Seal of Confession

Does the Church have any way of making sure that men who leave or are forced out of the priesthood maintain the seal of confession? I’ve never heard of any cases but it’s not unimaginable that a priest who was defrocked could get revenge by spilling the beans on someone, especially if it was a public figure. The question came up while watching an episode of Law & Order: UK.

No, except for excommunication and the penalty of grave sin.

That’s what I figured. Thanks.

There’s a Law & Order: UK??

Yep. BBCAmerica airs it on Friday nights. So far all if the episodes are reworkings of L&O stories from the original series. It’s interesting because you see the differences between the two systems.

No. But the likelihood of that is extremely rare and it should not deter someone from the benefits of this beautiful sacrament. It doesn’t take a TV. program to realize that anything is [FONT=Arial]possible in our world but this is highly improbable.[/FONT]

Please don’t worry. It wouldn’t be a deterrent for 99.99% of us. No one is interested in knowing what I confess. :slight_smile: I was thinking of an extreme case where the penitent was someone famous and the ex-priest seeking revenge. I was pretty sure there was no way of enforcing the seal but thought I’d ask. It’s not stopping me from going to confession.

I know! :slight_smile: We all get these hypothetical questions and wonder “what if ?”… I am studying Church history and realize that anything is possible and probably has been done. So a valid question it is!!

no the Church has no disciplinary authority or at least no way to enforce such authority once the man leaves the priesthood, over this or any other area, which is why she is not too quick to return a priest to lay status, even one who has badly misbehaved. She also has not way of tracking him once he leaves. Presumably a man who is returned to the lay state through the proper canon law process also understands and keeps the promises he is obliged to, including this one, and those proper to his new state, but someone who leaves on their own, or involuntarily may not feel himself bound. I never heard of any case where the seal was broken in such a case, even on the part of notorious heretics and enemies of the church who were in fact former priests. Even after a priest returns to the lay state he still has the faculty to hear confession in an emergency if the penitent is in danger of death, no matter what circumstances pertained when he left the priesthood. In fact it is common for the pope or bishop who receives a penitent priest back into the Church to ask that priest to hear his own confession.

The only “secular” penalty that the Church might be able to perform is if the individual is collecting some kind of pension or benefits from the Church. If so they might be able to revoke the pension/benefits should it come to their attention that he’s violated the seal of the sacrament.
But that would also involve all sorts of civil laws so who knows…

Too bad you guys abolished the horsehair wigs, though. Prior to that, I remember an episode of Matlock where he argues a case in London, that was classic.

Yes, the Church implants a recording device in the laicized priest’s left arm, which is monitored 24/7 by a Vatican cleric. In the event that the seal is broken, the clerk presses the self-destruct button and immediately terminates the individual question, as well as anyone around him who might be listening. :rolleyes:

Well at least it’s good to see the Vatican keeping up with technology. I remember when they had to have Jesuit operatives trailing all the ex-priests, and then dispatch the Jesuit hot squads in the black helipcopters if their was a breach of the seal… the logisitics were just a nightmare.

Seriously though, would breaking the confessional seal come under any of the privacy laws in various countries? I was just thinking that seeing as priests are protected by law from having to ever divulge the contents of a confession, perhaps the reverse works where a penitant could seek damages of some sort if his/her confessional details were ever revealed, especially if it was done out of spite or malice.


You might not like it, but all those (formerly) bald horses surely appreciate it!

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