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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. 1. Does the Catholic Church permit a priest to hear the confession of two persons together. Please allow me to explain. Let us say that a married couple visits a priest in his office and the priest offers to hear their confession one at a time, but while the other one is still in the office. Therefore each spouse becomes aware of the confession of the other spouse.

The second situation is when young school children go to confession. Often a number of priests will make themselves available because of the large number of children who have to be confessed. So basically, the children are lined up to confess their sins to the different priests. In some cases, the line up is about six feet from the priest hearing the confession of the next child in line. As such, some children are within hearing distance of their classmate's confession.

Are such things allowed?

A. 1. A quick answer is "No!" Both instance that you describe breach the seal of confession. Such a practice is irregular and unwise. As any priest will say on this matter, " The whole point of the sacred seal of confession is to give penitents the confidence that only the priest and God have heard their sins and that the priest is strictly prohibited from disclosing them." [Father Ken Doyle; Diocese of Springfield, Illinois]

On the matter of the seal of confession, the Code of Canon Law, # 983 1, states, "The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2490, states, "The secret of the sacrament of reconciliation is sacred, and cannot be violated under any pretext. "The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore, it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason."

A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity. He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person's confession or be bound by any oath he takes, e.g. as a witness in a court trial. A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action.

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