In the U.S. a case is now in the courts in which a young woman may have confessed to a priest that she was sexualized by a layperson in her parish community. The court may compel the priest to break the seal of confession in order that he might be questioned as to the contents of the victim’s confession. The abuse in question did not involve a member of the clergy. A priest is automatically excommunicated if he breaks the seal.
The priest in question has stated that he would rather face jail time then violate the sacrament. This case could try the legal statute that makes adults who are told of sex abuse mandatory reporters.
The most a priest could do in the case of hearing of a crime during a confession is to advise the penitent to go to authorities but he is not obligated to report the crime-as this would break the seal of the confession.
If the priest is forced to divulge the things told to him during the victim’s confession, then this would set a precedent that could irreparably damage the catholic church. This would also bring into question things that have been confessed to priests in the past and could result in priest being forced to divulge information told them in the past which could include criminal activity that was prosecuted in the courts. This could either exonerate those convicted unjustly or lead to convictions for those who were convicted of a crime but had knowledge of one or committed a crime but were never caught by police.
The only “good” and I use that term loosely, that I can see coming from this scandal is that priest will now be forced to turn over other priest to civil authorities if they have confessed to abusing minors.