Archbishop Cordileone asks all the faithful of the Archdiocese to contact their state Assembly representative to voice their opposition to SB360, proposed legislation that threatens the confidentiality of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The state Senate has already approved the bill, which would take away the full right to confession from priests and everyone who works with priests in parishes and Church agencies statewide.
Pastors received an email from the Archbishop, advising that the Office of Human Life & Dignity is organizing a letter-writing campaign on the weekend of June 22-23. Letters will be available for signature at Masses, to be collected later and delivered to Sacramento during Religious Freedom week. Parishioners may also send an electronic letter via our website, https://www.sfarch.org/KeepTheSeal. Much more information is available on the website, as well.
Contact: Valerie Schmalz, Director, Office of Human Life & Dignity 415-614-5571 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Seal of the Confessional
By FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS
The standard of secrecy protecting a confession outweighs any form of professional confidentiality or secrecy. When a person unburdens his soul and confesses his sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Penance, a very sacred trust is formed. The priest must maintain absolute secrecy about anything that a person confesses. For this reason, confessionals were developed with screens to protect the anonymity of the penitent. This secrecy is called "the sacramental seal," "the seal of the confessional," or "the seal of confession."
The sacramental seal is inviolable. Quoting Canon 983.1 of the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism states, "...It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason" (No. 2490). A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity. He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person's confession or be bound by any oath he takes, e.g. as a witness in a court trial. A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action. A Decree from the Holy Office (Nov. 18, 1682) mandated that confessors are forbidden, even where there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make any use of the knowledge obtained in the confession that would "displease" the penitent or reveal his identity.
A beautiful story (perhaps embellished with time) which captures the reality of this topic is the life of St. John Nepomucene (1340-93), the vicar general to the Archbishop of Prague. King Wenceslaus IV, described as a vicious, young man who easily succumbed to rage and caprice, was highly suspicious of his wife, the Queen. St. John happened to be the Queen's confessor. Although the king himself was unfaithful, he became increasingly jealous and suspicious of his wife, who was irreproachable in her conduct. Although Wencelaus tortured St. John to force him to reveal the Queen's confessions, he would not. In the end, St. John was thrown into the River Moldau and drowned on March 20, 1393.
Each priest realizes that he is the ordained mediator of a very sacred and precious sacrament. He knows that in the confessional, the penitent speaks not so much to him, but through him to the Lord. Therefore, humbled by his position, the priest knows that whatever is said in confession must remain secret at all costs.
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23-24