Should Laity Be Bound by the Seal of Confession?

Should Laity Be Bound by the Seal of Confession?

From One Mad Mom

While she just came on my radar, I have a lot of issues with Alessandra’s ideas, but this one is solidly hypocritical and pretty much gossip, detraction, and slander rolled into one. I’m sure in her mind she’s just fighting for the little guys, but the problem is, the little guys may be wrong. When you’re trying to get them to come back to the Church, maybe don’t write an article about how mean the Church is? The problem is, I don’t think she’s trying to get people to orient their actions towards God. She wants a Church that just makes everyone feel better about their sins and they can just get absolved without the resolve to sin no more because, hey, everyone deserves to get in line for Communion, right? Wrong.

When the Church Refuses God’s Love

In late July 2021, I attended Mass at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Santa Clara, California, with my teenage family members. I literally and figuratively grew up at that church as my mom worked as a secretary there for twenty-three years before retiring in 2010. I spent a lot of time there and had a great relationship with many of the priests and parish employees. I was married by one of their priests at a chapel nearby, and all four of my children were baptized there. For decades the church has been an anomaly in the San Francisco Bay Area — offering multiple Masses throughout the day and confession with every Mass. On that July day, we waited in the 45-minute line for confession. What happened afterwards still impacts me today and has increased my concerns about the treatment of young LGBTQ+ people by the Catholic Church in the United States

You know why she puts the date? Probably because now we can all go there and see who was on staff and she can say “Well I didn’t say who it was.” Can the priest defend himself and make explanation at all? Nope. We’re just going to have to take the secondhand conversation at her word. The funny thing is, I actually think I knew her mom during her tenure there when Msgr. Sweeny was also there. Msgr. Sweeny probably would have done the same thing. One thing I’d point out is, since she repeatedly brings up “transgender” that might be what her relative was going through. If the child was indeed obviously living a lifestyle inconsistent to the Church, what is a priest to do??? While she spews disgust at the priest, she leaves out a lot of the story. I mean, what was the conversation the relative had with the priest? We don’t know and she’s not telling us that even though she’s telling us a lot more.   To read the rest of this excellent article, click here

Editor writes…

I don’t usually last the pace when presented with a lengthy article, certainly not first thing in the morning, but the above piece had me riveted.  I recommend reading it right through – it’s a first-class reminder of a number of things:  (1) the false charity of priests who do not withhold absolution where justice (to God and penitent) requires it and thus make faithful priests appear as too strict, “extremists”; (2) the injustice of quoting alleged comments from priests in Confession when we know they cannot defend themselves. We were taught that if we accidentally overhear someone’s confession, we are bound by the seal of Confession in exactly the same way as the priest. Should we not observe that principle at all times?

Alessandra is typical, is she not, of those Catholics who want the Church to conform to the Godless culture around us, the point made so well by One Mad Mom.  So how do we get it across to such misguided souls that the  Church is about conforming to God’s law, not the other way round.     Your thoughts…

Note:  for some reason, the headline to the source of the Alessandra article (When the Church Refuses God’s Love) appears above in large type. I have tried to reduce it to the original size as it appears on the One Mad Mom blog, but it won’t co-operate.  Apologies.    

Comments (39)

  • Petrus Reply

    That is a first class article. The first thing that jumps out at me is the problems, once again, caused by the current Holy Father. He is confusing the faithful. The commentator above is quite generous towards him when highlighting individual words like “repent” etc. I think this is an example of the Holy Ghost intervening, rather than any real conviction from Pope Francis. We shouldn’t have to search for individual words that legitimise the words of a pope!

    Regarding the seal of the Confessional and the laity, it’s more a matter of prudence. If a priest gives us outrageous advice in the Confessional, or tells us that something that IS a sin is NOT a sin, we have to report that to the bishop/superior. So the seal cannot be absolute in the same way it is for priests.

    I’ve often recounted good advice I’ve received from priests, or retold amusing anecdotes. I don’t identify the priest, so that’s also an issue of prudence.

    I’ve also heard priests say things like, “Oh he/she makes very good Confessions”. This always troubles me because they shouldn’t make any reference to what happens in the confessional.

    I’ve also had priests make it very clear that they know it’s me in the confessional. When I still played the organ at my local parish, a priest said to me at the end of my confession, “See you this afternoon!” I’ve also had ridiculous questions asked. For example, I once mentioned my son and a priest asked, “What’s your son’s name?” It’s just not right and if that happened now I would say so. I should make it clear that none of this has happened where I currently attend Mass.

    April 19, 2023 at 9:48 am
  • Lily Reply

    I have always applied the “seal” rule to myself as well as to the priest. I don’t like to hear people saying what the priest has said in Confession, even “amusing anecdotes” because, TBH I think that trivialises the Sacrament. I am probably too prudish and strict but it raises questions in my mind if the priest is basically joking with someone in the box. It’s a very solemn sacrament IMHO, and I don’t like the idea that some priests are maybe making it into a fun experience.

    I also dislike the quoting of priests by people like Alessandra who are making excuses for certain sins, usually sexual sins. As it says in the intro, the priests can’t defend themselves against such quotes, so it is doubly serious for anyone to do that.

    April 19, 2023 at 11:36 am
    • Petrus Reply


      I found your comment very thought provoking. Maybe I shouldn’t recount anything. I will think about that.

      April 19, 2023 at 11:47 am
      • Lily


        Thanks for that kind response. I was a bit worried I might have offended you!

        April 19, 2023 at 11:50 am
      • Marjory


        I also found Lily’s comment thought-provoking. I think we can sometimes be a bit too flippant about confession, without meaning to.

        April 21, 2023 at 10:55 am
  • Petrus Reply


    No offence taken whatsoever.

    April 19, 2023 at 11:56 am
  • Athanasius Reply


    In answer to the question: “Should laity be bound by the seal of Confession”? The answer is: ABSOLUTELY.

    Neither priests nor faithful should discuss conversaitions that take place in the confessional, other than perhaps something general which does not identiy the priest or anyone else. A good example would be the general remark Petrus mentioned.

    As a rule though, it’s very dangerous for priests or laity to discuss anything relating to confessions, including priests making comments about such and such a person making good confessions. And if a lay person overhears the sins confessed by another in Confession then they are bound by the seal in the same way the priest is, never to overcome what they heard to another living soul. I would add to that that they are also bound not to think differently of the person they overheard on the basis of what they heard. The priest cannot treat souls differently because of what they confess, nor can we if we happen to overhear. That’s quite an important point.

    As for Alessandra, she clearly does not understand or accept Catholic teaching, much less why it exists. This is typical of those of who want God and His Church to bend to their human whims and emotions.

    April 19, 2023 at 11:56 am
    • Petrus Reply


      There have been times when I’m next in the line for Confession and an elderly/deaf person is shouting in the confessional. I usually hold a finger to my ear to avoid hearing what’s been said.

      April 19, 2023 at 12:00 pm
      • editor


        Phew! Can’t have been me, or you’d have told the entire blog! 😀

        Years ago, a friend and I went to Confession in a city centre parish and afterwards she said she could hear my voice when I was in the box, I was speaking that loudly, but not what I said. I replied that if she HAD heard my confession, she would be bound by the same seal as the priest and she looked positively… disappointed! She said, “Really?” and was clearly dismayed 😀

        With friends like her/she/they, who needs enemies 😀

        April 19, 2023 at 12:20 pm
      • Athanasius


        Yes, I’ve had that experience many times myself. I just block my ears, but that can get a little bit sore after a while. The motto is if someone wants to shout out their confession for everyone to hear then at least keep it short!!


        I wouldn’t spread your confession on the blog if I overheard it, I’d first give you the opportunity to pay up for my silence!!

        April 19, 2023 at 2:01 pm
    • Bernie Reply


      I also think that lay people should be equally bound by the seal yet there are too many who freely quote what priests are supposed to have said to them in confession. It really isn’t fair, if what they are saying is something controversial. I think priests should be allowed to use words in such a way that they can deny such false accusations without breaking the seal. I’m thinking something general like “I always uphold Catholic teaching on XXXX” without mentioning that particular person/sin.

      April 20, 2023 at 12:50 pm
      • Athanasius


        I’m happy to say that in my long experience, I have never really heard anyone discuss a priest’s conversations with them in the Confessional. While I’m sure there will be the odd careless person who does reveal more than they should, I suspect it’s a rare occurrence. I have heard people discuss something Father has said in Confession, but it generally doesn’t touch on what sins they confessed. I’m of the opinion, however, that Confessions are something that should not be referred to outside of the box, even in general.

        As for priests whose good name has perhaps been tainted by something someone has related re Confession, I think these just have to accept such injustice in union with Our Lord. The truth always has a habit of coming out in the end so there can never be any reason why a priest should feel it necessary to defend himself while under the seal.

        April 20, 2023 at 1:42 pm
      • editor


        I once heard (what I think is) an hilarious story about an elderly woman who, after being to Confession in the SSPX chapel in Edinburgh – this was many years ago – referring to her penance announced, in amazement, “He gave me a decade of the rosary… for nothin’

        Not exactly the spirit of one who is conscious of her own sinfulness before God’s holiness!

        April 20, 2023 at 2:40 pm
  • Petrus Reply


    No, you can rest assured it wasn’t you! That would require a dedicated, pinned thread! 😁

    April 19, 2023 at 12:33 pm
    • editor Reply


      I’m wounded! Big time!

      April 19, 2023 at 10:34 pm
  • Faith of Our Fathers Reply

    I most certainly agree that Confession is a 2 way street. What’s said to me in Confession should stay in Confession.
    Also although Joe Public has no seal of Confession on them am sure that others like myself have told another person something supposedly in complete confidence and that person goes and tells others . This happened to me with what I believed was a very good Friend. After he betrayed a confidence I could never then really have a conversation with Him . As for that Woman. She has committed a grave Sin in Slandering a good Priest who was doing as Christ would do. She goes on about Her Son as if He were a Saint yet says nothing of the consequences to a good Priest. Also as it’s said in the comments this Pope should say Yea or Nea as all else we know comes from the Evil One. It’s like Mary Robinson
    EX Irish President who wants Homosexuality made Okey Dokey in Our Catholic Faith because Her Son is a Homosexual. Also am sure that none of us on Here want to accompany anyone into Hell .
    To sum up I was also refused Absolution in Confession and I certainly didn’t go and tell the World. Not that it makes me any better than Alessandros Son but I certainly didn’t go to the Newspapers about a so called cruel Priest. Our good Priests are under enough pressure as it is and just because She got Married in a Church Etc Etc doesn’t guarantee Her or Her Children anything special. Especially in Confession.

    April 20, 2023 at 11:49 am
    • Bernie Reply


      You make a great point about people not being able to keep a confidence/secret. That is SO true, and I would react as you did, and not be able to trust a so called friend who betrayed me like that, ever again. I see that as common sense, not being unforgiving. You need to know who you are talking to when you share a confidence. That is not the kind of person I’d want overhearing my confession, LOL!

      April 20, 2023 at 12:47 pm
  • Cbucket Reply

    Are Eskimos bound by the seal of confession. I’ll get me coat …

    April 21, 2023 at 8:34 am
    • editor Reply


      Don’t run for your coat just yet – I needed that laugh!

      April 21, 2023 at 9:55 am
    • Marjory Reply



      April 21, 2023 at 10:54 am
  • Frankier Reply

    I must confess (no pun intended) that I feel sorry for the boy. Maybe the wording for the act of contrition should be changed to “I will try my utmost not to sin again”. After all, they`ve virtually changed everything else. It is ironic to think if he had told a lie in his confession rather than the truth he would have been absolved.

    i would have thought that if someone is resolved at that particular moment to try and change their habits: after all, nobody knows what their immediate future holds, then that should be enough for absolution. The fact that the boy goes to confession shows, I think anyway, that he has sorrow for his actions.

    I feel that in my younger days if the priest had questioned me too much about my future actions that I might have suffered the same fate as this young man. As for his mother, who can blame the poor soul? She seems to be trying to do the right thing for her family and, whether ir was right or wrong with the priests actions, she must obviously be disappointed.

    That is how mothers are supposed to feel.

    Just say a prayer for them instead of condemning.

    April 21, 2023 at 6:57 pm
    • editor Reply


      The act of contrition is “O my God, I am truly sorry that I have sinned against You, and with the help of Your grace I will not sin again.”

      By “will” we mean that our resolve IS not to sin again, and that resolve/decision is in our will – i.e. it’s what we desire – want. We do not WANT to sin again. Nobody is guaranteeing not to sin again. So your addition of “try” is unnecessary. That is, effectively, what we are saying when we make that act of contrition.

      As for this (ever returning) nonsense of “condemning”… Who has condemned anyone here? WHO has been “condemned”? Apart, that is, from YOUR implicit condemnation of the bloggers here.

      April 21, 2023 at 7:57 pm
      • Petrus


        I’m with you on this. When we go to Confession we must have a firm purpose of amendment. This means we walk out the confessional intending never to sin again. It’s not a “well, we’ll see how it goes” situation.

        April 21, 2023 at 8:39 pm
      • editor


        You got it in one! Well said!

        April 21, 2023 at 9:04 pm
      • Frankier


        I am perfectly aware of the words of the Act of Contrition. When you have said it as long as I have said it, a lot longer than you by the way, you`re still only a young girl in my eyes, you tend to get it right.

        I would have thought that you of all people would have noticed that my comment was more
        tongue-in cheek rather than a desire to change format. Anyway, it`s all about opinions.
        Surely someone with a different opinion whether right or wrong should be listened to without everyone jumping down their neck.

        As Athanasius pointed out, there may have been more to it than meets the eye, I understand
        that, but my comment was based on the evidence as written down and I tended to put myself in that boy`s position. If we all did as we promised in an act of contrition and actioned on our words NOT to sin again there would be no need ever to back to confession, so I think it is safe to say that we have all failed to keep our confessional promises, even if only venial.

        I still maintain that if someone makes an act of contrition (without any word change by the way) I feel that they should be absolved, the reason being that none of us actually know
        what the immediate future, based in minutes even, holds.

        As for accusations of condemnation, I don`t think you can seriously deny that the boy, and his poor mother, is being severely condemned here.

        However, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, that is only my opinion and if you don`t like it I can
        change it for a couple of dollars.

        April 22, 2023 at 12:17 pm
      • Margaret USA

        Re the picture at the top of the post: That’s Montgomery Clift playing a priest in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie ” I Confess “. He plays a priest who is falsely accused of murder but can’t tell the police who the murderer is because he must keep the seal of the confessional. And a real Catholic priest was the “technical advisor” for the movie. Finally (as you already know), Alfred Hitchcock was Catholic.

        April 27, 2023 at 5:57 am
    • Athanasius Reply


      You’re right to point out that it is sufficient for a soul to be resolved at the time of confession to sin no more. We are poor weak creatures and God knows that we may fall again despite our firm resolutions, although that should never be used for indifference or laxity on our part.

      I think in the case in question there was something more involved when the priest questioned this young man. There was something said that convinced the priest that he was either not truly sorry for his sins or was not disposed to turn permanently away from them. Priests are generally very open to administering the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Confession, but they are somethimes obliged for the greater good of the penitent to refuse absolution. There is no way this priest refused absolution without very good cause.

      April 21, 2023 at 10:23 pm
  • Josephine Reply

    I agree – it’s a firm purpose of amendment that is the important thing, a determination not to commit that sin again and if Alessandra’s son told the priest that he had no intention of stopping a particular sin, which is what appears to be the case, then the priest had no option but to refuse him absolution. It would be like going into the bank for a conversation about taking out a loan and telling the manager that you would not even try to pay it back, LOL! That would be a short lived interview!

    April 21, 2023 at 10:14 pm
    • Athanasius Reply


      The difference between the priest in Confession and the bank manager is that we can promise the latter the moon while intending to default! Only joking, of course. Mind you, it would be nice if they still had bank managers we could meet with to discuss loans instead of hidden faceless underwriters. Or should that be undertakers – burying their victims under a mountain of APR!!

      April 21, 2023 at 10:31 pm
  • Petrus Reply


    I don’t really see what point you are making, to be honest. I don’t think this has anything to do with the words of the Act of Contrition. If the priest is asking someone to make the Act then that means they are being absolved.

    What’s more likely is that the boy has confessed a sin, the priest has asked something about it and the boy has indicated that he isn’t willing to change his ways.

    Given that the mother makes a big deal out of the homosexual/transgender issue, it could be that in the course of the confession, the boy has indicated that he wasn’t willing to give up a certain way of life. We don’t know, but I don’t think it’s worth arguing the toss over.

    It’s worth reminding you that you accused bloggers of being condemnatory , without offering any examples. I always didn’t sense any form of “tongue-in-cheek” in your post. However, I am very literal, so that counts for nothing. Anyway, I urge you to drop this because it’s a non-issue.

    April 22, 2023 at 2:39 pm
    • Lily Reply


      I think it’s obvious that the boy has refused to give up a gravely sinful lifestyle and it seems obvious that it is of the LGBTQ+ type. If people go to confession with a mortal sin like that and the priest asks if they intend to reform, and they say “no”, how can they expect absolution? If it is a case of living in a publicly scandalous lifestyle, like cohabitation or same-sex union, and they say openly that they are not going to stop, then you wonder why they went to confession in the first place.

      April 22, 2023 at 9:59 pm
      • Petrus


        I couldn’t agree more.

        April 22, 2023 at 10:12 pm
      • editor

        Frankier, Petrus, Lily,

        I’ve been (well!) away from my computer today and extremely busy with non-blog/non-newsletter matters, so this will be short and sweet, not least because I have some work to do now to prepare a new thread for tomorrow’s Feast of St George who has been cancelled at one of England’s prestigious universities; we’ll be discussing that tomorrow, if I can get it organised, so hold fire on that subject for now.

        Briefly, though, I want to address the issue which I really thought we had nailed a long time ago, which is false charity. The idea that we avoid offending someone by being too hard on them, that we should avoid “condemning” them is false charity.

        Recently, I’ve been clearing out papers (again!) and came across an excellent article which was published in Christian Order, January 1998. Entitled Parochialism and False-Charity, the author (Michael McGrade) quotes a priest, Father Felix Sarda, author of What is Liberalism? Fr Sarda points out that there is no sin against charity calling evil “evil”. The wolf has always been called the wolf, and in so calling it nobody ever believed that a wrong was done to the flock and the shepherd.

        Fr Sarda explains that a consequence of this principle is that, in propagating good and combating evil, it is not against charity to use terms somewhat harsh against error and its supporters. While remembering St Augustine’s wise dictum to “hate the sin, love the sinner”, we must also be aware that it is not only proper but at times indispensable and meritorious to direct attention to individuals. He argues that ideas do not go about in the abstract; they neither spread nor propagate themselves. Left to themselves, erroneous ideas are like the bullets which would hurt no-one if they were not shot from a gun. It is the gunman to whom first attention should be given.

        The above is taken from the Christian Order article mentioned (January 1998 edition of CO), and I thought it would be useful to mention it here because of the accusation that we (and I assume the author of the One Mad Mom article) are condemning the boy who has criticised his confessor for refusing absolution (without explaining why!) when, in fact, what we are doing – as Fr Sarda clarifies – is condemning the errors spread abroad by the boy and his mother who – it would seem – desires a change in the Church’s teaching, religious and moral, because her son doesn’t want to conform his life to it. THAT must be condemned – it’s a false charity to fail to do so.

        Not sure if this clarifies the issue for you, Frankier, but I hope so.

        April 22, 2023 at 11:04 pm
  • Frankier Reply

    Editor and Peter

    For people who are in the habit of CONDEMNING the clergy, I think it is a bit hypocritical on CONDEMNING someone based solely on what he MIGHT have said in confession and what the priest MIGHT have said back.


    I don`t know you personally, I saw you at a conference in Celtic Park, but I do remember at that time I went to a Mass in St Andrews, the only one I ever managed to, and in the street after it I spoke to you to try and make conversation and you completely blocked me, so I wouldn`t lose much sleep over what you have to say.

    So much for freedom of speech that when I make a comment, I didn`t claim infallibility, I get silenced,
    CONDEMNED even. I didn`t realise that I was only supposed to state what you all want to hear. Sorry I don`t have any quotes from the saints but I do have one from another person…”Let he who casts the first stone”, etc., you`ll get the drift.

    Peter, please take your own advice now and drop ir

    Maybe I should have been wary when you all took Tommy Robinson`s side and CONDEMNED me then when I warned you against him.

    April 24, 2023 at 11:51 am
    • Josephine Reply


      I’m really puzzled at your comments on this. I assume you believe automatically that the boy was wronged by the priest, that the priest just didn’t give him absolution because his act of contrition wasn’t sincere enough? Do you actually believe that?

      Maybe you didn’t read the whole One Mad Mom article?

      April 24, 2023 at 12:50 pm
      • Bernie


        I was just about to say more or less what Josephine has said only I would add that nobody is condemning the boy, he’s more or less being abused by his mother who has brought this whole alleged conversation with the priest into the public domain. She should be condemned for doing that, and if he is misleading her about the priest in confession who can’t speak back, remember, that he is definitely to be condemned as well.

        April 24, 2023 at 12:52 pm
    • Petrus Reply


      I have no idea who you are, therefore, I have no recollection of what you allege. However, if I behaved in a way that was unworthy of a Catholic who had just been to Mass I sincerely apologise. Although I am very combative online, I’m much less so in person. I’m naturally quite shy and lacking confidence, so what may have come across as rudeness was perhaps something a bit more benign. Whatever – apologies for being less than welcoming.

      Having said that, I must say that considering I have no idea who you are and this alleged event was a number of years ago, I can’t help but think it is quite unjust to raise it now on a public forum when I have no way of defending myself. Still, that’s for me to offer up.

      I can’t help but notice that the LGBT issue seems to cause quite a reaction here. Please understand that no one is condemning. There’s no evidence of that. We’ve used the evidence in the public domain to explore the teaching of the Church regarding the giving of absolution. That’s all.

      Apologies again, Frankier. I’ve been in more trouble on the blog than Boris Johnson has had bad haircuts. Soldier on and offer up any perceived injustices – it’s only taken me until the blog is about to close to learn that – my teachers always said I was a slow learner ! 😄

      April 24, 2023 at 12:55 pm
      • editor


        Thank you for that charitable response to Frankier’s criticisms. I’m wondering why on earth he didn’t approach me on that, his one and only visit to the SSPX chapel in Glasgow. I’m wounded 😀

        I’m extremely busy again today, all week in fact, so I can’t devote as much time as I would like to answering comments and when I see hostile comments I can’t help thinking, roll on July!

        People keep telling me that I will miss the blog but – trust me on this – I won’t. Not one bit. If people would stick to the issues and avoid all unkind personal remarks directed at other bloggers, that would be great but I’m already bracing myself for a backlash because somebody on the Neil Oliver thread made a mild criticism of him, my favourite GB News commentator. Try not to do that, folks – it’s not worth the anger it seems to bring out in people. Me, I don’t care. I’ll still like Neil Oliver, no matter what! 😀

        I hope now that Frankier will accept your very generous apology. Thank you for it, signed Exhausted Blog Administrator… .

        April 24, 2023 at 1:05 pm

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