From a reader in the combox under another post. HERE
What is the proper procedure for a person to whom the Seal is broken? For example, folks who happen to hear those two Libville homilies?
The “Libville homilies” were two fictional examples of a priest directly violating the Seal and a priest indirectly violating the Seal. HERE (same link as above)
The first thing is to take a deep breath or two and really think about what you heard. Did you really hear a violation of the Seal or did you imagine it? Are you certain that you understood what the priest said?
Secondly, think very carefully about how you can prove that the priest violated the Seal.
Third, double check to ascertain whether or not you know up from down. As I have had the need to repeat these last few days, there are a lot of people out there who don’t know what they don’t know. They think they know something, but in fact, they don’t know much. The old adage is that, “The most dangerous swordsman in France is not the best swordsman in France, but the worst swordsman in France.”
If you were alone with the priest when he violated the Seal, it is your word against his. Also, he cannot – should not – must not – say much in his own defense… ironically because of the Seal. In fact, just about all he can says is, “I didn’t do that. She is mistaken. I can’t say more than that.”
If you were with other people, and the priest said what he said in front of others, then you have to check with them to see if they had the same impression as you, without, of course, trying to stir problems for that priest as your main motive, but rather out of concern for the Seal of confession.
If they, too, have the same sense that the Seal was violated, then find out if they are willing to do something about it, such as contact that priest’s bishop or superior. They would have to be willing to put in writing what they know and even to be deposed for a canonical process.
If there are recordings of the priest doing this, they have to be provided.
Returning to the situation where you were alone with the priest when he did this, you should seek out that priest and tell him what you heard and what your impression was. Again, he should not, must not, get into it with you. Don’t ask him to, or expect him to. Stop him if he tries to. But you should strongly advise him that he should have recourse immediately to the Sacra Penitentieria Apostolica (SPA) in Rome through the intermediary of a confessor. There is a procedure to follow in this, so as to protect the secrecy of the original penitent and content. That’s for another post. And I have written about it before here.
The priest, if he was in his right mind and he directly violated the Seal, more than likely incurred a latae sententiae excommunication. Hence, he would be suspended a divinis. If he gets himself to a confessor and starts the process with the SPA, there is a provision that he can function in the meantime.
The SPA, by the way, tries also to have a 24 hour turn time on correspondence. They move fast. So, the faster the priest has recourse, and submits his case to them through a confessor, the faster everything can be resolved. The SPA would return a judgment on whether the priest truly did violate the Seal, what censure he incurred, and what to do next.
Once you have talked to the priest, it is out of your hands.
If you were with others, and others are involved to bringing it to the local bishop, then you will be told exactly what to do when the time comes.
In any of these cases, very careful and deep thought must be given to whether or not to push the issue. You have to measure the extent of the harm done, the diffusion of the knowledge both of the content of the confession and who the penitent was, as well as the knowledge of the fact that it happened at all. If those are very limited, then you might hold back and simply tell the priest to have recourse to the SPA. Always ask yourself honestly: Cui bono?
The violation of the Seal is a really big problem. However, even in the face of such a terrible delict, it is important to stay cool and not go “Inspector Javert” on the guy.