Is there a known and VERIFIABLE instance of a priest knowingly breaking the Seal of Confession?


#1

I asked this same question eight years ago, and came up empty (thankfully). I ask it again because there are quite a lot of new folk here who might have some insight.

The Seal of Confession is a priest's most sacred trust. But many anti-Catholics accuse priests of routinely violating this trust. In one such instance, a certain Father O'Reilly of New York violated the Seal. No first name, date, or Parish stipulated. Seriously - an undated reference to a priest with an Irish surname in New York City??? There must be twenty or thirty "Father O'Reillys" at any given time in New York.

If a priest had violated this trust, it would not, in any way, invalidate the Catholic Church. But it would be a great and shameful crime.

So I ask (again), does anyone know of a VERIFIABLE claim (meaning, at the very least, I can find it in Google or Wikipedia) of a priest who violated the Seal?

I don't mean to include instances where the Seal was violated without the priest's knowledge or consent (such as if a confession was overheard without the priest's knowledge).


#2

I never heard of this happening, and in view of this would not accept the idea of it happening regularly. Or, in, fact, I would question it's happing at all, though this is conceivable. Any priest who did this is automatically excommunicated. What is your source for what you heard about a Father O'Reilly?


#3

[quote="DavidFilmer, post:1, topic:329589"]
So I ask (again), does anyone know of a VERIFIABLE claim (meaning, at the very least, I can find it in Google or Wikipedia) of a priest who violated the Seal?

[/quote]

Yes. Rev. David A. Verhasselt is an example.

chnonline.org/news/local/11106-canonical-penal-procedures-and-proceedings-related-to-reverend-david-a-verhasselt.html

It appears that that the proceedings are kept in confidence, which is why we rarely hear of these these things.


#4

This article says he was found guilty of an indirect violation of the seal: "An indirect violation is one in which a specific person’s sin, but not necessarily the identity of the penitent, is revealed by the confessor (priest)."

I think that when most people think of violating the seal of confession, they're thinking of a direct violation. Not to minimize this instance, of course.


#5

This is very interesting. I have never heard of an indirect violation of the seal. If a priest, for instance, mentioned in a homily that it has come to his attention that many people in his parish had a problem with internet porn, could a person who had confessed this sin to the priest, accuse him of an indirect violation of the seal? If there are any priests reading this, could you help us with this?


#6

[quote="Marysann, post:5, topic:329589"]
This is very interesting. I have never heard of an indirect violation of the seal. If a priest, for instance, mentioned in a homily that it has come to his attention that many people in his parish had a problem with internet porn, could a person who had confessed this sin to the priest, accuse him of an indirect violation of the seal? If there are any priests reading this, could you help us with this?

[/quote]

That would not be a violation because it is so general and does not identify any individual person.


#7

The Church does not go out of her way to make these cases public, so obviously our exposure and knowledge of such cases will be extremely limited.

As far as accusations go, anybody can accuse anyone of anything. If someone accuses a priest of this, they will have to provide some real evidence, otherwise the case will go nowhere fast. It's difficult for us to determine what is and is not acceptable, but generally if the penitent and the sin cannot be linked, then the priest is not breaking the Seal. I personally believe that it would be prudent not to state that people in the parish have a porn problem if the source of that information is the Confessional in that parish. It would be more prudent to state that many people have a porn problem without reference to that particular parish and go from there.


#8

[quote="Marysann, post:5, topic:329589"]
This is very interesting. I have never heard of an indirect violation of the seal. If a priest, for instance, mentioned in a homily that it has come to his attention that many people in his parish had a problem with internet porn, could a person who had confessed this sin to the priest, accuse him of an indirect violation of the seal? If there are any priests reading this, could you help us with this?

[/quote]

This is a good question.


#9

It's a good question. I do not know of any priests that break the seal of confession vow, but people in general are gossipy, and I have known a great many who violate the trust of friends and family by leaving out the name of the person, but giving enough detail that anyone could guess the name.

As for the courts, I could imagine it going like this?

DA(district atty): Father Smith, can you tell us what the defendant said in the confessional.

Priest: No, that information is private.

DA: Does the defendant ever come to you for confession.

Priest: Yes.

DA: When did the defendant last come to you for confession?

Priest: June 6th.

DA: So you heard his confession the day after a murder was committed for which he now stands trial, is that correct?

Priest: Yes.


#10

[quote="Deus_tecum, post:9, topic:329589"]
As for the courts, I could imagine it going like this?

DA(district atty): Father Smith, can you tell us what the defendant said in the confessional.

Priest: No, that information is private.

DA: Does the defendant ever come to you for confession.

Priest: Yes.

DA: When did the defendant last come to you for confession?

Priest: June 6th.

DA: So you heard his confession the day after a murder was committed for which he now stands trial, is that correct?

Priest: Yes.

[/quote]

Actually, it would be more like this:

DA(district atty): Father Smith, can you tell us what the defendant said in the confessional.

Priest: No, that information is private.

DA: Does the defendant ever come to you for confession.

Priest: Information regarding confessions is privileged. I can neither confirm nor deny that the defendant has come to me for confession.

DA: When did the defendant last come to you for confession?

Priest: As previously stated, I can neither confirm nor deny that the defendant has come to me for confession.

DA: So you heard his confession the day after a murder was committed for which he now stands trial, is that correct?

Priest: As previously stated, I can neither confirm nor deny that the defendant has come to me for confession.

I'm not an attorney, but I do get hired as an expert witness. :)


#11

[quote="TheWarriorMonk, post:10, topic:329589"]
Actually, it would be more like this:

DA(district atty): Father Smith, can you tell us what the defendant said in the confessional.

Priest: No, that information is private.

DA: Does the defendant ever come to you for confession.

Priest: Information regarding confessions is privileged. I can neither confirm nor deny that the defendant has come to me for confession.

DA: When did the defendant last come to you for confession?

Priest: As previously stated, I can neither confirm nor deny that the defendant has come to me for confession.

DA: So you heard his confession the day after a murder was committed for which he now stands trial, is that correct?

Priest: As previously stated, I can neither confirm nor deny that the defendant has come to me for confession.

I'm not an attorney, but I do get hired as an expert witness. :)

[/quote]

Our priest told us that, because of the seal, the church could not verify if a person ever made a 1st confession. The only thing a church does for those preparing for 1st communion is make available the possibility of confession. The priest will not tell who went into visit him or if they went to confession if someone saw them enter the confessional.


#12

At least in my parish, I would think that breaking the seal of confession would be almost impossible to do, even deliberately, let alone accidentally. Priests hear confessions every day, in the confessional. They can not see who is confessing. One person leaves, another penitent is waiting on the other side of the confessional. One penitent after another. I doubt that a priest hearing confessions for 30 minutes or an hour could even tell you what sins were confessed, and certainly not who confessed them.


#13

[quote="Deus_tecum, post:9, topic:329589"]
It's a good question. I do not know of any priests that break the seal of confession vow, but people in general are gossipy, and I have known a great many who violate the trust of friends and family by leaving out the name of the person, but giving enough detail that anyone could guess the name.

As for the courts, I could imagine it going like this?

DA(district atty): Father Smith, can you tell us what the defendant said in the confessional.

Priest: No, that information is private.

DA: Does the defendant ever come to you for confession.

Priest: Yes.

DA: When did the defendant last come to you for confession?

Priest: June 6th.

DA: So you heard his confession the day after a murder was committed for which he now stands trial, is that correct?

Priest: Yes.

[/quote]

the defense attorney wouldn't let it get that far. unlikely the priest would ever take the stand.


#14

I always find it strange that the seal include future crimes. if a penitent discloses an intention to kill someone the next day, apparently the priest is barred from disclosing that future crime, and, of course, can’t testify to it in court.


#15

I had it happen to me in my previous church (I'm a convert this year at Easter). No, I wasn't named by name in the pulpit, but it was a small parish and everyone knew who he was talking about. It honestly scared me away from the sacrament for more than a decade. Even now that I'm back to it, I struggle with trusting that it won't ever happen again.


#16

Ok, thanks everyone. :o I thought the seal of confession only meant the words spoken to the priest in confession. I am glad to know that it includes not even revealing the identity of those who go to confession. God bless you all, in Jesus name.


#17

[quote="RedSparklyShoes, post:15, topic:329589"]
I had it happen to me in my previous church (I'm a convert this year at Easter). No, I wasn't named by name in the pulpit, but it was a small parish and everyone knew who he was talking about. It honestly scared me away from the sacrament for more than a decade. Even now that I'm back to it, I struggle with trusting that it won't ever happen again.

[/quote]

That sounds rather outrageous. The priest should never mention specific sins that have been confessed to him even with no name attached to them. One more reason why anonymous confession is a good idea.


#18

[quote="RedSparklyShoes, post:15, topic:329589"]
I had it happen to me in my previous church (I'm a convert this year at Easter). No, I wasn't named by name in the pulpit, but it was a small parish and everyone knew who he was talking about.

[/quote]

if you are sure of this,it has to be reported.this is not only about you, others will and have been harmed by this.


#19

Well, if the priest disclosed the contents of a confession without naming the person, yes it would probably be something that should be reported, although I don’t know the Canon law on this.

But I don’t think it is incumbent on the penitent to report it necessarily. That puts the penitent in the position of having to discuss his or her own confession. However, anyone hearing the priest’s remarks in the church, could certainly report the fact that the priest in question was using the contents of a specific confession as homiletic material(!)


#20

My brother (Fr. Eric Filmer) once recounted to me an example of an "indirect" violation of the Seal of Confession. This is not something that (to his knowledge) actually happened, but it is an example of something that a careless priest could do that would (inadvertently) break the Seal:

A priest hears his first Confession. He tells someone, "in my very first Confession, I heard ." Unbeknownst to him, this individual had boasted that he was the priest's very first penitent. Someone who was privy to both pieces of information could associate the sinner with the sin, and the Seal would be broken.

However, a priest would NOT be in violation of the Seal if he informed his Bishop that he had noticed an increase in confessions regarding and sought pastoral advice.

My question does not involve either case. I am asking if (as anti-Catholics accuse us of) any priest has knowingly violated the Seal of Confession under any circumstances. This includes priests of antiquity who were even tortured.


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