The Apostolic Penitentiary released the “Note on the importance of the internal forum and the inviolability of the Sacramental Seal” on Monday.
Approved for publication by Pope Francis on 21 June, the Note (written in Italian) upholds the absolute inviolability of the Seal of Confession, meaning that priests can never be forced to reveal what they learn in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“The inviolable secrecy of Confession derives directly from revealed divine law and is rooted in the very nature of the sacrament, to the point of admitting no exception in the ecclesial or, even less so, in the civil sphere. In the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in fact, the very essence of Christianity itself and of the Church is encapsulated: the Son of God became man to save us, and He decided to involve the Church, as a “necessary instrument” in this work of salvation, and, in her, those whom He has chosen, called, and constituted as His ministers,” the Note reads.
Violation of religious freedom
Any political or legislative pressure to override this sacramental seal, it continues, would be “an unacceptable offense” against the Church’s freedom, which comes from God and not human institutions, and would be “a violation of religious freedom”. “Violation of the Seal would equal a violation of the poor person that is within the sinner.”
Priests, the Note reads, should therefore defend the Seal of Confession even to the point of shedding blood, both as an act of loyalty to the penitent and as a witness – martyrium – to the unique and universal salvation of Christ and the Church.
Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, who signed the Note with Msgr. Krzysztof Nykiel, the Regent, released a statement to explain the Note’s content.
He said the Note comes in response to the media-centric nature of modern society, which he said is more interested in getting the story out than verifying the facts. “Everything today is in view; everything must be known,” he said.
Pope Francis, he noted, recently said, “The internal forum is an internal forum, and it cannot go ‘outside’.… It is a sin against the dignity of the person who trusts the priest, and who expresses his or own situation to ask for forgiveness”.
The Note also contests a “worrying ‘negative prejudice’ against the Catholic Church in society.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Piacenza said there is “an unjustifiable pretense that the Church should, in some manner, conform her juridical system to the civil laws of States where she operates… We must work with [the State], in everything that is not the sacramental forum.”
The goal in releasing the note, said Cardinal Piacenza, is “to instill greater trust, especially in these times, in penitents who come to confess themselves… and ultimately to advance the cause of the sacrifice of Christ who came to take away the sins of the world.”