Follow up to Ask an Apologist question on confession

Since there is no room for follow-up questions there, hopefully someone here knows this. In a reply to the question, “Can a priest break the seal of confession to save lives?” Michelle Arnold gave the expected reply, “A priest cannot violate the seal of confession for any reason whatsoever.”. She went on to add, “He can deny absolution to someone he believes is not truly repentant for his sins – and a stated intention to recommit the very sin being confessed during the act of sacramental confession itself could indicate impenitence – but he cannot in any way, either by word or action, violate the seal of confession.”

So my follow-up question is, Can the priest who denies absolution then go on to deny communion to the (im)penitent?

And actually, I hear often about how pro-abortion senators should be denied communion. What if he or she approaches a Eucharistic Minister instead of the priest? It seems like a pretty difficult thing to deny communion to anyone.

I’d first like to comment that yes, it is indeed hard to deny anyone Communion even under legitimate grounds. I guess if you’re a famous celebrity or politican that everyone knows, then yes. But if you’re not, its not like the Church has “wanted” posters in every parish. If you’re denied in your own parish, simply go to the next.

Thinking back on your original question though, a priest may not be aware if you sought absolution from another priest. Perhaps he may deny you Communion if the confession was done immediately before Mass and you attended that Mass. But afterwards he won’t be aware if you’ve been absolved by another priest, so he cannot rightfully deny you Communion later on.

No, a priest cannot deny communion based on anything learned in confession. Denial of communion, which is done to protect an individual from committing a very serious sin of receiving the Eucharist without being properly disposed (in a state of grace) can only be done based on knowledge in the public forum - a politician who publicly votes in favor of abortion, i.e., who materially cooperates in grievous evil, a person publicly living with someone of the opposite sex without valid marriage in the church, etc.

Denial of communion is not a punishment but a protection against a serious sin. A priest, while in the confessional with someone who has come to confession but is obviously not repentant can strictly warn the individual against receiving communion, and indeed can make every encouragement to form the right disposition for developing a true contrition, but once outside the confessional there is absolutely nothing the priest can do that would in any way reveal knowledge of what had been confessed, even to the person who had made the confession.

Michelle answered your question:

So my follow-up question is, Can the priest who denies absolution then go on to deny communion to the (im)penitent?

he cannot in any way, either by word or action, violate the seal of confession."

Denying Communion doesn’t violate the seal of confession. Its not like Father announced to everyone why he’s being denied Communion.

A priest may not do anything with the information that he gets in the confessional, this includes denying someone Holy Communion. He can tell the penitent not to present himself for Holy Communion. If the penitent does present himsel, he must give him Holy Communion.

The rule on Holy Communion is very clear. It can only be denied to those who are public sinners. If there is a doubt, you must give the person Holy Communion. You cannot assume that the world knows what you know.

The seal not only applies to the priest, it also applies to the laity. If you overhear a confession, you are bound to the same silence under the same penalty of excommunication, which is a very serious one, more serious than most excommunications.

For example, let’s say that you overhear someon confess a murder to the priest. You may not report it to the police, because what you heard was not intended for your ears. It was intended only for Christ.

It is a very difficult trial to bear, but we must bear it.

In addition, the priest cannot deny absoluion if the person says that he is sorry, even if there is a murder. The priest cannot demand that the person turn himself in to the police as a condition for absolution. The only condition for absolution is that the person must say that he’s sorry. If he meets that criteria, he must be absolved. If he’s lying, the absolution is invalid through his fault, not the fault of the priest. The priest must take what the person says at face value.

This makes the whole issue with pro-abortion politicians so complex. A priest or a bishop may call a person in and tell them not to go to communion. That’s one scenario.

Another scenario is when the person tells it in confession. That complicates matters. Even though the world may know the Senator X voted for abortion, the moment that Senator X confesses it and says that he or she is sorry, he or she must be absolved and it cannot be held against him at the communion line, regardless of what other people may think. The priest cannot jump out and say, “It’s OK, he went to confession.” Nor does the person need to tell the world that he went to confession.

Confession is very serious business. We would do well to undestand how serious it is and to observe the rules, especially if we overhear something.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Not only serious but also complicated. Thanks for clearing it up Bro JR

The bold is mine.

While the law does say that you may deny holy communion to a public sinner, this is an example of a situation that is very tricky. Canon lawyers have grappled with this for ages and can’t seem to agree on it. There is a question as to how public must public be? Canon lawyers have been unable to agree on the answer. Therefore, a priest may proceed to give the person Holy Communion. The priest always has to act in good faith and he must always assme the good faith of the person presenting himself for Holy Communion.

Here is the tricky part on this one. In the case of abortion, there can’t be that many Catholics around who do not know the rule on abortion. In the case of cohabitation, there ae people who really do not understand why the rule exists or what is so terribly wrong with their situation.

The absence of clear understanding mitigates subjective culpability. In some cases it can even obliterate all culpability. The action remains wrong, but the individul is either less culpable or not culpable.

The advice is to distribute Holy Communion to the individual and to counsel the individual later. There is nothing wrong with the priest telling someone, “Please see me after mass.” He avoids drawing attention to someone who may truly be ignorant of the severity or seriousness of his or her situation.

Also, he must be careful, because we get into that whole area of how public is public. Does everyone in the church know? Is the person that well known or is he or she known by the Bingo Club?

Yes, the law is in place, but there are questions about the wording in the law that are a little confusing to the priest or deacon who is distributing Holy Communion. If he is unsure, the priest must make the best judgment call he can.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

In the sacrament of reconciliation the priest act in the person of Christ as a physician to our soul. We come in with a serious disease that untreated could lead to eternal death - separation from God forever. We leave the sacrament with a prescription that, if followed diligently, will cure us completely.

Very few people who break their leg will say ``God gave me my body, and Christ is physician to both soul and body. I don’t need to go to a doctor, but only to pray for healing." Many however argue that when we have a disease of our soul we need only to pray directly to God and not follow the advice of Christ and his church by seeing a priest.

The analogy is even more revealing with regard to the question of whether a priest can ever reveal what is said in confession. Information obtained by a Physician of our bodies is privileged and can only be revealed when the greater temporal good (or avoidance of temporal harm) of society outweighs the temporal harm to the individual and the possibility that others will not see a physician recognizing that some information can under some circumstances, be made public.

In confession, the harm of leading others to avoid the sacrament is eternal. The temporal good (or avoidance of temporal evil) of an arbitrary number of individuals cannot outweigh the possibility of eternal harm to even one soul. Consequently, the information revealed in confession can NEVER be revealed or used in any way. If the person says “Father, I am going to kill you as soon as you leave the confessional” the priest must, in his human life, act as if he had not heard this, and when the normal time for confession is over must open the door, walk out as normal, and leave the rest in God’s hands.

With regard to denying communion, however, we are dealing with the potential for eternal harm to many souls. Reading the relevant canons carefully, we see that not only must a public sinner make confession and receive absolution, but must also make his/her repentance from and resolution to avoid their publicly sinful actions public to avoid scandal and leading others astray when they receive communion. It is no more appropriate to give communion to someone under public interdict by the bishop based on information obtained in confession than it is to not give communion based on information obtained in the confessional. If a sin is so public that a priest would deny communion based on what most people know, he must deny communion even if he is aware that the person presenting themselves for communion has confessed and received absolution.

In Christ,

Dean Astumian

The bold is mine.

This particular point is one that canonists can’t seem to agree on what to do. Therefore, not being a canon lawyer myself, I am very hesitent to make a statement saying “Do” or “Don’t do”. I just point people back to the priest who must make the judgment call. As I said, the law is in the books.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

No. Not if the priest’s information is based only on what he hears in Confession. A priest is forbidden to use any information learned in confession for any acts in the external forum–and publically denying someone communion would be in the external forum.

Also, it is not up to a priest or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion to decide that a politician or other public person should not be receiving–this is reserved to the bishop. So the priest or deacon, or emHC would follow the directives of the bishop.


There is indeed much debate about what justifies a Bishop or a Priest to deny communion, and under what circumstances the decision can be reversed. As far as I know there is no debate whatsoever about the absolute inviolability of the seal of confession.

Ultimately, it is indeed the priests (or bishops) human judgement on which a decision to deny/not deny communion must be made, but this decision must not be informed one way or the other by knowledge obtain through confession. I would be very surprised if this point is in debate. Any actions taken by the penitent outside of confession but inspired by the healing of reconciliation are in the public forum and can and should be used by the bishop or priest to inform a decision concerning denial/non-denial of the Eucharist.

I added this post because there seems to be so much confusion about the inviolability of the seal of confession (many different hypotheticals being proposed on this and other forums) and there really is no complication. There is no circumstance whatsoever to justify using knowledge gained in confession in the public forum.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit