You may have heard that the Louisiana Supreme Court has ordered a priest to violate the seal of confession. You can read more about that story here.
Now here’s the thing: The argument is that the penitent is said to have agreed that priest who allegedly hear her confession may reveal what was said. Also, it sounds as though there was the possibility that the priest gave her really bad advice (an understatement if it is true.) And would it not be great to have evidence against a child molester? Why not then, in this one instance, allow the seal to be broken?
Here are a number of reasons why: First, the breaking of the seal of confession brings with it the automatic censure of excommunication. No trial. No paperwork. It’s done when the acts occur and nothing can reveres it except a direct action of the pope. And can you imagine calling the pope and saying, “Excuse me. I broke the seal of confession. Would you please let me back in to practice again? I’ll get it right this time.”
More importantly for the greater world society however is that once the seal is broken for one really good case, it is broken forever. Right now, people who have done truly horrendous things and would not tell anybody on the face of the earth (save for those who think what they did was Okay) would tell a priest in confession knowing the information dies right there. The advantage of this is that here is one of the only places on the face of the earth where such a perpetrator can meet with another human being and be told, “That was wrong. You need to do something about it. Your very soul is at stake.” Break the seal and that doesn’t mean these people will be reported, it means they will no longer speak to the one person who might convince them to do something.
Another thing to consider is the girl’s desire to have her seal broken. She gave up the right did she not? But think of pornography. The persons filmed and displayed freely give up their human dignity so there really isn’t a problem right? Wrong. Their dignity is not ours to play with even if they freely reject it. We owe them their dignity whether they seem to want it or not. The seal is fixed even if someone decides they want it broken. That is why when someone tells me something in the confessional I remind them that I cannot act on that information and if they want to talk about outside of the confessional they will need to tell me the story again.
Lastly, to break the seal is like relieving yourself in the pool. You can say all that you want that is was only in the corner. But everyone knows it affects the whole pool.