What is the Laity's obligation to the Seal of the Confessional

I am looking for documents regarding the obligation to the seal of the confessional. for instance I do not feel comfortable going up to a friend and and saying “Hey I saw you at confession last Saturday”.

Some Background:
I went to my child’s first confession. They had decided to have the confession up on the alter. I know this happens at a penance service when there are more Priests than rooms, but in that case people can choose. Further, the parents we asked to sit in the back of the church out of earshot and chant the Psalms. The disturbing part was that the parents stopped chanting when the Priest raised his hand to give absolution. I felt this was a grave violation of the children’s rights. I believe our pastor would be amenable to such an argument, but right now it is just a feeling.
Thanks and God Bless

Canon Law 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.

§2. The interpreter, if there is one, **and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.

**Can. 984 §1. A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.

§2. A person who has been placed in authority cannot use in any manner for external governance the knowledge about sins which he has received in confession at any time.as far as consequences, we have:Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.

§2. An interpreter and the others mentioned in can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication.
The key thing is that if you happen to overhear a confession, even inadvertently, you may never reveal what you have heard. (Note: if the penitent him/herself decides to reveal what he/she confessed, that is up to them)

As far as revealing that you saw somebody at confession? I think that normal discretion would apply there…however, I do not believe that the fact that a person was at confession is discussed in Canon Law at all. (Again, prudence must be observed. For example, discussing that you saw “John” at confession on Saturday with a third party might start walking you down the path of detraction, calumny, or rash judgmentparticularly if you start speculating “why” he was at confession)

I do agree on the subject of children’s first confessions. I think that they could be handled a lot better than they are in most cases.

What you described doesn’t actually violate the Seal. It’s not a “grave violation.” It is, however, a bad idea.

People should not be watching the confessions and reacting in such a way that obviously indicates to the penitents that other people are watching them.

If you are considering bringing this to the pastor’s attention, by all means do so. This sounds like the sort of thing that might look like a good idea until it’s put into practice.

Our parish has private confessionals, but several times a year we also have penance services. I don’t mind penance services, even though with priests arranged in different areas of the church one can observe others confessing. No one can overhear.

But I really dislike the idea of making first confessions into a public event to which parents are invited.

If you accidentally hear someone’s sin in confession- you are required until your death to not repeat it to anyone- period.

I would not be comfortable in that situation, its not something I would personally recommend.:confused:

Have to say that this practice of having children make their first confession in full view of parents has come about as a result of parishes having done away with proper confessionals in favour of ‘reconciliation rooms’ and the parents’ refusal to let their kids be alone in the room with the priest. Not to mention that diocesan policies forbid the priest from being alone with children.

Sure it could all be fixed if they rebuilt the confessionals but I don’t think that’s in the cards for most parishes.

Yup. Or glass doors.

This brings to my mind something which I observed while in a confession line several years ago. A mother and her daughter, about 9 or 10 years old, were in line together in front of me, standing side by side and conversing in whispers. Obviously they were very close.

One person exited the confessional and I expected that the mom would go in as she was next in line. I was astonished when mother and daughter entered the confessional together!

The priest finished with the penitent on the other side, and then I went in to the vacant side. The confessionals are private and one cannot overhear words. Still, I was aware of the mom finishing her confession and the priest apparently gave absolution and was about to open the sliding grille door to my side, when the mom stopped him, and apparently the daughter then began her confession! So I waited. Again, I didn’t overhear anything and the seal was not violated, but I was utterly astonished that both would go in together and take turns at confessing.

Here were my thoughts on the matter. I felt I did not have the right to know if someone receives absolution or not. It could be possible that someone goes to confession and cannot receive absolution because they are unwilling to stop committing the sin. That fact is covered by the seal. My reasoning states that if not getting absolution is covered, then getting absolution is also covered. If the parents just prayed at the back of church and did not react to what was going on then I do not think it was a violation of the rights, as the parents could of their own accord avert their eyes. I have taken advantage of confession in a public spot, but then I am waiving my rights, at least so far as to whether I went to confession and receive absolution.

Thanks and God Bless

Does this mean that following first confession, parents will still not allow their children to go to confession unless they are present and can see them?

My parish always had traditional confessionals, but when it was remodeled, it made the confessionals even more private, roomy, soundproof, secure, and well lit. I’m so happy we have them.

This is actually the fruits of one of the gravest scandals the Church has seen. But, I’ve never seen this happen - ever. Every place that I’ve gone, the kids go by themselves - no parents. Though, everyone is in line for confession together.

I’m not sure if in this case it was even related to the scandals. In our parish, . priest and penitent can not see each other or have access to each other except to hear and converse. Confessions take about two minutes and the penitent is most often asked to say the act of contrition in the pew along with his penance. This struck me as perhaps a matter of a parent and child who might be a little too close.

Sadly, in our area, parents think of First Confession as a milestone which they must observe and preserve in memory. I actually had to ask a woman to leave and take her video camera with her at our First Reconciliation Service this past fall.
I kid you not. You would have thought I slapped her from her reaction. She thought it was way out of line. Finally a Deacon came by and asked to leave quietly or take the camera to her car. And they attend a regional Catholic school. :blush:

Not every single thing that happens is a Kodak moment…but for a lot of people…:rolleyes:
Common sense has gone out the window. Poor kids.

I saw it as a possible case of a parent refusing to let her daughter be alone with the priest. An example of what had been stated earlier by Phemie - that many parents refuse to let their children be in the confessional alone with the priest, and even that many dioceses refuse to let any priest be alone with children for any reason, including confession. This phenomenon is directly related to the scandal. And the 99+% of priests that have had nothing to do with this scandal are being punished for the very small percentage of priests that did.

But the poster who talked about the mom & daughter was in a traditional confessional. One where there is no possibility of contact between the priest and the penitent, one like I grew up with and which my parish did away with in the 70s or 80s in favour of a room where the priest and penitent are face to face and in complete violation of the canon which dictates that a confessional have a fixed grille.

When our 2nd graders made First Reconciliation this year the priest decided to hear their confessions sitting on the altar with the parents sitting near the back of the church. There was no way to hear what was being said. The funny thing is the kids wanted to go into the confessional (which is really a tiny reconciliation room). When a 2nd priest arrived and went into the confessional, we encouraged parents to confess in the confessional but a couple of the kids begged to go in there and they were allowed to. The parents had no objection. I know there are rules about priests or any adult being alone with kids but having dozens of adults sitting a few feet outside the door isn’t really “alone” in my opinion.

The sooner we bring back confessionals–real ones, not tiny reconciliation rooms–the better!

Something tells me the liability insurance companies would not see it that way.

I don’t know what the priest is supposed to do if a child walks in during regularly scheduled confessions. It’s a sad state of affairs and yes, the traditional confessionals do solve the “problem”. Confessing out in the open does too I suppose, but that’s not perfect either. I never imagined people would watch to see if/when someone received absolution. Certainly in the case of First Confession there wouldn’t be much doubt of that right? :smiley:

I don’t think the rules regarding priests being alone with children apply to the sacrament. I think they are applied by concerned parents till we can see they are trustworthy. The best solution I have seen, for priest and young penitent, were glass doors installed. I know removing the grill and making the room bigger allowed our handicap more accessible area, but, if you put back the fixed grill, that would help a lot too. The ones I have been in do not have a fixed grill but it looks like an afterthought.

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