The regent of the apostolic penitentiary, Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, firmly stated that the Catholic Church will never divulge the confession of a penitent.
“Ireland can pass whatever laws it wants, but it must know that the Church will never submit to forcing confessors to inform civil officials,” said Archbishop Girotti in July 27 statements to Il Foglio.
On July 14, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny promised to introduce a new law that would establish a prison sentence of five years for priests who do not inform civil authorities about cases of sexual abuse revealed to them in confession.
The proposed law contradicts Canon Law, which defends the inviolability of the seal of confession and prohibits confessors from breaking it.
Archbishop Girotti said, “A confessor who breaks the seal of confession is subject to ‘latae sententiae’ excommunication—which is automatic—by the Church,” and therefore the proposed measure is “absurd and unacceptable.”
“Confession is a private affair that allows the penitent to amend and purify himself. The seal is a necessary condition,” he said. “This does not mean that bishops should not guard against pedophiles and, once appropriate investigations have taken place, ask these individuals to pay for their crimes,” he added.
“If they want to violate confession, the Church’s answer will always be no.”
“All criminals have the duty to render an account of justice for the crimes they have committed, but this does not involve the confessor violating the seal. Confession is meant to cleanse the soul before God,” he recalled.
Archbishop Girotti said confessors “have the duty to absolve sins, assuming that there is sincere repentance,” and that informing civil officials, prison sentences or sanctions established by the laws of the state are another matter.