I recently spoke to one of my (catholic) highschool teachers who was then not a priest but is now a priest.

We were talking, and he mentioned he knew one of my professors during my graduate studies.

I asked him how he knew my professor, and he told me 'confession'.

Is that allowed? Well obviously the contents of the confessions are confidential, but is the fact that this person goes to confession with a certain priest not held in confidence?

I asked him if it was allowed, and he said yes.

Follow-up question:

Any idea what's the difference between talking to priests and talking to psychiatrists?

Afaik, psychiatrists don't disclose that a certain patient consults with them.

  1. On the one hand, seeing psychiatrists isn't as common among humans as confession is among Catholics so I guess there's no stigma in a Catholic seeing or having seen a priest or a particular priest and hence no reason to keep such confidential.

  2. On the other hand, priests seem to have stricter confidentiality laws than psychiatrists: They can't disclose death threats if it would break confidentiality right?

It seems weird to me that death threats cannot be disclosed if it would break confidentiality but that someone goes to a certain priest for confession is not confidential.

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    I suppose every parish member is expected to attend confession, so a priest acknowledging that someone attended confession isn't much of a secret. It's kind of like a teacher admitting that they've graded a a person's homework. One could naturally assume that the teacher knows someone who attends a school, and that they would have graded their work at some point, simply by knowing that the student lives in the proper school district. – Flimzy Jul 21 '16 at 13:45
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    Not enough factual evidence or support that I'd be comfortable with that as an answer. – Matt Gutting Jul 22 '16 at 0:32
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    @Flimzy, although all Catholics are required by law to go to confession at least once a year (if they are conscious of mortal sin), there is no “enforcement” of that law. Also, they can confess to any priest they wish, anywhere in the world. Thus, there is no particular reason for people to know when other parishioners have gone to confession. – AthanasiusOfAlex Jul 22 '16 at 7:13
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    @MattGutting The penitent is, of course, free to reveal whether he has gone to confession and with whom. The question asked whether the priest could do so. – AthanasiusOfAlex Dec 24 '16 at 13:40
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    @MattGutting Hm. No matter, how I read it, I can't manage to interpret it that way. The title is “Can Catholic priests disclose....,” and then the person talked about in the body is a priest, who mentions a different professor who he has known in “confession.” Putting the two together, I have to infer that the other professor was once the priest’s penitent. – AthanasiusOfAlex Dec 24 '16 at 15:21

Church law does not explicitly prohibit revealing that a given person has been to confession or not. Here are the relevant canons from the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

§2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy [though not technically the seal; i.e., they would not fall under the latae sententiae excommunication of Can. 1388].

Can. 984 §1. A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.

§2. A person who has been placed in authority cannot use in any manner for external governance the knowledge about sins which he has received in confession at any time.

Here, some observations should be made: the confessor may never break the seal of confession. To “break the seal” means to make a third party understand that a given penitent has committed a certain sin.

Hence, while revealing that someone has been to confession generally does not violate the seal, common sense says that it is best not to provide information that could inadvertently reveal a person’s sins—and revealing whether a person has been to confession or not could potentially do this.

(For example, suppose that there is someone whom a lot of people suspect has committed a grave sin—say, adultery or something like that. If I reveal that he has gone to confession, many people will likely conclude, rightly or wrongly, that this person has, in fact, committed the sin. That is the sort of thing that needs to be avoided.)

If I were asked point blank whether someone has gone to confession or not, I would simply reply the way witnesses are trained to do: “I don’t recall.”

  • 'many people will likely conclude, rightly or wrongly, that this person has, in fact, committed the sin. That is the sort of thing that needs to be avoided' --> therefore priests should not inform just like psychiatrists and lawyers? – BCLC Jul 22 '16 at 16:53
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    If I were asked point blank whether someone has gone to confession or not, I would simply reply the way witnesses are trained to do: “I don’t recall.” --> Okay so what if you were asked how you know someone when the informative truthful answer is 'confession' ? – BCLC Jul 22 '16 at 16:53
  • @BCLC That’s right. (About not informing, like doctors and lawyers.) – AthanasiusOfAlex Jul 22 '16 at 16:53
  • @BCLC About saying that I met someone in confession ... I don’t think it is a good idea to reveal that, even though in that particular case the danger of breaking the seal is much less. I would answer in the same way: “I don’t recall where I met him.” I don’t think the priest you mention meant any harm; I just don’t think it is a good idea. – AthanasiusOfAlex Jul 22 '16 at 16:56
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    AthanasiusOfAlex, it's like this. My question could be rephrased: if they can, then they should? Or: if it's not a good idea, then it's forbidden? I really really find it surprising that this is an issue. Priests ARE ABSOLUTELY NOT ALLOWED TO break the seal even if doing so was the only way to save human life in contrast to the exceptions of most secular professional-client privileges which include non-disclosure of existence of such professional-client relationships but now MAYBE it's NOT A GOOD IDEA for Catholic priests to REVEAL EXISTENCE OF A CONFESSION-PENITENT RELATIONSHIP? – BCLC May 31 '18 at 13:31

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