Repost (because now all sorts of states in these USA are pushing for making the fact of the Seal of Confession a felony offense). ///
There is no worst case scenario.
If you are repentant, you will be forgiven. Jesus died for a reason.
Father, forgive them! They know not what they do!
Also see Part I of this post: Year of Mercy Confession: worst case scenario. Part 1 – When to refuse an absolution
A rather high-up church guy made a rather unfortunate definitive statement when asked if it was allowed to let a priest who might be suspected of abuse to confess sacramentally, knowing that that confession would keep the confessor, who would no longer suspect but actually know the truth of the matter, from alerting the police, that is, because of the absolute seal of confession. He said:
“I would never hear the confession of a priest who was suspected of such a thing.”
And, of course, that sounds pretty smart to the secular ear, but let’s take the absolute worst case and see what can be done. After all, a priest can be suspected, but nothing looks credible to review boards, and he continues in ministry, even though there is a sneaking suspicion that all is not well, though he actually is innocent of such things. Should it really be the case that that priest is locked out of going to confession for the rest of his life upon this earth? That’s probably the most ludicrous, viciously anti-mercy statement I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of things along these lines. Let’s see what’s possible with absolution and reporting.
Say someone comes to an assistant priest to make a terrible accusation against the pastor of the parish. It’s the pastor’s elder sister. As the accuser finishes and leaves out the front door, the pastor comes into the back door, terrible emotional, all out of character, demanding an absolution, even before the mandatory reporting to the police can be made. He is to hear the confession and, all things being equal, is to grant the absolution. While he’s doing that, the accuser returns and sees this confession going on through the office windows (with the assistant priest wearing the usual purple confession-stole). The accuser denounces this confession to the police, making a big stink about it in the papers, saying that it’s obviously meant to keep the assistant priest from making the mandatory reporting, saying that he should be forced to say what he heard in that confession.
But even while the accuser is doing that, the assistant priest is calling the police and reporting what the accuser had said, adding that the pastor is waiting in the office for questioning. Remember, the assistant priest can’t alter his behavior based on information he knows only in Confession. He must make the report because of what he heard from the accuser regardless of what he heard in Confession. Say the District Attorney subpoenas the assistant priest so as to put him on the stand in court so as to force him to testify about what was said in that sacramental Confession. After three months of solitary confinement for his belligerent “contempt of court” for not responding, the assistant priest finally goes batty and spills his guts about the Confession, saying that the pastor had indeed confessed that he had lazily delayed saying his breviary that morning and then didn’t say it at all because of a hospital call to his dying mother and had gotten embroiled in an inheritance dispute with relatives, including his sister, discussing such things even while she lay dying. He then says that the pastor added impatience with his relatives as another sin, and that he even cold-shouldered his sister as he left the hospital room after having given last rites to his mother. But that was it. No abuse. Nothing.
Meanwhile, the pastor will have already been laicized, you know, because the bishop wants to look like a hero in being tough on boundary crossing, like cold-shouldering in trying to get out of a hospital room while one bursts into tears. The confessional seal is what it is to protect the right of the faithful to go to confession to God. The salacious courts and sensationalist haters of God and man and mercy are to repent and seek the Lord’s mercy and true justice before man. But when will that happen? There is no due process for priests, not before man, not before the Church.
But let’s say that the pastor had in fact confessed something else, like abuse, something for which he was terribly sorry, wanting to confess sacramentally before, he surmises, being put into prison. Let’s say that the sister had accused him of that. The assistant priest does hear his confession as above, and does give him absolution, and does report him to the police, but (and this is the point) not because of what he heard in the sacramental confession of the pastor, but what he heard from the accuser. That does not break the seal of confession even if both accounts were the same. Grant the absolution. Make the report to the police. They are not mutually exclusive. Just don’t make the report based on what was said in Confession.
By the way, and just to say: Any Confessor who will not absolve a truly penitent sinner just for the sake of political correctness takes that sin, it seems to me, upon himself in the sight of God. The guilty party may well be forgiven by God directly, but the priest refusing the absolution, all things being equal, might well go to hell for eternity. How dare a priest pay more attention to political correctness than to the wounds of Christ Jesus.
Note to priests who actually are guilty: I will gladly hear your confession, give you absolution, provide you with a do-able penance, won’t use the absolution as leverage. I will encourage you and let you know of the great mercy of the Lord Jesus, things which you’ve surely preached but needed to hear yourselves. Your confession will remain always under the seal of confession. I’ll lay down my life for that. The seal is sealed with the blood of Jesus quite literally. Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Andrews, NC. 11:00 AM Sunday Mass. See me after.
And if anyone thinks this is just a mistake of that high church ecclesiastic, think again. There is another famous Archdiocese which for years has tolerated that a suspected priest (no longer active) attends Mass, but does not tolerate that he be present for any other reason (like for going to confession) lest he be arrested forthwith. It’s a tip of the iceberg thing.
To any reporters angry with themselves, God and everyone else: Don’t think that such an absolution granted as in the above hypothetical cases means that there is permission to sin again, or that common sense precautions won’t be recommended. Etc. We’ve all crucified the Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception, the Son of the living God. I’m included in that. So are you. By original sin and whatever other sin we’ve ever committed in our lives. Would you really fume and damn someone to hell (as if you could), and be consumed with hatred your whole life and spend your whole life in making sure that victims hate themselves and others throughout their lives just so you can rationalize that your pretension of doing something right really isn’t wrong? Try to spend some time with forgiveness. It really is very liberating for all concerned. Jesus is very good and very kind for a reason. He loves us. Love one another!
© 2023 Fr George David Byers