I will do my absolute best to finish what needs to be finished over the weekend so I can link to the blog this coming Monday, for those who are still interested. If I don't finish everything...I'll link to it anyway. "Under construction" is okay, right?
Now: today's issue.
Patrick Archbold has done a good job discussing the Irish proposal to force Catholic priests to violate the seal of the confessional and reveal the sins of penitents--if those penitents are confessing to child abuse of any kind. Patrick writes:
Here in the US, governmental antipathy toward religion and particular the Catholic Church is a growing threat. Catholic organizations are already being prevented from providing adoption services and you can bet your favorite pair of skinny jeans that gay marriage laws will eventually culminate in discrimination charges for any religious organization that refuses to go along.
All these things erode our religious liberty. But the governmental death blow aimed at the heart of the Church is to destroy the seal of confession. If you think this could never happen, think again. It may be happening right now in Ireland.
The Irish government, including the person no less than the Prime Minister, the Minister for Justice, and the Minister for Children are all backing legislation that would require priests to break the seal of confession to report pedophiles.
This is, of course, not only a monstrous attack the Church and religious liberty, it is also completely useless. Do these Irish geniuses think that all pedophiles are complete morons? If a pedophile knows that the priest will/must rat him out to the coppers, how many pedophiles will be confessing? Yeah, about the same number of Mensa members in the Irish government. [Link in original--E.M.]
This is, of course, an attack against the Church, but it is a supremely stupid one. Not only will it be impossible to enforce a law which would require a priest to violate Church law and the confidence placed in him by those seeking the sacrament of penance, but it is also the case that confessions quite often take place under circumstances which offer the penitent anonymity. Even if the Church did permit priests to violate the seal of confession, which she doesn't, the law would likely be dubious about reports of confessions of child abuse in which the suspect disclosed the information behind a screen which obscured his face, and in a low monotone of the sort adopted by most Catholics in the confessional (because, after all, the next person in line might otherwise accidentally overhear). And there is no evidence, none whatsoever, that forcing priests to reveal the confessions of self-accused pedophiles or other child abusers would in any way help law enforcement deal with the problem of child abuse; in fact, considering that law enforcement sometimes has trouble prosecuting cases when multiple child-victims are willing to come forward and testify, how could the testimony of a priest concerning the shaky identification and mumbled self-accusation of a possible suspect even begin to be helpful?
The answer: it won't be. But this isn't about helping the children, or prosecuting abusers. This is about finding any convenient shillelagh (and you know I've got some Irish blood, because I spelled "shillelagh" correctly on the first try with no dictionary's help) with which to beat the Church.
Granted, given the terrible nature of the Scandal and the fear and frustration of lay people as they watch the slow and sometimes ineffective measures the Church has taken to try to protect children from abusers within the clergy, it is not hard to understand the anger that causes such reactions. But the problem with attempting to go after the sacrament of penance and violate the sacred trust between priests and penitents as the latter approach in sorrow to be absolved of their sins is that breaking that bond of trust will ultimately do much more harm than good. The right of every Catholic to approach his or her priest in total confidence that nothing which is said during sacramental confession will ever be revealed on earth to any other human being is sacrosanct, and is not something any real Catholic would permit to be violated by any government body, for any reason. Even in the secular world some bonds, such as those between doctors and patients, or lawyers and clients, or husbands and wives, are treated with the same respect--but if the Church is a target of the state's overreaching hands, you can expect that the rest of these bonds will be disrespected and done away with at some point, too.
.- A senior canon lawyer has told CNA he is alarmed by Irish government plans to imprison priests for keeping the seal of confession in sexual abuse cases.
“It will end up with priests being put in jail,” said Father Paul Hayward, editor of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland’s journal Abstracts.
“We have to get greater clarity as to what exactly is being proposed but, certainly, no priest who values their priesthood would ever break the seal of confession. This could make martyrs of a lot of Irish priests.”
And that's what the government of Ireland apparently wants.