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Attacking the Seal of Confession will only result in Jailing Innocent Priests

November 14, 2012

Attacking the Seal of Confession will only result in Jailing Innocent Priests

For those that are unaware many Catholic Church confessionals still have a screen and a curtain to protect anonymity of the confessor. Face to face confession where the priest can see who they are absolving of sins is a rarer practice adopted in the last few decades. For many traditional Catholics people this over familiar style adds an extra level of intrusion in what is a deeply personal matter of clearing their conscience and cleaning their soul. It this second point of cleaning the soul of sin that creates the most trouble of all dilemmas in the argument about legal rights of the land versus the god given right to have sins removed. That is the right to remove any obstacle that would prevent any human being from being admitted to heaven after death.

The clear difference between the secular viewpoint and that of the Catholic faith is that of the immortal human soul. In the strict secular materialist universe the human soul has no existence whereas in the Catholic universe the existence of the soul frames the entire purpose of life. This is not some alien concept because the Catholic view on this matter also corresponds with that of other faiths. “It profits you nothing if you should gain the entire world and lose their soul.”

The Royal Commission

In the last few days the Gillard Labour Government has announced that a Royal Commission into child abuse . The Royal Commission became excellent moral capital as a bipartisan issue after it was expanded from just focussing exclusively upon Catholic institutions to all institutions. If only one sector of society were to be subjected to exclusive scrutiny then other sectors would never be examined. Catholic Bishops were initially voicing concern that they were about to be subjected a biased witch hunt. Such an enquiry would have been so deeply flawed that it would offer no justice to victims of child abuse in any unexamined institution. That being said the real reason for bipartisan support was the restoration of an equitable point to start from. Even Catholic Bishops have been falling over each other to applaud the new parameters of the planned Royal Commission.

That being said there has been a new call through media to force Catholic priests to break the seal of confession in matter of child sexual abuse. The argument is being framed in terms of preventative care for minors versus the religious obligation of priests never to reveal what was disclosed in confession.

In being interviewed about the possibility of forcing Catholic priest to break the seal of confession Prime Minister Gillard had this to say:

”Adults have got a duty of care towards children,” Ms Gillard said. ”It’s not good enough for people to engage in sin of omission and not act when a child is at risk.”

For political leaders like Julia Gillard what she is vaguely advocating may come from the lack of comprehending the consequences of what is being suggested. As such she can be forgiven for making a rash statement that will, I strongly suspect, be conveniently moderated at some future date.

However NSW Premier Barry O’Farrel who was quick to tout his own Catholic credentials made the following statement:

”…I struggle to understand … that if a priest confesses to another priest that he’s been involved in paedophile activities, that that information should not be brought to police”

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was a little more cautious in choosing his words when he made this statement:

“There are various requirements on people if they become aware of sexual offences against children,” he told reporters. “Those legal requirements must be adhered to.”

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon took a far stronger approach saying:

“I think the whole community finds that idea [that priests would not report abuse] really abhorrent and we’ve been through these debates for mandatory reporting for doctors, teachers, for others that [are] meant to be in close relationships and nevertheless have been required to make reports, so I think we really need to look carefully, there aren’t a different set of rules that apply.”

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon tried in 2003 when he was a member of the South Australian parliament, to introduce legislation to remove the seal of confessional. The legislation was shot down in flames according to the senator.

Will making every Priest a criminal help

In terms of legislation there is no objective evidence that removing the seal of confession will help protect any children. Framing serious changes to the law in terms of theoretical benefits rather than proven benefits risks doing more damage than good. Consequently innocent priests who take their sacramental obligations seriously will be prosecuted for nothing more than refusing to say whose confession they have heard. Again if a child abuser falsely claims that he had confessed his crimes to priest the seal of confession is so strict that he cannot adequately defend himself against any bogus accusation.

The seal of confession is treat as one of the most serious obligations of the priesthood and his been canon law since 1151.

Deponatur sacerdos qui peccata p nitentis publicare præsumit,” which means, “Let the priest who dares to make known the sins of his penitent be deposed.”

Canon 21 in 1215 reinforced the law stating,

For whoever shall dare to reveal a sin disclosed to him in the tribunal of penance we decree that he shall be not only deposed from the priestly office but that he shall also be sent into the confinement of a monastery to do perpetual penance”

The Code of Canon Law 983.1 make the situation very clear:

“…It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason.”

The rules under which a priest hears confession are very strict and to break the seal of confession incurs some of the most severe penalties in the Catholic Church according to Canon Law (1388.1)

“A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”

There is no mistake about these words and every ordained priest has the weight of these drummed into the heads in training. No ifs, no buts. Break the seal of confession for any reason, even to save you own life, reputation or even if you are compelled by the law of the land and you are automatically excommunicated.

The obligation has been taken so seriously that priests have chosen to face execution rather than break the seal of confession.

In 1393 St. John Nepomucene, Vicar General of Prague and confessor to the queen, was sentence to torture and death for refusing reveal what was in the queen’s confession.

If people are think that such punishments could never happen in the modern world they need only look to the Spanish Revolution where Father Felipe Ciscar Puig was executed during the persecution of 1936 for protecting the seal of confession.

Whatever the reason the seal of confession has stood the test of time and persecution.

The problem for politicians is that they do not want to be seen on lower moral ground than their rivals. Hence they will gladly make a few cheap shots about religious laws that they do not understand (or worse intentionally misrepresent). The problem for the priest is that they no alternative than to defy any law of the land that would break the seal of confession. As such the only result of such a law would be to fill prisons with innocent priests. That may have the noise anti-Catholics in the community rubbing their hands with glee but in reality it is religious persecution.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 4:32 am

    To attack the teachings and beliefs of the traditional Catholic Church is to be a servant of Satan.


    • November 15, 2012 5:35 am

      OMG thanks for your comments.
      I haven’t made that claim myself but your view point is worthy of consideration.


  2. November 15, 2012 5:42 am

    You are a much more moderate (and stable and sensible) person than I am.

    What impressed me most about this article was your references to Canon Law. You certainly do your homework. It’s impressive.


    • November 15, 2012 6:02 am

      I am more impressed that you are up this early reading my post.
      As for the research . All the material is in the public domain. Any clown could find it.


  3. November 15, 2012 6:06 am

    Oh, you should know me well enough by now to know that anything anyone writes on the Catholic Church is of intense interest to me.

    And I’m always up around 5am.

    I forgot to tell you. I’m just down the road from your place again.


    • November 15, 2012 3:31 pm

      You are in the hood. Drop us a line when you are free.
      I normally fall out of bed at about 6.30am to head off to work.


      • November 15, 2012 3:38 pm

        The suburb is Heidelberg Heights.

        I might stay here. The joint is a total dog box. It’s right up my woofer valve.

        I start work at 5am. Now to find a paid job.


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