When it comes to fessing up to a bad deed, a certain section of the world turns to one person: their priest. Generally, what happens in confession is that you unburden your soul by telling the priest all of your sins. If you're having difficulty articulating what you might have done, the priest is able to help. Once you're finished, you say, "This is all I can remember. I am sorry for these and all my sins."
At this point the priest assigns a penance. Even if you're not Catholic, you've undoubtedly seen this part in a movie. Someone is told to do some amount of Hail Mary's and Our Fathers, then all is presumably well. Sometimes the penance is more involved, like when this woman told her priest that she cheated on her husband. He suggested she confess to her husband — but when she didn't, the priest broke his seal of confession to bust the cheating wife.
Here's what happened.
This uncool priest broke his seal of confession to out a cheating wife to her husband.
Reddit is quickly becoming both a wild advice column and a massive diary for folks who feel as if they've run out of options. Take user Legalthroway2206, who we will call Mary, for example. She was going through a real crisis and felt that Reddit was the only place who could help. Yikes, that's a bummer.
Mary headed for the legal advice Subreddit to ask if she could take legal action against her priest. In June 2022, she posted about cheating on her husband three years prior while traveling for work. At the time, Mary didn't feel particularly guilty about it because she and her husband were on unsteady grounds. However, they reconnected during the COVID-19 pandemic and she suddenly felt a bit bad about the indiscretion.
The priest told her she had to tell her husband what happened as part of her penance. Naturally this is not an easy task, so Mary took a beat to figure out what to do. Well, the priest decided he needed an update, and instead of checking in with Mary, he spoke with her husband. Mary was able to deduce what happened when she arrived home one evening to find him furiously throwing her things out of their bedroom.
"My whole world is exploding because I thought confession was supposed to be private," she wrote. "Does the priest have any kind of liability or responsibility?" For clarity, Mary is in Maryland and it didn't sound like it was a very merry land at all.
Legally, there is not much that can be done when a priest breaks his seal of confession.
This story was picked up by the Two Hot Takes podcast which is hosted by Morgan Absher. On the show, she invites guests on to react to wild Reddit stories, listener write-ins, and any other wacky bits and bobs from the internet. In this episode, Morgan had on Dellara Gorjian, a California attorney who specializes in immigration law.
After reading the story out loud, Dellara said Mary had no legal grounds to stand on that she knew of. But first, Dellara got very judgmental when she said Mary shouldn't have cheated. No need for that unsolicited moral advice! Just stick to the facts, and the facts are that Mary can't do anything legally. Of course, there is something she can do outside of the law.
According to the Catholic Education Resource Center, "a priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action." In other words, this gossipy little priest went against the Catholic church. For this, he can be excommunicated. Hopefully Mary pulled a Hail Mary by getting this man of the cloth booted from the church. Amen.