In response to challenges to the secret of confession that have come from states trying to react to the Catholic Church’s clerical sexual abuse crisis, the Vatican issued a document July 1 saying that the secrecy of confession must never be violated.

Many Americans today, including Catholics, do not understand why the Catholic Church defends the inviolability of the seal. This special series of stories and videos from our partner Catholic News Service addresses this need with an in-depth look at the issue, the allegations and the church’s response.

Secrecy of confession must never be violated, Vatican says
Pope Francis ordered the publication of a document July 1 affirming the absolute secrecy of everything said in confession and calling on priests to defend it at all costs, even at the cost of their lives. (With video)

California bill aims to protect children by breaking seal of confession
A California state bill that would compel a priest to reveal what’s heard during confession if there is a suspicion of child sexual abuse can appear to Catholics as an infringement on religious freedom. (With video)

New challenges to confession secrecy stem from abuse scandal
For centuries, the Catholic Church has maintained that what a penitent says to a priest in the confessional is strictly confidential, but in 2019 that rite continues to be challenged by governments. (With video)

Protecting seal of confession called essential for civilized society
Protecting a penitent’s trust in the sacrament of penance from governmental intrusion goes beyond tradition, religious freedom and church law, say experts. Confession is “the one place” people can “relieve conscience of anything.” (With video)

They’ll go to jail or die rather than violate sacrament’s secrecy, priests say
What is said between a priest and penitent in the sacrament of penance “never, never is repeated,” said the pastor of a church named for a 14th century priest martyred for refusing to break the seal of confession. (With video)