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Anonymous wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Why don't priests require someone to turn themselves in, if Romans 13:4 says that they're ordained to punish evil, and
  • If you do evil, are you serving God by being punished by them?

Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Titus 3:1, and 1 Peter 2:13-17 all talk about submitting to authority.


  { Why don't priests require penitents to turn themselves in, if Romans 13:4 says otherwise? }

Mike replied:

Dear Anonymous —

We are not priests so there are certain questions we can't help you with.

We are blessed to have a priest-helper. If he has time, I'm sure he will reply.

My personal opinion on the biblical references you cited is that implicit in these quotes is that Church authority takes precedence to secular institutions, due to Her mission to save souls.

Plus as my colleague Eric stated in an answer to a similar question:

The priest cannot demand, and I daresay even suggest, that the penitent turn himself in, since doing so would violate the seal of the Confessional.

This is absolute. Otherwise people would be afraid to confess their sins and risk their salvation.

This is what the Catechism states; note: CCC paragraph 1467

1465 When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner.

1466 The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ. He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord's mercy.

1467 Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the "sacramental seal," because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains "sealed" by the sacrament.

Hope this helps,


Fr. Jonathan replied:

Dear Anonymous,

The Seal of Confession is inviolable. This means that the conversation is between the priest and the penitent and God. To “require that the person turn themselves in” would add another party to the conversation and would end the effectiveness of the seal of Confession. The priest must be very careful about even suggesting that a person turn themselves in, because it could be mistaken for a requirement.

If the conversation happens outside of the Sacrament of Confession, clearly the priest could suggest to someone that they “turn themselves in” if the person has committed a crime.

In some cases, the priest would also be a “mandated reporter”, outside of the Sacrament of Confession.

Fr. Jonathan

Mary Ann replied:

Dear Anonymous,

The Church teaches that people should obey the law, and that includes reporting crime and cooperating with law enforcement. The Church teaches that people should do penance and make amends.

As for penitents who confess crime in the confessional, the Church requires them to make reparation, anonymously if they wish, but the confessor may not turn the person in because that would mean violating the seal of Confession.

Mary Ann
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