Priests should face Criminal Charges for not Reporting Abuse Heard in Confession
By a Staff Reporter of the Catholic Herald: posted Monday, 14 Aug 2017
(Paraphrased by Brian Mark Hennessy)
The report by the Australian Inquiry has called for legislation to criminalise priests who fail to break the seal of the confessional. It states that Priests who do not inform the police after learning about child abuse in confession should face criminal charges, an Australian inquiry has said. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended all states and territories in the country should introduce legislation to punish priests for not breaking the seal of the confessional.
“The right to practice one’s religious beliefs must accommodate civil society’s obligation to provide for the safety of all. In particular, such reports must be made in cases of children’s safety from sexual abuse,” the commission wrote. “Institutions directed to caring for and providing services for children, including religious institutions, must provide an environment where children are safe from sexual abuse. Reporting information relevant to child sexual abuse to the police is critical to ensuring the safety of children.”
The recommendation will likely be strongly resisted by the Church, which has always guarded the absolute confidentiality of confession. Under canon law, priests may never break the seal of the confessional, even under threat of death. Any priest who breaks the seal faces automatic excommunication. Archbishop of Melbourne Denis J Hart said in a statement: “Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest. It is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognised in the Law of Australia and many other countries. It must remain so here in Australia. Outside of this all offences against children must be reported to the authorities – and we are absolutely committed to doing so.”
Comments by Brian Mark Hennessy
Whilst indeed Canon Law does make the statements on Confessional secrecy reiterated by the Catholic cleric Hart above, Canon Law is out of step with St Augustine of Hippo whom the Catholic Church claims, rightfully, to be perhaps the most significant Doctor of their very own Catholic Church. In his “Summa Theologiae”, Augustine clearly states that Christians are bound to report to the civil authorities matters for which the civil state has a right to provide legislation and dispense justice – and where there are no “moral” grounds that prohibit such reporting. In most modern democratic Nation States such a moral ground prohibiting reporting would be almost impossible to define. The only theoretical instance of which I can readily (and reasonably think to be debatable) that would preclude reporting of a crime of sexual abuse to a State authority is one in which a State provides capital punishment as a penalty for the crime committed.
In the case of “child abuse” there are not only no moral grounds for not reporting the facts to the civil authorities, but there is a “moral imperative” for doing so. Christ said, “Suffer not little children to come unto me”. That is a moral imperative to protect children if ever there was one. It is, moreover, a fundamental “Christian Gospel” obligation. To state otherwise is an act of age-old Catholic Church ostentation, moral sterility and institutional senility.
Moreover, there is nothing to prevent a Confessor Priest clearly stating to a penitent who has committed a crime against any third party that absolution is always conditional upon “true penitence”. In cases of crimes against children and vulnerable adults, who have no capacity to understand and to report such crimes committed against them themselves, the Confessor must state clearly to the penitent that absolution is both conditional upon and demonstrated by an admission of the crime by the penitent, herself or himself, to the civil authority.
It should be further explained to the penitent that the civil authority has the moral duty to protect from harm all citizens, particularly children and vulnerable adults, and to provide appropriate justice on their behalf. In cases where the penitent does not give an obligation to do so – or where subsequently a Confessor learns emphatically that a penitent has not done so, then the Confessor has a clear moral obligation to make such a report himself. It is a “no-brainer” not so to do and has no moral Christian foundation. The Catholic Church is repugnantly outrageous to either do or state anything to the contrary.