What is ‘Archivum Secretum,’ or ‘Secret Archives’?: An explainer

December 11, 2018

HOUSTON — In light of recent events, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been wondering what exactly the “Archivum Secretum” are and what is contained within them. In English, this is commonly translated as “Secret Archives” but could just as easily be called the “private” or “confidential” archives.

Just as HIPAA Laws require personal medical records to be stored confidentially, the Catholic Church also mandates that certain records are maintained confidentially to protect the rights of the individuals named in those documents. 

One recent news story went so far as to allege that the “Secret Archives” maintain notes taken from confessions. This could not be further from the truth about the Seal of the Confessional. The Catholic Church has always maintained that the Seal of the Confessional is absolutely inviolable and it is forbidden for a confessor to reveal any information gained within a confession (cf. cann. 983 & 984).

If a priest were to directly violate this sacred oath, he would immediately be excommunicated from the Church by the law itself, an excommunication which only the Holy See itself can lift. This would include things like taking notes from a confession or recording the confession or any other actions that would reveal the penitent and their sins.

If someone were to ever think that a priest might have revealed knowledge that was gained in the confessional, then they should notify their bishop so that this can be investigated.