I'll be interested to see how a brewing confrontation between the Catholic Church in Ireland and that country's government is handled. (We originally discussed this in July.) The BBC reports:
The Irish justice minister has said that forthcoming child protection measures, including mandatory reporting will "apply regardless of any internal rules of any religious grouping".
Alan Shatter was responding to comments made by Cardinal Sean Brady who defended the seal of confession.
Cardinal Brady stressed it was a "sacred and treasured" rite.
Mr Shatter said past failures in the Catholic Church had led paedophiles to believe they could act with "impunity".
Last month the Cloyne report was published.
It found the diocese failed to report all complaints of abuse to police.
As a result, a number of child protection measures were announced under the legislation currently being drawn up.
A priest could be convicted of a criminal offence if they were told of a sexual abuse case and failed to report it to the civil authorities.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr Shatter said: "It is the failure in the past to make such reports that has led sexual predators into believing that they have impunity and facilitated paedophiles preying on children and destroying their lives."
Anyone who fails to declare information about the abuse of a child could face a prison term of five years.
The Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that priests who are given admissions of child abuse during the sacrament of confession will not be exempt from new rules on mandatory reporting.
There's more at the link. In another BBC report, one Irish priest has already gone on record as saying he'll go to prison rather than break the seal of the confessional, as the proposed new law requires.
This is going to set up a monumental conflict between canon law and civil law. It might be described as a classic case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. The Irish government is not going to back down from its demand that those knowing of offenses against civil law inform the authorities, and public opinion is likely to be strongly on their side. However, the Catholic Church has defended its internal system of law for many centuries, and is adamant that "A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See" (cf. Canon 1388 § 1). It matters not to the Church whether or not the confessor is obliged to violate that seal, in terms of civil law; the prohibition is absolute.
I don't see the Church backing down on this one. If it does, it'll be the start of the proverbial 'slippery slope' - it'll only be a matter of time before demands are made for confessors to reveal other sins, not just those relating to child sexual abuse. In order to prevent that escalation, the Church is sure to try to prevent it starting at all, even if that means some of its clergy must face prison sentences for their lack of co-operation with the civil authorities. On the other hand, those same civil authorities are quite right to be furious at the Church's mishandling of cases of clergy sexual abuse of children, particularly when that mishandling endangered more children. The Church cannot possibly make any defense of its criminally immoral actions (and, all too often, inaction) in this regard. It's actually rendered itself complicit in the crimes of some of its clergy. Under the circumstances, I don't believe any defense is possible.
The real tragedy is that, if only Bishops and seminary professors had been doing their jobs properly for the past few decades, this wouldn't be an issue at all . . .