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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. 1. I was reading that if a priest sexually abuses someone, he cannot hear the confession of that person in order to absolve that person of the sin. It frequently has been said that a sinful priest would tell the victim that it is okay to be sexually involved together because he will forgive the person of the sin afterwards. Can the priest forgive the victim of sexual abuse?

A. 1. Your question involves a couple matters that are worthwhile pointing out to those who have been or who are being sexually abused by a priest. The Code of Canon Law states:

"Can. 977 The absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is invalid except in danger of death." In simple English, this means that if a priest is sexually involved (six Commandment = sex) with someone, he cannot absolve that person of the sin. The Confession is invalid.

There is an exception to this rule. If the accomplice is in danger of death, his/her sin can be forgiven. See the following Canon Law:

"Can. 986 1. All to whom the care of souls has been entrusted in virtue of some function are obliged to make provision so that the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them are heard when they reasonably seek to be heard and that they have the opportunity to approach individual confession on days and at times established for their convenience.

2. In urgent necessity, any confessor is obliged to hear the confessions of the Christian faithful, and in danger of death, any priest is so obliged."

The second part of your question involves the consequences when a priest attempts to hear or hears the confession of an accomplice. That priest is automatically excommunicated. That excommunication can only be lifted by the Pope. This severe punishment, finding its origin in 1741 AD, serves the purpose of protecting the Sacrament of Confession from abuse.

"Can. 1378 1. A priest who acts against the prescript of ? can. 977 incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.
2. The following incur a latae sententiae penalty of interdict or, if a cleric, a latae sententiae penalty of suspension:

1/ a person who attempts the liturgical action of the Eucharistic sacrifice though not promoted to the sacerdotal order;

2/ apart from the case mentioned in 1, a person who, though unable to give sacramental absolution validly, attempts to impart it or who hears sacramental confession."

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