The Matter of Total Confidentiality
As a Priest, I believe the matter of total confidentiality within the confessional as sacrosanct. I could never break this seal as it goes against all I believe and value. If we make confession the object of subtle distinctions of law, will the faithful continue to trust priests in confession? Will breaking the seal of the confessional, as a solution to a difficult case scenario, damage the dignity and sanctity of the Sacrament irreparably? As priests, if a minor mentions abuse in confession we have the option to ask the minor to talk to us outside the confessional. The priest can support and encourage the minor to speak out, to a safeguarding officer or another appropriate authority.
The definite prohibition of Canon 984 which says: “The confessor is wholly forbidden to use the knowledge acquired in the confession to the detriment of the penitent, even when all danger of disclosure is excluded. And also a person who is in authority may not in any way for the purposes of external governance use knowledge about sins which had at any time come to him from the hearing of confession.”
More recent writing from Cardinal Velasio De Paolis: “What is heard in the divine forum must remain always in the divine forum.” We know that the priest acts (hears, knows, judges, absolves) as a minister of God in persona Christi. Everything that is confessed to him during a confession is confessed to God and must remain sealed forever – as Fernando Loza says: “In the divine forum.”
Ultimately, too, the Sacraments are given for the salvation of souls. Pastoral care of the penitent is paramount, and betraying the confidence of the faithful places the integrity of the Sacrament of Penance in jeopardy. We, as confessors, should always remember that the ministry of the confessor is to be the dispenser of God’s healing grace and mercy.
In November 2016, Archbishop Hart sent out an instruction which is to be observed exactly and completely; that the hearing of school children’s confessions is to take place where there is a clear line of visibility – in the open. This should not be the subject of subtle interpretations or changes of place, etc. This is clear and unequivocal and has to be observed exactly and not to be interpreted in any other way.