Pedophilia and the Seal of Confession

Is the priest - who hears a confession of some crime (e.g. pedophilia), even if he does not grant Absolution (or makes it subject to the sinner reporting himself to the police) - bound not to disclose to anybody, including the police, what he has learned, even if that might lead to more victims by the same unfortunate sinner?

If you are asking whether or not a priest can report to the police crimes learned about while hearing confession, the answer is absolutely positively NO. That which is discussed in the confessional stays between the person confessing and the priest hearing the confession. No exceptions.

Seal of Confession is absolute -priest should be willing to face torture, prison or even death rather than compromise it.

There is also Hitchcock movie relating to the subject, I think its called ‘‘I Confess’’. :wink:

Thanks for the replies. The next question, implicit in the first one, can (and if yes, does it happen often) the confessor promise Absolution only after the offender had reported himself to the police, thus making the confession invalid unless he does so?

Yes, that is within the authority of the priest to do so. As far as if it happens often, I can’t say, I’ve never recieved that particular Penance :wink:

In another thread a priest said just the opposite. A priest cannot make absolution a condition of a forcing the penitent to reveal their sins. He said (and quoted) canon law (I believe) was also considering a breaking of the seal of the confessional.

I’ll see if I can find the thread

FrDavid96 in a thread called “Confession question from my boys” in the liturgy & sacrament forum said the following

"Just for clarity here, a priest can never compel someone to “turn himself in” as part of the penance. That violates the seal.

A priest is forbidden to give a public penance (one which would reveal the sinner’s identity or guilt), unless the sin itself is already a public one (in other words, the person’s guilt is already known).

Some examples:

If an abortion provider confesses and seeks absolution, the priest can compel that person to make public amends because the guilt is already public knowlege (anyone can see the sign outside the office, or read it in the phone book). But if the penitent’s guilt is not known, either because the crime hasn’t been detected, or the guilty party hasn’t been identified, the priest can never compel the penitent to reveal his guilt to anyone else.

For reference, see the Roman Ritual “Rules for Administering Penance” #22

He must not impose a public penance for sins that are secret, no matter what their enormity."

Hope this helps

Thanks again. Let me rephrase my question. I understand that the priest “must not impose a public penance for sins that are secret”, however, can he refuse Absolution? If yes, under what conditions? (For instance when the penitent says “I did this and that and am going to do it again when the right opportunity arises”).

As people probably guessed, I am aiming at the media accusations of cover-ups by those fellow priests who found out about the pedophiles’ misdeeds this way but failed to report the culprits.

Under no circumstances can a priest break the seal of the confessional. It’s absolute.

If in the hypothetical example you gave above, absolution shouldnt be given because there is no firm resolve to amend one’s ways is what I am sensing. (Doesnt sound like there is any contrition, perfect or imperfect, being expressed

The Seal of Confession is absolute – no ifs, ands, or buts about it!

I recall the words of Msgr. Quixote (from the work by Graham Greene): ``I never repeat what I hear in Confession; even to myself if possible.’’

A priest can NEVER reveal what he has heard during Confession. Even if he finds out during Confession that the “penitent” is a serial killer, rapist or paedephile the priest cannot tell anyone.

I think you need to think a little deeper about the relationship between a priest and bishop, or between all these men in general.

I do not think a priest walked into confession with a bishop (is that the right pairing?), confessed he assaulted/raped a child, the bishop had no idea, and now is bound to maintain this secrecy. That is unlikely, and almost silly in its simplicity.

When these behaviors are years or decades old, and obviously these men know each other for years as well, and undoubtedly hear plenty outside the confessional, it becomes a different story. What I, and I assume others, are thinking is that most of this information was known in one way or the other, but that the confessional is being used as a convenient shield, or crutch. Think a minute on what it would take for ALL these instances to be a case where no one knew anything before a confession. Unlikely, I think.

Anyway, my point was just to realize that the confessional “issue” is not as clear cut as you all are discussing. It can be “used” in entirely different ways, and assumes a lot of factors are going the way of the Church.

My understanding is that a Priest is not required to give absolution, if the confessor is not truly repentant. Feel free to correct me.

I understand that. What I asked was whether he could REFUSE Absolution. If yes, could it not be made a general policy (as you have guessed I am no expert on Canon Law), publicly anounced, that no Absolution will be given to those who confess crimes that should be reported to the police unless the penitent has already turned himself in.

This “general policy” would not breach the Seal of Confession but hopefully save the potential confessor from outside accusations of cover-up, since presumably nobody would go for confession if he knew beforehand that he will not get Absolution (of course, with exceptions, e.g. when the penitent is on death bed).

The answer is here:
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.
That’s from the 1983 code of canon law.

In other words, the priest must absolve unless he has some doubt as to the disposition of the penitent. It’s like the standard of “guilty until proven innocent” The penitent is presumed to be sincere unless something shows otherwise.

The priests didn’t “fail to report the culprits” (if those confessions even happened). They maintained the absolute and inviolable seal of the sacrament of Confession. Sinners can only be truly free to seek reconciliation with God and the Church if they have confidence in the absolute secrecy of the confessional; whether the sins are minor or infamous doesn’t change that.

Prior to the 1983 code of canon law, the wording of the rules for Penance were different (see #23 in this link but it still sets a high standard on delaying or refusing absolution; and that should be done only if the penitent “refuses” to forsake and amend his life.

Someone who commits the kind of sin that, by its very nature, deceives so many people, would likely have very little difficulty in also deceiving the confessor (perhaps even himself) as to his sincerity.

This a question that always comes up-and yet for those in the US it should not be difficult to grasp given that your lawyer cannot talk to the police about what you have told him. There was several years ago threads on the same issue as it related to the sniper in DC who had left a message on the answering machine of a priest as I recall. In that case the telephone confession is not validly protected and thus turned over to the police , had it been in confession it would have been.

Why stop with the police? Why not say that spouses who cheat can’t be absolved unless they first report themselves to the other spouse? Why not say that children who sin against their parents can’t be absolved until they first report their sins to the parents?

The answer is that regardless of what the sin might be (unless, of course, the sin is already known in public), penitents cannot feel free to confess their sins and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness unless they can have absolute confidence in the seal of the confessional.

If human beings were so good natured that we would readily admit our sins in public whenever we commit them, we wouldn’t be sinning in the first place.

Thanks for the advise not to be silly and almost simple. I was asking for what the Cannon Law would allow, in case a crime becomes known solely through the confessional, not to cover-up cover-ups as this seems to suggest. If a bishop, Catholic or Lutheran or anybody, is convinced that a crime was commmitted, he/she should report it to the police (only in rare cases is that source for this conviction solely a confession, so only in rare cases there arises the problem I was concerned with). Unfortunately, too many failed to do that in the past, and that is briefly referred to as cover-ups, or better “looking the other way”. Nobody denies that.

Even in such rare (probably purely hypothetical) circumstances, when a priest confesses to his superior (say, the bishop), the bishop still cannot violate the seal by reporting what was confessed. It doesn’t matter how infamous the sin might be. The seal cannot be violated. Once we start to look for excuses to violate the seal of confession, the integrity of the entire sacrament is lost, and sinners will never again be able to confess their sins freely.

Given the seal of the confessionial, I am wondering how these detractors ever came to the knowledge that paedophile Fr Joe actually made such a confession to another priest, whereby they could conclude there was a “cover-up.” :hmmm:


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