Father, as a follow up to your recent post on who is bound by the seal of confession, I have two more related questions:
1. Can the penitent release the priest from the seal? I would think not, so as to prevent the penitent from being pressured by authorities to release the priest. But I’d like to know, since there are legal cases in the U.S.A. currently making their way to the Supreme Court that may depend on this.
2. Can the priest refer to things confessed by a penitent to the penitent himself? For example, if the penitent also goes to the priest for spiritual direction, can the priest refer to things in spiritual direction that were discussed in the context of confession?
The strong opinion of most moral theologians and canonists is that the penitent cannot release the priest from the Seal.
It is not the penitent who imposes the Seal, but the Lord Himself. The penitent can’t release what the Lord God has bound.
A penitent is free, of course, to mention to the priest, outside of sacramental confession, anything that he would like the priest to speak freely about. What is said to the priest during sacramental confess, though, is as if it were said to Christ Himself. It is not the just priest’s information to share as he wills: in a way, it belongs to Jesus.
The same goes with regards to a further conversation with the penitent. If the penitent, in spiritual direction, wants to talk with the priest about something previously confessed, he should feel free to bring the topic up again, but he should not expect the priest to bring it up, or even to have knowledge of the topic if the only time it’s been discussed is under the sacramental Seal.
Remember: Priests will just keep it buried or, as it happens time and time again, will have just forgotten what they heard. Priests keep the Seal.
Remember: These are “Ask Father” questions, not “ASK EVERYONE” questions. I turn on the moderation queue or release or delete comments as I see fit, especially with “Ask Father” questions. Comments from priests, of course, get high priority.