Seal of confession 'beyond all else'


The seal of confession is “above and beyond all else” and should not be broken even if a penitent confesses to a crime, a member of the Association of Catholic priests said today.

PJ Madden said the seal was a very sacred thing as people did not come to the confession box as criminals but rather seeking forgiveness and an opportunity to have a change of heart.

He was speaking after Minister for Justice Alan Shatter outlined legislation following the publication of the Cloyne report which would result in a prison sentence of up to five years for people who fail to report an arrestable offence against a child or vulnerable adult, even if heard in confession.

Fr Madden said he would strongly urge and appeal to the penitent - whether a priest or anyone else - to go and confess their crime to the gardaí and have the civil aspect dealt with but that he did not approve of the idea of reporting what was said.

“If I'm breaking the law then somebody has to find a way to address that for me,” he told RTÉ News at One. “But in my own right as a priest what I understand is the seal of confession is above and beyond all else.”

Questioned if the seal of confession was above the law of the land, Fr Madden said: “Yes. I cannot presume to break that seal if someone comes to me as a penitent”.

“I don't mean to be simplifying…but the seal of confession is a very sacred seal for lots of different reasons way beyond this one single issue, however serious this one single issue is.”