What the Seal of Confession does and does not prohibit


More precisely, what all qualifies as "breaking the seal" ?

We know that it is betrayal for a priest to reveal the personal sins of a penitent that have been acknowledged by that penitent during sacramental confession.

But there are some examples I can think of that fall outside the scope of the above definition.

1) A penitent, during sacramental confession, robs a priest (wallet, cell phone, etc).

Is the priest allowed to report this (provided the penitent has not confessed the robbery act to him)?

2) The penitent provides information beyond listing personal sins (e.g. context or details ).
E.g. Penitent makes mention that he is in need of a job, and confesses irresponsible driving/road rage, adding in that this occurred because he was running late for a job interview.

Subsequent to the confession, priest learns of a job opening he thinks this penitent may be interested in. Can the priest bring it up to the penitent (though doing so would be an example of using information obtained during confession)?


The Catholic canon laws Latin (CIC) and eastern (CCEO).

Can. 983
§1 The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion.
§2 An interpreter, if there is one, is also obliged to observe this secret, as are all others who in any way whatever have come to a knowledge of sins from a confession.

Can. 984
§1 The confessor is wholly forbidden to use knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent, even when all danger of disclosure is excluded.
§2 A person who is in authority may not in any way, for the purpose of external governance, use knowledge about sins which has at any time come to him from the hearing of confession.

Can. 985
The director and assistant director of novices, and the rector of a seminary or of any other institute of education, are not to hear the sacramental confessions of their students resident in the same house, unless in individual instances the students of their own accord request it.


Canon 733

  1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore the confessor must diligently refrain either by word, sign or any other manner from betraying the penitent for any reason.
  2. The obligation of observing secrecy also binds an interpreter if one is present, and also all others, to whom knowledge of the sins from confession comes in any way.

Canon 734

  1. A confessor is absolutely prohibited to use the knowledge acquired from confession when it might harm the penitent, even if every danger of revelation is excluded.
  2. One who is placed in authority can in no way use for external governance knowledge about sins which he has received in confession at any time.
  3. Directors of institutes of education ordinarily do not administer the sacrament of penance to their students.


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