Broken Seal

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If a person believes their pastor has unintentionaly broken the seal of the confessional, ie, in a angry outburst, what action should they take? Should they first approach the priest in question, or should they go directly to their bishop?
This happened to a friend of mine who lives in a different state, a couple of weeks ago. My friend also said that there were quite a few people within easy earshot of this unforunate exchange with the priest. He does not think that his priest realizes that he broke that sacred seal, and was thinking it would be a act of chairity to go to him first. I told him I would ask everyone here for him as he is afraid of posting this himself and possibly causing a public scandal in his parish.
Linda H.
Unless we are talking about criminal activity where personal safety is a factor, in which case one goes to the police, it is always best to first go to the person whom you believe has transgressed against you. This is true whether the person be priest or layperson, because it follows Jesus’ prescription to try to resolve matters between the two of you first (cf. Matt. 18:15). Your friend must do his best to make certain that he understood correctly what the priest said and that what the priest said violated the seal of the confessional.

However, if your friend did not misunderstand what the priest said and has reason to believe that this was a violation of the seal of the confessional, he certainly should report the matter to his bishop for further action (or to a religious superior if the priest is an order priest). Violation of the seal is an extremely serious offense as such a violation is absolutely forbidden (cf. canons 983 and 984 of the Code of Canon Law; see below).

You might also suggest to your friend to call Catholic Answers’ apologists for personal advice. The phone number is 1-619-387-7200. Office hours are 9 AM - 4:30 PM Pacific Time, Monday thru Friday. He can also call the St. Joseph Foundation (, an apostolate that helps Catholics assert their ecclesial rights.
Who was the exchange between? The priest IF he broke the seal is automatically excommunicated. So this is not a minor matter. I would put the facts down on paper (keeping them private) and then call the diocese for further instructions.
Thank you both for your answers, I had already suggested he write everything down, word for word as best he could remember it. I also suggested he prayed for clarity of memory before he wrote it down. I will forward your advice in it entirety to him a.s.a.p., I am praying he mis-understood what his priest said, for his sake as well as that of his pastor.

Linda H.
Can. 1388 §1 A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; he who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the offence
(emphasis added)


See above as to the distinction made by the Code as to the possible variation in gravity of the offense and severity of punishment, depending on circumstances.

I would suggest your friens bring his concern to the priest in question, explaining his concern in a non-accusatory manner. BTW, if, in fact, your friend now has knowledge of information that was transmitted in confession and knows to whom it applies, he becomes bound by the seal of confession to not disclose that information in a way or manner that would violate the seal - i.e., link it to the penitent
Can. 983 §2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy

Many years,

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