September 27, 2014

Article at Authory

Novelists and the Seal of Confession

What is it with novelists and the seal of the confessional? I just read a novel by a Catholic deacon, in which yet again another attempt is made to use the sacramental seal as a plot device, and the author gets it disastrously wrong. (To be fair, I don't think he was yet a deacon when this book was published. Still.)

For those who care about such things, here's the scoop: A major character is murdered in the 1930s, and the murder is covered up as a suicide. Her family wants a Catholic funeral and burial, but this is denied—as it ordinarily would be during the time in question. So, conveniently, someone who knows what happened reveals during confession the fact she was murdered, and voila!, problem solved. The priest reverses his decision and tells the grieving family that they may draw whatever conclusions they like from the reversal, as he cannot say more.

Problem. Well, problems. One, a priest may not even act upon information gained under the sacramental seal. Even if it is his very life that is threatened by a penitent who promises to kill him, he can do nothing based on that information. In the case of the plot point, the priest could not have reversed his decision based upon what he found out during the confession. At most, he could have pleaded with the penitent to repeat the information outside the confessional. 

And, two, the comments to the family indirectly revealed what had been told him under the sacramental seal. Any pious Catholic of the time would have drawn two bits of information from the priest's words—that the priest had found out that the deceased had not committed suicide, and that the priest had likely found this out through confession (since he made it clear his lips were sealed).

Dear novelists, I know the sacramental seal is fascinating to you, but do your research first before attempting to incorporate it as a plot point.

(Image: Confessionals, Pixabay.)