Does a priest receive some penalty/sanction for violating the seal of the confessional?


What should a penitant do should he/she find out the confessor violated the seal?


If the penitent becomes aware of this, I would imagine they should report it to that priest’s superior. I have never once heard of a priest breaking this most holy seal, however.


It’s automatic excommunication.


can 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.
§2. An interpreter and the others mentioned in can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication.

But be very careful about whether they actually did.

Not only that, a person who falsely accuses a priest of breaking the Seal of confession commits a mortal sin and canonical penalties, including excommunication are imposed.

(From Fr. Z’s blog)


Yes, please. I’ve seen people say a priest violated the seal because “I confessed the sin of X, and three weeks later in his homily he mentioned the sin of X.”
If that were breaking the seal, a priest would never be able to mention any sin in a homily!


Apparently, canonically, the “as long as you don’t name names, it’s okay” approach is used. So speaking in general terms, if during a homily a priest might say, “One time a person confessed X to me…” then it isn’t really considered a violation, since a priest didn’t specifically say if it was within the sacrament or not.


This is actually an excellent point, and goes with the following.

There is, I think, one other type of circumstance: most sins are of a rather generic nature, meaning they could be committed by just about anyone. But let’s consider a case where the sin is rather unique in character. (Well, maybe not the sin itself, but the details surrounding it.) In such a situation, a priest would not be able to use any such details, albeit anonymously, in a sermon since the details themselves could point to a particular individual.

Take, e.g, the particular details of a sin that is also a crime. Let’s say it was a violent mugging where the penitent confessed having scratched a double-x into the victim’s arm. Such a detail could be useful to law enforcement in apprehending a suspect, which means that the penitent’s confidentiality could be compromised. Using such details in a sermon (or any other discourse, even in what might otherwise be casual conversation) would seem to me, at least, to be a violation of the Seal.

Just my unsolicited :twocents:


Thank you, Andrew, for a clear answer.


Your post and a few others are wrong…seriously wrong on this point.

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.

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.

A Confessor priest can never say any particular sin was confessed to him or make any generic comment about mortal or venial sins having been confessed to him…in the Sacrament of Penance. He can talk/preach/give a homily about a types of sins or specific sins (in a Commandment or moral or ethical context) … but never…ever…in the context that is was a sin confessed to him…today, yesterday or 50 yrs ago…or that he has ever had a particular sin confessed to him. Said another way…we as lay Catholics should not even know if a priest has ever heard the confession of a sin(s). That is what “inviolable” literally means.

If I go to confession one Saturday…and there are 20 persons ahead of me…and then I go into the confessional…who am I to know if any sins were confessed (except in my own particular case)…maybe the priest told the preceding 20 that what they confessed was not a sin…gave them all spiritual counsel…blessed them and sent them on their way in the Peace of Christ…without any necessary absolution or penance. Sounds far fetched…maybe…but the point is we laity don’t really know…nor should we…and the priest should never…ever…indicate in any way (homilies, etc.) to us or even to any other priest that he actually heard a confessed sin…what is heard or learned in the confessional is sealed by the mystery of the sacrament…it belongs to God…Our Lord Jesus who is the High Priest of the Sacrament…it does not belong to the person-hood of the priest…who acts in persona Christi.

The Sacraments and Their Celebration
(Father) Nicholas Halligan O.P. (Sep 30, 2004)
pg. 95

The confessor is altogether forbidden to use knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent,** even when all danger of revelation is excluded**. The use of sacramental knowledge is always unlawful when it entails a direct or indirect revelation of confession.

This is violated occasionally by priests in homilies (e.g., “sins of pornography are the most common sin confessed by men today”…in our parish?..our diocese? our country?..The Western World?))…Bishops need to Shepard their priests firmly on this aspect of the Seal. If you are a priest in Ireland where they are trying to pass a law to force priests to break the Seal (re: criminal sins against children) …you should only hear confessions behind the Screen…and never ever publicly admit/say that you ever heard a sin confessed in the Sacrament of Confession…and no one on the face of the earth should be able to contradict you (except a penitent him/her self…who is bound not by the Seal, but the natural law of a committed secrecy of what is said by the confessor…and to say nothing that would harm the confessor or bring injury or contempt to the Sacrament).

You sometimes hear that priests seem “timid” in confession or even “abrupt”…“in a hurry”…don’t say much in the way of personal spiritual guidance…reason:-- they can never defend themselves…that is the reason many priests “seem a little stiff”…not very “warm and friendly”. Think about it…they can literally say nothing!

Lastly, think about this…we have had priests who were heretics…apostatized…scorned the pope and their bishops…left the Church…become agnostics…atheists…priests who were pedophiles…who abused boys…girls, had affairs with women…caused adultery…preyed on homosexual teens…priests who joined other faith communities and preached vehemently against the Catholic Church and the Church’s Sacramental Life…But have you ever heard of one of these types…Breaking The Seal of Confession? I never have…which tells me that Christ in His Holy Spirit works powerfully to protect this great Sacrament…its credibility is vital. God will accept one of the above type priests “spitting in His face”…but God won’t let them damage His Great Gift of mercy to His Faithful in the Church…instituted by His Son who died for us…who died for these Gifts for us.

Hope this is helpful…not harsh.
Pax Christi


Any priest that violates the seal without the penitent’s permission incurs automatic excommunication.


I think you are wrong on the generic part. It’s not violating the seal of confession to say for example that people have confessed the sin of abortion. It doesn’t point to a specific person or even a parish that they have served in.


I don’t think you are correct. The seal of Confession must not be violated to the extent that the penitent cannot be betrayed. That means that names must not be named nor anything repeated that could be linked to the penitent. Talking generally about a sin that was confessed does not break the Seal.


Sorry. I corrected a typo.


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