Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
The champions of this view are far from denying that the natural law forbids the injuring of another's good name, but, they maintain, such injury is forbidden only when there are no reasonable grounds for inflicting it; it must be proved that the precept of making a complete confession is a sufficient reason, since such defamation to a confessor is certainly not objectively grave. That this ground is a reasonable one is evident from many weighty considerations: —
1. Good reasons have been already offered in the difficulties which are presented when perfect liberty is not allowed in confessing or asking the circumstances and occasions of sins.
2. Further examples may be easily imagined in which the defamation of another resulting from the penitent's confession is not to be considered; for no one would dream, for example, of releasing a son from the obligation of making a perfect confession because it might be concluded from the gravity and nature of his sins that his parents had brought him up very badly; nor would a religious be excused for fear his confessor should entertain the suspicion that his superiors were neglecting their duty towards him. For such defamation may well be considered as of little moment, since the confessor is bound to the most stringent silence and can make absolutely no use of what he hears in confession.
3. Moreover, the precept of making a complete confession is so severe that the penitent may never transgress it in order to safeguard his own good name, and is obliged to overcome the fear of losing it. But, according to the universal teaching, a man is justified in self-defence to do a lawful act even if thereby he injure the character of his neighbour if there is no other way of shielding his own or regaining it when lost; hence it must be allowable to injure the reputation of another if the end in view is to make a perfect confession; or the same cause (the integrity of the confession) which binds me to injure my own good name gives me the right of disregarding any infamy that may accrue to others in discharging this duty.
4. Finally, since it was in early days the practice of confessing to one's parish priest, and he was generally acquainted with all his subjects, the precept of making a complete confession would have had no meaning if the other opinion were tenable in respect to sins which were difficult to confess. Is it possible that Christ should give a command which in practice turned out so nugatory?
From what has been already said on this subject it follows that the confessor, if he thinks fit, is quite at liberty to put questions on the circumstances or occasions of sin; moreover, that penitents ought not to be instructed to conceal circumstances which may injure the reputation of the accomplice with the confessor; they ought rather to be encouraged to make a complete confession to their regular confessor if they are unable to find another.
If, however, some one acting upon the undoubted authority of theologians who teach the other view wishes to make his confession accordingly, he cannot be blamed if he has formed a dictamen conscientiae, and he cannot be forced to renounce his opinion.
Again, if a confessor remarks that a penitent is familiar with his theology and makes his accusation in accordance with the other opinion, and if he is satisfied that said penitent is capable of forming a judgment about his obligations, he may more easily omit certain questions and leave the penitent free to follow his own opinion.
What has been said with respect to the accomplice's reputation applies equally to those who have been in any way an occasion of sin to the penitent. There are cases in which the penitent cannot give the specific character of his sin without at the same time disclosing the sin of another which has been the object or occasion of his own sin. A man, for instance, discovers his unmarried sister to be in confinement and maltreats her so that abortus follows; he cannot explain the nature of his crime fully in the confessional without revealing his sister's sin and so destroying her reputation in the mind of the priest. Although some even of those who teach that the integrity of the confession may take precedence of the accomplice's character are unwilling to grant it in this particular case, yet there is at least a probability that the obligation of integrity prevails in any case.