Note to authors of popular fiction: DO SOME RESEARCH!

I am grumpy right now. I just finished Jodi Picoult’s book “Change of Heart”. The book had me in its grip from page one and things were just skimming along until I came to a screeching halt on this line (page 375):

  • The governor’s face paled. “I thought priests couldn’t reveal confessions.”*
  • “We’re obligated to, if there’s a law about to be broken, or if a life is in danger. This qualifies on both counts.”*

Since one of the main characters is a Catholic priest (the one who made the second comment above), you’d think the author would have done enough research to know that the seal of the confessional is completely INVIOLABLE and cannot be broken under ANY circumstances. Now granted, in the story, the priest didn’t actually hear the other character’s confession (it was a conversation in which a secret was revealed, but it wasn’t a sacramental confession), but that isn’t made clear. To the average reader, it sounds like there are instances in which the seal of the confessional can be broken.

I have enjoyed most of Jodi Picoult’s books (she’s written 19) and it just bugs me that an author of her stature would make such a blatant error.

Has anyone else found such obvious bloopers in other books? I mean, it’s one thing for a character to comment on whether they believe something is right or not, but to pass off something that is completely false as the truth just floors me.

Of course, Dan Brown made a fortune off of that, but…:shrug:

Send her an email and correct her. If she has a blog, correct her publicly. I’ve emailed authors and they do respond actually sometimes. There’s a lot of misinformation or skewed “facts” out there.

What bothers me is that apparently NO ONE in the chain of command at her publishers caught this.

The stipulations she lists are correct for psychologist and counselors, I believe, and perhaps that’s why no one caught it – sounded vaguely familiar, must be right.

I thought everyone knew about the confession thing. And I am even certain there have been scenes in film and television where this is used to move the plot (e.g., a killer confesses but the priest cannot reveal, etc.).

Here’s the kicker, folks. From her “Acknowledgments” page:

Writing this book was its own form of miracle; it’s very hard to write about religion responsibly, and that means taking the time to find the right people to answer your questions. For their time and their knowledge, I must thank… Father Peter Duganscik…"

I do plan to drop her a note and let her know that her information is incorrect.

I will try to refrain from pointing out that her book is blatant rip-off of Stephen King’s The Green Mile.

I know that this was an old TV show, but even Diagnosis Murder showed the true nature of the seal of confession. A priest hears a murderers confession and does not reveal it, even after the authorities prod him, because he knows he’d be excommunicated if he broke the seal. I find it surprising that that TV show would get it right, but some authors don’t. I, too, agree you should contact her about it. Perhaps add a line from a Church document regarding the seal to give your complaint some weight.

Years ago Larry Burkett the financial advisor did a book called “Solar Flare” about a solar flare knocking out all electricity in the US. A bunch of people went to live among the Amish. Larry had a wedding of a non Amish couple and had the Amish a)going to their church house, b) taking their church organ and c)and Amish woman lending her white wedding dress. All three are totally false and reading any dimestore guide on the Amish would have covered these points. I wrote to the publisher and got a letter back that stated basically that since it wasn’t primarily a book about the Amish, that it didn’t matter.

This kind of thing frustrates me…I would love a job copy-editing and researching for publishers, and I’d work pretty cheap! Implausibilities and misinformation in storytelling bother me, to the point of self-righteousness :confused:

I just found an error in a book by J. D. Robb. She also writes under her real name, Nora Roberts.

Someone needs to let her know that the Tabernacle does not hold hosts ready to be used for mass, but Hosts that have been consecrated. And that the wine never goes in the Tabernacle. :shrug:

Okay, I wrote to Ms. Picoult and this is what I told her:

Catholic priests are NEVER obligated, under any circumstances, to violate the seal of the confessional. To do so strictly goes against the catechism and canon law (I don’t have the appropriate citations; suffice it to say, I ran it by my brother-in-law, who’s been a priest for 18 years, and he verified that the seal of the confessional is inviolable.)

This is what I got back:

the book (and that section) was vetted by two different priests in two different parts of the country - so I assume they felt the circumstances were viable!

Whaaaaa…? :confused:

So now, do I give her the citations from the CCC, the Code of Canon Law, etc.? :nunchuk: Or ask her for the names of the priests who “vetted” that section so I can report them to their superiors?:onpatrol: Or just forget it and get on with my life? :shrug:

I know that I’ll personally tell anyone who reads it that she got that information wrong.

And I’m impressed that she responded to my e-mail within an hour!

I’d do both actually (hit her with the CCC AND report the erring priests). That isn’t correct Catholic teaching. Also refer her to movies such as ‘I Confess’ and the ‘Rosary Murders’, made by people who know Catholic doctrine on the seal of confession.

On second thoughts, I wonder if she is just saying that under civil law they may be put under an obligation? (In other words if their country or local jurisdiction doesn’t exempt priests from reporting duties for potential crimes). They would be OBLIGED, it’s true, and couldn’t refuse without being prosecuted for breach of that obligation.

Of course the Canon Law against revealing confessions would still apply though. :hmmm:

Here is the documentation. From the Catechism:

CCC 1467 Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal,” because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains “sealed” by the sacrament.

and from the Code of Canon Law:

Canon 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.

I would share this with her, but I don’t think I’d ask for the names of the priests to report them. That would probably come off as a bit stand-offish and decrease the chance of receiving a thoughtful, charitable response.

It wouldn’t be very christian, I guess, but I’d be awfully tempted to say something like:

“I’m sorry to have to tell you that the priests you spoke do didn’t actually read the book. This knowledge is so basic most Catholics learn it at the time of their first Reconciliation, around age 7.”

Caveat: be certain that the ‘confession’ in the story was intended to be sacramental. A non-sacramental communication [if the priest were functioning in the role of councilor, not confessor] is not held to the same standards.

From what you’ve told us, this is clealry not the case, but were I you I’d re-read the relavant section, just to be extra safe.

The issue isn’t the actual episode where the priest reveals a (non-sacramental) confidence - it’s rather with the verbal statement of ‘I though priests couldn’t reveal confessions’ and the response that indicates that in certain circumstances they’re supposedly obliged to.

Ah yes, that does rather invalidate my concern…

A few years ago, my husband started reading the first of the “Left Behind” books (LaHaye/Jenkins).

(Hey, we were at his aunt’s house for a holiday gathering, it was boring, and she has the complete set. So that’s why he started reading it.)

He is a systems administrator (computers).

In the first 30 pages, he found TWO errors about computers. He said that if LaHaye and Jenkins had taken the time to interview any high school aged computer geek, they would have been able to write correct stuff about the computers without compromising their story in any way.

He was so ticked off that he put the book down and has never bothered to pick it up and try reading it again. After all, if they’re wrong about such an easily-researched computer fact, they’re probably wrong about all the other stuff in the book.

Some people say, “Well, most people don’t know the difference.”

I disagree. I think an author ought to care enough about ALL his/her readers to do as much research as possible.

I’ve written several kids’ novels, and I pride myself on some of my research. In one of the novels, I mention “mourning jewelry.” I corresponded with a “death expert” in our city to get the information about this jewelry made out of human hair.

As for the fictional organization that I created in my novels, a few weeks ago a lady asked my husband, “How does your wife have so much inside information about that organization?”

My husband told her, “It’s fictional. My wife made it all up.”

She didn’t believe him.


What usually tells me I might be about to read a historic howler is when the author either has a character romantically defiant and inventive (so as to get away with her using things or doing things not yet invented) or in an awkward expository conversation with someone remarkably unaware of their way of life.
“You seem to have a lot of oil lanterns with smoky glass flues.”
“Yes. This is how we light our homes and gardens. There are at least two kinds and one is just now invented in another country somewhere. They burn whale oil, but I don’t know what that is, for I am a simple inland hill person, and have never seen the sea. I mean, never really. Something like that.”
“It’s very intelligent of you to use these lanterns, because the only alternative light sources are tallow candles, unless wax exists, and torches. i always wanted to know what torches are made of, haven’t you?”

Jocinthinnnia Firecloud, a Spanish shepherd’s daughter, showed the ancient warriors’ blood in her veins when her eyes flashed. She singlehandedly piloted a clipper to escape the Black Death and locate the only man who could tame her – or could he?

:hypno: :hmmm:

So what’s the rule about a penitent who, during confession, states an intention to commit a** future** murder? Attorney or physician confidentiality is protected for past crimes, but not future ones and failure to inform of the likelihood of future misconduct is a breach of professional ethics. Would a priest be prevented from informing the civil authorities of the intentions of a future killer because a fully formed intention to do evil is already a sin (of some degree) even before the evil is done?

Assume that the threat is 100% credible and nothing that the priest can do will dissuade the penitent from going through with the killing.

Under no circumstances may the priest reveal confession to anyone.

Nope, although if it can be done without breach of the seal, he can act to minimise the harm.

The often used classic example is ‘if the penitent tells you he has poisoned the wine about to be used at Mass, would you/another priest have to drink it?’

To which the answer is - there would seem to be nothing preventing the priest, without saying a word, snatching the chalice out of another priest’s hand (or accidentally-on-purpose knocking it if need be), and/or pouring the wine out without anyone drinking it, or similar, to prevent the poison being consumed.

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