It wouldn’t be right to write a series of articles about the Sacrament of Penance without dealing with one of the most important – and very well-known – obligations on the part of the priest. This is the famous “seal of confession.”
Canons 983, '1 and 1388, '1 of the Code of Canon Law govern this. Basically, it absolutely forbidden for a priest ever to reveal anything ever told to him in confession. If he would do so, he would be automatically excommunicated, with only the Pope himself able to lift the penalty and forgive the priest’s sin. Even if a priest would not directly betray a penitent in this way, but just indirectly make disclosure of a penitent and his/her sins, the penalties that the Church could and would impose are extreme ones. Although every now and then there’s a challenge to it, so far even in our country civil law respects the absolute inviolability of sacramental confession in this way! And around the world, throughout history, priests have willingly endured imprisonment and other persecution rather than ever reveal anything known from confession.
But let me make it clear: it’s not the strict penalties that prompt priests to maintain absolute confidentiality about confession. What’s most important to me and my colleagues in priestly ministry is making sure that confession is as secure and safe a place as possible for you, the penitent, to confront your sins and our God. Since a sinner can be confident that no matter what he or she says will go no further than the confession, the Church as best she can is providing the best opportunity for a good experience of reconciliation.
So, then, the only thing you have to worry about is not confessing! So be sure to make regular confession a part of your spiritual life!