Confessional Seal and the Priesthood


Out of curiosity…

If a Priest confesses sins that violate his vows (i.e. something to do with chastity), can a confessor report this to the bishop, or is the confessional seal absolute no matter what?

Likewise, if someone is either in Seminary training to be a Priest or wants to become a Priest and is working with the Priests within his parish, can sins committed that would make the acceptance to the Priesthood be more difficult (i.e. fornication/adultery/masturbation, alcohol or drug abuse, gossip) be held against the pentinent, as in “until you work out these issues, at the very least, you can’t be a Priest”, or does the seal of confession remain absolute?


From 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."

Catechism of the Catholic Church Paragraph 2490 , “…It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason”

Link to Canon Law impediments to ordination


The seal is absolute; but it is my understanding that absolution can be withheld until some requirement is met; possibly including seeking professional help.


No, absolution can only be withheld if the penitent is not contrite nor expresses a willingness to try to keep from committing the sin. The confessor can certainly encourage seeking professional help but can’t make it a condition for absolution.


No. It cannot.


The Seal of Confession is absolute. Period.

There are no “what if…” or “what about…” or “unless…” or anything else.

The Seal is absolute.


Got a question related to this then. Can the priest who heard your confession then discuss with you topics related to your confession. Say you confess you’re having marital problems, can he talk to you about that outside the confessional?

Or what about if a killer who confessed decides to give himself up to the police, can he request the priest to cooperate with the police regarding information?


As Fr. David said the Seal is absolute. He cannot even discuss what was confessed with you unless you bring it up and seek to discuss it outside the confessional. I would assume the same would be with the killer, but I am not sure. He would have to talk to the priest outside the confessional about it and then perhaps the priest would be able to cooperate with the police but only about what was said outside of the confessional. He could not bring up anything else that was said in the context of confession or even admit to anything heard in confession or even that the person went to confession. Fr. David may have some clarification on this.


As Fr.David said the seal is absolute, that means no exceptions. I have read that often seminary authorities or religious superiors of priests often refer those men under their authority to confessors other than themselves so that they will not hear incriminating information and then not be able to act upon it because of the seal. Fr.David, is this true?


If the discussion is held during the confession (prior to absolution) the priest is held to the seal. If the discussion is after absolution is given, the priest is not held to that seal. I often talk to my priest about matters that I wish to be able to talk to him outside of the confessional and with others to so I save those convos for after my confession is over. Examples may be issues with kids, apostolic work, etc.


Seminary Rectors (and others in a similar position) are not allowed to hear the confessions of seminarians, unless the student freely requests it. c 985 Even freely asking is strongly discouraged.

Spiritual directors and priest-confessors of seminarians are forbidden to have a role in deciding the students’ futures; to avoid exactly this kind of conflict. c 240


No. The priest cannot. Although the penitent is permitted.

The penitent can request that the priest talk about it outside of Confession, but that doesn’t always mean that the priest will, or that he will even remember.

Or what about if a killer who confessed decides to give himself up to the police, can he request the priest to cooperate with the police regarding information?

He can request anything. That doesn’t mean it will happen.

The penitent can release the priest from the Seal, but the priest is also protected by the Seal. The priest would have to be absolutely certain that the penitent made this decision without any coercion whatsoever (which is very unlikely), and would also have to freely decide to do this (which is even more unlikely). In the case of someone accused of a crime, it’s almost impossible for those standards to be met. If there is even the slightest hesitation or doubt about either party, the Seal remains.

If we’re talking about someone accused (or convicted) of a crime, the likelihood that the priest would be genuinely convinced that the penitent is acting without any coercion whatsoever is so near-impossible that no priest would really accept the claim that the penitent is acting freely. Even if he does, the priest is still protected by the Seal, and it’s not likely he would be willing to surrender his own right to keep the Seal.

The penitent is free to say anything, of course. No one is prohibited from saying something like “I went to confession yesterday, confessed XYZ, and I’m so glad I did.” That’s not a problem.

The only time something like this can happen would be more “everyday” types of situations. It’s not unusual for people to say something like “I missed Mass last Sunday, then I went to Confession.” OK fine. Not a problem. But still, the priest is bound to simply not say anything.

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