A group of Catholic leaders from Costa Rica — including Daniel Blanco, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San José — recently participated in a webinar titled “Sacramental Secret: A canonical, legal, and preventive approach” in order to lay out the position of the Church regarding a bill that seeks to eliminate the seal of confession.
On Sept. 11, lawmaker Antonio Ortega of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) political party, supported by legislators from several parties, introduced a bill that by amending a series of articles of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Code would allow lifting the seal of confession when sexual crimes against minors are involved.
In response, the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference expressed its opposition to the bill, pointing out that according to canon 983 of the Code of Canon Law, the sacramental seal “is inviolable,” which prevents the confessor from revealing the penitent’s confession.
In the webinar organized by the Catholic University of Costa Rica on Oct. 31, Blanco, a specialist in canon law, referred to a document published by the apostolic penitentiary in 2019 on the importance of the inviolability of the sacramental seal.
The text points out that “reconciliation itself is a benefit that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded with all her moral and legal might, with the sacramental seal. Although it is not always understood by the modern mentality, it is indispensable for the sanctity of the sacrament and for the freedom of the conscience of the penitent.”
It also makes clear that the penitent “must be certain, at any time, that the sacramental conversation will remain within the secrecy of the confessional, between one’s own conscience that opens to grace and God, with the necessary mediation of the priest. The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has jurisdiction over it, nor lays any claim to it.”
The bishop also noted that the penitent seeks the sacrament being aware that the priest will listen to the sins “not as a man but as God,” i.e “in persona Christi capitis” — “in the person of Christ the head.”
Citing the penitentiary, he noted that “any political action or legislative initiative aimed at ‘breaching’ the inviolability of the sacramental seal would constitute an unacceptable offense against ‘libertas Ecclesiae’ [the freedom of the Church], which does not receive its legitimacy from individual states but from God; it would also constitute a violation of religious freedom, legally fundamental to all other freedoms, including the freedom of conscience of individual citizens, both penitents and confessors.”
Father Alejandro Jiménez, judicial vicar of the ecclesial tribunal of the Archdiocese of San José, said that the elimination of the seal of confession “is not going to provide a solution to anyone’s suffering, it is not going to correct the reality that has been experienced since the abuses, which do not find their origin in ecclesiastical or sacramental reality but are a social evil that the Church cannot tolerate.”
Lawyer José Rafael Fernández, legal adviser of the Catholic University of Costa Rica, noted that what the bill introduced in September aims to do is “to reform several articles of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Code” resulting in “the absolute violation of the seal of confession of the priest.”
“If the legislation succeeds in eliminating the confidentiality of confession, what will happen next with professionals who have the right not to reveal certain things by virtue of professional secrecy?” he questioned.
He also pointed out that “a bill like this makes no sense.”
“It is an ideological bill, more than a legal and technical bill,” he said. “It should not be passed by the legislative assembly in any way, because it would be a monumental violation of human rights, the constitution, the laws, and the ‘corpus juris’ of Costa Rican law.”
Currently, the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference has a national commission created to respond to the problem and prevention of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by priests, religious, and pastoral workers.
The goal of the commission is to provide resources and protocols for prevention and action in situations involving the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults as well as proposing initiatives to improve assistance to victims and family members affected by child abuse in the Church.