17 July 2011

Ireland Strikes at the Seal of the Confessional

Don't be misled-- using the most odious of crimes as the excuse is merely the wedge. Once the principle of the inviolability of priest-confessor secrecy is breached, it is wide open. And less importantly, but certainly, the attorney-client and doctor-patient privileges will be worthless, too.

Irish government plans frontal assault on confessional secrecyIrish government leaders have insisted that they will not allow the secrecy of the confessional to limit the scope of new legislation that would require reporting of all complaints of child abuse.

“The point is, if there is a law in the land, it has to be followed by everybody. There are no exceptions, there are no exemptions," said children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald. Quickly dismissing the sanctity of the confessional, which has been recognized by governments for centuries, Fitzgerald said: "I'm not concerned--neither is the government,--bout the internal laws, the rules governing any body.”

“The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny said.

Ian Elliott, the head of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, disagreed. While welcoming the legislation in principle, Elliott said that they was no need to challenge the confessional seal. “To break it would antagonize relationships,” he warned, and the Catholic Church would certainly fight against passage of the legislation as it stands.

“The Catholic Church and the State are on a collision course” on the question, the Irish Times reported, saying that the legislation as it is framed “is likely to encounter significant resistance within the church.” That is an understatement. Since the Catholic Church requires priests to maintain absolute secrecy about what they hear in sacramental confessions, all priests would face a moral obligation to defy the law.

Thus if the sweeping legislation becomes law, Ireland could see a return of the days in which a priest could face imprisonment for the “crime” of acting as a Catholic priest.


The Riopel Family said...

Do you know if a priest is excommunicated immediately if he breaks that seal and then if the sacraments are valid if he continues to administer them? My 8yr old asked me this question and he wanted to know if the priest would be excommunicated whether or not anyone (other than the person he told) else knew. I know that he can be if he is caught and it is proven but is there an excommunication even if he's not caught? Sorry if this doesn't make sense :)

StGuyFawkes said...

One has to read between the lines here. This is obviously a symbolic slap to the Church's face following the recent Irish Super Scandal.

Looking at it practically,

1.) A priest hearing the confession of an abusing layman, especially using the traditional "sliding window behind the grate" method, wouldn't know who the sinner might be. So how can he report?

2.) The law is really aimed at the priest who hears the confession of a brother priest who will often know the penitant personally.

3.) TO be fair the law is probably intended to weaken the chancery office defense that "indeed His Excellancy did know of Fr. Such and Such's problem but it was disclosed in a private counselling session, that is "under the seal of confession." THis defense has been used on occasion in Europe.

The integration of Canon law with Civil and Criminal law is messy.

Maintaining the traditional independance of Church law is very important. Case in point: What is the Church to so in countries where the punishment for abuse, or adultery is stoning, and the punisment for theft is dismemberment of the hand? Obviously, the Church cannot report.

More importantly, what is the Church to do with a priest who is charged, imprisoned, defrocked, laicized and then released to abuse again? Wash their hands of the sinner and say he's not our problem anymore? IS that really the Christian approach to sin?

Many times the coddled pervert-in- a-collar has been shifted around and watched internally because the Church felt it could better safeguard youths by having the miscreant on the inside being observed than out on the street, laicized, and taking interviews to teach middle School Latin. Strange as the above may seem, and unworkable as the policy became, it was part of the philosophy that guided "move the pervert" around arrangement.

Strange to say, I'm not sure society is better protected by incarceration and listing the offender on a website.