Seal of Confession: Priest Fired for Allegedly Downloading Porn

 

A penitent confessing his sins in the former L...

 

Catholic blog Creative Minority Report posted a brief commentary on a news article covering the developing story of the lengths that a priest is going to in order to protect the seal of Confession. Many people are familiar with the base concept behind the seal: what is said to a priest during confession cannot be revealed by the confessor under any circumstances – even penalty of death or gravity of confessed sin. As with many things Catholic, there is far more to it that just that. The Church in her wisdom sees fit to bind confessed sins under this seal for various reasons. I will attempt to address some of these after the break:

Priest Fired For Porn To Protect Confessional Seal?

With all the usual caveats about how we may not know the whole story…

Last year a priest was fired from his college job because the school found porn on his computer.

When the school found the porn they questioned him about it. He gave a series of odd replies that led the Archabbot of Benedictine college to conclude that Fr. Marc Gruber was guilty. He was dismissed and he promptly disappeared.

But that may not be the end of the story. According to a former student under oath, Fr. Gruber gave the odd answers and refused to defend himself because the student had confessed to him that he was the real culprit.

The young man testified that “Father Mark has protected the seal of confession admirably even to the point of losing his job, his priestly faculties and allowing his reputation to be maligned.”

The first police report said he gave indirect answers when investigators questioned him in the presence of his archabbot, whom he had asked to stay with him. Asked if he was the one who used the computer to look for young boys, he replied, “I don’t think that is a relevant question,” according to the report.

The former student said he believes the odd answers were the priest’s attempt to signal his superior that he was protecting the seal of confession.

The former student said he last downloaded pornography on that computer in July 2009, “not too long before Father Gruber fell off the face of the earth. I didn’t know where he went.”

The priest’s office also was locked, the former student said. Father Gruber was scheduled for a sabbatical, the former student said, so it was November before he heard rumors that the priest had been banned from ministry because pornography was found on his computer. The former student said he was sure it was his fault.

He relayed a message to Father Gruber through an intermediary, he said, asking what he should do. Father Gruber sent word not to reveal what he had done, he said.

The reasons the priest gave were that he didn’t want anyone to think that he had pressured a penitent to reveal what had been said in confession. He also feared the former student was too emotionally fragile to withstand revelation of his secrets.

If this is all true, Fr. Gruber’s defense of the seal of confession is the only thing he could do. Comparisons to Hitchcock’s ‘I Confessare already abounding. The student has come forward now to try and undo the damage.This is a truly interesting story that we will keep an eye on…

via Creative Minority Report: Priest Fired For Porn To Protect Confessional Seal?.

The place to start concerning the Seal of Confession or the Confessional, as some call it, is the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the section of paragraphs that deal with Respect for the Truth, specifically 2490:

2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it. (282: Sirach 27,16 “Whoever betrays secrets destroys confidence, and he will never find a congenial friend. Proverbs 25,9-10 “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not disclose another’s secret; lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.)

2490 The secret of the sac
rament of reconciliation is sacred, and cannot be violated under any pretext. “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore, it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason.” (283: Canon 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason. §2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.)

Secrecy of Confession is extremely important as the desire is for the penitent to be completely open and honest about the sins committed. If this is not done then it may render the Sacrament invalid and this could lead the penitent and even the confessor towards a more damaging state for their soul.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation does several things for the Faithful person. First, this Sacrament provides the continuing grace of Our Blessed Lord to be bestowed upon us so that we may be cleansed of offenses towards God by God Himself. Absolution of our sins is solely performed be He Who has the authority to forgive sins on earth, Jesus. The priest acts in Persona Christi and through this validly ordained man, we obtain certainty of forgiveness thus reconciling us with the Church and Jesus, returning us to the Sacramental life.

Like many things Catholic, Confession is more than just a spiritual act. If combines the physical, psychological and emotional as well. There is the fact that one must go and be physically present before a priest in order to validly confess one’s sins. As for the psyche, the certainty of absolution allows one to alleviate themselves of the sense of guilt that is carried with sin; again, this affects the physical and even the emotional as the mind strongly impacts these other aspects of the human person. And emotionally, there is often joy when one is able to lift a burden from the hear and to do so directly with the person meriting the focus of one’s affections, namely Jesus, is an extremely joyous occasion to say the least.

On to participation in the Sacramental life of the Church. This form of participation in God’s Church/religion is vital as this is the only way to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament or Holy Eucharist – “the food which endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27). It is through the graces of the Sacraments that we are able to sanctify ourselves with the intimate aid of God who nourishes us spiritually through the physical accidents of bread and wine making us walking tabernacles for a time.

Back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Seal of the Confessional. Consider if this “inviolable” seal were absent, how could one ever truly trust that their sins would not be revealed? They could not.

Generally speaking, there is no guarantee that a priest confessor will not go around blabbing our secrets but this is similarly the case with physician, attorney, therapist or other confidant bound by professional and legal obligations. The difference between what is Cesar’s and what is God’s is the binding. The priest is more than legally bound but spiritually bound as he serves the penitent in the place of Christ and thus the penalties for floundering on this (as with many) seal are eternal and spiritually deadly.

So what is the Biblical basis for the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Some New Testament Biblical references follow:

  • Matthew 9,2-8 – The Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins.

And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, take up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

  • Matthew 18,18 – Authority to bind and loose was given here, in general, to the Apostles.

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

  • John 20,22-23 – The Apostles received a “newness” of life and the authority to forgive sins.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (cf. Genesis 2:7) If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

  • 2 Corinthians 5,17-20 – St. Paul speaks of the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

  • James 5,16 – St. James speaks clearly on confession and communal prayer (saints included).

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.

Proper understanding of this Sacrament also requires one to look back into Salvation History and place into context the confessional rites of the Jews. [In an effort to post this for discussion in relation to the article cited above, the initial version will remain incomplete with concern to the Old Testament. It will be updated or re-posted once I can devote more time to completing this.]

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