Seal of confession?


Coming out of my lurkdom to ask a serious question.

At what point should someone expect that the seal of confession is in place?

I was recently told that no seal was broken when a priest told what someone else said in the confessional and I’m still stunned.

The person, an adult if it matters, according to the the priest and the person, entered the screened confessional and said, “I’m sorry but I’m really angry and don’t want to be here. (Mass that day) I’m just doing what I’m forced to do bc I feel I have to.” The priest then refused to listen further stating they were not spiritually prepared to give confession and told them to seek further counsel elsewhere.

I was stunned to hear this. Not so much that a fellow catholic could be having major spiritual struggles, that’s nothing new, but that I would hear from their priest that they voiced this inside the confessional.

To me, regardless of attitude of penitent, if they entered the confessional then it should be sealed unless the penitent clearly states that the priest can speak of it outside of the confessional, which in this case they say they did not, tho they weren’t bothered about it since it was me he spoke to, but I am extremely bothered by it. When I voiced this concern, I was told that people say all kinds of stuff before , or after or whatever while in the confessional and that those things do not fall under the seal. I’m just…:eek:

I’ve never in my life heard that before. Ever. Any time anything about confession is mentioned it’s always been stringently driven into everyone I’ve met that anything said in the confessional is sealed. I’m just… Seriously this is rocking my world. When I said that’s how it made me feel, he laughed and said I just needed to understand that the confessional is not a place for counseling. :confused: um? What? Yes, I know that and yet, yes it sort of is too. One of the reasons we are encouraged to seek one confessor is specificly so he can know us well enough to counsel us properly on avoiding and dealing with the struggles we bring to confession. It’s right there in Introduction to the Devout Life for one. I know I’ve had priests in confession ask for background on what I am bringing to them. It never even remotely occurred to me that only some of what I said in there was sealed.

I’m just a ridiculous mess about this —> :eek::mad::o:(:eek::frowning:


In law, such a statement would be labeled hearsay. As such, there are few details given (for example, did the priest identify the person who came into the confessional? Or was the day and time identified - such as, “The second person who came in today…”).

It has been my understanding (and I could be wrong) that a general statement which does not identify the penitent but is rather a generic statement, does not break the seal.

Oregon had a case (Google Father Timothy Mockaitis where the confession was, unbeknownst to him, recorded by the State) in which this came up in the investigation of a murder. That was a bit different than your circumstance.

The only other thought is that simply walking into the confessional is not necessarily indicative of the intent to confess. From your comments, it would appear that the individual was angry, but not intending to confess the sin of anger; rather, they were venting their anger over being forced to be - what, at Mass? At confession? It sounds like an angry teenager venting, rather than a penitent seeking absolution. And it sounds as if the priest did the right thing; as the individual did not appear to be seeking absolution, the whole charade was stopped right there. If no intent to confess, then there was no difference between the venting in the confessional, or out on the street corner. And thus, if no sacrament, no seal.

But that’s just my take on it.

Note: I do not mention hearsay to be critical; only to point out that there are far too few details. That is not your fault. It does, however, make it difficult to answer your question as either you nor I know all the details.


Hmmm. We currently have a priest who gives all kinds of examples of things that he hears in the Confessional, but without naming the person. Does that make it all right? For instance, our priest says something like “last week I had someone come into Confession, who hadn’t been here in 35 years”. Things like that. It kind of bothers me, because I am afraid that something I might confess to will end up in a homily (although without a name attached to it). But I guess the priest wouldn’t necessarily know the name anyway?
Does it break the seal of confession, if it just becomes an anecdote, and no one knows who it is about?


And angry teenagers can also be penitents - yes? :slight_smile:

I have no issue with a priest ending a confession for whatever reason. I’m well aware many saints did that. For example Padre Pio was known to scream at penitents to get out of the confessional bc they weren’t really contrite or telling all their sins. However he still didn’t share what they did say during that time.

Names, date and what they said in the confessional were shared with me by the priest.

I am, of course, more concerned about the soul being discussed and have had daily conversations with them about their struggles.

But now I am really struggling deeply with this breach of sacred trust. You could not pay me to enter a confessional at this parish now.

No matter what does or does not happen in the confessional, I’ve never before heard of any instance where the priest should act like it’s no different than if shouted on a street corner.


Idk. In some cases it’s so vague it could be anyone. But I would be leery of a priest who makes such clear statements. At my parish we would all be able to turn around and look at the guy who hasn’t been around in 35 years. Aside from that, I would personally feel very uncomfortable if I was referred to even in not identifying way. Like I was being passive-aggressively put on the spot if that makes sense? Why would priest ever toe that seal line?


So if a priest does not absolve you then there is no seal?


Absolutely, angry teenagers can be penitents. I think you are presuming that anyone who steps into a confessional is a pertinent; it is a reasonable presumption, but I don’t think that the sacrament starts until one indicates one is seeking it (which is almost always the case); any clear indication at the start can indicate that the individual is not seeking reconciliation. From you statement, this appears to be one of those cases that the sacrament never started.

In other words, the sacrament does not automatically start with entry. One has to indicate one is seeking reconciliation; here, it appears they did not so indicate.

In other words, the priest did not stop a sacrament in process; but rather stopped a diatribe in process. At least, that is how it appears to me.

And as far as Padre Pio, the individuals at least gave the indication they were seeking reconciliation (he was gifted).

Not trying to pick; it seems to me that the sacrament never started. And if it did not start, then no seal attaches.

If the priest actually shared name and date, then this discussion probably should be held with him (politely, of course) - "Father, doesn’t the seal of confession attach to that person?


I am no liturgist, nor a Canon lawyer; just a lay person. :o

My (inadequate) understanding is that the seal attaches when the sacrament begins, whether or not reconciliation is given.

And if it does not start, then no seal attaches.

Let’s change the circumstances: the priest is chaplain of an inner city parish, in the heart of the area housing transients (and thus, populated in part by drunks and drug addicts). Someone comes into the confessional, as my physics teacher used to say, three sheets to the wind and the fourth one rising, and starts to ramble in a drunken slur, about their dog and how the police took the dog away. Sacrament?

I would say, no. No intent exhibited. That individual exhibited no intent to seek the sacrament. Presence alone in the confessional is not sufficient to start the sacramental process.

And I could be wrong. But this strikes me as something similar; someone comes in exhibiting no indication of seeking the sacrament; thus the sacramental process does not start.


Okay. I get it I guess. But I honestly have never before heard that not everything in the confessional is sealed. I couldn’t find anything about it online either. Every RCIA, CCD, catechism and so forth never mentions at what point the seal is invoked. Just “in confession” or “confessional”. I’ve never read anything about an invalid confession. I know that a priest can withhold absolution or whatever but never than his decision to do so removes the seal or negates that it was ever there to begin with.

This seriously is a game-changer for me. I’ve never read or heard of anything we could say in the confessional that could be shared outside it. Even with the penitent who said it. Even if absolution was denied.

If all a priest has to do is say they didn’t think you were really seeking absolution or you said whatever before/after some key phrase that makes the seal magically in place or removes it or…

All I have ever heard is the confessional is sealed. That anything we ever say in there is private and never to be shared outside it. That’s what every child and adult is told. I’ve never heard of an exception before other than if the person at the time of the confession gives permission. Iow, the priest can’t even bring up what happened in confession to the penitent outside of it.

This is all just… Wow.


You should be discussing the issue with your bishop or the vicar for clergy. Protected by the seal of the confessional or not, the priest should not be discussing things heard from parishioners in any form of confidence with other parishioners. Entering the confessional does fall under confidential, as would speaking in the priest’s office, or any non-public place.

There may be no violation of the seal, but clearly there has been a scandal for you.


Again, I am no expert. But I think you are confusing the confessional, with confession. Stepping into the box certainly implies you are seeking reconciliation. But if, right at the start, you go off like a bottle rocket with no indication you are seeking the sacrament (or rather, positively indicating you are there for something other than confessing your sins, not to invoke a sacrament), then it would seem that there is nothing to be sealed.

Go back to my example of the drunk; barely enough synapses firing to enable them to stumble along; nothing about sins being brought up; no preamble “Bless me Father, for I have sinned” or something similar. In other words, no indication they really have a clue as to where they are. Sacrament? Nope.

Let’s take another scenario: someone comes into the confessional, and says “Father, I need some advice. I heard some screaming next door last night, and sounds like someone being assaulted. Should I call the police?” I think we both could agree this is not a confession; they are not seeking reconciliation but advice. No sacrament, no seal.

Again - I could be wrong. I would presume the vast majority of people going into a confessional are going in to confess. But I don’t see that as an automatic start of confession. There has to be some indication the person is seeking to confess. And from what you stated, it appears the person was angry, but not seeking to confess. They were just mad, and they were going to tell the priest off.

I have taught RCIA for something like 15 years; I would never bring this up because it is unusual (most people are seeking to confess; why bring up something about someone not seeking that?). That would just confuse issues.


I did speak to them. All I can say is as far as they are concerned the seal wasn’t broken bc the priest said so and that’s all there is to it. (Which I guess is true. But truth be told actually ends up making me feel worse. Go figure.)

I did say I was shocked and that this was rocking my world. He just laughed and said I just need to understand that confession is not a counseling session and that only confession is sealed.

Yeah. Okay. Whatever that means.

So much for de sales advice to seek one regular confessor so they will know you and better able counsel on your struggles penance.


It would seem the better course to speak with the priest first. That is a minimum of common courtesy.


OP, you seem to be fixated on the fact that this exchange took place in the physical setting of the confessional. The seal doesn’t apply merely because of the physical setting. I mean people confess in all sorts of locations outside the confessional. If sealed confessions happen outside the confessional, then it stands to reason non-sealed exchanges occur inside as well.

As has been pointed out, this was by no means a confession. The person may as well have been popping in to the confessional merely to tell the priest his lunch was waiting for him or something. Surely such a conversational exchange could be shared with no impropriety?

Who says this conversation was confidential? If they were not intending to confess or formally seek counselling, and there is no indication that they wanted to do either, then why would it be?


Well, I am trying to explain in a little more depth than he did as to what the difference is. When someone goes into the confessional to obtain counseling, they are in the wrong place. They should be in the priest’s office. And there is no seal of concession to counseling sessions _ but perhaps discretion should keep the matters private.

As to your confessor; that is a matter you have to decide. If he has been a good confessor otherwise, then you have to weigh that against your being upset over this issue. It would seem he did not realize how much this has upset you; and that goes into the equation too.

Would it make a difference if he had told you that this other person came up to him after Mass and said the same thing?

Again, the issue seems to be that you understand that anyone entering into a confessional has the seal of confession; but they only have the seal if the person is seeking the sacrament. They do not have the seal if all they are doing is seeking advice (not reconciliation), or if they are just going in an blowing off steam about whatever is upsetting them.

Let me ask it differently; would you have felt he violated the seal of confession if he had said that someone came in and said they were upset that there was no ceremony crowning Mary?

Confession is not restricted to the confessional; it can be done in the priest’s office; in another area of the church; out in the parking lot, on a battlefield; at the scene of an accident, or in your own home. In each of those cases, it will be clear that the individual is seeking reconciliation, and the seal will attach. And it can be just as clear that in each of those situations, one is not seeking reconciliation, and no seal attaches. Going into a confessional is generally done to seek the sacrament, but not always. And when the sacrament is not being sought, no seal attaches.


Well, the seal might not have been broken, but trust surely was. The priest had no business naming a name, date, time. It just caused scandal.


I’m not fixed on where it happened, but I certainly think that’s a major consideration most people would reasonably weigh in how confidential they think an exchange will be.

I’m aware confession can happen anywhere.


The issue here is that there is not even an attempt at the sacrament, or even the appearance of a sacrament.

If someone walks up to the priest in the vestibule of the church and says “I’m sorry but I’m really angry and don’t want to be here. (Mass that day) I’m just doing what I’m forced to do bc I feel I have to” there is no Seal of Confession. The fact that it happened in a confessional doesn’t change that.

The Seal does not depend on whether or not absolution was given. If someone confesses a reserved sin (one that the priest cannot absolve) the Seal still applies. If someone confesses insincerely and the priest delays absolution, the Seal still applies. Even is someone impersonates a priest and simulates the Sacrament of Confession, the Seal still applies (one sin on top of another on the part of the impersonator).

The Seal of Confession is inviolable; but it is, in fact, the Seal of Confession. While a priest should always err on the side of caution, in an extreme situation like this where there is obviously no attempt at the Sacrament, then there is no Seal of the Sacrament.


Whatever the heck the technical law says, the person at the confessional expects his privacy and a priest violating this understanding, technically correct or not, is committing a breach of trust. It’s dishonest and unbecoming of a man of the cloth. I am very perturbed to hear this too. It does give more credence to the protestant conspiracy theories surrounding Catholic confession.

Now, making general statements about confessions is another thing entirely. I get such and such types of confessions, etc. etc. But giving details that are potentially identifiable in the church is a real no-no. I suppose some cases can get a little fuzzy, but a lot of good judgement and prudence must be used. Certainly, time, date and names are off limits. I don’t even know why you would need to use a time unless it directly related to the topic (on Easter, etc…).


At this point I’m not disagreeing with you. If this is the letter of the law, then this is the letter of the law. It’s a law I sure as dickens was never aware of before, but my ignorance is obviously my problem.

But I stridently and adamantly disagree that this is no different than if they just walked up to him in public and made a public statement. Or that this is no different than shouting from a street corner as someone else stated. But I can assure you that knowing priests view it this way has dramatically effected how I view confession in general.

I also don’t think this case was all that unusual in the least. I hazard on any given day people are entering confessionals and saying something very similar. I find it difficult to imagine that it’s terribly unusual for someone to enter confession and tell a priest they are sorry but they don’t know what to say bc they are frustrated and wondering if god really cares about them and they really wanted to just stay home but feel they have to go to church for whatever reason. For them to feel angry and frustrated and so forth about just not feeling like everyone tells them they should. Really? Yes this is very concerning. (Please don’t think I don’t think it is concerning. I absolutely do.) But if it’s so awful as to mean the confessional (where ever it might be) event is not sealed, I have to wonder how many times people don’t know that their discussion in the confessional, or wherever they thought they were speaking in confidence to a priest, had no seal. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t had to bring those feelings and thoughts to confession at some point in their lives.

But my perspective is obviously wrong so I am left stranded trying to find my way to accept this caveat to whether a seal of confession exists in any given private conversation with a priest, even one had inside a confessional.

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