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  #1  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:23 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Do priests hearing confession have an obligation to report serious crimes?

Related to TV show I saw this week.
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  #2  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:35 PM
MatthewGerlach MatthewGerlach is offline
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I'm guessing you watched House?

Anyways, I found myself wondering the same thing and did some research:

A sacremental seal is inviolable. To quote from the Canon Law 983.1..."It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason." A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), etc. A Decree from the Holy Office dated November 18, 1682 mandated that confessors are forbidden, even when there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make use of any knowledge obtained in the confession that would "displease" the penitent or reveal his identity.

I'm an atheist by the way.



Matthew
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  #3  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:36 PM
Cunctator Cunctator is offline
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Quite the opposite, in fact. Section 983(1) of the Code of Canon Law, in reference to the sacrament of penance, states:
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The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion.
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  #4  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:39 PM
cornflakes cornflakes is offline
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No. Most jurisdictions prohibit the examination of clergy as to what was said in confidence by a sinner. newadvent.org presents a history of the law of the seal of confession, along with a quick summary of how it is applied around the world.
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  #5  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:41 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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Ah, but could they be compelled to do so through state or federal law, much like how doctor/client priviledge can be broken through court order?

I'm suspecting there's probably something in one of the post-9/11 laws that allow it.

And yes, it was House.
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  #6  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:43 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Both previosu posts accurately state the Code of Canon Law. So from the point of view of the Church, the question is answered.

The answer remains the same from the point of view of civil law. All fifty states in the United States provide for some measure of privilege as to communications between a priest and a penitent, where the priest cannot be compelled to reveal information he received during a confession.
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  #7  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:47 PM
Superhal Superhal is offline
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So Chase is safe?
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  #8  
Old 10-20-2009, 08:57 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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For those thinking that the priest is morally culpable for covering up a crime, he has one out: he can refuse absolution unless the criminal makes appropriate restitution for his crime, which might include confession to the police. But he may not himself say one word that might point to the criminality of the person whose confession he has heard -- nor may he be forced to do so.
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  #9  
Old 10-20-2009, 09:00 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Originally Posted by Superhal View Post
Ah, but could they be compelled to do so through state or federal law, much like how doctor/client priviledge can be broken through court order?

I'm suspecting there's probably something in one of the post-9/11 laws that allow it.
No. Chief Justice Burger's words in Trammel v. U.S. 445 U.S. 40 (1980), although written some twenty years before 9/11, remain good law:
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No other testimonial privilege sweeps so broadly. The privileges between priest and penitent, attorney and client, and physician and patient limit protection to private communications. These privileges are rooted in the imperative need for confidence and trust. The priest-penitent privilege recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return.
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  #10  
Old 10-20-2009, 11:37 PM
Picard Kills Kirk Picard Kills Kirk is offline
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I can understand how that would apply to things that have already happened, but what about things to come?

If I confessed or somehow revealed I was about to kill someone, does the priest have any kind of obligation to prevent the crime?
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  #11  
Old 10-21-2009, 01:30 AM
thelurkinghorror thelurkinghorror is online now
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Superhal, I hope you don't mind a piggyback question.

I saw the confession in question while flipping through the channels, but not the rest of the episode. The part I saw must have been earlier, and the confessor encourages the guy to confess to the police as Polycarp says.

I've only been to confession once so don't know much, but as I understand it the confessor can encourage you to surrender, but is under no obligation to do so. Are you then (religiously) obligated to abide by the confessor's edict? Somehow I think "priest shopping" is not an acceptable loophole, but are you held to the command of the first confessor?
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  #12  
Old 10-21-2009, 02:16 AM
chowder chowder is offline
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So even if someone confessed to murder and another person was awaiting execution for that crime, the priest still had to keep shtum?
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  #13  
Old 10-21-2009, 02:23 AM
kombatminipig kombatminipig is offline
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Originally Posted by Superhal View Post
So Chase is safe?
I know it's probably not a plot twist, but don't spoil the show for those of us you haven't seen it yet.
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  #14  
Old 10-21-2009, 03:10 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Originally Posted by chowder View Post
So even if someone confessed to murder and another person was awaiting execution for that crime, the priest still had to keep shtum?
The priest could "say the sin but not the sinner," depending on who you ask, but a priest who wasn't wrong in the head would start by encouraging the confessed murderer to talk to the police thereby saving an innocent man's life (plus in many jurisdictions, spontaenous confession leads to lower penalties).

The priest definitely could not call the cops and say "Jack Smith down at the bridge just came and told me he'd killed Joe Slowpoke." He could, depending on who you ask and which hairs they feel like splitting, call the cops and say "someone just confessed to me the murder of Joe Slowppoke, I realize you already have a man in custody but you may need to look harder; sorry I can't give you better information."
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  #15  
Old 10-21-2009, 05:56 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is online now
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I'm guessing that if I confessed to a Roman Catholic priest that I was off to Rome to assassinate the Pope I'd find the guard tripled when I got there and the police on the look-out. It beggars belief that the priest would take no action but I don't know, maybe I'm wrong. How absolute is absolute? Is he permitted to reveal all the details but my name? That doesn't seem very absolute to me if so.

Last edited by aldiboronti; 10-21-2009 at 05:58 AM..
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  #16  
Old 10-21-2009, 06:44 AM
Ají de Gallina Ají de Gallina is offline
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The priest cannot say anything, he cannot even hint at the identity nor can he withhold absolution to a person who is repentant or tie it to a later action. Also, since most confessions are anomymous and one does not have to reveal details of the sin it'd be very difficult for a priest to actually know much. You only have to mention kind and quantity and not go to more detail than necessary, "father, I killed one guy", the only judgment call is if the person is truly repentant.
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  #17  
Old 10-21-2009, 08:08 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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And you can't confess a future sin, which for some reason several people in the thread seem to think you can.

You can confess sins of thought ("sometimes I think of beating my wife up"), sins of action ("I've yelled at my wife") and sins of omission ("I never thank my wife"), but you can't confess, repent and ask for forgiveness - on something you haven't done. As well as the little problem re. the laws of physics, if you're still planning on doing it you're not repentant.
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  #18  
Old 10-21-2009, 08:11 AM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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I grew up as Catholic and I always assumed that in some cases the priest would recognize the person's voice during confession. What I learned in Catholic school was that the priest could only try to convince the person to turn himself in.
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  #19  
Old 10-21-2009, 08:16 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
I'm guessing that if I confessed to a Roman Catholic priest that I was off to Rome to assassinate the Pope I'd find the guard tripled when I got there and the police on the look-out. It beggars belief that the priest would take no action but I don't know, maybe I'm wrong. How absolute is absolute? Is he permitted to reveal all the details but my name? That doesn't seem very absolute to me if so.
Your guess is wrong.

The sacramental seal is absolute.
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  #20  
Old 10-21-2009, 08:52 AM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
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Even if local laws compelled the priest to break privilege he'd be obligated to break those laws or face eternal damnation. He could be standing on the gallows and still not be allowed to break privilelge.
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  #21  
Old 10-21-2009, 09:10 AM
chowder chowder is offline
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Originally Posted by Nava View Post
The priest could "say the sin but not the sinner," depending on who you ask, but a priest who wasn't wrong in the head would start by encouraging the confessed murderer to talk to the police thereby saving an innocent man's life (plus in many jurisdictions, spontaenous confession leads to lower penalties).

The priest definitely could not call the cops and say "Jack Smith down at the bridge just came and told me he'd killed Joe Slowpoke." He could, depending on who you ask and which hairs they feel like splitting, call the cops and say "someone just confessed to me the murder of Joe Slowppoke, I realize you already have a man in custody but you may need to look harder; sorry I can't give you better information."
And supposing Joe Slowpoke had about 5 mins before the switch was thrown when the priest received the confession.

JS gets offed and the cops say"oops we boobed on this one, sorry Mrs Slowpoke"

Cold comfort to JS and his family doncha think?
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  #22  
Old 10-21-2009, 09:19 AM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Originally Posted by Bijou Drains View Post
I grew up as Catholic and I always assumed that in some cases the priest would recognize the person's voice during confession. What I learned in Catholic school was that the priest could only try to convince the person to turn himself in.
Confessions are not necessarily done in that kind of "secrecy", which is more to help the self-conscious. Mine are all face-to-face, which is both disconcerting but more emotional.
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  #23  
Old 10-21-2009, 09:20 AM
Picard Kills Kirk Picard Kills Kirk is offline
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deleted.

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  #24  
Old 10-21-2009, 09:28 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Originally Posted by chowder View Post
And supposing Joe Slowpoke had about 5 mins before the switch was thrown when the priest received the confession.

JS gets offed and the cops say"oops we boobed on this one, sorry Mrs Slowpoke"

Cold comfort to JS and his family doncha think?
Then what the priest has to do is tell the repentant "let's warn them now, while we can still save Joe's life!" He could with the repentant's permission phone with the warning himself, but again he can't just drop the confession mid-listening and call 911. He can't detain the repentant and he can't tell the cops who was it (again, generally he is to recommend to the repentant that he give himself in, but not always, depending on things like the laws of the land - if giving himself in is equivalent to suicide-by-cop, the priest wouldn't be as obligated to recommend it as if the guy is likely to get time).

For a while ETA used priests to call in bomb warnings (as in, they'd call a priest and tell him "we've placed a bomb at such and such place"). Nice fellas... not.

Last edited by Nava; 10-21-2009 at 09:31 AM..
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  #25  
Old 10-21-2009, 09:36 AM
The Great Sun Jester The Great Sun Jester is online now
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Picard Kills Kirk, the murder sins aren't yet committed and would therefore be beyond the scope of the confession.

Are there sins that a priest can't abolve? Like the ones where the sinner is effectively saying, "I'm gonna do this heinous deed and then confess it so I don't have to burn?"
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  #26  
Old 10-21-2009, 09:44 AM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
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Originally Posted by Inigo Montoya View Post
Picard Kills Kirk, the murder sins aren't yet committed and would therefore be beyond the scope of the confession.

Are there sins that a priest can't abolve? Like the ones where the sinner is effectively saying, "I'm gonna do this heinous deed and then confess it so I don't have to burn?"
Absolution doesn't work that way. One needs to be sincere and while a priest can be tricked, God can't. So unless the sinner really, really meant it when he repented he'd still burn in Hell even if the priest absolvled him.
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  #27  
Old 10-21-2009, 10:13 AM
Picard Kills Kirk Picard Kills Kirk is offline
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Originally Posted by Inigo Montoya View Post
Picard Kills Kirk, the murder sins aren't yet committed and would therefore be beyond the scope of the confession.
Let's say I'm a new Catholic, and I don't quite understand how it works. I have a man in the trunk of my car, and he's bleeding to death because I shot him. I go inside, and confess to a priest that I shot a man, and I have no intention of getting medical help for him. Before leaving I tell the priest I am going to drive in circles around Kroger until he dies so I can put the body in the trash can.

Whether I am sincerely apologetic or not, the priest now knows the details of what I have done, and there is a man about to die in the trunk of my car. Obviously, if the priest attempted to get help for this man it would without doubt identify me as the shooter (and the priest realizes this).

Is there anything the priest can do? Since I haven't actually committed the murder sin, do the confidentiality agreements still apply?
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  #28  
Old 10-21-2009, 10:22 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is online now
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Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
Your guess is wrong.

The sacramental seal is absolute.
That's astonishing. I still have doubts though. Very well, the seal is absolute. Priests, however, are humans, to whom absolutes rarely if ever apply. My hope is that humanity would sometimes win out in extremities, where human life is at stake, and the priest would find just a tiny bit of wiggle room. I can't imagine damnation for such an act.

Last edited by aldiboronti; 10-21-2009 at 10:25 AM..
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  #29  
Old 10-21-2009, 10:30 AM
BlinkingDuck BlinkingDuck is offline
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Originally Posted by Polycarp View Post
For those thinking that the priest is morally culpable for covering up a crime, he has one out: he can refuse absolution unless the criminal makes appropriate restitution for his crime, which might include confession to the police. But he may not himself say one word that might point to the criminality of the person whose confession he has heard -- nor may he be forced to do so.

Word.

The (Catholic) priest doesn't HAVE to absolve your sins...requiring you to make effort yourself like Polycarp has pointed out.

Last edited by BlinkingDuck; 10-21-2009 at 10:30 AM..
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  #30  
Old 10-21-2009, 10:33 AM
BlinkingDuck BlinkingDuck is offline
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Originally Posted by Ají de Gallina View Post
The priest cannot say anything, he cannot even hint at the identity nor can he withhold absolution to a person who is repentant or tie it to a later action. Also, since most confessions are anomymous and one does not have to reveal details of the sin it'd be very difficult for a priest to actually know much. You only have to mention kind and quantity and not go to more detail than necessary, "father, I killed one guy", the only judgment call is if the person is truly repentant.
Serious? I may be wrong in my previous post. I was under the impression (having been brought up Catholic and knowing several priests) that they could do that...
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  #31  
Old 10-21-2009, 10:47 AM
The Great Sun Jester The Great Sun Jester is online now
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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
That's astonishing. I still have doubts though. Very well, the seal is absolute. Priests, however, are humans, to whom absolutes rarely if ever apply. My hope is that humanity would sometimes win out in extremities, where human life is at stake, and the priest would find just a tiny bit of wiggle room. I can't imagine damnation for such an act.
You're thinking of this in human terms. In the philosophy of the religion, we're here to experience Earth for a relatively brief time, then it's on to bigger and better thingsin the afterlife. Humanity has to sort itself out if this is to be a spiritually healthy place, but ultimately the real goal is attainable only when you die. A win for humanity is trivial compared to a win for God.
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  #32  
Old 10-21-2009, 10:53 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Originally Posted by BlinkingDuck View Post
Serious? I may be wrong in my previous post. I was under the impression (having been brought up Catholic and knowing several priests) that they could do that...
The Code of Canon Law provides:

Quote:
Can. 978 ß1 In hearing confessions the priest is to remember that he is at once both judge and healer, and that he is constituted by God as a minister of both divine justice and divine mercy, so that he may contribute to the honor of God and the salvation of souls.
.
.
.
Can. 980 If the confessor is in no doubt about the penitent's disposition and the penitent asks for absolution, it is not to be denied or delayed.
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  #33  
Old 10-21-2009, 11:44 AM
RandMcnally RandMcnally is offline
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Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
The Code of Canon Law provides:
My grandmother, when she taught my Confirmation class, used an example of someone who embezzled money. The priest may tell them that if they truly were repentant that they would turn themselves in. Part of being sorry means that you are willing to pay for your crimes. So I'm assuming if the murderer refused to turn himself In then the priest can refuse to absolve him.
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  #34  
Old 10-21-2009, 11:45 AM
iamthewalrus(:3= iamthewalrus(:3= is offline
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So, we've established that it's against the rules of the church for the priest to say anything, and we've established that it's against the rules of the state to force the priest to say anything, but I still have a question: If the priest decides to break the rules of the church, can his testimony be used in court?

What if the testimony of the priest is not about the confession, per se, but about something he observed during the confession?
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  #35  
Old 10-21-2009, 12:02 PM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is online now
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Is it not surprising that a secular State should afford religion (and primarily Roman Catholicism) such a privilege? According to Wikipedia none of the other rules of confidentiality (doctors, lawyers, etc) are absolute, in certain circumstances, quite sensibly, the law can enforce compliance. Why should priests be any different? Yes, the confessional is sacred, but it isn't sacred to the State and surely the State should only go so far in taking religious sensibilities into account.
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  #36  
Old 10-21-2009, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
Is it not surprising that a secular State should afford religion (and primarily Roman Catholicism) such a privilege? According to Wikipedia none of the other rules of confidentiality (doctors, lawyers, etc) are absolute, in certain circumstances, quite sensibly, the law can enforce compliance. Why should priests be any different? Yes, the confessional is sacred, but it isn't sacred to the State and surely the State should only go so far in taking religious sensibilities into account.
The law can verify a doctor/patient or attorney/client relationship. There's no paperwork involved in the confessional.
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  #37  
Old 10-21-2009, 12:16 PM
Tastes of Chocolate Tastes of Chocolate is offline
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Say someone were to confess that they ARE going to do someone. They can not be talked out of it by the confessor. They haven't yet sinned or committed a crime. But they are also not truly confessing, since they obviously don't have any intentions of repenting.

In that case, is the confession truly a confession? It sounds more like bragging.
Can a priest make the call as to if a confession is truly a confession, or does someone asking to confess make that an automatic thing?
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  #38  
Old 10-21-2009, 12:31 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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In that case, is the confession truly a confession? It sounds more like bragging.
Can a priest make the call as to if a confession is truly a confession, or does someone asking to confess make that an automatic thing?
The rules of Confession are pretty strict as well. Just wanting does not make it so. It doesn't have to be a special place or method, but the sinner does have to make certain efforts and allowances, and a priest need not to accept a flawed confession (that is, where the sinner fails to show remorse mostly).
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  #39  
Old 10-21-2009, 12:52 PM
Munch Munch is offline
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Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
Your guess is wrong.

The sacramental seal is absolute.
Is it? It's not a confession per se (action hasn't taken place), and the priest calling up Rome to say, "better tighten up security this weekend, someone confessed to wanting to kill Johnny Ratz today" doesn't exactly reveal any information about the confessor, does it?
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  #40  
Old 10-21-2009, 01:46 PM
BlinkingDuck BlinkingDuck is offline
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Can. 980 If the confessor is in no doubt about the penitent's disposition and the penitent asks for absolution, it is not to be denied or delayed.
If I'm reading this correctly...if the priest IS is doubt he can deny or delay...?

This fits with my first understanding.
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  #41  
Old 10-21-2009, 02:16 PM
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If the priest is convinced the confessing person is truly guilt of rape, murder, arson resulting in death(s) and so on, they should immediately notify the cops; otherwise they are not rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's as opposed to that which is Gods.

If I tell a priest that I killed, raped, someone, (anyone) or that I am a pedophile, then I should expect to be turned in. IMHO; YMMV. (I don't believe in diving retribution; if I do a crime now, and am caught, I expect to be punished now and not in some problematic future.

What would the priest do if a non-catholic entered a confessional booth and confessed to capital crimes?

Last edited by LouisB; 10-21-2009 at 02:17 PM.. Reason: Remove a few bad words.
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  #42  
Old 10-21-2009, 02:35 PM
Munch Munch is offline
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What would the priest do if a non-catholic entered a confessional booth and confessed to capital crimes?
How would they know?

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otherwise they are not rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's as opposed to that which is Gods.
I think this is cherry picking at its worst. A priest is not an agent of Caesar. He's a soul collector, not a tax collector.

Last edited by Munch; 10-21-2009 at 02:37 PM..
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  #43  
Old 10-21-2009, 02:50 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Is it? It's not a confession per se (action hasn't taken place), and the priest calling up Rome to say, "better tighten up security this weekend, someone confessed to wanting to kill Johnny Ratz today" doesn't exactly reveal any information about the confessor, does it?
It increases the chance the confessor will be caught when he shows up to do the deed. It's not a direct revelation of his identity, but it is an indirect one. And even indirect revelations are specifically forbidden by canon law.
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  #44  
Old 10-21-2009, 03:07 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Originally Posted by LouisB View Post
If the priest is convinced the confessing person is truly guilt of rape, murder, arson resulting in death(s) and so on, they should immediately notify the cops; otherwise they are not rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's as opposed to that which is Gods.

If I tell a priest that I killed, raped, someone, (anyone) or that I am a pedophile, then I should expect to be turned in. IMHO; YMMV. (I don't believe in diving retribution; if I do a crime now, and am caught, I expect to be punished now and not in some problematic future.
Well, I guess if we had a thread about "What are LouisB's expectations regarding priest-penitent conversations?" then your answer would be relevant.

Here, however, where the question is what rules actually apply to priests, from the church and from secular law, the answer is different.

Quote:
What would the priest do if a non-catholic entered a confessional booth and confessed to capital crimes?
Interestingly enough, a similar question was confronted in Mockatis v. Harcleroad, 104 F3d 1522 (1997). Fr. Mockatis, a Catholic priest, regularly visited the Lane County Jail in Portland, Oregon, to administer the Sacrament of Penance to the inmates. One inmate, Conan Wayne Hale, made arrangements to speak to Fr. Mockatis, although he was not Catholic. At the time, Hale was confined pending a trial on murder charges. His conversation with the priest was taped, as were all conversations at the jail, and a detective secured a search warrant for the tape by submitting an affidavit that claimed the tape likely contained the admission of the murder.

The case was resolved on other grounds, but the commentary made clear that the recording could not have been used against Hale.

Last edited by Bricker; 10-21-2009 at 03:08 PM..
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  #45  
Old 10-21-2009, 03:22 PM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is online now
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I wonder how many priests admitted in the confessional to other priests that they were molesting kids. I suspect many did and, of course, the listening priests would have done nothing about it other than to advise restraint. Meanwhile the abuse continued unchecked. One needs a strong stomach indeed to support the absolute sanctity of the confessional in such circumstances.
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  #46  
Old 10-21-2009, 03:36 PM
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One needs a strong stomach indeed to support the absolute sanctity of the confessional in such circumstances.
Or you could redirect your anger and vitriol to an area of the church that actually had an effect on the continuation of the abuse - church administration, up to and including Rome.

Quote:
of course, the listening priests would have done nothing about it other than to advise restraint.
No. There are any number of things that could have been done that weren't. Namely, stop putting that priest in contact with children. The confessional has nothing to do with that.
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Old 10-21-2009, 03:43 PM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is online now
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No. There are any number of things that could have been done that weren't. Namely, stop putting that priest in contact with children. The confessional has nothing to do with that.
Of course it does. The priest would be using information he gained in the confessional. He would have to explain to his superiors why no contact with children should be allowed. Even if he said nothing else his superiors would guess the reason. How does this jibe with absolute sanctity?

Last edited by aldiboronti; 10-21-2009 at 03:45 PM..
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Old 10-21-2009, 03:47 PM
Munch Munch is offline
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Of course it does. The priest would be using information he gained in the confessional. He would have to explain to his superiors why no contact with children should be allowed. Even if he said nothing else his superiors would guess the reason. How does this jibe with absolute sanctity?
He could simply use the information he gained from parents or children complaining about being molested. If your suggestion is true, that's the reasoning we would have heard from the church as they tried to defend their (non)actions.
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Old 10-21-2009, 04:23 PM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is online now
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He could simply use the information he gained from parents or children complaining about being molested. If your suggestion is true, that's the reasoning we would have heard from the church as they tried to defend their (non)actions.
Yes, that's a simple out. If the children were complaining. And it's well known that many molested children don't. How do you tell your devout parents that the parish priest is diddling you? Not an easy task, especially for a young child. Many of those molested didn't come forward till years later.

And of course we didn't hear it from the Church as they tried to defend themselves. It reflects badly on the confessional and they would not be free to talk about such confessions anyway.
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Old 10-21-2009, 05:16 PM
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It reflects badly on the confessional and they would not be free to talk about such confessions anyway.
If they talked about the confessions, that would reflect badly on the confessional as well.

I seem to remember that priests typically have one particular confessor they go to - specifically not their superior. That would be one particular reason this excuse never came up.
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