Defending the Seal of the Confession

There are complaints that non-believers and misguided believers have about The Catholic Church. Some of them are admittedly valid (not even Saint Peter would defend medieval simony), but other complaints are a bit jarring.

One thing I love about the church is the seal of the confession. If you confess something to a priest, you can be sure that he will never tell another living soul (if he does he will be excommunicated and defrocked). Doctors and therapists are legally required to tell the police if you confide in them a serious transgression, Catholic Priests are not (in fact the supreme court upheld this so a priest can’t be punished for not breaking the seal).

But I see some people complain about this. They complain that Priests should have to report to the police if somebody confesses rape or murder to them in confessional.

Do you have any arguments for why such a law would be a terrible idea? What do I say in rebuttal when people complain about priests not notifying the police when people confess crimes to them?

In practise a priest is likely to withhold absolution with a crime that needs to be reported to the authorities immediately (or make it conditional on allowing the priest to report the offence).

If Priest’s were required to report such confessed crimes then why would anyone want to confess to them in the first place.

No, this is not possible,

Yet it is done.

You are mistaken.

forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=7064710&postcount=9

jimmyakin.com/2005/11/can_a_priest_fo.html

Priests will not comply.

Compelling a priest to report crimes would likely see the guilty fail to confess.

The world’s desire for worldly justice cannot override the importance of the state of a person’s soul before God. Man’s justice and mercy are about as far from perfect as can be imagined. To attack the seal of the confessional also weakens the privilege which spouses and doctors/patients enjoy. And, what about attorney/client privileges? Think of that!

These privileges were established long ago in western jurisprudence for valid reasons. The privilege secures the bond, the trust, of various relationships, and that is part of the fabric of society. To attack them in the name of justice will, at some point, lead to injustice. Have we not had enough of waterboarding and other monstrosities?

Ultimately, each type of privileged communication must be preserved, or all will fall.

Defending the legal aspect begins with understanding the religious aspect. When the arguer understands why the Seal is so important in the religious aspect amd hiw priests are expected to uphold it to the point of martyrdom, the legal aspect becomes surer. That’s because it would essentially lead to every priest getting jailed, depriving the largest religious group of rights to our faith, and wasting law enforcement’s time while not arresting more criminals. And if priests did comply, people would not confess, hence the negating the point in the first place while creating religious turmoil.

Remember the Fifth Amendment? That is actually an inherent right, which the Church acknowledges and accepts. Think about Jean in Les Miserables…

I am afraid that this is not true.

How do you know this?

In the United States, the legal confidentiality privilege goes beyond just Catholic priests, a Presbyterian minister or Islamic imam can keep confidence without legal sanction as well.

Although the others might not have any religious problem with dropping the dime on the miscreant, so you might want to be careful about what you say if you are in the hoosegow and get visited by a non-catholic chaplain.

I just love the apriori autism implicit in your comments.

I tell you as a known fact what close priest friends actually do and you deny it happens simply on the grounds of your less than robust personal interpretation of ambiguous Canon Law.
The bald fact they do suggests you may not understand CL or the pastoral nuances of such situations.

Obviously if a criminal penitent after wise counsel willingly agrees to confess to the authorities the priest has broken no seal. If the priest judges that his refusal to do so likely reveals an attitude of impenitence then he may postpone absolution until such a time as the penitent does manifest appropriate sorrow for his crimes. That may not be possible until a prison visit.

Padre Pio on occassion shouted people out of the Confessional for lack of contrition if memory serves me correctly.

Priests are not sacramental robots and your right to present is not his obligation to absolve.

This.

A priest may of course determine that a penitent may not be absolved due to lack of contrition.

A priest may not hold someone’s soul hostage by refusing absolution unless and until the penitent incriminates himself.

He can say, “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t sound as though you are sorry for your sin. Come back when you are contrite.”

He cannot say, “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t sound as though you are sorry for your sin. Call me from jail after you’ve confessed to the authorities, and I’ll absolve you.” Or “For your penance, confess what you just told me to the authorities.”

I mean, physically he could say those things, obviously, but it would be very wrong.

I can understand the desire to prevent future offenses and see truth and justice satisfied for past ones. To the former issue, I doubt there would be anything wrong with the priest counseling the person to get help, even if that means confinement, for the sake of potential future victims. But the priest can’t make it happen and can’t explicitly condition absolution on the person’s doing it. To the latter issue, as others have said, the priest’s duty is to people’s souls. Much as with the defense attorney who knows more about his client’s activities than he reveals, the benefit of knowing that a priest won’t repeat your confession outweighs the cost that some people might go unpunished even though at least one other person knows what really happened.

A non-Catholic chaplain is no more likely to “drop a dime” on someone for what was discussed in confidence than a Catholic priest would be. And if he (or she) did, it would likely not be admissible at trial.

Blue - reading your post #2, you suggest that it would be well within standard priestly practice to require the penitent to self-report to the authorities in order to be absolved. Your later statement that “it happens” walks this back some way.

Now let’s agree it might happen. But is it acceptable priestly practice? The weight of evidence presented suggests it is not.

Disappointed to see the aggression you displayed towards 1ke.

Why would you say something like this? first, it does not make sense: a priori autism? Second, it is demeaning to people who actually suffer from autism.

I tell you as a known fact

The phrase “a kniwn fact” usually indicates something which is widely accepted as true, as in, It is a known fact that leaded gasoline negatively affects the brain development of those who are repeatedly exposed to it. Not, what my close friends have told me in person.

what close priest friends actually do

This might have been a good way to open your *original *remark: Close priest friends of mine have told me that they…

and you deny it happens simply on the grounds of your less than robust personal interpretation of ambiguous Canon Law.

This actually has nothing to do with Canon Law; it is simply a fact that a priest can not require something like this be done before giving absolution.

The bald fact they do suggests you may not understand CL or the pastoral nuances of such situations.

Obviously if a criminal penitent after wise counsel willingly agrees to confess to the authorities the priest has broken no seal.

This does not indicate that a priest withheld absolution until the person had given himself up to the police.

If the priest judges that his refusal to do so likely reveals an attitude of impenitence then he may postpone absolution until such a time as the penitent does manifest appropriate sorrow for his crimes.

The priest would be wrong to do this. The Church does not require that one turn himself in for a crime.

Padre Pio on occassion shouted people out of the Confessional for lack of contrition if memory serves me correctly.

Yes, Padre Pio did have an extraordinary gift of discernment of contrition. Since absolution doesn’t “stick” if the person is that lacking in contrition, it is not a gift that every priest needs anyway. And shouting someone out of the confessional is not the same thing as requiring that they turn themselves in to the police to receive absolution.

Priests are not sacramental robots and your right to present is not his obligation to absolve.

This is correct.

Why would you say something like this? first, it does not make sense: a priori autism? Second, it is demeaning to people who actually suffer from autism.

I tell you as a known fact

The phrase “a kniwn fact” usually indicates something which is widely accepted as true, as in, It is a known fact that leaded gasoline negatively affects the brain development of those who are repeatedly exposed to it. Not, what my close friends have told me in person.

what close priest friends actually do

This might have been a good way to open your *original *remark: Close priest friends of mine have told me that they…

and you deny it happens simply on the grounds of your less than robust personal interpretation of ambiguous Canon Law.

This actually has nothing to do with Canon Law; it is simply a fact that a priest can not require something like this be done before giving absolution. Canon Law *reflects *what the Church teaches; it does not *establish *it.

That being said, Fr Grodin of CA suggests that CL does indeed touch on this point: Can. 980 If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is to be neither refused nor deferred.

IOW, the only thing the priest can require is contrition.

The bald fact they do suggests you may not understand CL or the pastoral nuances of such situations.

Obviously if a criminal penitent after wise counsel willingly agrees to confess to the authorities the priest has broken no seal.

This does not indicate that a priest withheld absolution until the person had given himself up to the police.

If the priest judges that his refusal to do so likely reveals an attitude of impenitence then he may postpone absolution until such a time as the penitent does manifest appropriate sorrow for his crimes.

ETChange: Turning oneself in to the police is not the only way to manifest contrition.

Padre Pio on occassion shouted people out of the Confessional for lack of contrition if memory serves me correctly.

Yes, Padre Pio did have an extraordinary gift of discernment of contrition. Since absolution doesn’t “stick” if the person is that lacking in contrition, it is not a gift that every priest needs anyway. And shouting someone out of the confessional is not the same thing as requiring that they turn themselves in to the police to receive absolution.

Priests are not sacramental robots and your right to present is not his obligation to absolve.

Actually, I would suggest that the above: Can. 980 If the confessor has no doubt about the disposition of the penitent, and the penitent seeks absolution, absolution is to be neither refused nor deferred, does imply just that.

Glad we agree.

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