From a reader:
I thought I heard somewhere that a priest ought to avoid hearing the confession of a close relative, especially his parents. I presumed this was for practical and not canonical reasons, no? Thanks for your consideration and faithfulness.
There is no law that prohibits a priest from hearing the confessions of family members. That said, I recommend avoiding doing so. A priest can’t prevent anyone from getting into his confessional, but I would try to dissuade someone who is a close family member. The reason for this is, mainly, the Seal of Confession might thereafter make it hard for a priest as a family member to deal with some family matters. This may not be the case for all priests and their families, but it seems to me best to avoid the whole situation.
In a similar way, a priest or bishop shouldn’t hear the confessions of those directly under his authority. The Seal would make it very difficult to deal with any disciplinary matters which were not also public knowledge. If, for example, a bishop consented to hear the confession of one of his priests who, during the confession, revealed to the his bishop that he had done something which would otherwise require the bishop to remove the priest from his position or even from ministry, that bishop’s hands would be in a hard situation because of the Seal.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule of thumb, as in cases of true emergencies or danger of death, but in normal circumstances I would avoid hearing the confessions of close family members and perhaps even close friends.
Again, there is no law which forbids a priest from doing so, but it seems to me to be fraught with complications.