A note about the Seal of Confession and requiring priests to break the Seal:
State Could Not Require Priest to Breach Confessional Without Satisfying RFRA
In Ronchi v. State, No. 5D18-194, 2018 WL 2988975 (Fla. 5th DCA June 15, 2018), the court of appeal held that a circuit court order granting a Catholic priest’s motion for protective order, in part, and denying the motion in part, after the priest was served with a witness subpoena requiring him to testify in a criminal case regarding certain communications that took place during confession contravened the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (FRFRA). The trial court found that the communications between the priest and alleged victim of sexual abuse occurred within confession. It focused almost exclusively on the Florida Evidence Code in determining that the communications were privileged under section 90.505, the privilege could be asserted by both the priest and the victim, and the priest had partially waived the privilege during his conversation with the victim’s mother and her friend. As to whether the priest disclosed the abuse, the mother testified, “[N]ot directly, but it could be understood from the conversation.” The court of appeal ruled that FRFRA should control the case, rather than section 90.505, meaning that the state must establish that coercing the priest’s testimony furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means to further that interest. The court ruled that it is undisputed that the state has a compelling governmental interest in prosecuting sex offenses perpetrated against children, but disagreed that the state met the second test because: (1) the priest’s testimony would, at most, be corroborative evidence; (2) the case does not involve a child victim who, because of his or her age, might be unable to adequately testify about the alleged sexual abuse; and (3) the state could seek to have the alleged victim testify about her purported prior disclosure of sexual abuse to the priest. The court quashed the trial court order. Concurring, Judge Richard Orfinger argued that the trial court also misinterpreted section 90.505 because while the clergy can assert the privilege, only the penitent can waive it.
There are a few troubling elements in this, as well as positive. Positive: the privilege of the Seal is upheld.
However, the priest put himself and the Seal in danger by intimating to others what could have involved the content of a confession.
Also, even if a penitent says it’s okay to talk, you should keep your mouths shut.
Fathers… keep your mouths shut.
Keep your mouths shut.
Keep your mouths shut.