From a reader:
When does the Seal of Confession actually take affect in that the priest can’t say anything outside of the Confessional? For example, if someone goes into the confessional/reconciliation room with no intention of confessing, but some form of misuse, would the seal of confession be in effect and the priest not able to rebuke the person outside the confessional, or if misuse became a problem among the congregation, speak out about it from the pulpit?
I must admit that I am not sure what you are talking about.
But let’s be clear about something.
If someone “misuses” the confessional, the priest or other people present should immediately put a stop to the “misuse”. If a person commits a crime around or in a confessional, that crime should be stopped and reported to the police. If someone gets into a confessional and makes problems, the priest is within his rights to raise his voice, to get out of the confessional, to seek help from bystanders or authorities, and to defend himself and others nearby.
Just because the priest is sitting in the confessional, that doesn’t mean he is forced by the Church’s law to take abuse and do nothing. He doesn’t have to allow others to be mistreated and do nothing. And once the incident is a matter of public knowledge the priest can speak about it.
You might also spend some time reflecting also on what a horrible sin sacrilege is.
To raise your hand against a priest is not only a sin because of the harm you might do to a person, it is also the sin of sacrilege, because the person is a sacred person, ordained. David did not spare the man who killed Saul, because that man raised his hand against the Lord’s anointed, in that case, the king. If this is the case for a king, it is also the case for sacred persons, and even more serious for a priest or bishop.
Misuse of sacred things, places and persons is the sin of sacrilege. The confessional is a sacred thing and place and the church is a sacred place. Intending to harm the Lord’s anointed by physical violence or by detraction is a serious sin.
If someone get’s into the confessional to discuss something that has nothing to do with making a sacramental confession, I suppose that could be called “misuse” of the confessional. However, in that case, because no “problem” or “ruckus” was caused, even though there wasn’t any sacramental confession involving the Seal, the priest should probably just treat it as if it were under the Seal and not discuss it lest there by any risk that people think he is breaking the Seal. This is a tricky one, of course. It would depend on what was being discussed. If someone got into the confessional and reported that there was a crime being committed, but the person thinks there is anonymity similar to that properly expected by a penitent making a sacramental confession, the priest had better inform the person that the Seal may not apply.