Priestly Responsibility Regarding Crimes Confessed
What is a priest's responsibility when someone confesses child sexual abuse in the confessional?
First, it’s important to note that the seal of confession forbids the priest from sharing such information with the authorities—or with anyone for that matter. The Code of Canon Law tells us that the seal is “inviolable” (can. 983.1), and if a priest were to break the seal (intentionally share the information), he would incur an automatic excommunication.
Such a situation is a priest’s worst nightmare, because there are two goods that he wants to protect: the good of children and the good of the inviolability of the sacrament. But there are ways in which the priest can make efforts to preserve both goods.
If the penitent is truly contrite, then the priest could talk it through with the penitent and try to get him to see what true repentance involves. If the penitent doesn’t intend to rectify his ways, the priest could withhold absolution. The priest may also strongly encourage the offender to turn himself in to the authorities. For more details, see the article “Can a Priest Ever Reveal What is Said in Confession?”