Sunday, July 17, 2011

Irish proposal to legislate against the seal of confession will be rejected by the Church

Not The Irish Parliament or Dail (see combox)
No State authority can mandate the breaking of the seal, no matter what the subject of the confession. As the following CNS report concludes, if the Irish State legislates for a possible 5-year imprisonment sentence for a priest who does not communicate the confession of child abuse to the State authorities, what abuser will go to confession? And the possibility that someone with this on his/her conscience taking that first step in confessing his/her sin will be shut off.

Furthermore, priests are very likely going to be subjected to false confessions, perhaps by journalists of the News of the World type or private investigators, to see how they might react when someone confesses child abuse.

The Irish State should stay out of this. The confessional is not the problem.

I would however add the following suggestion, which may or may not be fair: had the bishops of Ireland observed canonical norms and recognised a crime for what it was, a crime, and dealt with the individuals against whom allegations were made by conducting the required investigations, and acquitting where the priest or other person is found innocent, and punishing those found guilty, the Church (in Ireland) would not have lost its respect. As it is, the justice system of the Church (Canon Law) is perceived to be no better than that of a banana republic (a correspondent of mine might recognise this as his description, which I protested against). Cardinal Burke has spoken many times on the anti-canon law attitudes of bishops and other ecclesiastics over the past few decades. The Church and her members, particular the bishops, must show the utmost respect for Canon Law and ensure its observance for the sake of the salvation of souls.
Irish priests reject suggestion that they break seal of confession

By Michael Kelly
Catholic News Service

DUBLIN (CNS) -- The group that represents Ireland's Catholic priests says the secrecy of confession must be protected, despite government indications that confessions would not be exempt from rules on mandatory reporting 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 Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Father P.J. Madden, spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests, insisted that the sacramental seal of confession is "above and beyond all else" and should not be broken even if a penitent confesses to a crime.

Father Madden said he would strongly urge and appeal to the penitent -- whether a priest or anyone else -- to confess a crime to the police and have the civil aspect dealt with, but that he did not approve of the idea of reporting what was said.

"If I'm breaking the law then somebody has to find a way to address that for me ... but in my own right as a priest what I understand is the seal of confession is above and beyond all else," he said.

"The seal of confession is a very sacred seal for lots of different reasons way beyond this one single issue, however serious this one single issue is," Father Madden insisted.

The Irish government said it would introduce legislation that makes it mandatory for priests to reveal details of child abuse, even if they become known in the confessional. The offense is punishable with up to five years in prison.

The announcement came after a judicial commission investigating the Diocese of Cloyne revealed July 13 that allegations of abuse were being mishandled and withheld from the police as recently as 2008.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said July 14 that canon law would not be allowed to supersede state law.

Fitzgerald said the government was not concerned about "the rules governing any body."

"This is about the law of the land. It's about child protection. Are we saying ... if a child is at risk of child sexual abuse that should not be reported? We cannot say that. The law of the land is clear and unambiguous," she said.

Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore told Catholic News Service that the bishops would await the publication of the legislation before assessing it. However, he said, he felt it was "unreal to suggest that the seal of confession has prevented the reporting of the abuse of children."

The new legislation is not expected to be published this fall, and sources close to the Irish bishops' conference expected that a heavy lobbying campaign will get under way to ensure that a suitable exemption is considered.

David Quinn, director of the think-tank the Iona Institute, called the proposal "unprecedented."

"This would make us the one and only country in the Western world to have such a law. Even revolutionary France in the days of its worst violence against the church did not pass a law requiring the breaking of the seal of confession," Quinn told Catholic News Service.

He said the government "is clearly missing something that every other government can see, which is that, at a minimum, such a law is very unlikely to lead to a single conviction and, at a maximum, will be counterproductive and will make society less safe, rather than more safe."

"No child abuser will go to a priest in confession knowing the priest is required to inform the police. But cutting off the avenue of confession to a child abuser makes it less likely that he will talk to someone who can persuade him to take the next step," he added.



  1. It's peculiar how all this is being reported. What the Cloyne Report mainly shows is that you can have the best procedures possible, but it won't mean squat if people aren't willing to follow them. The whole thing is being badly reported: I've convinced that most journalists haven't read the report, and that most politicians are using it as a political football.

    The proposals are ludicrous. Aside from being impossible to enforce, they'd be contrary both to the Irish Constitution and to the European Convention on Human Rights. I can't see that they'd be in any way helpful, even if they could be legislated for, and I fear they could prove profoundly dangerous.

    For what it's worth, that's not the parliamentary building; it's Government Buildings, around the back of Leinster House. It's a ten minute walk away.

  2. Another correction. This how the ACP describes itself on its homepage: 'We are an association for Catholic Priests who wish to have a forum, and a voice to reflect, discuss and comment on issues affecting the Irish Church and society today' [ ].
    It does not claim to be nor is it 'The group that represents Ireland's Catholic priests'. About ten percent of Irish priests are said to be members of this voluntary organisation.

    I disagree with the ACP on some of the stands its members have taken, but on this one I am with them.

  3. Whatever has happened to Ireland! The land of saints and scholars. May Our Lady bring the Irish government to it's senses. Great comments Father. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the twilight zone reading about my beloved country.

  4. I can see why opponents of this diabolical proposed legislation are pointing out that it will be ineffective. But that would be the wrong thing to focus on. This proposed legislation must be opposed because it is evil. It exceeds the legitimacy and competency of human law. It is a forthright violation of the law of God and a frontal assault on His Church. As such, it comes straight from hell. Even if it could be proven that it would be 100% effective in catching child molesters, it should be opposed on the grounds that you cannot do evil in order that good may prevail.

  5. A friend of mine posted a link to an article in The (London) Times - a link which of course now doesn't work, the moment I want to share it - indicating that the Irish govt itself is implicated in collusion with the Church authorities in order to cover up abuse. Which seemed to put it all in a rather different perspective.

  6. That photograph isn't the Irish parliament - it's Government Buildings, the Department of the Taoiseach.

  7. They may reject it. But they will have to abide by it. Or be thrown in prison for 5 years. Simply the facts.

  8. Priests have gone to prison before, so what's new? Yes, we have to face the consequences of disobeying a civil law to remain obedient to a hiher law. Very sad situation in Ireland.


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