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This question is motivated by one of the answers given here for the question Is religious confession legally privileged.

I am under the impression, correct me if I am wrong, that if a Catholic priest reveals anything that was told to him during Sacramental Confession---he is automatically excommunicated by the Church.

QUESTION: If the penitent involved gives permission for that priest to reveal something from his confession, may the priest do so without ecclesiastical penalty? Or is he still bound to reveal nothing?

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  • theguardian.com/world/2019/may/08/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 21:14
  • Thank you for your link; however, the question relates to Catholic priests (not ministers of the church of England).
    – DDS
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 21:50
  • Gosh, yes. It's a good job I posted it as a comment instead of an answer then, isn't it?
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 22:16

1 Answer 1

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If and When a Priest May Reveal Something from a Penitent's Confession?

A priest may ask the penitent to seek advice from another confessor. However the identity of the penitent must never be disclosed.

If a priest needs guidance from a more experienced confessor to deal with a difficult case of conscience brought to him in confession, he first must ask the permission of the penitent to discuss the matter and make arrangements for another meeting. This applies to the priest, if he needs to talk to the penitent himself about a previous confession. Here again, the priest must keep the identity of the person secret.

There is a lack of general information on this subject, but the short answer is yes, but only after having received permission from the penitent himself to do so.

A priest may ask the penitent for a release from the sacramental seal to discuss the confession with the person himself or others. For instance, if the penitent wants to discuss the subject matter of a previous confession a particular sin, fault, temptation, circumstance in a counseling session or in a conversation with the same priest, that priest will need the permission of the penitent to do so. For instance, especially with the advent of "face-to-face confession," I have had individuals come up to me and say, "Father, remember that problem I spoke to you about in confession?" I have to say, "Please refresh my memory," or "Do you give me permission to discuss this with you now?"

Or if a priest needs guidance from a more experienced confessor to deal with a difficult case of conscience, he first must ask the permission of the penitent to discuss the matter. Even in this case, the priest must keep the identity of the person secret. - The Seal of the Confessional

Thus a priest is not automatically excommunicated if he reveals something about past confessions as long as the identity of the individual is completely safeguarded. Priest in talking about past confessions use only general and very vague information about them.

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  • In a case where a confession of abuse of a child occurs what can be when mandatory reporting laws are in place with no loophole for clergy?
    – 007
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 0:16
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    @User14 Priests must be ready to go to prison rather than violate the deal of confession. Priests have be beatified or canonized for it. Catholic priests must be ready to go that far.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 0:19
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    @User14 The net effect of mandatory reporting laws for the confessional appears to be that child abusers do not go to confession. Which means that the priest can not give them penance of ceasing to work with children or the like.
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 1:10
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    @Mary Agreed. I don't understand how mandatory reporting laws are supposed to work. How can they ever be prosecuted? The only evidence available of the confession is from the priest or the penitent. The priest doesn't have to confirm the confession, and the penitent has no reason to disclose it, especially if pleading innocence.
    – user207421
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 1:18
  • What happens when a victim of CSA comes forward to a priest? Is the victim encouraged to report the crime to authorities?
    – 007
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 12:54

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