Laws cannot force priests to break seal of confession : Vatican

Vatican , July 1: The Vatican has on July 1 reaffirmed Catholic teaching that priests cannot reveal what they learn in confession, in an apparent response to moves in Australia and elsewhere to force them to do so in cases of sexual abuse.

A document from the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, which deals with issues of the sacrament of confession, said no government or law could force clergy to violate the seal “because this duty comes directly from God”.

The document, which does not mention any countries or the sexual abuse crisis, complained of a “worrying negative prejudice against the Catholic Church”.

Most countries’ legal systems respect the religious right of a Catholic priest not to reveal what he has learned in confession, similar to attorney-client privilege.

But the sexual abuse crisis that has embroiled the Catholic Church around the world has seen this right challenged more frequently.

In Australia, an inquiry into child abuse recommended that the country introduce a law forcing religious leaders to report child abuse, including priests told of it during confession.

So far, two of Australia’s eight states have introduced laws making it a crime for priests to withhold information about abuse heard in confession. Others are still considering their response.

In May, the California state senate passed a bill to require the seal of confession to be broken if a priests learns of or suspects sexual abuse while hearing the confession of a fellow priest or a colleague such as a Church worker.

Church leaders in both the United States and Australia have opposed such laws and the document backed them up unequivocally.

“Any political action or legislative initiative aimed at breaking the inviolability of the sacramental seal would constitute an unacceptable offence against the (freedom of the Church),” the document said.

“(The Church) does not receive its legitimacy from individual States, but from God; it (breaking the seal) would also constitute a violation of religious freedom, legally fundamental to all other freedoms, including the freedom of conscience of individual citizens, both penitents and confessors,” it said.

The document said a priest could not demand that a penitent turn himself or herself in to authorities as a condition for receiving absolution from their sins.

The penitent also cannot free a priest from his obligation to respect the seal of confession, it said.

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2 thoughts on “Laws cannot force priests to break seal of confession : Vatican

  1. This is indeed a grey area of conflict between church and State. However. other than the morality of a sin, there is also the criminality in heinous offences including rape and murder, There is also the question of restitution in the case of theft etc. No priest can absolve any penitent of the civil/ criminal effects of their actions. Hence the Catholic Church should publicly proclaim that the mere act of confession does not provide a clean chit to the offender/ criminal/ penitent. Civil/ criminal proceedings should be a per-requisite to confession.

  2. The priests need to remember the unpleasant incidence that occurred in Kerala, where a group of priests, broke the confessional secret of a woman and sexually abused her. It is time for the clergy to do a serious introspection about how they maintain the “confessional secret”. Let them not try to play with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

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