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Mathibela Sebothoma wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am writing a paper on the seal of Confession.

  • Can a priest break the seal if people's lives can be harmed, as in the case of a serial molester who also frequents the Sacrament of Confession?
  • What would be the Church's moral arguments or reasons for keeping the seal,
    if society may be harmed?
  • Do you know of any priest in recent history who has been excommunicated for breaking the seal?

Your help would be highly appreciated.

Mathibela
  { Can a priest break the seal of Confession like when a penitent is a serial molester? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Mathibela —

The seal of Confession is absolute. Now a priest may make as a condition of penance — which is required for forgiveness — that the person turn themselves into the police, but the priest cannot reveal the contents of the Confession in a way that links it to a specific person, nor can they act on it. I have heard it said that the following used to be taught in seminaries — though I'm not sure if it still is — that if some miscreant, one who behaves criminally or viciously; basically a low-life, confessed that he had poisoned the altar wine, the priest would be bound to act as if nothing had happened, and drink the poisoned wine anyhow.

You said:
What would be the Church's moral arguments or reasons for keeping the seal,
if society may be harmed?

The Church cannot take any adversarial position — or anything that could be construed as adversarial — otherwise, it would violate the trust the sinner has in the Church to confess sins, and make them reluctant to confess sins in the future.

Imagine the difficulty of a person with a sin which must be confessed in order for them to be saved, but they mistrust the priest because the priest may betray them and turn them in.
There has to be absolute trust there, so the sinner is never hesitant to bring his sins to the priest for healing and forgiveness, so they may receive salvation. To ensure that trust, and to make it clear to the faithful can confess their sins without fear, the Church imposes strict penalties on any priest who violates the seal of the Confessional.

You said:
Do you know of any priest in recent history who has been excommunicated for breaking the seal?

I do not; perhaps one of my colleagues does.

Eric Ewanco

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