Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most
severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacra-
ments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolu-
tion consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by
the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them.
of death any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing confessions,
can absolve from every sin and excommunication.
Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacra-
ment of Penance and must make themselves available to celebrate
this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask for it.
When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is
fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost
sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father
who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and
of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and
merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merci-
ful love for the sinner.
The confessor is not the master of God’s forgiveness, but
its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to
the intention and charity of Christ.
He should have a proven
knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs,
respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love
the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead
the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He
must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the
Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the
respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who
hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep
absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have con-
fessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession
gives him about penitents’ lives.
This secret, which admits of no
exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal,” because what the
penitent has made known to the priest remains “sealed” by the
68 Cf. CIC, cann. 1331; 1354-1357; CCEO, can. 1431; 1434; 1420.
69 Cf. CIC, can. 976; CCEO, can. 725.
70 Cf. CIC, can. 986; CCEO, can. 735;
72 Cf. CIC, can. 1388 § 1; CCEO, can. 1456.