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Back to 2019-07-05-Opinión-DERCA-Secreto de confesión

Jorge Otaduy, Associate Dean of the School de Canon Law

There are no exceptions to the secrecy of confession.

Fri, 05 Jul 2019 11:37:00 +0000 Posted in New Life

On 7 June 2018, the Canberra Territory Legislative Assembly passed a law requiring priests to break the secrecy of confession if they become aware of child sexual abuse. With such a decision, the legislature of the Federal District of the Australian capital crossed a red line that no one had ever crossed before. There are other parliamentary initiatives in various parts of the world - for example, in Chile - that point in the same direction. Against this backdrop, the Vatican is making a move and has published a grade on the inviolability of sacramental secrecy, which admits of no exceptions.

The sacrament of penance is a good of the highest value for the Church, which is appropriately protected, also in the juridical order. Specifically, the disclosure by the confessor of the identity of the penitent or of the sins confessed is a canonical offence punishable by the penalty of automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. If the act of breach of confidentiality has been transmitted to the external regional law , the offence is one of those reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, i.e., as a crime, it must be judged by that Tribunal.

Beyond the penal sphere, the protection that the Canon Law provides for the privacy of the penitent takes the form of administrative and procedural subject measures. It is forbidden for those in authority in the Church to make use, for external government, of the knowledge of sins that they have acquired by confession. On the other hand, priests are considered incapable of testifying concerning all that they know by sacramental confession, even if the penitent asks them to manifest it; moreover, what anyone has heard in any way on the occasion of confession cannot be accepted even as an indication of the truth.

This strict canonical discipline is available at test in the event that the sin confessed could constitute a crime in a civil court. agreement Well, the Church, in this eventuality, reiterates its criterion: the priest is forbidden to make absolution conditional on the penitent being obliged to incriminate himself before the jurisdiction of the State, in accordance with the principle of natural law according to which no one can be obliged to affirm his own criminal responsibility. What the confessor must do, of course, is to instruct the penitent who claims to have been the victim of a crime about his rights; in particular, he must inform him about the means of reporting the offence to the forum of the State or the Church.

The priest, in short, is not obliged to denounce crimes known through confession or to testify in court about such facts.

In the Spanish legal system, this right of priests enjoys a high level of protection Degree . The refusal to testify in court is laid down in the Criminal Procedure Act: clergymen cannot be compelled to testify "about the facts that were revealed to them in the exercise of the functions of their ministry". The agreement between the Spanish State and the Holy See of 28 July 1976 stipulates that "in no case may clerics and religious be required by judges or other authorities to give information about persons or matters of which they have had knowledge knowledge by reason of their ministry".

Good legal sense will undoubtedly prevail at the level of nations and the resolution of the Canberra Territory Legislative Assembly will, for as long as it lasts, remain "the Australian exception".