“I will go to jail before I will obey”

Oakland Bishop Michael Barber vows disobedience if bill requiring confessors to violate sacramental seal in certain circumstances becomes law

Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland.

The following is an excerpt from a May 27 letter from Bishop Michael Barber of the Diocese of Oakland:

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am all in favor of laws that protect all our children from any form of abuse. The Catholic Church has been working hard to be a leader in Safe Environment training, vetting of clergy, employees and volunteers and reporting allegations to police authorities.

However, a new law being proposed in the California State Senate is misguided and does nothing to support our efforts. It aims to strip confidentiality from the Sacrament of Confession. If passed, it would require priests to report certain sins they heard in confession to the police.

This is a violation of one of our most sacred sacraments. According to Canon Law, any priest who breaks the Seal of Confession, divulging sins he has heard, to anyone at any time, commits a mortal sin and is in danger of excommunication.

A priest reported to me on May 21 that because of publicity surrounding this bill, teenagers on his Confirmation retreat hesitated to go to Confession recently, as they thought the priests were now required to divulge their sins to law enforcement.

Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it. The protection of your right to confess to God and have your sins forgiven in total privacy must be protected. I urge you to contact your State Senator today to protest this bill.

I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom.

Yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ

Full story at Catholic Voice Oakland.


  1. Your Fellow Catholic says

    I agree with Bishop Barber. The seal of the confessional predated by many centuries the Constitution and the laws, and everyone understood it to be that way as part of the First Amendment. I’m not clear if intentions of future sin are protected, however.

  2. Where is that resolve in matters of same-sex married employees of the diocese? It’s scandalous, but openly accepted by the bishops.

    • Anonymous says

      FIrstly, why is EVERYTHING about the gays? Secondly, unlike your post, Bishop Barber is quite openly opposed to same sex marriage.

    • Anonymous says

      “openly accepted by the bishops.” — but I think not with Bishop Barber. We really do not know if bishop/s or priest/s talk to their parishioner. They can tell them but at the end it is person’s choice.

  3. This what manly leadership looks like. Bless you Bishop!

  4. If it’s any consolation to the bishop this legislation is about as useful as “safe environment program.” Sure some cease to participate but that didn’t seem to bother the bishops who cared not that the laity was not the problem. To ask us now to make calls to the legislators will be about as useful as our calls to our chancelleries when we encountered useless legislation. Just use an old fashion confessional where anonymity is assured. While your at it give thanks that even more people cease to participate in the life of the church which seems to be the program for the last fifty years

    • I choose to be fully unabashedly Catholic as many many others are. Those who choose to leave/reject Jesus and His teachings do so with a huge price to pay on their deathbed. We are talking eternity! Re-consider returning and becoming fully a member once more. Please. Eternity lasts forever. I cannot even fathom that word….

  5. St. Christopher says

    Good words, Bishop Barber. In fact, and if history is an example, you may well go to jail, or worse, for refusing to divulge a confession, or for actually, and fully, living the True Faith. Satan is beyond Mankind, when Man seeks to rebuke him by reason alone. Only through Jesus can we succeed in accepting Christ’s overwhelmingly generous act of immolation by becoming our Sin Bearer. In fact, Christ cut short our time on Earth, or Satan would consume each one of us (save Mary): “And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.” (Matt. 24:22) Bishops must be fearless in teaching the True Faith and Catholic Tradition until the end.

    • Thank God we have some true and fearless Roman Catholic clergy, who still honor their vows. Bishop may go to jail! He may be a martyr! Prayers for this courageous man🙏🙏🇺🇸🇺🇸

  6. It is also a serious sin to lie to a priest in the confessional and say one committed a serious sin when one did not in order to entrap an innocent priest. Such a person will bring a curse down upon his/her head..

    Also the only thing as evil as molesting a child or under aged person is to lie about having been molested. God will never be mocked. What we sow, we will surely reap.

    • I agree with you. Molesting and falsely accusing someone of molestation are evil.

    • Thoroughly agree. Sadly, im ashamed to say that lying about abuse has become very ” de rigeour”!. And , i also think far too many have forgotten what sin is!! Its a terribly scandalous event when ANYONE commits abuse; particularly sexual against an innocent and trusting child.. More so if the abuser is a consecrated priest. Far too many, with little or no knowledge about priests are out for revenge; out for blood. Priests are still human beings; capable of sin, as we all are. But, of course, the Roman Catholic Church has always been under the gun. Christ never said it would be easy. Ill be praying for this Bishop

  7. Maria Luz says

    I think Bishop Barber is correct as our duty to our faith must always be first regardless of Roman law which will always result in twisted and bizarre outcomes. As a Jesuit educated female, we were always educated that we must always follow the laws of Christ regardless of Roman law consequences. Thank you Bishop Barber, S.J. for your dedication to the laws of Christ. Y

  8. Thank you Bishop Barber! This is what excellent Christian leadership looks like!

  9. Cathleen Sickler says

    This cannot be allowed to pass. The whole idea of the seal of the Confessional is so that Catholics have a safe space to talk with their confessor. It will snowball and very soon there won’t be a Seal of the Confessional in the entire country.

    We have to protect it because this is Trumplandia, people.


      What does “Trumplandia” have to do with DEMOCRATIC PARTY legislators’ anti-religious attacks? Get your facts straight.

  10. I stand with you, Bishop Barber.

  11. Ilona Small says

    and why wouldn’t ALL priests say this???? if they don’t ..they shouldn’t have been ordained.

    • Gino Dalpiaz says


      Thus spoke the brave Bishop of Oakland, California, Michael Barber, S.J., saying that he would sooner accept arrest and prison than comply with a state law that would force priests to violate the seal of confession. And he added: “Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it. The protection of your right to confess to God and have your sins forgiven in total privacy must be protected.”

      Bishop Barber was speaking for the thousands of Catholic priests of this country without exception. I’ve been a priest for 65 years and know priests well — very well. In my wildest dreams, I cannot imagine even one Catholic priest violating the seal of confession. In my many years as a priest, I have…

  12. It’s a vow to God and all Christians.
    He is right.

  13. Steve Seitz says

    Was it Cardinal George who said that he would die in his bed, his successor would die in prison, and his successor’s successor would die a martyr in the public square?

  14. Melinda Torres says

    If a person confesses that they are raping children I don’t care what the church says it needs to be reported otherwise that child will continue to be raped and abused. It’s bad enough it happens within the church now pedophiles will get away with even more abuse

    • PIUS XIII says

      If somebody murdered somebody, but confesses and vows never to do it again, should they also be reported? The seal of the confessional is NOT to be broken under ANY circumstances, it’s not for anybody to decide AT ALL. There are people whose job’s subject matter is catching criminals – it is not the job of the priest. The priest has no moral obligation to break the seal of the confessional. However, if the person confessing says that they will continue to sin, it is not a confession and there is no penance that can be assigned – then the priest may report it.

  15. Emily O O Adegun says

    Negative offence against God impacts our lives and consequently the world we live in.Thank you Fr Michael for standing in the purview of Faith and truth..

  16. Thomas J. Barbarie says

    If the penitent confesses to a sin that is also a crime, it seems to me that the priest could give absolution on the condition that the penitent surrender to the civil authority. “Turn yourself in and say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys. Now make a good Act of Contrition and don’t let the confessional door hit you on the way out.” Turning oneself in would be part of the penance. No? Am I missing something here?

    • Anonymous says

      Not really

    • Father Eric Shafer says

      That is not how the Sacrament works. At the moment of absolution, all your sins (unless one is intentionally withheld) are forgiven. The forgiveness of sins is not contingent upon completion of the penance. Any penance that requires you to reveal your sin to another is called an “unlawful penance” and the penitent is not bound to that. There is no loop hole to the seal of Confessions.

    • Anonymous says

      No a priest wouldn’t be able to do that. Code of Canon Law 983 and 984 (“A confessor is prohibited completely
      from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent
      even when any danger of revelation is excluded.”) give guidelines on what a priest can give as penance. Forcing a person to manifest their sin to the public authority for forgiveness is coercion and breaks the seal. If the priest is going to force a person to go to the police for forgiveness it is like they’re breaking the seal themselves.

    • Makes sense to me. I’m not Catholic, but that’s more or less how my church handles that sort of thing.

  17. Larry Wahnsiedler says

    It is hard to report someone if you don’t know who they are. Simply do not go to Confession face to face. Use the confessional.

    • Steve Seitz says

      This is not as straight forward as it appears. The police could then try to get camera footage from the parish property or surrounding properties.

      Also, just the threat of being reported could keep people from the sacrament. I believe that this is the intent of the seal — to give people confidence of privacy.

    • Anonymous says

      I don’t know how face to face got started. Our church has the option when you go in to the confessional that you can go behind the screen or in front of the priest. The priest cannot see who comes through the door unless they sit directly in front of them.

  18. Anonymous says

    This law will violate the premise of the Separation of church and state one of the most sacred laws of the liberal left.

  19. Anonymous says

    Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.
    §2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.
    Can. 984 §1. A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.

  20. People go confession will kneel out side the confession box the partition will cover (division) the person’s face, you don’t know who they are only voice will hear , church’s goers have no names registration to recognize their personalities. The priest and the person has no eye direct contact during confession, in and out. Lord protect our faith , your poor, faithful servant priests. JESUS I TRUST IN YOU!

  21. I also agree with the Bishop. Confession is a special grace between a person and Christ and the Priest is the Ami Christi , He represents Christ and is held strictly to a vow not to break that confidence in the confessional.

    Society just wants to create havoc with the Catholic Faith , we have to stay strong, staying true to our beliefs and Christ.

  22. Stephen Browning says

    Thank you, Your Excellency Bishop Michael Barber of the Diocese of Oakland. Every Roman Catholic must stand in support of your stance against this State of California Bill.

  23. Patricia Martin says

    All they are trying to do is bring down the Catholic Church .Thank You Father .

  24. Martin Gaffey says

    the croppy boy story

  25. Anonymous says

    Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.
    §2. An interpreter and the others mentioned in ⇒ can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication.

  26. Debra Gunn says

    I am 100% behind Bishop Barber.

  27. This black and white stance, will go to jail, does not appear to acknowledge that some enlightened priests, who are hearing a criminal confession, could try to work with the penitent to turn themselves in. How many confessions did Barber hear from fellow priests who confessed sexually abusing a child and did nothing? Is that morally right? I think not.

  28. I don’t believe the state should tell anyone’s religion how to act.

  29. Anonymous says

    I agree with you but if it’s involving a crime and you know about it then don’t report it you can be liable responsibile for what happens and could face jail time for conspiracy

  30. Ann Smith says

    Commenters are conflating forgiveness with justice. Yes your sins are forgiven at the point of absolution, but if you do not go forth and offer reparation for any harms caused, you will still need to answer for your injustices in purgatory before you get admitted to heaven. You can confess to stealing something, be forgiven, but unless you pay for the item or give it back, justice has not been served. So justice is NOT a condition of absolution, but the priest has a duty to show you the way to make reparation. If there is no justice, there will be no peace in your afterlife because you still owe. Look up plenary indulgence if you want to know more.

  31. They are bringing us back to the days before any religious Protection for Catholics. Our priests were thrown in jail and murdered indiscriminately for whatever reason the elite decided.

  32. Anonymous says

    Thank God for Bishop Barber! And remember him if you’re attempted to paint every Jesuit as unfaithful.

  33. Anomonous says

    Is there not a separation of church and state? Priests, bishops and the members answer to God via the Pope, not limited to the state of California. Secondly, how would the state know if something like a crime is divulged in confession? Also, how educated are priests in state or federal laws? In confession, the confesser is “too sin no more”.

    • Anonymous says

      The one who hears confession is the confessor. The one who makes the confession is a penitent.

  34. Anonymous says

    No one should enjoy immunity from consequences within the Church when it comes to raping children. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

  35. Steven Tubbs says

    Bishop Barber, as a lay person, I will gladly be at your side in jail.

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