Question about the zeal of confession


If someone goes to confession and says that he murdered or abused someone but didn’t tell anyone or the police, does the priest is obliged to tell the authorities or he can’t? What if someone says in confession that he’s planning to put a bomb somewhere? What if the priest is called to testify on court? Is there any canon law statements about this kinds of situations?


**Catechism of the Catholic Church

**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.72 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.


The seal of confession is absolute. A priest cannot reveal what was said in confession even to save his own life.

Further, in Canada, priests are currently protected by Case Law from being required to testify with regards to Confession. Some provinces have their own specific laws prohibiting anyone from requiring a priest to testify in court about what was said in confession.


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.
§2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.
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.
§2. A person who has been placed in authority cannot use in any manner for external governance the knowledge about sins which he has received in confession at any time.

If a priest is called to testify in court, he could not testify.

Most of the time there is a screen or curtain between the priest and the penitent and the priest has no idea who the penitent is.


Regarding this particular situation, I have read (through sources posted on this forum) that the priest may warn people in circumstances like this. For example, if the priest knew that a bomb was going to go off at a certain place, he may call the police and warn them of this situation to protect the public. However, the priest may not reveal who the penitent is, or connect the crime with the penitent.

Whether or not this is true, I leave it up to the Apologists or priests.


If a priest reveals what he heard in confession, he is automatically excommunicated. The seal of confession is sacred.

God Bless. :highprayer:


Let’s see if I get this right. Please correct me if I’m mistaken. Sources provided.

Text excerpted from a news article (link below):

* asked the office of Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, for a response. We were referred to what Adelaide’s Father Philip Marshall told the ABC [this morning]:

"If somebody comes to confession and they’re saying ‘look I’ve done a terrible thing, I’m deeply sorry’… the priest is going to say ‘good, if that’s so you have to act … you have to go to the police, you have to follow the processes’."*

So, I understand it as a Catholic priest cannot break the seal of the confessional under any circumstances; however, if the sin is a crime against the law of the land, he should firmly encourage the person confessing the sin(s) to turn him/herself in to the authorities as part of their penance… and he should clarify that if they do not participate in and complete their penance sacrifice, then they would not be absolved of the sin(s) they have confessed.

It is also my understanding that practicing Catholics must feel real remorse, and part of that remorse is verbalizing with clear and firm intent not to perform the sin(s) again. Someone coming into the confessional to tell the priest they sinned (let’s say they murdered their neighbor), and they are planning to sin (murder) again, and they are steadfast in knowing they will sin, and how (murdering their teacher, mother, boss on Tuesday at Noon with a gun)… well, that’s just mental illness/criminal insanity or pure evil in my mind. What a dilemma that would be, under the circumstances. I think people of that sort need prayer even more than those not confessing in the first place. YMMV.



To follow up my last post, see the following:

Note the emphasis on “betrayal of the penitent.” Priests do discuss matters heard in the confession; note the example of seminary professors. They may not discuss or identify the penitent though.


A Catholic priest cannot make turning oneself in as a condition to being absolved, nor may he make the penance turning oneself in. He may however, encourage the confessing individual to turn them-self in.


Exactly. Furthermore, it should be noted the that Seal of Confession is currently under attack in Australia with unfaithful priests agreeing with the government’s attempt to pass a law requiring priests to reveal certain crimes confessed during confession.


A priest must not reveal a confession even if the life of priest is threatened by the authorities.


The seal of confession is completely sealed. A priest cannot say anything about what is said in the confessional even if it’s a person such as Hitler.


A priest may NEVER reveal the person’s confessions even if authorities were to jail him for having knowledge, though I suppose for penance the priest could tell the person to turn him or herself in.


Priests are bound under penalties and they cannot disclose any sort of sins which have been confessed by their penitents, even in the courtroom.


Great answers here! How about we discuss the zeal of confession as noted in the title of this thread!! Some of that might be good…:smiley:


Can’t. The salvation of the soul is infinitely more valuable than any punitive justice. Also, the priest is not accountable to the police or an agent of the government; he answers only to Jesus Christ.

What if someone says in confession that he’s planning to put a bomb somewhere?

It’s unlikely that anyone would confess a sin that they had not yet committed; however, if someone were to mention such a thing, the priest would no doubt encourage the person not to do it, and to reconsider their actions.


I read about something like this happening in Ireland.

closed #18

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