Reveal a murderer's confession?

As my mother and I were discussing Confession this past Saturday, an interesting scenario came to mind.

A prime suspect in a murder case, who did indeed commit the crime, confessed his sin to his priest. The prosecution found out he was Catholic and he went to confession after the murder. They also knew which priest was giving Confession that day. Could the priest be called to court and be forced to reveal the forgiven sin of the suspect?

Although there are laws on the books that protect the sacramental seal of confession, it is theoretically possible that a court of law might try to force a priest to reveal a penitent’s confession. Even if such pressure were brought to bear on a priest, he would be absolutely required to refuse to reveal the contents of any sacramental confession he heard, even if it meant being held in contempt of court and imprisoned:

Can. 983 §1 The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion.

§2 An interpreter, if there is one, is also obliged to observe this secret, as are all others who in any way whatever have come to a knowledge of sins from a confession.

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