Two months ago the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that a priest in a particular case should break the seal of confession. The priest was ordered to testify if a certain individual went to confession to him and what was the content of that confession.
This is an opportunity to think about the sacredness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance). In its response to the court, the Diocese of Baton Rouge stated in part:
A foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for thousands of years mandates that the seal of confession is absolute and inviolable. Pursuant to his oath to the Church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal. Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him. If necessary, the priest would have to suffer a finding of contempt in a civil court and suffer imprisonment rather than violate his sacred duty and violate the seal of confession and his duty to the penitent.
This is not a gray area in the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. A priest/confessor who violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved for forgiveness to the Apostolic See in Vatican City, Italy.
In this case, the priest acted appropriately and would not testify about the alleged confessions. Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession.
Why is it that a priest may never (nor would he want to) reveal what was said in confession? Simply, the Church wants to make it as easy as possible for everyone to confess all their sins without fear of embarrassment or repercussions. There should be no reason for someone to make a bad confession, that is, leaving something out. Jesus Christ absolves the sinner in this sacrament because He gave this awesome power to each priest at Ordination.More on this next week.