Shock: proposed law in Ireland would order breaking confession seal

If passed, Ireland would reportedly become the first and only country in the Western world with such a law on the books.

Details, from Pat Archbold:

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.

But why stop there?  Why not force them to break the seal for the crimes of murder, rape, and spilling your beer?  Where would it end? We would still have pedophilia, murder, rape, and spilled beer, but no confession. Aha…

A columnist in Ireland adds more:

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.
The justification for the law is that the crime of paedophilia is so heinous that no one who hears about it, under whatever circumstances, can be allowed to keep it to themselves.
But our Government is clearing 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 counter-productive and will make society less safe, rather than more safe.
It could equally be argued that a priest who hears a confession of murder must report it to the police. But if the murderer knew that priests were under such a legal requirement, the murderer would not make such a confession unless he was going to the police anyway.
On the other hand, a murderer who wishes to confess a crime to a priest, under the absolute seal of the confessional, is on the road to repentance and attending confession gives a priest the chance to encourage the murderer to turn himself over to the authorities or at the very least to cease his criminal activities.
The logic is the same with child abusers. 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.

  • http://www.gerardnadal.com Gerard Nadal

    And how is this supposed to work? Does the priest take out a pen and paper and get the person’s name and address? Does he carry a cell phone in the confessional to call police, or will the confessional be mandated to be rigged with a silent alarm?

    Will Irish law dictate that Canon Law be amended so that absolution is conditional on giving up one’s identity? If the penitent wishes to remain anonymous, what is the priest supposed to say: “Sorry, but government law tells me I may not absolve you unless you show me your driver’s license?”

    It’s a brilliant political ploy to make the Church argue why she should protect the identity of pedophiles. This isn’t a misguided attempt at justice, or as mentioned, murder, rape, etc… would be added to the list. This is simply harassment. And still, I find it remarkable that only Catholic clergy are responsible for sex crimes involving children. Would that the cowards in government go after the far more systemic problem in other quarters as well.

  • http://www.patrickomalley.com Patrick O’Malley

    Brilliant. Kudos, Ireland.

    There is no question that the Catholic church has been raping children for decades, covering it up, lying about it, and ignoring the victims.

    They can’t be trusted to protect society from their own pedophiles, and for a long time, the laws of the land allowed the church to get away with that. The church shamelessly, recklessly, sinfully abused that power – not as individuals, but as a coordinated, organized whole.

    That makes them an organized crime empire as much as a religious institution.

    They should start losing benefits, like “the loophole of confession” and tax exempt status, since they have long lost respect and trust.

    Pedophile priests proved that confession gave them the capability to rape children as long as they ran to confession afterwards. Some in the US in Philadelphia had sex with children in confessional. That’s convenient. If you close that loophole, and the priest knows that he has to confess or go to hell after he rapes a child, he has a big dilemma.

    Brilliant solution, Ireland.

    Pedophiles – want forgiveness from God? Go to prison on earth. You don’t get the benefit of God’s forgiveness for free. Priests – want to hide your pedophile priest friend? You go to jail.

    Enact the law. Let’s hope the US follows suit. The Catholic church concealed child rape for at least 60 years. Let’s let the government shut down the pedophile protection practices. Next up – taxing the church.

  • Dan S

    I hate to say it, but I have a gut feeling that probably a good number of priests would capitulate to this rather than face the legal consequences if they kept the seal of confession.

  • Jonathan

    @Patrick.

    That’s a lot of hate, there, my friend. And vengeance.

  • John F

    How would this even be enforced? The only way knowledge would be gained about a violation of this law would be from either the priest or penitent, and that would likely be long after the fact. I’m an Irish citizen myself, and I weep for the many, many victims; that doesn’t mean enacting silly and counter-productive laws is the answer.

  • http://www.gerardnadal.com Gerard Nadal

    “You don’t get the benefit of God’s forgiveness for free.”

    Well…..

    Actually, Patrick, you do. That’s the crux of the issue here. Jesus made a free-will sacrifice. We cannot purchase forgiveness, nor set preconditions, nor establish a quid pro quo.

    In your venomous hatred of the Church, your lens of perspective has become so distorted that you seem to think that this law only targets pedophile priests. It’s all pedophiles, and that begs the question:

    What about rapists, murderers, etc? Why stop at pedophiles? Making the Catholic Church a subsidiary of Scotland Yard won’t expose the problem, it will only make it worse by driving those seeking help and counseling further underground.

  • John

    I live in Texas. Texas law requires the reporting of child abuse. The duty extends to professionals and reads in part:

    (c) The requirement to report under this section applies
    without exception to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, A MEMBER OF THE CLERGY, a medical practitioner, a social worker, a mental health professional, and an employee of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.
    Texas Family Code Chapter 261

    The penalty for not reporting is a Class B Misdemeanor: up to a $2000.00 fine / 180 days in jail or both.

    Priests are being placed between a rock and a hard place.

  • Ryan

    It’s been alluded to already, but how can this be enforced when confession often occurs behind a screen and without knowledge of who the sinner is? Irish bishops would be wise to mandate screened, anonymous confessions in their dioceses to ensure the secrecy of the sacrament. Even Patrick O’Malley, who has commented on other sites strongly advocating this policy, can’t possibly think the law could actually be enforced under such a sacrament.

    With workarounds this obvious to even me, the only poin of this law can be to punish some priests for the sins (and crimes) priests have committed. That the priest who is punished is the one who committed the crime and sin is an optional thing, though an added bonus if it manages to be done. This shows the prevalent mentality of far too many, that if you belong to certain groups you are guilty of your brothers’ sins.

  • TomKumar

    Such a law will NOT help— it will only hurt.
    I hope I live long enough for society to finally face the epidemic of sexual abuse of children. Up-to-now, the Catholic Church has been the easy target. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is only the tip of the iceberg. I grieve for the victims of sex abuse in public schools, scouting, sports teams, and IN FAMILIES! In society’s desire to destroy the Catholic Church (they will never succeed)— they ignore millions of abusers elsewhere! And—the problem is getting worse!

  • Liam

    Actually, in canon law, both the priest and the penitent have the fundamental option for anonymity – if either wants it, it must be done anonymously.

    I suspect that is how confessions will henceforth be heard in Ireland. Without the identity of the penitent being known to the confessor, the law is a nullity.

  • Rudy

    Homosexuality and the rape of young teenagers (is not pedophilia, its ephebophilia) has been practiced in the English and Irish educational establishment for a long time. The practice of teachers or senior students choosing junior ones for homosexual abuse has been a fact of dormitory life in these nations.

  • joan chakonas

    The favorite subject of Catholic critics always comes down to sex. Negative, ugly and evil commentary on the Catholic church from secular observers with an ax to grind is par for the course.

    This whole evil subject has Satanic fingerprints all over it and invites Catholic bashers to classify, make broad generalizations and statements without attribution or qualification, and freely throw words out into the ether.

    I guess this is the best they can do to make themselves feel good.

    It all comes down to politics–the new religion of the secular-one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God’s (Fulton Sheen).

    You can’t touch the Church with the truth, so go resort to the art of the possible.

  • kenneth

    I’m largely on board with Mr. O’Malley’s comments. It’s time to bring the full weight of organized crime prosecution and asset forfeiture down on the Church when abuse cover-ups occur. That said, I’m not sure the seal of confession is a very useful approach. So far as I know, there are few, if any instances, in which abuse came to light solely through someone’s confession and therefore the problem stayed hidden. Bishops in most of these cases had mounds of paperwork from investigations and admissions conducted outside of the confessional. They then chose to aid and abet criminals, and they should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives.

  • naturgesetz

    kenneth,

    You’ve vastly oversimplified the history to the point of distortion. In many of the cases the problem was that the accusation was honestly disbelieved. In other cases, priests were sent for psychological treatment and returned with the assurance that it was safe to return them to ministry. And for many years bishops believed that transferring priests from the parish where they had fallen into sin would enable them to amend their lives, and in that mistaken expectation they considered themselves to be following the demands of justice in not revealing others’ faults. In other words, they did not realize that it would be necessary to warn the people, because they expected the priest to be able to avoid sin in his new assignment. Cases where a bishop both knew that a priest had abused minors and that he was a serious risk to reoffend and sent him to work in a parish with no warning at least to the pastor to monitor him closely were, I believe, a small minority.

    But even in cases of a true cover-up where a bishop knowingly enabled a priest to continue abusing children, I doubt that there is any jurisdiction where life imprisonment is the penalty for aiding and abetting in sexual crime. The law rightly considers aiding and abetting a criminal a lesser offense that the actual crime which is abetted. So should we.

  • http://www.adeaconswife.wordpress.com Susan Kehoe

    The situation in Ireland is deplorable, but this is not the answer. I predict that a reporter will use the law to entrap faithful innocent priests.

    Not one abusive priest, however, will be jailed as a result of this law.

    It is not really surprising as Ireland has been the land of baptized pagans for several decades.

  • cathyf

    naturgesetz, there is one other category, which is the one that contains 90% of the abuse reports in the US — that the abuse was not reported until 2002.

    The second John Jay Report had in their data set slightly over 8000 cases of abuse that happened between 1950 and 1985. 810 of those cases were reported before 1986. There are about 200 dioceses in the US, so that makes an average of about 4 reports per diocese over 35 years. Some dioceses had significantly more, some none. Many bishops have fairly short tenures, and so a significant number simply had no accusations on their watches.

    In the vast majority of cases, only 3 people knew about the abuse while it was going on: the perpetrator, the victim and God. You can blame the perp (and should!). You can blame the victim. You can blame God. But unless you truly believe that bishops have comic-book-superhero powers, you can only blame a bishop in a case where the bishop knew about it.

  • Ray

    A teacher in NY State just got sentenced to 90 days in prison. Thats 90 DAYS! For having sex with a 15 year old special-ed student. Where is Patrick, Steve, HMS and all the other haters, to rant and rave about that? Will we see a sweeping indictment of the entire educationals system, in a NYT editorial by Maureen Dowd? This is where it becomes obvious that their false concern over children is just a convenient excuse to hate on the Church.

  • Paul

    “The law rightly considers aiding and abetting a criminal a lesser offense that the actual crime which is abetted.”

    naturgesetz, a person that aids and abets a federal crime suffers the same criminal liability as a person that commits the crime. 18 USC § 2(a). That’s the general rule for aiding and abetting; few jurisdictions treat an accomplice as having committed a lesser offense.

    You have put forth a plausible argument earlier in the post, however, that much of the shifting of priests that committed sexual abuse can be attributed to negligence without the associated criminal intent. That’s the missing factor; to be held liable as an accomplice, you have to have the requisite mens rea, and negligence isn’t it.

  • pagansister

    If that law “captures” one pedophile, then it would be worth passing. Wonder if the US would consider it? Probably not—

    I have often wondered why a murderer or rapist or other criminal can confess to a priest, perhaps feel better and continue their crimes. How does a priest feel when a man/woman sits in the booth and says” Father, I just killed my mother/father/friend etc. and I’m really sorry”. How does a person live with that knowledge? Wonder how many criminals have confessed to a priest and never were caught for their crime by the authorities? One would be too many.

  • HMS

    Ray:

    “Where is Patrick, Steve, HMS and all the other haters, to rant and rave about that?”

    Are you talkin’ to me?

    If so, you don’t know me well enough to call me a hater? As a matter of fact, that was pretty hateful statement to make about me.

  • francis

    I know of one priest who, voluntarily, went to the police after his mother died to confess this crime. Nothing could be done to charge him as no victims came forward to back up his story. I don’t think he could have done much more, so this is another twist to the tale that the Irish Government hasn’t thought out. While not condoning the actions of any of the paedophiles who became priests, I don’t believe any genuine priest became a paedophile, I often wonder how priests could get access to children so easily. Surely some of the parents have to shoulder responsibility also. I wonder also how any young man could go a second time to anyone who had abused him. Surely every single victim in Ireland wasn’t afraid to confide to someone, even their closest pals. It would have suited the Irish Government better if they had helped their persecuted brethren in the North of Ireland when they were being (and still are)persecuted and burned out of their homes. Of course that would have meant upsetting GREAT Britain and we couldn’t have had that, could we?

  • kenneth

    “kenneth,

    You’ve vastly oversimplified the history to the point of distortion. In many of the cases the problem was that the accusation was honestly disbelieved. In other cases, priests were sent for psychological treatment and returned with the assurance that it was safe to return them to ministry. And for many years bishops believed that transferring priests from the parish where they had fallen into sin would enable them to amend their lives, and in that mistaken expectation they considered themselves to be following the demands of justice in not revealing others’ faults. In other words, they did not realize that it would be necessary to warn the people, because they expected the priest to be able to avoid sin in his new assignment. Cases where a bishop both knew that a priest had abused minors and that he was a serious risk to reoffend and sent him to work in a parish with no warning at least to the pastor to monitor him closely were, I believe, a small minority.

    But even in cases of a true cover-up where a bishop knowingly enabled a priest to continue abusing children, I doubt that there is any jurisdiction where life imprisonment is the penalty for aiding and abetting in sexual crime. The law rightly considers aiding and abetting a criminal a lesser offense that the actual crime which is abetted. So should we.”…..

    A decades long pattern of deliberate and calculated coverup of major felonies, aiding interstate and international flight from justice, bribing and intimidating witnesses and money laundering, regardless of motivation or self-delusion, is still called racketeering. If these men had comitted these acts in any other context whatsoever, they would have been locked up for life in a federal pen where they would never see a full patch of open sky again. In addition, every piece of property and real estate involved in the crimes would have been subject to forfeiture and sold at auction. Going forward, that’s exactly what should happen to such criminals, whether religious or secular.

  • RomCath

    “If that law “captures” one pedophile, then it would be worth passing.”

    What total and utter nonsense. The Seal of Confession is unbreakable under pain of excommunication for any priest who does break it.

  • Maureen

    And while we’re at it, let’s make it mandatory for pubs to videotape and audio-record everything said and done in their place, making anything particularly criminal or embarrassing available to police, family, and YouTube!

    And let’s start with the pubs that serve politicians, since apparently they don’t ever go confess.

  • pagansister

    IOW, #23, RomCath, there is such thing as getting away with murder—even after you tell a priest. As I said above, I have always found that amazing. The victim of a priest’s criminal hands can report mistreatment—but if afraid—the priest gets a pass–because he confessed—–to another PRIEST! Now that is certainly justice.

  • Annie

    pagansister #25 – it isn’t justice – but if in our faith we believe that through the sacrament of reconciliation God absolves us of our sins – then we have to believe that no matter how grave, that they are forgiven.

    I believe that every possible legal means should be used to remove pedophile priests – including the Church as a whole educating itself explicitly on the nature of pedophilia and the unlikelihood that a pedophile can be reformed – that the church in conjunction with state authorities employ every investigative power possible to reveal and prosecute abuse where it occurs – but I do not support the breaking of the confessional seal.

    Please pray for the church in Ireland – and please refrain from making generalized and completely unfounded statements such as those made by Susan Kehoe #15 which are inaccurate, unhelpful and extremely hurtful.

  • pagansister

    Annie #26: With respect—the sacrament of reconciliation doesn’t help the victim—it allows the criminal to feel better—about doing something wrong, and the victim is in some cases dead (so the family/friends of the victim have no help) or is still alive dealing with an awful experience (no matter what that might be). I know that it is the faith—but I still find it hard to understand how anyone can be forgiven for some crimes—murder, violating children/women etc. My sympathy is for the victim–not the criminal. It certainly isn’t justice. I do understand that you support the finding and removal of pedophile priests by any means necessary (except for breaking the confessional seal) in conjunction with local authorities.

  • naturgesetz

    pagansister #27 “I still find it hard to understand how anyone can be forgiven for some crimes—murder, violating children/women etc.”

    That’s one of the wonderful things about God: he always forgives when someone repents. It’s our only hope of getting to heaven.

    And although a side effect of forgiveness may be that the sinner feels better, the important thing is that he or she actually is better in the sense of being spiritually well and headed to heaven, rather than sick or dead.

  • Liam

    The breadth of God’s mercy is scandalous, isn’t it? Jesus was crucified for insisting on it. People today still question him on this point.

  • RomCath

    Pagan, I would not expect you to understand that God’s mercy is infinite. We Catholics don’t understand it either but we believe it. Read the parable of the Prodigal Son.
    If priests can violate the confidentiality of the confessional then we might as well do away with the sacrament.
    I find it hard to comprehend how people can see the sanctity of the lawyer/client privilege or doctor/patient but not the priest/penitent.

  • Ray

    Precisely RomCath – You hit the issue dead on. I can’t think of one case where the only evidence to convict someone, would be a confession to a Priest. Again, for those who do not seem to get it. Priests and Bishops are not responsible for the prosecution of crimes in our criminal justice system. We have people called police and DA’s that do that. They gather evidence and bring a court case against them. Now, better question – Do we throw lawyer-client confidentiality out the window and make a Defense Attourney come forward with any knowledge of their clients guilt? Should they have to divulge everything that is said between them and their clients? How about psychiatrists? Without confidentiality the sacrament of penance would be lost. Any case that hinges merely on a Confession to a Preist is incredibly weak.

  • sj

    I’m totally opposed to this proposal but have to point out for accuracy that physician(including psychiatrist)-patient privilege is abrogated when the physician has a reasonable belief that child abuse has occurred in many places, including my home state of Maryland.


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