Even if the penitent personally signed a contract with the priest in which the penitent wrote down his whole confession and gave Father the rights to talk about it, which is highly unlikely, it’s still bad form for a priest to make fun of a penitent and their sin, especially a penitent recognizable to the congregation. It leaves the wrong impression that an individual’s sin is a public matter and is funny.

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I absolutely agree. However, scandal is a very different sin than violating the Sacramental seal. Anne1964 has accused this priest of the gravest of offenses. She has indirectly accused a Bishop of failing to address it.

I’m just wondering if this is a case where it appeared like the seal had been violated when in reality, there was no violation.

NO! Never, under no circumstance the seal can be broken.
Do you understand the meaning of the word “seal”?

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
“to fasten with or as if with a seal to prevent tampering”

“to close or make secure against access, leakage, or passage by a fastening or coating”

“to determine irrevocably or indisputably”


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False: it is impossible for anyone to “waive” the seal of the confessional. If I confessed a string of sins and handed Father a signed contract of permission to divulge my sins, that contract would be null and void; Father would be unable to betray me, no matter what.

And that’s a good thing.

The way to “waive” the seal is by mentioning things in a venue that is clearly not the Sacrament of Penance. If I sat next to Father at a parish dinner and regaled him with stories of my misadventures, then he would be under no obligation to keep them secret, even if I’d confessed them as sins earlier that afternoon.

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Really? Because I’ve had conversations with priests in the past where I’ve simply given them permission to discuss the contents of my confession with others such as my spiritual director. I don’t remember ever restarting the sins I’d confessed when I gave permission.

Perhaps, Father @InThePew or Father @edward_george1 could clarify?

Okay there’s too many posts to quote or reply to specifically but in answer to the questions raised:

  1. The seal applies to both the identity of the penitent and the detail of their confession; nothing else. Personally, I try to avoid small talk with the stole on. If some mentally ill person walks in and starts ranting with no intention of confession and/or seeking absolution then it’s not a confession and the seal doesn’t apply.

  2. A priest cannot use information obtained in the confessional to the detriment of the penitent. So if someone gives me a tip on a horse I’m free to place a bet on it. Similarly, going with entertaining murderous thoughts being sinful, I may not be able to report it to the police but I can decide tomorrow might be a good day to stay at home!

  3. An indirect violation is where the identity of the penitent isn’t directly disclosed but enough information if given that they can be identified. Whether somebody is in fact able to identify them is another matter but even running the risk is serious stuff. While I’m not a fan of emailing bishops about complaints, the seal of the confessional isn’t something to play fast and loose with. A priest can talk about confessions he’s heard in a very general way without a risk of identification (it’s easy enough) and can also use hypotheticals based on experiences but even the impression that he’s talking about an identifiable person is wrong and should be followed up.

  4. The seal cannot be waived. You can feel free to talk about your own confession all you want but for me even to discuss it with you requires you to being it up with me outside of the confessional. If and when you do that then the seal doesn’t apply.


I understand the priest cannot bring up/mention anything outside the confessional but does the penitent need to specifically mention or “re-confess” every sin they confessed in the confessional before the priest can talk about it? Or is it acceptable for the penitent to simply say outside the confessional “I’d like to talk about my confession” or “You can talk with so-and-so about my confession”?

Based on Father’s most recent post on this thread, I respectfully think you’re wrong on this. It seems to me my scenario would fall into the “mentally ill person who enters the confessional rambling without intent to make a confession” category, which Father states does not fall under the seal.

I read that book and that was very hard to read. But it was consolating to read that he had confession before death.
And in all that monstrous events we got at least one saint, Maximilian Kolbe!

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See, not all murderers are completely crazy or utterly impenitent, far from it.

I was thinking more of someone having those thoughts and disclosing them, perhaps.hoipng to dispel.them but too - whatever - to complete the confession.

In other words at least an honest if unsuccessful attempt at confession.

Remember pruests are often ani ymous in the confessional. A person might not always be able to tell who they are insanely ranting to in there!

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