Seal and intent to confess


#1

I have often seen threads on this board maintaining that the seal applies in all cases to all conversations that physically take place within the designated confessional booth and / or reconciliation room of a church. Examples given have included an individual stepping into the confessional and informing Father that he has just planted a bomb in the church - the consensus in these past threads has been that Father can do absolutely nothing to address the issue of the ticking time bomb. I don’t dispute that the seal is inviolate, but my question is whether these scenarios actually fall under the seal.
If an individual has no intention to confess his or her sins, has no intention to seek absolution, but just happens to step into the little booth at the back of the church to inform father that he has planted a bomb in the church, why does the seal apply? I have often received the sacrament of penance in priest’s offices, in the nave of the church, and in various other locations - the sacrament is not dependent upon physical location. Is there something in Church law which states that any conversation within the confessional booth is bound by the seal? It seems to me that if the individual has NO intention to confess his or her sins, no intention to participate in the sacrament, the fact that he or she is in the confessional booth is immaterial. What am I missing?


#2

The seal doesn’t apply to the penitent, but to the Priest. He is supposed to forget everything he hears from the moment he dons his stole and closes the Confessional door till he gets up and leaves and closes it again from the outside. As for Confession taking place outside the actual Confessional, unless there is grave necessity, it isn’t supposed to happen there. And there actually has to be a *grave *necessity, not a matter of Father doesn’t want to walk to the back of the Church before Mass, etc. So, if someone walks into the Church and goes to the Priest in the Confessional and tells Father there is a bomb planted in the Church, then Father has got to trust God, Who is also present in that very same Confessional, with the outcome. The Priest isn’t just prevented from speaking about what he hears in the Confessional he also cannot act on anything he learns. But guess what folks? There is a way around it for sticky situations - all the Priest has to do is ask the penitent for his or her permission to do something about what is said or repeat what was said, say in the case of a child being abused and “confessing” it. He can also ask the penitent to wait to meet him after the Confession is completed and over for him so they can talk after wards. Then the Priest hopes that whatever was revealed will be repeated outside the box so he can help and/or act. I found this out after I read the Diary of St. Faustina and was curious about the Seal and how many of her conversations regarding the Divine Mercy had taken place in a Confessional. So how did the Priest get to do all she asked of him on behalf of our Lord? He simply asked for her permission to speak or act each time he heard her Confession and she gave it. Oh and another thing, the permission must be given each and every time; it doesn’t extend beyond each instance. so there ya go. My answer.

Glenda


#3

Are you perhaps thinking of a general absolution? I know those are only permitted under grave circumstances, but I’ve never heard that a confession must be only in a confessional unless it’s an emergency. I thought it just had to be a private place.


#4

[quote=“Code of Canon Law”]Can. 964 §1 The proper place for hearing sacramental confessions is a church or oratory.

§2 As far as the confessional is concerned, norms are to be issued by the Episcopal Conference, with the proviso however that confessionals, which the faithful who so wish may freely use, are located in an open place, and fitted with a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor. §3 Except for a just reason, confessions are not to be heard elsewhere than in a confessional.
[/quote]

“A just reason” is the lowest bar in Canon Law. Therefore, if a priest encounters someone with claustrophobia, for example, then the priest may hear her confession on a park bench in the garden instead.


#5

The standard applied by the church is actually “just cause”. Just cause can be interpreted pretty loosely, much more loosely than “grave necessity”. My priest has heard my confession in his office because my children were playing just outside his office door and we didn’t want them to be unattended. I’ve also confessed on a park bench and while going for a walk.


#6

Thus far, no one has provided evidence from canon law, or another authoritative source, to answer my question. Where has the Church stated that ANY conversation that takes place in the confessional falls under the seal?
To expand upon my example of the would be terrorist who enters the confessional and admits to have planted a bomb in the church, what if he isn’t even a Catholic? What if he is a Muslim terrorist, and thus not even capable of validly receiving the sacrament…how could the seal apply in such a case?

I spend a lot of time in the Dominican Republic as my wife is Dominican. I’ve been to numerous parishes in the DR but I have never ever once seen a confessional used. Despite what canon law states, confession here is exclusively face-to-face and usually somewhere in the nave of the church. Perhaps the episcopal conference has an indult to dispense with the confessional requirement because they simply don’t exist…period. So in this case, if a terrorist were to approach the priest in the nave, where confessions are heard, the seal wouldn’t apply unless the terrorist first said “I would like to make a confession…” But in places where the confessional is in place, I don’t see why a conversation is bound by the seal just because it happens to take place within that box…not if the hypothetical terrorists has no desire, intent, or in the case of a non-Catholic terrorist, ability to participate in the sacrament.


#7

You’re not missing anything. Well, not anything with regard to the Seal. What you’re missing is that you’re giving too much credibility to people who don’t know what they’re writing about.

The Seal applies to the Sacrament of Confession.

It does not apply to the room (as such), nor does it apply to non-Confession conversations. Granted, what’s known as the “internal forum” does sometimes apply to non-confession situations.

I don’t recall any “consensus” (your word) that the Seal applies to non-Confession conversations. I will say that if I notice that a thread is about someone’s actual Confession, I don’t even look at the thread. I only read threads, like this one, which discuss Confession objectively. Maybe that’s why I don’t see it as much.

The problem, of course, is one inherent in online discussion boards. People who really don’t know what they are talking about, but who have just enough knowledge to be dangerous, assert their positions as if they were writing papal bulls.

A pattern that I have noticed is that sometimes (but surely not always) posters will open with something like this “I really don’t know the answer to your question, but in my opinion…” That’s a good indicator. :frowning: Unfortunately, it often gets missed.

That’s a pattern that I do notice quite often in threads about Confession. When a post opens with the typical “in my opinion…” or “as far as I know…” or “based on what I saw in a movie…” some other such vague admission that the poster really has no idea what he’s writing, that should be enough to tell the reader that the poster truly doesn’t know the answer. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work out that way.

Any priest can, and will, tell you that the Seal applies to the Sacrament of Confession. It does not apply to the room.

Think about the old line we used to see so often in commercials “I’m not a real doctor, but I play one on TV…” How much credibility does that carry? Now take that one step further “I’m not a real priest, but I watched someone who’s also not a real priest play one on TV, and he did this…” :shrug:

There’s a reason why potential priests are sent to the seminary. And there’s a reason why only qualified priests have faculties to absolve. Take comfort in knowing that, in real life, when the Seal of Confession is an actual reality and not just something being discussed on a forum, the actual qualified priest knows what he’s doing. He will both protect the Seal, and he will know when the Seal does not apply.


#8

Thank you very much Father!

So I am, then, right in my thinking that the seal does NOT apply in the following (admittedly unlikely) scenario:
A man enters the confessional during the posted confession times. He kneels down and the priest opens the screen. The man says “Father, I am a terrorist. I have planted a bomb in this church and my colleagues have planted bombs in churches around the world. We know from the movies that there’s nothing you can do about this information as this is the confessional booth!”. In such a case, Father could indeed take action to inform the police and evacuate the church as the terrorist obviously had no intention to participate in the sacrament nor was he necessarily even Catholic…correct? These are the sorts of absurd scenarios outlined in other threads where posters have maintained that the priest is powerless to take any action…


#9

Ok thanks. I didn’t know that.


#10

Hello Babochka.

Let’s see if I have this right…my words “grave necessity” aren’t appealing because they aren’t verbatim to “just cause,” which you judge negatively and state that all this should be interpreted “loosely.” I can understand the “loosely” part as your location you state is the “left coast.” Coming from left field is not what Jesus called out clerics to live. “Liberalism is a Sin” is a book I just read. I guess my conservative outlook is showing in my choice of words, grave instead of just. But the effect is the same - a Priest cannot for mere convenience hear a Confession outside the Confessional. That is what the Canon laws require and it is those same laws that allow him to do so in the first place as in faculties. Without them, he cannot hear one at all unless there is a danger of death that is real and immediate.

Now, since your children were playing outside his closed door, unattended, why wouldn’t he or you want them to play in the church proper as well? It was okay for them to remain unattended by you while the two of you talked, but not if you were going to go in the Confessional? Playing in church does absolutely no harm to children at all and I think that would be the best place in the world while mommy went to Confession. And let’s not mention the absolutely immeasurable example mommy could’ve given her children by showing them the proper dispositions for confession as well as the proper place for it. No, the fact is you preferred to pass on to them an example that said “It doesn’t really matter at all, just so long as it’s done.” As for the park bench, I can only see a sad general outlook over the whole thing.

The Sacrament of Confession is a Holy thing and it should be treated as such. If you feel that no special concern should be made for its place of practice, then what can I say about that? I don’t agree with you. I go each week and I try my best to see to it that I have the proper dispositions for the Sacrament. I work at it and cherish each opportunity to pour out my heart to God in His Priest. I am a sinner and need the healing Blood of Christ poured out on my poor soul. But I wouldn’t want it outside the Confessional. I would be offended if my Priest asked me to sit in the pew beside him to hear my confession with the box within easy reach. I would *never *confess on a park bench unless there truly was a just/grave necessity. The ordinary place for confession is the Confessional. I cannot do otherwise or I will be guilty of several other sins, by consent to the ill done, by praising Father for hearing my confession outside the laws laid out for him and me to follow and by consenting to the flippant way in which the Canons get disobeyed. I could add to that little list by bragging about the experience to my neighbor and recommending that he or she do the same by saying I prefer he hear my confession in his office rather than in the dark and foreboding box! That’s four of the nine ways to be accessory to another’s sin. Wise counsel especially considering what I heard this morning at Mass when I heard the Proverbs read. Oh one other sin to add to that list - by partaking, simply because by receiving the Sacrament in a means that is illicit, you are partaking in a sacrilege. None of this is praise worthy.

Glenda


#11

No. You do not have it right.

The terms “just cause” and “grave necessity” are both terms used in canon law. Each one refers to an extreme.

A “just cause” is the lowest standard, while a “grave necessity” is the highest standard.

In fact, grave necessity refers to the most extreme situations human societies can experience, such as times of war, persecution, natural disaster, and famine.

In the other extreme a just cause can be “Father, I have a toothache…”


#12

Based very strictly on what you’ve written, no, the Seal would not apply.

Now, if you were to add something to your imaginary story that would make it different, it might be an actual Confession. In my own mind, I’m imagining things that could be added so that it would (or at least might) be protected by the Seal. But again, based strictly on what you wrote above, that would not be protected by the Seal.


#13

FrDavid96,

Originally Posted by Code of Canon Law
Can. 964 §1 The proper place for hearing sacramental confessions is a church or oratory.

§2 As far as the confessional is concerned, norms are to be issued by the Episcopal Conference, with the proviso however that confessionals, which the faithful who so wish may freely use, are located in an open place, and fitted with a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor. §3 Except for a just reason, confessions are not to be heard elsewhere than in a confessional.

This says that a grille is needed, yet now the penitent can go face to face with the priest if so desired. So is there another Cannon missing or is this one not updated?


#14

[quote=glendab]Let’s see if I have this right…my words “grave necessity” aren’t appealing because they aren’t verbatim to “just cause,” which you judge negatively and state that all this should be interpreted “loosely.”
[/quote]

No, you don’t have it right. “Grave” and “just” are both terms used in canon law that have different meanings. “Grave” sets a considerably higher bar than “just”. Just simply means “good reason” and that is left to the wide (I’ll use that term instead of liberal) discretion of the priest.

[quote=]I can understand the “loosely” part as your location you state is the “left coast.” Coming from left field is not what Jesus called out clerics to live. “Liberalism is a Sin” is a book I just read.
[/quote]

Sorry, you’ve misread the situation. I’m by no means a liberal, particularly not a theological liberal. :slight_smile: My friends and family would laugh hysterically at that.

[quote=] I guess my conservative outlook is showing in my choice of words, grave instead of just.
[/quote]

I don’t really see it as a matter of outlook, I see it as a matter of accurately conveying what the church intends in canon law, as well as what the law actually states.

[quote=]But the effect is the same - a Priest cannot for mere convenience hear a Confession outside the Confessional…** Without them, he cannot hear one at all unless there is a danger of death that is real and immediate.**
[/quote]

No, the effect is not the same. Real and immediate danger would be an appropriate measure if the standard given by the Church were, indeed, grave. Fortunately, the church gives a considerably lower bar for hearing confessions outside of a church - just.

[quote=]Now, since your children were playing outside his closed door, unattended, why wouldn’t he or you want them to play in the church proper as well? It was okay for them to remain unattended by you while the two of you talked, but not if you were going to go in the Confessional? …and I think that would be the best place in the world while mommy went to Confession. And let’s not mention the absolutely immeasurable example mommy could’ve given her children by showing them the proper dispositions for confession as well as the proper place for it. No, the fact is you preferred to pass on to them an example that said “It doesn’t really matter at all, just so long as it’s done.” As for the park bench, I can only see a sad general outlook over the whole thing.
[/quote]

You’re assuming a great deal of detail that you don’t know. The office door was open and the children were playing in an area adjacent to the office. We could see them and they could see us. At the time, the children were too young to be left completely unattended, even in church. My children see me confess regularly. In the Byzantine Church, we don’t use confessionals. We confess out in the open, where anyone present can see us. I set plenty of good example for my children in this area and I don’t believe that the fact that I confessed in a priest’s office when they were 2 and 4 years old will have any effect whatsoever on their understanding and respect for the sacrament. More likely, they’ll just get the idea that Mommy will go to confession anytime she needs it and any place that it is available. I don’t get hung up on the time or place to receive God’s grace in the sacrament, if I cannot for some reason come at a scheduled time in a scheduled place. As far as the park bench, I’m sorry it makes you sad. Please be at peace in knowing that the priest, who was privy to the circumstances, made a judgement in good conscience that there was just cause. It would not be appropriate for me to go into detail here, but he was very kind and accommodating to hear my confession in unusual circumstances and I will forever appreciate that.

The Sacrament of Confession is a Holy thing and it should be treated as such. If you feel that no special concern should be made for its place of practice, then what can I say about that?.. But I wouldn’t want it outside the Confessional. I would be offended if my Priest asked me to sit in the pew beside him to hear my confession with the box within easy reach…

I am deeply bothered by the fact that you assume the worst of both my pastor and myself. You call into question my respect for the sacrament and my spiritual father’s respect for the law that binds us both. I assure you, there was nothing illicit in manner or place of these confessions. Grave and just are not interchangeable terms in canon law, but you seem determined to make them so. You seem determined to bind where the Church does not bind and to make assumptions about situations that you don’t know anything about.

Certainly, the ordinary place for confessions (in the Latin Rite) is a confessional. In my rite, canon law states that it is a “church or oratory”, as we don’t use confessionals. Either way, the intent is the same. The proper place is designated. But there are many, many good (just) reasons to hear confessions in other places. Examples that would be stronger than mine, but less than grave, would be when there are a large number of penitents and priests, but few confessionals. Retreats and World Youth Day come to mind. On one retreat I attended, one priest was hearing confessions in the church. A second priest was hearing confessions in the small chapel in the guest house, and a third priest was hearing confessions in his own room in the guesthouse. This was a good reason.

(I apologize that I had to edit your comments considerably, in order to fit my response. I hope I didn’t misrepresent your position.)


#15

This one’s a bit tricky. Yes, the canon requires a fixed grill. However, the canon also allows for the conference of bishops to issue norms for confessional construction. What happened is that first the US bishops conference issued norms allowing for confessional rooms without grills (I don’t know the date, but it was before the year 2000). After that, the Holy See clarified that confessionals with grills must be available.

The conference of bishops can allow face-to-face confessions, but cannot require them. That means that face-to-face rooms still fall within the requirements of the law but at the same time neither the penitent nor the priest can be compelled to use the face-to-face method.

At the present time (effective year 2000) confessionals with screens must be available, but face-to-face rooms are also permitted. In practice, the law requiring screens to be available is simply being ignored either at the parish level or the diocese level.

Here’s a link to the Complementary Norm from the USCCB. Note that a Complementary Norm has force of law.

usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/canon-law/complementary-norms/canon-964-2-the-confessional.cfm


#16

Very interesting. Thanks so much.


#17

Father,
Are you aware of any countries that have permission to do away with the grills requirement completely? As I mentioned in another post, in my wife’s home country of the Dominican Republic, confessionals / grills are COMPLETELY UNKNOWN. I’ve been to a good number of parishes in a few dioceses and they simply don’t exist - at least not from what I’ve seen. Confession is exclusively face-to-face and the priest I regularly confess to is under the impression that this is required by the powers-that-be. He was quite surprised to learn that back in Canada most parishes still have confessional booths and offer the opportunity of an anonymous confession.


#18

No, I am not “aware” of any. Of course, I cannot say that I’ve seen the complementary norms for every bishop’s conference across the globe.

What I do know, though, is what the Vatican has stated repeatedly since 1998. Confessions with a screen must always be available. Given that fact, it’s hard to imagine that the Holy See would contradict itself by allowing an exception, even one requested by a bishop’s conference.

St. John Paul the Great issued a Motu Proprio (which has the force of law, and indeed is the law) called Misericordia Dei which explicitly affirms what the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts stated in 1998*. Grills must be available.
vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/motu_proprio/documents/hf_jp-ii_motu-proprio_20020502_misericordia-dei_en.html
See 9b

The various bishop’s conferences do have the authority to issue norms for how confessionals are designed—but that authority has a condition attached: confessionals with screens must always be available.

Is the law being followed everywhere? We know the answer to that is “no.” :shrug:


Edit:

  • this has been the law since well before 1998. It just happens that the Responsa ad propositum dubium was written in 98.

#19

Okay everyone. I get it. JUST AND GRAVE are two different words and when used by a canon lawyer are not interchangeable. I’m NOT a canon lawyer nor do I need to behave as if I am one. My choice of words is mine though. JUST AND GRAVE when used by a canon lawyer are two different things. However, the basic need that the Church is expressing is contained in the canon cited and to me that SPIRIT OF THE LAW** is that Confession needs to be made in the Confessional whenever possible.** To me that is the spirit of the law. But like I said, I’m no expert and certainly not a canon lawyer instructing a group of seminarians on the necessity of using the Confessional whenever possible. And I still say I would **never **ask a Priest to hear my confession on a park bench! That to me has a way to go before it could be considered just. That is like asking him to do a Mass in the same place as if my Communion is the only thing that matters. Confession is Holy and that is why it is given a special place in the Church to happen. The “altar” for this Sacrament is the Confessional.

Glenda


#20

Actually a proper analogy to communion would be if you saw a priest passing through a park with the Eucharist, and asked to receive (this can be done outside Mass provided the Eucharist is already consecrated).


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