Irish and Australian pols dabble in simple stupidity, anti-Catholicism, or some combination of the two..By
So the Irish prime minister, and now some Australian legislator, is working on a bill that, if passed into law, would ostensibly compel, under penalty of jail time, priests to break the seal of confession and tell the civil authorities if child abuse is confessed.
Let’s look at some of the problems with this proposal.
1) If the penitent stays “behind the screen,” the priest cannot possibly credibly identify the person. Face-to-face confession is great in its place, but it is not required. If the priest does break the seal of confession, all he can say is, “someone confessed pedophilia today, but I have no way of knowing whom.” Sure, in some places a priest will know many people by their voice and vocal ticks and speech patterns and vocabulary, etc., but then the penitent who wants to confess pedophilia will simply travel to a parish where the priest cannot possibly know him by voice. And then he can disguise his voice. Law thwarted.
2) How many hardened pedophiles actually go to confession? I’d wager not many. And the priest pedophiles, if they are the sort to still feel the need to confess their pedophilia, are smart enough to get around this law by doing what I mention above: go behind the screen, in a place where they will not be recognized by voice. So whom is the law targeting: the pedophiles? Or the non-pedophile priests?
3) If the penitent has a reasonable assumption that the priest will divulge his pedophilia, he is far less likely to actually confess his pedophilia, even if his conscience tells him it was a sin and he ought to confess it. He may simply not go to confession at all, or leave that item out of his list—neither option is at all good. In this case the law has managed to keep the penitent from getting any good counsel at all (let alone the assistance of the grace of the sacrament). Further, considering that the vaaaast majority of priests are neither pedophiles themselves nor involved in the cover-ups that enabled so many of the pedophile priests, they would undoubtedly steer the pedophile in the right direction and possibly encourage the pedophile to confess his crime to the civil authorities. So then the law was counter-productive.
4) It would put the priest in the position of having to choose between a civil penalty or an excommunication(a priest incurs automatic excommunication upon himself if he breaks the seal of confession). Simple choice, really: five years in prison is a small price to pay for refusal to separate oneself from God’s Church. Priests have died rather than break the seal of confession through the years. Either way the priest is in a tough position, but the cost incurred as per the previous points in dissuading most pedophiles from seeking any help at all would be awful. Plus, since the vaaaaast majority of priests have no been guilty of any of the crimes, the priests who would be most consistently put in this tough position would be those who have been unfairly tarnished by the despicable actions of a few.
5) What if a person who was not guilty of pedophilia confesses pedophilia to the priest in a mock confession, knowing that they could not be convicted of the crime since they had not committed it, and guessing that the priest would not report it, just to get the priest in trouble for not reporting what he had every reason to believe was a true confession of pedophilia. Think that’s crazy? There are people who hate the Catholic Church enough to try it. Would the law specifically protect priests from such a ruse? I would hope so, but doubt.
6) And perhaps most tellingly, why only pedophilia? What if murder is confessed? Rape? Theft? Arson? Why target confessions of pedophilia? Why not force priests to divulge all crimes that are confessed, even up to running a stop sign? Of course, the answer can be speculated, from motives of virulent anti-Catholicism to simple stupidity. But no matter how you slice it, it is a terribly misguided approach to undoing the harm of the sex scandals and preventing future such cases.
Yes, unimaginable damage was done to many people by the unconscionable actions of a few powerful people, resulting in a whole lot of evil and awfulness, but such laws would compound the problem without solving anything.
Bottom line remains, at least here in the States: since the Church began in earnest her response to the scandal, no institution is more safe for youth than the Catholic Church.