Irish and Australian pols dabble in simple stupidity, anti-Catholicism, or some combination of the two..

The Roman Collar

It's a target. The Roman collar proclaims to the world, "JESUS IS LORD. And I will live and die by that credo."

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.



  • Greg Smith

    Dear all: WOW! Tom really hit a nerve here. He writes article about the importance of maintaining the seal of confession and the next thing we see is pages and pages of comments going on to other issues and name calling at each other. The abuse scandal has been traumatic for all of us. The Church is imperfectly (too imperfectly IMHO) trying to “fix it.” However, the seal of confession has served us – and indirectly the world – for centuries. It is, for good reason, enshrined in Anglo-American legal tradition. Having it undermined by civil law in the democratic west would have massive implications, much more so than, for instance, my cousin and his partner getting to file a joint tax return. Let’s love each other and go forth to build the Kingdom.~ Pax vobiscum, Greg

    • pamela

      when the church targets other people and works to eliminate their rights with the civil laws of our nation, I think they are understandably upset and distrustful. If we can’t leave others alone to live their lives as they wish, how can we ever expect to be left alone to practice our faith as we see fit? the church first needs to extend some graciousness to others before we demand it from them.

  • Scott W.

    Have no fear brothers and sisters. I don’t think these proposals are ever going to get past the chest-beating stage for several reasons and it kinda remembles the occasional calls we hear in the States to end our tax exempt status: lots of noise that amounts to nothing. For one thing, every faith out there would see this and see the writing on the wall. Namely, if a meglomaniacal state can meddle in doctrinal affairs of one church (while its economy goes in the toilet no less; talk about fiddling while Rome burns!), logically there’s nothing stopping them from meddling in theirs. Expect political will to evaporate quickly if it ever gets serious. For another, even if the worst happens and these laws pass, don’t expect any priests to comply–even to the point of jail time. Even the most dissident priest/bishop knows that when a penitent comes to this Holy Sacrament, they are exposing their very souls to Our Lord, and no one is so lacking in fear of God to mess with that.

    • Davide

      Scott I agree. The States and the Feds will never take the tax exempt status away. Couldn’t you imagine the political power the Church would have if it did? The government would live in fear of the Church and could possibly become The Catholic States of America. So no the government will not do it. Huge mistake if they did.

  • Davide

    @ Tom Crowe I admire your courage, honesty and commitment to truth. But you will never win the battle with those who oppose you. You not exactly going to lose either, cause you already won the war. Truth. These people are full of pride, and in the brilliance of their pride it is blazing as the morning sun and yet it as dark as the midnight sky. Do you understand what I am getting at? They have no interest in truth or even understanding the basic underlying problem of the child abuse scandal. How can you possibly win a debate with those who have the wisdom of a toddler? I am willing to bet my left arm and my right foot, none of these people who oppose you even have a basic understanding of the abuse scandal if they had they would grasp their thoughts is a thing of fools. They need to stick what they do know: Play-Doh, Barbies, Hopscotch and Bubblegum. Thx

    • Tom Crowe

      Davide— I argue in forums like this with the hope that interlocutors may be persuaded, but also to respond to arguments they level which the average Joe or Jane may also kind of sympathize with but who is more open than these individuals to a dose of honesty and push-back. I continue to provide the other side of the argument precisely because there is another side of the argument with facts and perspectives that are not much considered because they are not the talking points of those with the megaphones. So if I can get the other side of the argument out in any way possible, I will try to do so.

      • davide

        @Tom Crowe thank you for your reply. Please do not think I was kicking you in the jewels, not my intention. I deeply and graciously admire your truthfulness, Catholic convictions and courage. You guys here at Catholic Vote have an impossible task laid out before you and many times you will be walking the plank, but Our Beloved Savior made sure the water not too deep ;). God Bless. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday. Davide M.

        • Tom Crowe

          No worries, Davide!



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