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ConfessionCatholics, Repentance, and Forgiveness in America$
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Patrick W. Carey

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190889135

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190889135.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 14 October 2019

The Confessional Seal

The Confessional Seal

Legal and Apologetic Dimensions of the Sacrament of Penance

Chapter:
(p.31) Chapter 2 The Confessional Seal
Source:
Confession
Author(s):

Patrick W. Carey

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190889135.003.0003

The chapter demonstrates how Catholic sacramental confession influenced the American legal system and expanded the notion of religious liberty in the United States. It describes a precedent-setting legal decision in New York City in 1813 on the confessional seal—that is, the priest’s canonical obligation to preserve the secrecy of a penitent’s confession of sins. A New York court in People v. Phillips declared that a priest who had learned of a crime through a penitent’s confession of sins was not obliged to reveal that information in a court trial. That legal decision was periodically cited in subsequent court cases in the United States and laid the grounds for subsequent statutory laws in various states that protected in particular the confessional seal and more generally clerical confidentiality. The legal case also became the occasion for the first major American Catholic apologetical attempt to defend the Catholic understanding of sacramental confession.

Keywords:   People v. Phillips, religious liberty, confessional seal, clerical confidentiality, Catholic apologetics, Anthony Kohlmann, Trent, Protestant reformers, William Sampson, DeWitt Clinton

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