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‘Seal of Confession’ can be broken only in exceptional cases: Vatican

Vatican: Continuing with its defiant stand over ’secrecy of confession’ in light of the criticism over the increasing number sexual abuses around the world, the Vatican earlier this week reiterated through a document from the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary that ‘no government could force the clergy to violate the seal of confession because it is a duty that comes directly from God.”

But while this document of the Catholic Church showcases the Vatican’s view to the sanctity of the ’secrecy of confession’ , it does allow for the seal of confession to be broken on exceptional cases, “The last point of the Note deals with the other “types” of secrecy that fall outside the scope of the internal forum. In this sense, the principle of the natural right to keep secrecy is reaffirmed, “save in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very grave harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party, and where the very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth”

Comparing the priest hearing confession to God, the document states, “The document begins with the observation that in today’s highly mediated society, technological development and the implementation of the media do not correspond, in general, to a similar commitment to the search for truth, but rather to the morbid desire of circulating news, true or false, amplified or diminished according to interests. Today everything is displayed, everything must be known. “By invoking, in fact, the judgment of public opinion as the final court, information of all kinds, belonging also to the most private and reserved spheres, which inevitably induce, or at least favour reckless judgments, unlawfully and irreparably damage the good reputation of others”. This generalised attitude is also reflected on the Church, whose legal order is expected, at times, to conform to that of the States in which it lives in the name of a supposed correctness and transparency.


In this context, the Apostolic Penitentiary considered it urgent to recall, in the first place, the absolute inviolability of the sacramental seal, which is based on divine law and does not admit any exception. The priest confessor, acting in persona Christi capitis, knows the sins of the penitent “not as a man, but as God”, according to a well-known expression of Saint Thomas Aquinas. For this reason, he is called to defend the secret of the content of the Confession not only through “loyalty” to the penitent, but, moreover, out of respect for the sanctity of the sacrament.”


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