I know that priests cannot under any circumstances break the seal even if they knew someone was guilty of murder or any other extreme case of violence…how do I explain this idea of secrecy to a protestant who said that it’s wrong for us to keep criminal acts secret if revealed in a confession?
The priest simply is not there to hear what is said. The priest is only there to take the place of Jesus for the sacrament. Basically, one in Confession is confessing directly to God and therefore once the person leaves the confessional it is as if the priest never heard any of it since he was not actually there to hear it.
Exactly - the priest essentially isn’t there except as God’s ears and God’s mouthpiece for absolution.
The contents of the confession is between the person and God alone.
You might note to him that God keeps it secret. Even tho He knows all who have murdered, He doesn’t bestow the gift of prophesy on someone to ensure that the murderer is revealed - even tho’ He has the power to do so.
Also, if a priest had to reveal criminal acts, it would be a strong deterent, keeping those who most need it from going to confession (not just murderers, but thieves, and any other sins that could be punished by law with fines or jail sentences).
He needs to realize what the sacrament is and why it’s necessary. If he doesn’t believe that the priest really does forgive the sins, then sure he’s obstructing justice.
Why is this considered so extraordinary? Lawyers have the same obligation. If people thought priests could reveal their crimes, they simply would not go to them. As it is, the priest cannot give them absolution unless they are resolved to address the consequences of their crimes. So the final outcome is positive.
Note that some Protestants observe the same seal. Rosie Grier refused to testify in the O. J. Simpson trial because his conversation with O. J. was protected. Also any one overhearing their discussion was obliged to be silent about it.