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Confessors cannot report pedophile priests, Vatican official notes

March 18, 2010

If a priest admits to abuse of children during a sacramental confession, the confessor cannot report that abuse to legal authorities, a Vatican official has reminded readers of the Vatican newspaper.

In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, an official of the Apostolic Penitentiary, emphasized that the seal of confession is absolute. The confessor can take no action based on the penitent's revelations, nor reveal the sins that have been confessed to anyone. "The only possible outcome of confession is absolution," the bishop said.

The confessional seal has not often been an issue in the sex-abuse scandals that have come to the fore in public discussions. The criticism of Catholic bishops for mishandling abusive priests has centered on cases in which the revelations of abuse came outside the confessional-- either through complaints from victims or through admissions made by priests in administrative interviews.


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  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Mar. 18, 2010 11:52 PM ET USA

    This is as it should be, but it seems to me the confessor could require the penitent to seek treatment as a condition of absolution. No treatment, the penance isn't fulfilled. Penance not fulfilled, the absolution is invalid.

  • Posted by: TreeRing - Mar. 18, 2010 7:18 PM ET USA

    This is true, but a confessor could assign a penance of admitting the abuse to legal authorities, or retiring from public ministry, etc.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Mar. 18, 2010 6:02 PM ET USA

    That's right--a confession of pedophile sexual abuse by a priest going to confession cannot be divulged. However, the penance for such a confession should be for the priest to turn himself in to the authorities if he is truly sorry for his sins.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Mar. 18, 2010 2:18 PM ET USA

    Strange one. Why would it be necessary to say this? Is the Sacrament of Reconciliation such a dead letter that any Catholic wouldn't know it automatically?

  • Posted by: skladach - Mar. 18, 2010 11:38 AM ET USA

    While I was at college a fellow student I had met at the Newman Center murdered his girlfriend in a crime of passion. From the crime scene he went directly to Confession. For his penance, the priest told him to turn himself in to the police, which he did willingly. Absolution is not "the only possible outcome". Firm desire of amendment and restitution are part of the Sacrament, too.