Reconciliation FAQs

What does the sacrament involve?

First, it is important to make an examination of your conscience.  This means reflecting carefully on the areas in your life where you have failed to love God and your neighbour, and considering where possible, how you can be reconciled to the person you have failed or hurt.  You may decide to seek guidance on any habits of sin worrying you.

The next step is to go to the sacrament.  If it is a long time since you have been to Reconciliation and you can’t remember the words, just let the priest know and he will help you, probably with a printed guide.

Many parishes have the option of sitting face-to-face with the priest, but all should also have the option of allowing you to remain anonymous by sitting or kneeling behind a screen so you are unseen by the priest.

What is meant by the Seal of the Confessional?

Whatever a priest hears during Reconciliation by a penitent cannot be revealed outside the confessional.

A priest will not ‘break the seal’ to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity.

He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person’s confession or be bound by any oath he takes.  (eg.  As a witness in a court trial)

A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action.

However, a priest may ask the penitent for a release from the sacramental seal to discuss the confession with the person himself or others.  For instance, if the penitent wants to discuss the subject matter of a previous confession a particular sin, fault, temptation, circumstance in a counselling session outside of the confessional, that priest will need the permission of the penitent to do so.

For instance, a penitent may say, “Father, remember that problem I spoke to you about in confession?”
The priest will have to say, “Do you give me permission to discuss this with you now?”

Catholic Enquiry Centre