Friday, September 2, 2011

The Catholic Church versus the authorities, redux

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 . . .




Anonymous said...

PS: Alan Shatter, the Justice Minister is JEWISH!

perlhaqr said...

I dunno how it's going to play out, but the Irish authorities wouldn't have needed to go here if the Catholic Church had done their job in the first place.

As for molesting priests, perhaps running a few of them, live, feet first, through a wood chipper, would get the attention of the rest.

Dave H said...

It was my understanding that God's forgiveness doesn't excuse us from worldly consequences.

Can the Church excommunicate someone based on something learned in confession? Or does that violate the seal too?

Maybe the Church should refuse to hear any more confession from someone who's confessed to abusing a child, at least until they've confessed to the police.

Shrimp said...

My understanding of the issue is that a priest cannot (or will not) forgive a sin of that magnitude without the person who confessed it also confessing to the police. If a person were to confess to murder, for example, the priest would (and rightly should) refuse to absolve them of their sin until they have made the proper legal confession. Because, if they're only sorry they committed the murder, but not ready to accept the consequences of it in the legal system, then they're not really sorry, are they? At the least, they are not ready to be absolved of it.

And there is the nut of the Church's position on the matter. If the person confesses to a priest about committing a crime, but has not confessed to the police, the priest should be both urging the person to confess to the police, AND refusing to absolve them until they do. That removes the priest from having to do anything with the information, legally speaking, because the person who confessed, if they truly want to be absolved of the sin, must do something with it themselves. One must accept that they at least had some desire to see themselves absolved of the sin, else they would not have gone to confession in the first place.

Whether that is working in actual practice, of course, is another matter.

The other matter is whether the priests themselves are committing such crimes, and "absolving" each other.

I do agree if the Church had taken matters seriously and dealt with it as they should have, this never would have come about.

Wayne Conrad said...

Child abuse is heinous and inexcusable. I'm going to say that right up front so nobody gets the wrong idea.


Mandatory reporting requirements, for this crime or any other, don't seem like such a good idea to me. Whether or not to report a possible crime must be a matter between a man and his conscience, not yet another way for the government to make someone into a criminal.

No matter how terrible the crime, I must stand on principle here. Someone who knows of a crime and does not report it might be wrong, but still should not be a criminal.

Remember, too, that these things always start with "think of the children," but it'll be an easy matter to add other crimes to the list of things citizens must report. Yes, this is the "slippery slope" argument, but that doesn't make it invalid. Government's control over our actions and even our thoughts has coasted freely down that slope.

Oh, and by the way: Child abuse is heinous and inexcusable.

DaddyBear said...

What an ethical quandary. Either violate your vows to keep the confessional sacrosanct, or violate your own moral need to bring someone who violates the innocence of children to justice. My guess is we'll see a few Irish priests going to jail over this.

Anonymous said...

Re: child abuse

Jesus himself has some very harsh words for those that cause children to sin or be harmed. And those words are recorded by three (3) of the evangelists: Mathew 18:6; Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2

And it is not only the Catholic Church that is guilty, of clergy abuse. Though with the imposition of celibacy, the temptation seems to be a lot bigger.

Shrimp said...

@ Anon 4:24:

I have long thought the issue of celibacy vs married clergy to be a red herring, as a solution to the child abuse issue.
Teachers do far more harm than priests when it comes to sheer numbers of abuse (or even if comparing only percentages of offenders vs total population of the same profession). Obviously, there is no celibacy requirement in teaching. If celibacy were the problem, the numbers would show it. And while there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that priests have committed abuses, there are greater numbers of anecdotal evidence that teachers have committed as many or more.
The real big difference is people expect a priest to behave better than average, or be "holier" (for want of a better term).

I would love for there to be a simple answer, like "let the priests be married." Unfortunately, that's never how it works. There are no simple answers to complicated problems.

Anonymous said...

When the (in)actions of the Roman Catholic Church have the Irish in a froth...


Anonymous said...

I wonder if these bunch of people have looked into islam's idea of treating children.
could there be any problems with the peace and light "religion" of islam in treating children with respect?

LabRat said...

Bit belated since I've been somewhat overtaken by events lately, but I wondered what you thought of this article, and specifically the conclusions of the church.

I agree that the celibate priesthood isn't the problem, and homosexuality isn't the problem, but I am very goddamn hard-pressed to believe that the sexual revolution was the problem either.

Gregory said...

I believe the Church is not defined by her failures.
Here is the best move the Pope has made for Philadelphia. Listen to the speach and his appointment is no failure.