Confessional debate is a Royal Commission red herring


Sealed LipsThe clamour is growing to enable the forthcoming Royal Commission into child sex abuse to require Catholic priests to break the seal of confession if doing so is deemed necessary to investigate abusers and/or the issue of institutional cover ups. The Federal Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, has expressed support for such a power, saying that child abuse is 'a crime' that 'should be reported' under any circumstances.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard also supports the move. 'Adults have got a duty of care towards children,' she has said, 'and it's not good enough for people to engage in sins of omission and not act when a child is at risk.'

The former auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Geoffrey Robinson, a vocal critic of the way the Church has handled clerical sex abuse cases, said he'd break the seal for the 'greater good' and report a confessor to the police if he believed there was an ongoing risk of further offences. At least one Melbourne priest has said he'd do the same.

Before this debate goes much further, it would be wise for everyone to consider what is at stake. Roxon has said that the more important issue is the failure to report to police known cases of abuse and 'open secrets' that came to the attention of priests and Church authorities by means other than the confessional. Similarly, Bishop Robinson has conceded the obvious: 'Offenders in this field, in paedophilia, do not go to confession and confess.'

How much, then, of a practical nature is likely to be gained by trying to force open the seal of confession? More importantly, how much of a religious nature is likely to be damaged? Child abuse is a crime, but so is murder, so is theft. If the seal should not apply to the first, why should it logically apply to the rest?

Sins of omission can be committed, but sins are something other than criminal acts, although they may entail them. Sin is a religious concept — something a believer commits when they deliberately act against the will of God — and as such something that the religious instrument of the confessional is specifically meant to address.

Rushing head-strong into these religious dimensions risks broadening the Royal Commission into a full-blown challenge to the status of the Church (and religious faith) in secular society.

As the practice of private confessions emerged in the fifth century, the seal of confession developed as a way of encouraging people to confess their sins by promising strict confidentiality.

That promise has now been so well established that the Church's Code of Canon Law makes clear that the 'sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason' and that a priest 'is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded'.

When Cardinal George Pell referred several times to the 'inviolable' nature of the seal, he was not being obstructionist — as many have suggested — but merely repeating the Church's well established position on the issue which he, being a bishop, is required to do.

The Catechism of the Church elaborates on the prohibition to reveal information obtained in the confessional.

Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry [of hearing confessions and dispensing absolution] and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confession is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives.

This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the 'sacramental seal', because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains 'sealed' by the sacrament.

Elsewhere, the Catechism repeats that 'it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason'.

What is generally known as confession, the Church knows as the sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation). It is one of seven sacraments — the others being Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Order and the Anointing of the Sick. The Church regards a sacrament as the visible sign of God's invisible presence, a sign through which it communicates the saving grace of God.

Sacraments are also held to be signs of the unity of the Church. They represent, in other words, a fundamental component of what it means to be Catholic and to practice a life of faith. It is thus inconceivable that Catholic authorities, from the Pope down, would countenance the state interfering in the sacramental life of the Church. And any attempt to do so would quickly turn into an issue of freedom of religion.

If the Royal Commission were to go down that path it could quickly find it had bitten off much more than it can chew. And the true focus of the inquiry — on child abuse — would be only one of the casualties likely to result.

Chris McGillion headshotChris McGillion is a former religious affairs editor for the Sydney Morning Herald. His most recent book, Our Fathers: What Australian Catholic priests really think about their lives and their church, is published by John Garratt. 

Topic tags: Chris McGillion, seal of confession, Royal Commission



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'Offenders in this field, in paedophilia, do not go to confession and confess.' Then, cracking down can't hurt anything. Civil law trumps church orthodoxy. Child protection is important. Sharia law is not acceptable. Neither is the buggering of children.

dave Burns | 29 November 2012  

Would it not be consistent with the sacrament to demand that as part of 'a firm purpose of amendment' that the confessor have the right to demand that the offence be reported, either by himself or the penitent? If the penitent does not do so within a very short time frame the onus of responsibility falls on the confessor by spoken agreement within the sacrament. How can there be genuine confession without purpose of amendment? Otherwise the sacrament is invalidated and discredited. Genuine reform and repentance means reaching out to protect and care for the victims, protecting any potential future ones, and gaining treatment for the abuser. No forgiveness without admission. Clearly this has to become a wider part of the sacrament of Reconciliation. The wider implication is the whole church regaining its moral credibility by asking itself what factors in its current structure and practice have contributed to the crisis it faces.

Kieran Fenn | 29 November 2012  

Bishop Robinson has conceded the obvious: 'Offenders in this field, in paedophilia, do not go to confession and confess.' Oh really . . * A FORMER Catholic priest in Queensland, Australia, went to confession more than 1,500 times to admit sexually abusing boys. He was told to go home and pray. In a 2003 affidavit, then 68-year-old Michael Joseph McArdle, who was jailed for six years in October of that year, claimed to have made confession about his paedophile activities to about 30 priests over a 25-year period. He noted: “As the children would leave after each respective assault, I would feel an overwhelming sense of sadness for them and remorse, so much so it would almost be physical. I was devastated after the assaults, every one of them. So distressed would I become that I would attend confessionals weekly and on other occasions fortnightly and would confess that I had been sexually assaulting young boys.” He said the only assistance or advice he was given was to undertake penance in the form of prayer. *Source: Irish Times / Link: Article: Confessional secrets / Thu, Sep 01, 2011

JuneAnnette | 29 November 2012  

With religious roots in Elizabethan Independency' and the Pilgrim Fathers, I have been a lifetime defender of religious freedom. However, like all freedoms, this can never be 'absolute'. It can be defended only to the point where what is at issue is demonstrably inimical to the good order of society or to the wellbeing of devotees.

Dr John Bodycomb | 29 November 2012  

Chris is correct; the focus by some on the seal of the confessional is a red herring. Obsession with this aspect diverts attention from the fact that most, if not all, of the knowledge of criminal activity that was kept under wraps was not obtained from the confessional but from other 'non-sacramental' sources. Allowing the debate, either within or without the church, to focus on the confessional diverts attention from the real problem - the deliberate cover-ups and shuffling of offenders and the failure on the part of church authorities to report to police.

Ginger Meggs | 29 November 2012  

The most important act of reconciliation is between the persons involved. This is spelt out by Christ when he says that if you have any grievance whatsoever with anybody about anything you first go and sort it out with them. Not only that, you do it immediately. Humans know that the most serious sins they commit or that are committed against them are the ones hardest to live with and forgive, never mind going and talking directly with the person concerned. This is why Christ’s direction is, as we like to be reminded, radical. Radical because it is emotionally and intellectually and spiritually the most difficult thing we can be asked to do. It’s the extreme example of Christ, but there is no doubt that he means it. That’s what we are heading towards if we are serious about confession and reconciliation. In the church where I go private confession is available, but the most important prayerful and ritual act of confession is the General Confession, said directly to God in public worship. This happens at any Eucharist, in particular, whenever it is conducted. In recent years some bishops in the Catholic Church wanted to do away with public confession in worship and go back to a strict form of private confession through the mediation of the priest. One of these bishops is the one in this article who talks about the sacrament of confession being ‘inviolable’. What he really wants, it may said, is to maintain the power of the priest in this relationship, sidestepping the much more important relationship, the one between the sinner and the forgiving God.

FREE AT LAST | 29 November 2012  

Well it's a red herring because even if a law was made to force open the the content of confession - what would happen then? Do they read people's minds or use lie detectors to ask priests if someone in the past 40 years or so had ever confessed to committing paedophilia?

AURELIUS | 29 November 2012  

A 'sin' is the invention of the Church, a relatively meaningless word to those outside the Church, and certainly, within the Church, it can remain a sin. But a law, made by civil society, is a law, and must be upheld, no matter what, and the cry of 'religious freedom' has to fall on deaf ears. No law breaking can be condoned at all, or what is the point of the law? What are we to do in other cases? Condone female genital mutilation because it is regarded by another minority group as a religious rite? Condone dowry burnings because it is a religious practice? There is no room in a sovereign nation state for two sets of laws, two sovereigns, two parallel states. I doubt there is a legal definition of a 'sin' in our Australian criminal code, but maybe there should be? Because it would be quite different to a law, which would have to be upheld.

janice wallace | 29 November 2012  

Not that they can't, but the church won't try to stop this. It's time for action that penalizes the enablers and the perps. One might assume through the hermeneutics of logic that there are those among us with washed brains who sanction the rape of children. They defend any collar, great, good or horrid. There have been warnings about the weakening seal of confession and loss of frequency in the Eucharist. Yet, this is not a concern to those who are confused by facts. The more priests the hierarchy sentence to a life of prayer and penance - and provide 3 hots, a cot and healthcare ("sostenuto") - and the more the authorities sentence them to jail, we have diminished access to communion and whole countries in serious talks about prohibiting the seal of confession to cover up heinous crimes and mounting mergers due to closing church buildings. The world is tiring of the daily bad news of innocents in compromise at the hands of men who value position, institution and luxury more than the human person. Officials and we who obey the law are weary and outraged at the old men who will not even try to stop the tearing of young oral, anal and vaginal tissue. Only the laity and nuns and those sympathetic to same are subject to ExC. Law, Maloney and Maciel are shining examples of a soft approach or outright rewards. I'm dismayed that even many of those credibly accused/jailed still receive 3 hots and a cot for the rest of their lives at our expense; sostenuto undeserved. I'm driven away by the top rulers who find fault with us and nuns and others who love the Church, but never correct a Bishop for complicity. If he were a layperson, Finn could not serve in his diocese. But, he's a bishop and not subject to civil behavior or civil law as you and I are. What's the last time you heard of a fellow/lady parishoner molesting a child? The cost of mismamagement -- make that malmanagement -- could have bought thousands of homes, sets of clothes, meals and healthcare to so many in need. But, upwards of $3 billion has filled U.S. lawyers' pockets and and are paid to compensate the innocents violated, instead. Oh, and Schools, other institutions? They have no supreme, kakistrocratic absolute monarch, and school administrators do not purposely shift known pedophiles from school to school, at least for very long. The lack of a worldwide investigation and distribution of harsh punishment still prevent justice. But, they're coming. Of course, expectations are higher. We are a church?!?!?!?!? And those of us who walk away from all religion due to these terrible examples are headed for hell. Woe be unto bishops.

Dave Burns | 29 November 2012  

While Chris McGillion's opinion here is respected, uncomfortable questions keep nagging away at me that I don't see answered (or even asked): (a) Where, if at all, is the process that upholds respect for rights of the child victim of the paedophile (or is the child not considered a person under the Catechism of the church)? (b) Is there a duty the church owes to the child victim and how is that to be be discharged under the vow of secrecy? (c) Given we know that child rape and sexual abuse is often a serial offence, ought the church's policy on the confessional change if a paedophile continues to confess after committing crimes against further vulnerable children? (d) Would Jesus have given priority to upholding the sacrament above the need to protect the vulnerable child?

Frank Golding | 29 November 2012  

Sin, Janice, is why we have laws. No semantics in that statement.

FREE AT LAST | 29 November 2012  

The people of God have made their decision about the Sacrament of Penance. They now ignore it unless it takes on a communal form as it can do in the second or third rites. One of the reasons it has been discarded is that the uselessness of the repetitive nature of one on one confession is now recognised by most thinking Catholics. Micahael McArdle's experience demonstrates this. That Rome banned the Third Rite, universally accepted by the faithful, because of a miniscule group of theological illiterates, is more likely to drive me from the Church than even the present evil we all have to face up to. Of course the same blind leadership that was responsible for one is also giving lousy guidance in the other.

grebo | 29 November 2012  

The upcoming Royal Commision - and obviously I write this before the all-important Terms Of Reference have been propagated - is as wonderful an opportunity as the catholic church in Rome had when Martin Luther (1483-1546) attacked the abuse of indulgences to explain what the doctrine of indulgences really was and that the abuses were indeed that - abuses by church officials at all levels, even up to the Pope, who exploited them as a means of financing the building of St Peter's basilica. The hierarchy was not up to the task. They, well many of them, were part of the problem. Pope Paul III redeemed himself and to some extent the church when he approved of the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) on Sept 27, 1540. But by the time the Jesuits hit their straps the Protestant Reformation was burgeoning. The Jesuits to use another sporting analogy were playing catch-up football. There is no Martin Luther launching a doctrinal attack on the church. The mass media thrives on stories of corruption, abuse-of-power, sexual titilation, and, sad to say, a minority of clerics within the catholic church is providing those stories. Who is going to inspire a counter-reformation in 2013?

Uncle Pat | 29 November 2012  

Dave Burns, civil law won't be able to trump church 'orthodoxy', nor should it. The danger in trying to do so is as Chris McGillion suggests - the huge effort needed would divert the attention of the Royal Commission from where it could actually do some good. The Church needs to be very clear with priests as to their procedure if a child confides in a trusted priest at confession that he/she is being abused. That's more likely than an abusive priest seeking absolution without repenting, including contacting the police.

Joan Seymour | 29 November 2012  

"To understand why the confessional seal must be broken to protect children, we need only look at evidence given to a Queensland court in 2004. Father Michael McArdle, after pleading guilty to and being convicted of child sexual assault offences, swore an affidavit. In it he stated he had confessed to sexually assaulting children 1500 times to 30 different priests over a 25-year period. "Every one of those ''good'' priests, as if of one mind and voice, said to the criminal: ''Go home and pray.'' Is that what they are taught to say to each other when told of such crimes? Not one of the 30 priests urged him to get help or go to police. Nor did they report his crimes. The victims were abandoned to become hurting adults, their lives shattered. Distraught. Suicidal." That, Chris McGillion and Free At Last, is the result of being confused about the difference between 'sin' and 'a crime'. Sin is an in-house term, of no value whatsoever when left to Catholic priests to deal with. Those who would defend the confessional, defend crimes such as these, then abuse the cry for 'religious freedom'. Read more:

janice wallace | 29 November 2012  

The illustration, above, of a gagged priest, raises the question, "Would it be possible that child abusers would confess to their superiors in order to silence them, and prevent them from even discussing such abuses, lest they might seem to be violating the seal of confessional secrecy?"

Robert Liddy | 29 November 2012  

The story you relate, Janice, is horrible and disgraceful. One would have to be a moral moron not to understand what you are trying to say. There is no question that we are staring at an appalling failure of understanding by church authorities in how even to deal with this, as you rightly say, criminal action. My concern is with your narrow definition of the word ‘sin’. Sin is not simply, as you put it, an in-house term. It is not a piece of jargon with meaning only to the elect.

It is pointless directing your righteous anger at me because I agree with you, on everything except your understanding of sin. There is no question that your stories are about sin and crime, both. I personally agree that the church has far too often and unthinkingly used the threat of sin as a means to power over other people. Catholic friends of mine walk in trepidation of having committed a sin, before they have even committed one. This Kafkaesque state of mind is unhealthy, brought about by an overemphasis on our sinful nature by the teachings of priests and others. Our potential to do evil and make out that it’s something else, is real. We are in fact all capable of sin, and those who don’t think so are those quite capable of anything. I also agree with what I think you are getting at, which is that the church uses the language of ‘sin’ as a way of avoiding using the language of ‘crime’. These are crimes, but what is worse in many cases with these pedophiles, they don’t even seem to understand that they have sinned. As for some of the authorities who knowingly perpetuated this culture of abuse, words fail me.

FREE AT LAST | 29 November 2012  

Following on from the comments from Free At Last, I have just checked the NSW Criminal Code, and found many references to 'crime' and 'criminal' but not a sausage when it came to 'sin' and 'sinful', which deeply shocked me I can tell you, what with FAL being so emphatic on the connection.

It's fair to say, I do agree, that 'sin' was a word in use when the church held sway alongside the sovereign, bullying all and taking no prisoners. In those days, crimes and sins would have been seen as one. These days though, with the church prised away somewhat from its unearned yet exalted position, rather like sovereigns still,there is a new framework around and it's well past time for Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, priests and others to come to terms with this change. For those who admire theocracies, there are still many around to retire to but for those of us who are still trying to make the idea of a democracy work, well, there's probably not much time, or room for, the theocrat.

As to Robert Liddy's suggestion, he could be on to something, given the deviousness of the sub-human behaviour we see on display in the Church today.

janice wallace | 29 November 2012  

Brilliant comment David Burns, brilliant. I have never thought about Canon Law and Sharia Law in the same thought bubble before, but how right you are. We all see and hear protests about Muslims wanting to impose Sharia Law on us, but this Canon Law is exactly the same deal! We only let references to Canon Law pass because it does not apply to most Australians, being a left over from the Papal dictatorship of years past. But, it is an identical deal to Sharia law, and must be opposed just as vehmently. Particularly when it is used as an excuse to cover up crimes. That McArdle priest was known to be doing wrong, just look what three bishops ignored, "He often blessed the children after committing these offences on them," Justice McMurdo said. McArdle was summonsed to meetings with bishops on three occasions. However, he was twice simply sent to other regional communities where he chose fresh targets," and that came from The Catholic News itself!:

Andy Fitzharry | 29 November 2012  

Free At Last, I see we both have posts up, but we suffer from 'ships in the night' syndrome I fear. I am glad to read that you do understand the full importance of the phrase and reality of 'a crime', to that extent we are agreed happily. But I have to advise you that a 'sin' is really only a word of any value to someone who believes in the overarching gods model. Sure, it can sometimes be used without too much thought when, say, fib, might otherwise be used out here in secularland, but would anyone seriously award the term 'sin' to the 'backpacker murders', or Snowtown, or any of those Victorian gangland murders, or the Joh era of widespread crime within the police force, or the years of Askin rule in NSW? You might, of course, but I certainly would not. By all means, in your closed-off cloisters, distant from reality, hidden from truthfulness, within an arcane world of obscure and meaningless shibboleths, keep your phrase 'sin' and do with it what you will, raise an altar to it, sacrifice a lamb or two, but please, keep it on a tight leash when walking beyond those gates.

janice wallace | 29 November 2012  

Dear Janice, 'sin' is a common English word in everyday use in contemporary Australia. We do not and never have lived in a theocracy. It is not surprising that the NSW Criminal Code uses the word 'crime' quite a lot, or that the word 'sin' may appear less frequently. At the last census a vast percentage of the Australian population in millions called themselves Christians. It is unwise to accuse millions of Australians of being sub-human and devious. I would suggest that 99% of those Christians would think of themselves as democrats. Faithfully, Free At Last (Free, for short)

FREE AT LAST | 29 November 2012  

Dear Janice, curious that you would accuse someone you don't even know of living in "closed-off cloisters, distant from reality, hidden from truthfulness, within an arcane world of obscure and meaningless shibboleths". Although it is not a crime to accuse me thus, it is certainly bearing false witness against your neighbour. In Jewish Law, that's a sin. Not that I am actually accusing you of bearing false witness or anything, it just looks that way. Go carefully. My first source for definitions is the OED. Check it out! Yours, Free (to his friends and neighbours)

FREE AT LAST | 29 November 2012  

'Free', you are correct, not doubt about it, the word 'sin' is used in and around Australia with gay abandon, which goes some way to assist my case that the word is pretty well meaningless to most users beyond the, what is it, about 6% of Australians who still go to church. Yes, a large percetage of people mark themselves as 'Christian' for the ABS, but that is more of a cultural attachment than a true reflection of any deeply held belief. It would be hard, for instance, to find a 'Christian' within the ranks of the child abusers, or their many many apologists within the ranks of the Church, if being a Christian means living out the 'vibe'. Likewise few, if any, can be found in the world of politics, business, media, parachurch groups or so it would seem, even the ADF. The theocracy I was thinking of in particualr was the Vatican state, itself rife with crime and misconduct but at least 'closer to gods' than Australia. You misrepresent me when you hint I suggested 'millions' were sub-human. I doubt there are 'millions' who support the abusers in the Church, but there are certainly more than enough.

janice wallace | 29 November 2012  

Chris is so right, if the Royal Commission descends into or is allowed to even speculate on an evaluation of Catholic faith, it will have failed the victims of sexual abuse and assault. Apart from the child victims representing the crime of pedophilia, there are countless acts of sexual impropriety - as one priest said on Channel 9 last year "it's not a crime because it was between consenting adults" that should also be taken into consideration in the matter of cover-ups by Church hierarchy - and I might add, by ordinary everyday priests as well - "oh, he's only human" said one Pastoral Associate sister to the wife of a young man, the woman's husband after the young man, who had revealed something during marriage preparation with the offending priest that was later used by the priest when he exposed himself to the man and suggested they have sex, after plying the man with drink. That priest was simply transferred to another parish and sent for compulsory counselling - until the next time!!!!!! It's not Confession that needs to be dealt with by the Royal Commission but the Church's methods of calling its priests to fidelity and integrity.

FR MICK MAC ANDREW | 29 November 2012  

'How much, then, of a practical nature is likely to be gained by trying to force open the seal of confession? More importantly, how much of a religious nature is likely to be damaged?' Really, who cares.. lets focus on the damage done to innocent lives.

rosemary | 29 November 2012  

The church should be taking guidance from its many,many faithful 'ordinary' millions..there is, and will not be, enough priests to hear individual confessions anyway so it really is a red herring. It is an institutional Fall from Grace : patriarchial hierarchal abuse of power and wealth that continues to sustain a male dominated culture as well as subverted laws on sexuality and the gifts of sexuality bearing the rotting fruit of clerical sexual abuse.

Catherine | 30 November 2012  

"Who is going to inspire a counter-reformation in 2013?" Good question, Uncle Pat, but from my experience don't hold your breath breath waiting for the Jesuits this time. It took me 8 years to get them to remove the name of a Jesuit abuser from a bursary named after him at Riverview. And as for the seal,it is an inviolable natural contract between a confessor and penitent. So why the fuss? It may well be an avoidance defense for those who are not priests who knew of offenses and did nothing. There are many "good Catholics" who knew of offenses and did nothing, except savor the juicy scandal over a dinner party. They were bound by no seal, no contracts. When I sought people who knew to testify against the priest mentioned above,it was difficult to get them to come forward. One I remember was a prefect at the college to whom junior boys complained and the prefect reported it to the Rector and the Rector did nothing. When asked to testify the old boy former prefect refused. No lack of evidence for him just a lack of civil courage. The cloak of unofficial secrecy hides many more than the offending priests and religious. As in Ireland it was/is a Catholic conspiracy.

Michael D. Breen | 30 November 2012  

*** Dave Burns***,I'm have explained it perfectly and expressed the rage I feel.YES! The official church is being called forth to account ,to repent for the horrific violation of innocent children and yet , the violation of this secret knowledge is more serious??? The church has hidden and absolved the sinner and the cover-up is to be excused/respected as a religious freedom? The church has not emerged from prehistoric. 'heathen' days.

Catherine | 30 November 2012  

Chris McGillion is right about confession being a red herring, though the stuff of his argument has gone largely ignored by commentators below. Most child abuse happens in the family circle. Indeed, clergy have exploited this very fact. Following the logic of those who dispute McGillion’s argument, the law should also be changed to introduce mandatory reporting in the family. This could be done. The Stasi used this effectively in East Germany, and it was all the rage in the USSR, Germany and Japan in the 30s. Moreover, it would be more effective than demolishing the seal of the confessional by legislation. Does anyone think that a paedophile who could be identified by a priest would go to confession under mandatory reporting? Might as well save time and head for the police station. Of course, it is still possible to confess anonymously, so unless physical restraint was also required of a priest or there was a hot line to the authorities in the confessional, it all seems rather unenforceable. Not so in the family. Those attacking confession confuse the secret way the Church has dealt with offenders with the seal of the confessional. In order to rectify the first, you don’t need to attack the second, which as McGillion points out, would divert the royal commission were it silly enough to fall for such a line. This question needs calm deliberation, but (understandably) rage can outpace reason, as in the gibberish expression, "One might assume through the hermeneutics of logic that there are those among us ..." More than the seal of confession is imperilled by such outbursts.

J.W. Harding | 03 December 2012  

David Burns re those non "kakistrocratic" school institutions being glistening clean: "and school administrators do not purposely shift known pedophiles from school to school, at least for very long." The media blackballed official Shakeshaft report on USA public school abuse concluded 4.3 million[yes million] children were abused over 5 decades; and moving offending staff around was called "shifting the rubbish" RE Cardinal Law: "Law had previously given evidence before two grand juries and been fully investigated by the state attorney general and the five district attorneys in the counties in which the archdiocese operates. When the state attorney general issued his report entitled Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston (July 23, 2003) he severely criticized Law but did not allege that Law had tried to evade investigation, and he did state that Law had not broken any laws."

father john george | 03 December 2012  

Father George.Do you defend criminality? A crime is a crime.Children are inviolable. .Children and people's basic human rights should be held highest and the from the evidence before our courts the church has too much religious 'freedom'. A confessional seal should never compared to the violation of an innocent human being.

Catherine | 04 December 2012  

It seems the Confessional Seal, and the sanctity of the church is worth more than children;the vulnerable and powerless. And . It is not the 'ordinary' faithful who have violated this sanctity, but the bishops and clerics, by using sacrament to absolve sin (crimes) of sexual abuse, and then denying and hiding the truth.If this is the truth,Catholic morality does not mean Christian morality.The pope is wealthy and absolute ruler, total fidelity and obedience or ex-communication declared is seemingly idolatrous to me.

Catherine | 04 December 2012  

Catherine was Jesus upholder of crime in not reporting adulterous woman? -not to mention all criminals[pedophiles etc.] at the time, whom he knew [in his divine knowledge]. Is God champion of pedophile crime as he hears confessions, through priests, and God doesn't ever break the seal.

father john george | 04 December 2012  

I understand..Thank you Father George.I guess it is so hard for me to respect this protection of a seal of confidentiality and absolution when pedophiles have kept abusing and are not repentant or incapable of remorse.Jesus would have absolved sin only if he knew a person was truly repentant."Go and sin no more" He possibly would have cured afflicted people. I could not fathom how bishops and priests who knew, turned a blind eye and transferred pedophiles , and hindered police enquiries, or threatened expensive legal action against victims.This is a recent activity and that is why I am angry,

Catherine | 05 December 2012  

To 'Father' John George, are you for real in your high and mighty responses to Catherine! The woman who was 'taken in adultery' was already 'reported', and in fact already 'taken', not by the civil authorities, but by that hypocritical bunch of temple police, the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus' response to their arrogant and self-righteous behaviour was to publicly denounce them for own their greater crimes, upon which they slunk away still unrepentant. Perhaps some of their 21st century successors should do the same.

Ginger Meggs | 05 December 2012  

Catholics believe that in Confession the priest is God’s means for granting forgiveness to the penitent. Insisting to them that law prevails in this situation, and that theological concepts, like sin, are bullshit is a waste of time. Attacking these beliefs will, understandably, produce defensiveness: people defend the things that matter to them. Moreover, allegations that Catholics who defend the seal of Confession are defenders of heinous crimes or theocracy is a bad rhetorical move which is offensive: defending freedom of the press doesn’t imply support for News of the World. Demanding that the law reach inside a person’s conscience and religious beliefs infringes basic liberties: this is not some fake claim. The only question is whether that infringement is justified. It is by no means clear that Confession is the problem or that tampering with it is any kind solution. Pace the critics, it is a red herring. Sharia, which covers all of society, is not like Canon law, which doesn’t. Outsiders often misunderstand the practices of insiders and make demands of them that are unreasonable or oppressive. Chris McGillion’s point about what confession means to believers can’t be brushed aside by those who don’t share those views. Trampling on the rights of the innocent in order to get to the guilty is neither morally consistent nor decent. Anger with the Church is not confined to outsiders demanding its dismantling: insiders too want reform, and faster than a royal commission can deliver it. Yet, no matter what reforms are undertaken by the Church or what recommendations come from the Royal Commission, I’m sure they will disappoint those looking for an auto da fe.

J.W. Harding | 06 December 2012  

Mr Meggs, Jesus by His Divine Knowledge knew the instant sin was committed by adulteress [but no mandatory reporting] He even knew antecedent to sin: Eg before His Passion, He knew Judas had contrived to betray him [John 13:23-27 :"Jesus answered, "I will dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the man that will turn against me."] ; and re Peter (Mathew 26:34,74-75] "Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you that this very night, before a cock crows, you shall deny Me three times".

father john george | 07 December 2012  

So John George, even if I were to accept what you say about Jesus and his 'Divine Knowledge', what is the point that you are making? Is it that because Jesus knew (and even foreknew) and didn't report them that the Church's hierarchy could do the same? As I said in my first post, the focus by some people inside and outside the Church on the inviolability of the confessional is a red herring because the knowledge about the abuse that was occurring that the hierarchy and others in the church had and subsequently covered up came not from the confessional but from other 'non-sacred' sources. Surely, in failing to report the crimes of which they had knowledge and instead covering them up, they were accessories after the facts.

Ginger Meggs | 07 December 2012  

O dear Mr Meggs! Surely you are not suggesting Jesus was accessory before and after the crime[a veritable accomplice.]
In fact, in His Divine Wisdom, God can suspend human laws for his own purpose,just as His Church is empowered re confessional seal alone, to jettison mandatory reporting!

father john george | 07 December 2012  

No John George, I wasn't suggesting anything about Jesus. Nor was I challenging the confessional seal. What I said was that the dispute over the seal of the confessional is a red herring because the knowledge of abuse that the hierarchy (and others too) had was not gained through the confessional but through other means. Those who covered up knew what they were doing and in doing so were taking the civil law into their own hands. God may or may not be able to 'suspend human laws for his own purpose' but that option is not open to mere mortals like you and me.

Ginger Meggs | 09 December 2012  

What is to be addressed in the Commission? Is it not the exposure of possible institutional sin in the church of creating or supporting a culture conducive to the perpetration of these offenses? The issue of the confessional and its sacred inviolability is not at issue.

graham patison | 15 December 2012  

Fortunately Mr Patison. Mr Barry O'Keefe, chair of the Truth, Justice and Healing Commission in prep for the Royal Commission, is a firm upholder of the inviolable seal of confession.

father john george | 15 December 2012  

You cannot honestly believe it is more moral for an offender to remain unpunished than to violate the seal of confession. If there is a clearer case of the greater good being sacrificed, I've not heard of it.

Kevin V Russell | 13 March 2014  

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