Prison sentence for priest invoking secret of confessional not to act on suicide threat

A Bruges judge has gone against Roman Catholic teaching ruling that the secret of the confessional isn't absolute.

A Roman Catholic priest, who failed to act when a friend indicated he was going to commit suicide, has been sentenced to a one month suspended prison sentence and has to pay the man's widow one euro in compensation, despite invoking the secret of the confessional.

In the Roman Catholic Church the seal of the confession is the absolute duty of priests not to disclose anything they learn from people confessing their sins during the confession or sacrament of penance, a Roman Catholic practice.

The victim, a man from Bruges, had been battling depression for some time.  Prior to committing suicide he spoke with the priest on the phone for one hour.  Several texts were exchanged too.  The widow's lawyer told VRT: "They were in contact seven times before his death.  When the man made his intensions clear the priest said 'Go in peace.  I will pray for you.'  He should have phoned his wife to tell her to go and see him."

The widow has filed a complaint with the judicial authorities.  Her lawyer says: "We see this is as precedent.  We don't want to see a repetition.  Everybody who needs help, should be assisted, even by a priest."

The priest invoked the seal of the confessional and said he couldn't do anything.  A Bruges judge ruled that the priest had been negligent and that the secret of the confessional wasn't absolute and that there was a state of emergency in which the priest should have acted.

The priest intends to appeal against his conviction: "I'm convinced man needs a safe haven where he can openly discuss issues with somebody he knows."

During the call the victim had made it clear that he didn't want his partner to be alerted. The priest complied with this wish, but is now being punished.

(archive photo)