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189 Law & Just. - Christian L. Rev. 142 (2022)
The Penal Consequences of the Violation of the Seal of Confession

handle is hein.journals/ljusclr189 and id is 41 raw text is: 142
Abstract: This article examines the various elements involved in the offence,
or the delict, of the violation of the seal of confession in the canon law of
the Latin (Catholic) Church. It looks at issues relating to the subjects of the
delict as well as the object of the offence, the imputability involved, and the
penalties which are incurred. Some of the questions and issues raised are
intended to be speculative in nature, and the commentary offered draws
on matters raised by commentators on the delict in the 1917 law, and the
law of the Corpus Iuris Canonici. For this reason, the analysis is largely
historically based, with references provided for future research.
Canon 983 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC83) provides the normative
discipline regarding the seal of confession, namely, that the sacramental
seal is inviolable ('sacramentale sigillum inviolabile est'). According to the
canon, inviolability means that it is absolutely wrong and so prohibited or
forbidden ('nefas est') for a confessor to betray the penitent, in words or
in any other way, and for whatever reason. The term 'nefas est' is used on
only a few occasions in the 1983 Code and it expresses the position that
the prohibition admits of no exception.1 This is a juridical understanding
of a term which arguably has more resonance with moral theology. The
term 'inviolability' in CIC83 can. 983 § 1 is analysed primarily in relation
to the betrayal caused to the one confessing, although this is not the only
reason. Historically, we see two main explanations for the existence of the
prohibition: the good of the penitent, and the good of the sacrament itself. It
is taken to be of ecclesiastical, natural and divine law.2
The source canon in the 1917 Code, namely CIC17 can. 889, is largely
similar. Instead of 'nefas est', the canon requires the confessor to take care
diligently ('caveat diligenter confessarius') not to betray even in part the
sinner either in words, signs, or in any other way and for whatever reason.
'Betrayal' then is concerned with a manifestation or revelation of the matter
For other uses of 'nefas est' see CIC83 can. 927, 1026, 1190 § 1. Cf. F.R. McManus,
'The Sacrament of Penance', in J. Beal, J. Coriden, T.J. Green, New Commentary on the
Code of Canon Law, (New York, Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2000, 1138-1178)
p. 1164.
2 Cf. F.X. Schmalzgrueber, Ins ecclesiasticum universum, vol. 5, part 2, (Rome: Ex
Typographia Rev. Cam. Apostolicae, 1845) p.335.

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