Thursday, July 14, 2011

Government proposal to break the seal of confession is without precedent

From David Quinn at the Irish Catholic:

The Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Children are all indicating that a proposed new law will require priests to break the seal of confession if someone confesses to them the crime of paedophilia.

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.

Various relationships in society are considered privileged and confidential. One is between a person and his or her confessor. Another is between a doctor and patient, and another is between a lawyer and client.

In creating a legal requirement that priests break the seal of confession under certain circumstances, the Irish State is going down a road very few other states in history have gone down. We need to seriously reconsider this extremely unwise and unprecedented proposal.

It says a lot about the present mood here that it can even be entertained.

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