The Vatican Reaffirms the Inviolability of the Confessional Seal

July 15, 2019

The Holy See strongly reaffirms that the secrecy of confession remains an untouchable principle, as several countries are preparing to legislate against priests who refuse to break the seal of secrecy in cases of abuse committed against minors or vulnerable people.

The note dated June 29 was published on July 1, 2019 by the Apostolic Penitentiary and approved by Pope Francis. It recalls several essential points of ecclesiastical discipline, especially on the inviolability of the sacramental seal of confession.

Thus, the Penitentiary explains that priests “must be able to defend this sacramental seal to the point of martyrdom.” Moreover, “their only requirement must be the sincere repentance of the person who confesses. They cannot require the penitent to go to the civil court because it is another order.”

As for the states that would like to attack the confessional seal, “this would constitute an unacceptable offense against the freedom of the Church, which does not receive its legitimacy from states, but from God. It would constitute a violation of religious freedom, which legally establishes all other freedoms, including the freedom of conscience of citizens, whether they are penitents or confessors,” it said.

To the attention of those who consider that the Church—in guarding the seal of sacramental secrecy—is an accomplice of the abuses committed against minors, the note specifies that “the defense of the sacramental seal and the holiness of confession cannot ever constitute any form of connivance with evil,” emphasizing that sincere repentance constitutes an essential condition for the validity of the sacrament, as is the firm purpose of amendment and a determination not to repeat the evil committed.

It is regrettable, however, that the penance to be carried out, another essential condition, is not mentioned anywhere in this note.