U.S. Diocese Asks Supreme Court to Reverse Decision Compelling Priest to Break Confessional Seal

A priest in Louisiana in the U.S. has been ordered by the highest state court there to reveal what was said to him during a confession, and if such a confession actually occurred, after being accused of not reporting a crime told him in confession. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court reverses this court order (and it might choose not to hear this case), he and the diocese would be helpless to defend themselves, since the priest would be unable to say in court what was told him in confession, or even if such a confession occurred.
see www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/09/05/us-diocese-ask-supreme-court-decision-compelling-priest-to-break-confessional-seal/

The parents seem to be simply trying to get the priest to incriminate himself about whether he should have reported some child abuse.

Yeah, it’s a good question about whether that conversation was part of a confession or whether it falls under the scope of the law.

In the present climate of the Church and society, the Church has less moral authority than it once had.

This raises questions that might not be handled so tactfully in other places around the world. It seems that the ruling suggests that the testimony about the confession/conversation is beyond the stage of objecting to the girl’s statement being hearsay.

In this day and age, not only is it possible to RECORD the dialog in a confession, it can probably be uploaded to youtube.com about as fast as the priest can finish the words of absolution.

My favorite church for confession is a rather new church, but NO attempt has been made to soundproof the room. The priest advised me to speak no louder than a whisper. I can’t believe that that parish hasn’t demanded sound-proofing or sound-dampening white noise or something.

I witnessed a very young lady calmly enter this confessional, then seemed to be bawling loudly for about five minutes, then calmly exited the confessional. There is just no common sense – and so many complain that so few people go to confession. They have reason – probable cause – to seriously doubt the privacy of their confession. And, this IS a confessional which has a solid oak door. But, it’s like a tiled bathroom, where every sound is amplified by bouncing off all the walls.

The communal reconciliation services here at Easter are ridiculous. Priests from everywhere come and set up chairs everywhere and you can virtually hear confessions even if you try not to “hear” them. Yes there are private confessions but they are few and it depends on the resources of the particular church.

You make a valid point about someone now being able to record a confession and upload it to UTUBE. Some day that will probably happen.


When our parish church was remodeled, the confessionals were also remodeled to be completely soundproof and completely anonymous. Now, maybe they will also have to ensure that wifi is also blocked.

Not to belittle this but have you watched daytime TV lately? Seems we hear plenty of confessions from people as it is, right out loud and in your face. I wish people didn’t feel like they needed to share so much. :rolleyes:

No he hasn’t.

See this rather more rounded discussion of the case - still from a Catholic source, but actually giving links to the judgement, for example.

What the court ruled was that
the priest could not prevent the child from reporting what happened in confessional
There was justifiable cause to hold a trial to establish if there were a case to answer

The latter might require the priest to make arguments about whether the child had gone to confession, but is that prohibited? After all he was quite happy to argue that the child’s testimony should be barred because she had been at confession at the time!

According to the article I linked above:

Indeed, in many places and for a long time, penitents would in various cases receive a certificate testifying that they had been to confession. Till today couples in Poland have to present certificates of confession in order to get married!

Further, the priest apparently had some evidence about the abuse that might have been enough to trigger his duty as a mandatory reporter, from outside the confessional. So the argument is that the earlier court was wrong to simply dismiss the case rather than investigate further.

All Catholic churches should make confessions 100% anonymous, for the Priest and the for confessing Catholics. The Priests in a diocese should rotate confessional duties and they should enter the confessional from a different location than the people confessing their sins (no one should know exactly what Priest is hearing their confession). They should completely elliminate face-to-face confessions and they should mandate that all churches provide sound-proof and wifi-proof confessionals. It is a sad sign of the times that these steps need to be considered, but without these steps, some court will attempt to force a Catholic church/Priest to break the seal of confession. With these changes, the seal of confession is maintained, and the trust by pentitent Catholics will remain high since there is no real way to prove who the confessor and confesse were. After all, going to confession is an encounter with Christ, and it is 100% no one’s business.

I personally doubt the SCOTUS will hear this case. The confessional seal, when used to protect the interests of the penitent, is well settled in law. That is not what this case is about. In any event, we shall see…

But that is not the reason for my post. I saw a blog post (yes, it was a secular blog) that raised an interesting question as to whether even in Canon Law the seal applies to this case. It centers on whether breaking the seal ‘betrays’ the penetint.

983.1 says

Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

In this case, testifying hardly betrays the interest of the penitent. One could even argue not testifying is betraying her interest as it denies her the chance to seek justice.

(Emphasis in quote mine) This is one of the things about this story that has confused me. If the priest is unable to say that the confession occurred, how did the original request by the diocese to not permit the girl’s testimony of the confession get filed? To argue that her testimony can’t be entered into the record because it took place in confession is to acknowledge that the confession took place, when it’s been said that such an acknowledgement isn’t possible. :confused:

Prayers for the protection of the Sacredness of the Seal of Confession and for our Religious Freedom. God Bless, Memaw

Betray does not always mean that revealing the secret hurts someone. Betray can mean simply to reveal, disclose, show.

Here is another news article about this:


It’s a reliable Catholic source and it tells how it would be a violation of First Amendment rights to Religious Freedom if the priest was forced to disclose anything about the Confession. He would be excommunicated if he would. It is that serious. A priest can never tell about what goes on in Confession. He can never even tell that he heard a Confession from someone, not even if he is imprisoned or put to death for refusing to violate the Seal of Confession.

I hope the Supreme Court hears this case and that every single one of the justices rules in favor of Religious Freedom. I hope that this happens so that it will make it illegal throughout the nation for a judge to try to force a priest to violate the Seal of Confession. This is very serious business. With Religious Freedom being attacked left and right in this nation we must firmly stand against these attacks on our Religious Freedom and we must also pray that all attacks against our Religious Freedom be defeated.

Any law that requires a priest to violate the Seal of Confession under any circumstances whatsoever and no matter the penalty for not doing so is an unjust law and one that must not be obeyed. We should obey God rather than man when the law is unjust.

If the SCOTUS does hear this case, it would interesting to know how the six Catholic justices rule regarding.

I agree. Let’s hope that if they do take up the case that all of the justices will vote in favor of religious freedom.

How will the government force a priest to speak about confessions other than sending him to jail for contempt of court?

Through out history priests have been tortured for far lesser unjust laws.

They are not even trying to force him to do any such thing, if you read the judgement.

Rather the Church were trying to prevent the alleged victim from testifying herself about what happened in confessional, which the Appeal court both granted and somehow extended to preventing the case from being heard at all, and these two decisions have now been overturned at the state Supreme Court.

The only threat to religion I see here is that yet again it looks to outsiders as though the Catholic Church is playing dirty to bully the alleged victim into keeping quiet - not so much in the original gagging order (which was awful, in my opinion, but par for the course in such cases) but in the way the Catholic press are unquestioningly reporting this blatantly false claim that the judgement and the plaintiff are trying to force the priest to break the Seal of the Confessional.

Don’t know where you get your information but the Church doesn’t say a person can’t talk about their own confession. Just the priest is under the Seal, so he can’'t be forced to talk about it. A lay person cannot talk about another’s confession if he accidentally over heard it. God Bless, Memaw

The first move by the Diocese was to keep her testimony, her confession, from being admitted. That is where the SC ruled that she could speak of her confession if she wished and also, they were to determine if it was a confession and if he learned something outside of the confession. Because there is a lot of confusion if it was a confession or not, they want it determined if it was a confession which he would not be required to testify nor would he have been required to report.

That is where he is getting his info, from what the diocese did, prevent her testimony of the confession, and what the SC ruled - if it was a confession and if he knew anything outside of the confession.

As Hopey says, I get my information directly from the judgement, to which I gave a link in the post to which you respond.

The only matter that has been ruled on so far is an explicit request from the diocese that the alleged victim be explicitly prevented from testifying about her own confession. This has been rejected, and that is what is being reported by the Catholic press as an attempt by the courts and the plaintiff to force a priest to break the seal of the confessional. :shrug:

Now, really, do you think that is fair or honest dealing? Even by the standards of modern court cases?

IMO, they should not be politely asking the supreme court about this, instead they should have just sent a statement indicating NO ONE in the church WLL BE COMPLYING with this law.

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