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An Australian archbishop’s dangerous approach to defending the confessional seal

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 11, 2018

Calling for reconsideration of the appalling legislation that would call upon priests to break the confessional seal, Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra writes: “Priests are bound by a sacred vow to maintain the seal of confession.”

Wait. That’s wrong— perhaps even dangerously wrong.

A priest does not take any special vow that governs how he hears confessions. The seal is inherent in the nature of the sacrament; it does not depend on any decision made by a priest or his bishop. The requirement to maintain the secrecy of a penitent’s confession is absolute; it cannot and will not change.

By suggesting that the confessional seal is the product of a vow that priests choose to take, Archbishop Prowse regrettably lends credence to the belief that the Church could make a different decision, change policy, and allow priests to reveal some sins.

Australian lawmakers evidently believe that the Catholic Church can and should change policies regarding the absolute nature of the confessional seal. Archbishop Prowse argues effectively that on this issue, the Church should not be forced to change. The more relevant point is that on this issue, the Church cannot change.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 11, 2018 11:18 PM ET USA

    Talking about a "sacred vow to maintain the seal of Confession," the Archbishop might have referred to the Ordination rite. The first question the Bishop asks is, "Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops for the Lord's flock?" The affirmative response to that question means following all the laws of the Church, including Canons 983 and 984 of the Canon Law.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jun. 11, 2018 6:38 PM ET USA

    Archbishop Prowse could not be more right about one thing: "The draft laws are a consequence of the profound failure of the leadership of the church." The infection of the Church hierarchy by the zeitgeist from the 1960s through the 2000s resulted in untold hundreds, if not thousands, of vocations to the priesthood not even remotely suitable for this service, and downright dangerous to boy children. Recent news accounts indicate the Church might finally be "getting it." Let us pray this is so.