Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Are you obligated to tell police if someone confides to you that they committed a serious crime?

Just as all citizens are obliged to follow the laws, we are also obligated to do the same. We even have very specific directions from Church authorities, especially in the area of abuse. Here in Ottawa, our protocol requires us to report even the suspicion of abuse to the proper authorities, according to the law. We are also required to cooperate with the police and other authorities in their investigations as well. By analogy, we must do the same in all other areas as well.

Whenever anyone confides in us that they have committed a serious crime of any nature, we also do everything we can to assist them in doing the right thing and in getting the help they need to make any required changes in their lives. We must all, always do what is required of us by the law. The one exception is a confidence made in the Sacrament of Penance, often referred to as Confession.

Here, the priest is placed under very clear and certain restrictions. Canon 983 (1) of the Code of Canon Law states that the seal of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is sacred and cannot be violated under any pretext. The sacramental seal is inviolable. It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any other reason. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in no. 1467 states that the priest is bound by very serious penalties here. "This secrecy, which admits no exceptions, is called the sacramental seal, because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains sealed by the sacrament." However, within the seal, the confessor certainly works with the penitent to encourage him in every way to do what is right in every situation. In these cases, however, it remains "sealed".