What Happens if Sacramental Confession Ceases to be Secret?

by Jennifer Fitz  |  published on January 23, 2015

Why are some secrets worth dying for? The Jesuit Post blog has an excellent piece up on the case from Louisiana headed for the Supreme Court. If you read nothing else, go read that. Regular readers will recall I commented on similar lines in my review of I Confess earlier this summer.

They say hard cases make bad law. Hard cases also force us to think seriously about what makes good law. Let’s look at possible outcomes if the Supreme Court rules that priests and penitents can be compelled to testify about what they said and heard in confession.

Scenario #1: Penitent Talks, Priest Stays Silent

Result: Priest goes to jail for contempt of court. We find out what the penitent wants to tell us, and the penitent can lie with impunity because the priest isn’t talking. Heaven gets a martyr, the courts get a bunch of worthless testimony. Not exactly a win for the legal system.

Scenario #2: Priest Talks, Penitent Stays Silent

If a priest (and anyone else who happens to have overheard, such a translator or passerby) has a solemn obligation not to break the seal of confession, the penitent has a right to do so as well. Keep in mind that if you the penitent want to discuss matters openly, all you have to do is say, “Father, as soon as you’ve absolved me, I need to re-discuss this with you outside the sacrament.” Depending on the urgency of the situation, Father will either discuss immediately after ‘go in peace’, or invite you to make an appointment at a better time.

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