Err, yes, the confessional is sacrosanct

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has said he’ll risk going to jail rather than report what’s said to him in the sacrament of confession, even if what’s confessed relates to child sexual abuse.

His latest comments, made on ABC radio, were responding to a recommendation from the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse to make reporting child sexual abuse allegations mandatory in institutions including when an allegation is made in religious confession. Failure to report would be a criminal offence.

The recommendation is one of a suite of proposed reforms to improve transparency and reporting of sexual abuse and improve the law’s effectiveness to apprehend sexual abusers and protect children.

Archbishop Hart wouldn’t report something said in confession by a child who’s been abused or by an abuser. Non-Catholics don’t understand confession, he said. Confession is sacrosanct, above the law, which is what makes it different from other forms of telling. It’s communication with God of a higher order.

You can believe it or not, as you wish, but it is what they believe and they’ll be sticking to it.

There is an added piquancy to this particular tale:

When I was 16, I went to confession. I wish the priest had reported what I’d told him

Hmm.

When I was 16, I went to confession for real. I’d been sexually abused by a Catholic high school teacher and her husband. I went to see a priest on the suggestion of one of my abusers, because I was so upset.

The priest I saw gave me absolution which didn’t make me any less upset. I can’t remember what the penance was. He didn’t do anything about what I told him as far as I know. I guess he maintained the seal of confession, the higher order communication with God in Archbishop Hart’s terms. I wish he had done something, reported what I’d told him to my school, parents or the police, because I’d have been far less harmed. What happened to me after that time has had lifelong consequences. I was a child who had a child. The priest let me down badly.

Perhaps reporting it to the police, the headmaster, might have helped a bit?

The Catholic church is not above the law. It’s not above anything. It’s down here on Earth with the rest of us and ought to be more concerned about protecting children than protecting its practices.

No, you’ve really not grasped the internal driver of the Church, have you? Sure, you can believe it or not, as you wish, but they certainly think that they’re dealing with the next world, not this one.

47 thoughts on “Err, yes, the confessional is sacrosanct”

  1. What Catholics believe is irrelevant. Ask the US nuns who didn’t want to dish out pills to young girls. Of course, the same doesn’t go for other religions we could name.

  2. The law should apply to everyone equally. Those who feel the need to keep the seal of confession, or to preach jihad, just need to accept that they may face consequences.
    Whether the law is, itself, a bad law is a completely different matter.

  3. Er no Mary-Rose

    When you were 16 you engaged, as a legal adult, in a threescore with a married couple. The Law here in Britain may now let you tell yourself you were a completely innocent victim, but you weren’t; you made a choice to engage in sexual activity. Now you can feel pleased about that or you can feel guilty. Either way though, to try to blame a priest for your decision is just pure bollocks.

    The confessional is for, well, confession. So in what capacity exactly do you think you were talking to that priest and to God?

  4. NDReader

    Those priests WILL accept the consequences, they are making that clear. The Law will also be required to accept the consequences when it is used to persecute religious belief.

  5. Out of interest, does the sanctity of the confession – or even confession itself – have any validation in the religion itself? As opposed to church tradition? Didn’t the Bloke himself say something along the lines of render unto God what’s God’s & unto Caeser what’s Caeser’s? There seems to be a clear divide between state & religion there & a definition of areas of competence. One would presume illegal acts come in the state’s bailiwick, not the godbotherers’.

  6. So they want a Chinese whisper law… x told me this, y said that etc. Good way of wasting police time.

    Also how does that state work out that someone has reported child abuse in confession?

    What about the places that use traditional confessionals, with a grill and curtain between the priest and confessor.
    “Hallo officer, during confession today, I had 6 reports of child abuse, sadly I was not able to get the names, ages, or sex of these six people…”

  7. ‘Er no Mary-Rose

    When you were 16 you engaged, as a legal adult, in a threescore with a married couple. The Law here in Britain may now let you tell yourself you were a completely innocent victim, but you weren’t; you made a choice to engage in sexual activity. Now you can feel pleased about that or you can feel guilty.’

    Is there any evidence in that piece that she ‘made a choice’? She says she was sexually abused.

    That said, Tim is bang on: ‘Perhaps reporting it to the police, the headmaster, might have helped a bit?’

  8. This is a brazen attack on the Christian Church–by leftist scum who are allies of the RoP because both hate Western Civilisation.

    The paedo-paedo mania is an excuse just as it is also used to attack the freedom of the Internet.

    Not only should Catholics not obey this law but they should take active measures against it.

    Any state agent or NGO type busybody looking to enforce this needs to know they will have a nice little team hunting them down and whatever action the state takes to escalate the matter needs to be matched.

    The Vatican has enough cash to afford a nice selection of nukes.

    God may or may not exist. But the state is not God and if that has to be proved to them so be it.

  9. but they certainly think that they’re dealing with the next world, not this one.

    I’m not sure that’s quite right: they believe they are in communion with a higher spiritual authority which eclipses a lesser temporal one.

  10. Wouldn’t a half solution be to not absolve the penitant serious sins confessed to until they give permission to tell the police.

  11. I don’t really understand her confusion.

    As an ex-Catholic, I have many complaints about the church. But the principle of the sanctity of the confessional is not one of them. When being prepared for confession & communion, I was told many times that the priest could not, under pain of his own death, reveal what had been said. I have to say I was impressed.

    Presumably, Mary-Rose was told the same thing and should not have been surprised that the priest did not report it – as he clearly could not. Thems the rules of the organisation. You don’t like them, do as I did.

    Leave.

    Perhaps she did not go to the police as she knew that what was being taking place wasn’t illegal?

  12. Philip Scott Thomas

    Good for the archbish. The seal of the confessional is not merely tradition; it is doctrine. And that doctrine is that when a priest hears confession, he is acting in lieu of Christ himself. That is, it is not the priest who is hearing the confession, it is Christ. Therefore, the priest has nothing to report to anyone because he, as a person, hasn’t heard anything to report.

    As Timmy said, you can believe the doctrine or not. But that doesn’t change the fact that the proposed requirement, if enacted, would literally be the state doing theology and imposing it on a church. ‘Bureaucratic overreach’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  13. Tim Worstall
    August 18, 2017 at 9:24 am
    Wouldn’t a half solution be to not absolve the penitant serious sins confessed to until they give permission to tell the police.

    Not really.

    In Catholic thinking, if the sin is not forgiven, the sinner is in ‘mortal danger of their soul’ – that is, if they die, they could go to hell.

    We may not believe this stuff, but they appear to.

    So, a priest refusing absolution has to weigh very carefully the potential consequences of so doing, and to be prepared to explain his action to his confessor, and, in his worldview, potentially to his God.

  14. My recollection of my Catholic childhood is that confession was primarily about the sins you yourself had committed. The priest or brother who instructed you spent a lot of time on explaining the difference between mortal and venial sins, and mentioned just in passing that you could also ask for advice in the confessional about wider matters. But that was very much a secondary aspects and meant to cover things like wondering whether the erotic dreams you had been getting recently counted as sinful or not.
    Now the balance seems to have shifted.

  15. It seems to me that if the church wants special privileges on the grounds of religious freedom, it should stop sticking its beak into secular matters.

  16. The suggestion alone should inspire the Papacy to send a squad after you Tim.

    Although Pope Frank(furt school) will probably go for it.

  17. @Tim
    My recollection of doctrine is that the priest is perfectly free to set conditions to absolution – which may include confessing to the police. Yes, I’m sure I heard that from Brother Cuthman all those years ago.
    But that is only relevant to the penitent requesting absolution for their own sin.
    The examples now seem to be somebody who isn’t asking for absolution for their own sin but alleging that somebody else has committed a sin/crime. I wonder whether established Catholic doctrine is meant to cover that case at all.

  18. Perhaps reporting it to the police, the headmaster, might have helped a bit?

    Didn’t seem to in Rotherham et all.

    But of course this isn’t about tackling child abuse, it’s about putting the boot into one of the Left’s oldest enemies again.

  19. The disconnect here seems to be that Catholics are encouraging people to use the confessional as a kind of therapy. I’m not sure if it’s the priesthood or well meaning family members that are driving that, but it’s a great tactic for an abuser.

    “I went to see a priest on the suggestion of one of my abusers, because I was so upset.”

    Don’t bottle it up, tell someone! But make sure it’s someone who can’t dob me in.

  20. Interested suddenly takes feminist Guardianistas at face value. Hilarious.

    If she was sexual ly abused she could always have gone to the Police; still can. What’s that I hear Interested and the Guardianista feminsists say? She wouldn’t wouldn’t have been believed? So she goes into the confess iona, which is more commonly givennover to confession rather than reporting crimes, and expects the priest to… to do what exactly?

  21. Just for the avoidance of doubt… “Wouldn’t a half solution be to not absolve the penitant serious sins confessed to until they give permission to tell the police.” This statement was written by me Hallowed Be… not Tim.

    I confessed immediately but it was a bit ambiguous.

  22. @Matthew L
    That’s why I posed the question above. The sanctity of confession seems to be a relic of the milleniums long jurisdictional dispute between the Catholic Church & the realms where it held sway. Rome tried for primacy over the Catholic world, failed, and various rulers have been whittling back the bits it’s been sitting on ever since. Was a time where the Church claimed jurisdiction over ecclesiastical lands ( which were extensive). Effecively a separate justice system. And over particular “crimes”. Scare quotes because they were crimes against the church rather than the state.

  23. When you were 16 you engaged, as a legal adult, in a threescore with a married couple.

    I knew a chick who did that at 21. When I suggested it might not have been the best of ideas she screamed at me for judging her and insisted she’d been empowered by it.

  24. I thought that until we imported all the RoPpers, most of the abuse was done by the priests themselves. One lives and learns.

  25. Matthew L
    August 18, 2017 at 9:39 am
    It seems to me that if the church wants special privileges on the grounds of religious freedom, it should stop sticking its beak into secular matters.

    Strange to find myself defending a church I grew up in, and despise.

    The RCC is not asking for special privileges. It is saying that its priests are prepared to go to prison, or be executed if necessary, but they are not prepared to break a solemn confidence. If the law says they must be imprisoned or executed for this, then that is what they will endure.

    If you have their worldview, that the next life is of infinitely more importance than this one (being infinitely longer) then it becomes entirely rational.

    They are not asking that laws like this should not apply to them. Only that they won’t obey them, and will suffer any consequences.

    My mother, a strong Catholic, used to say that if it came to a choice between obeying her church or the law, she would obey her church. I believe many, if not most, religious people of any denomination would do the same.

    That attitude It explains a lot of things we atheists struggle to understand.

  26. “if it came to a choice between obeying her church or the law, she would obey her church.”

    It’s a shame people judge that sentence so differently depending on which church it is. Change church to imam and people here would be frothing at the mouth about deportations and nooses.

  27. “they certainly think that they’re dealing with the next world, not this one”. Who’s ‘they’? I doubt that it included many renaissance popes.

  28. “Didn’t the Bloke himself say …”: the Bible often seems irrelevant when it comes to the customs of Christians and near-Christians.

  29. If she wanted the police involved, why didn’t she go to the police?
    By not doing so one can assume she didn’t want the police involved, but actually she does because she wants the priest to call the police?
    So the police get second hand information about a possible crime.

    It isn’t about the crime, its about the Church.

  30. I thought up some tough questions for Brother Cuthman when he was preparing me for my first confession, but now another one occurs to me.

    The priest is obligated to keep silent about whatever he is told during confession. Suppose the penitent in the course of a verbose confession mentions that there’s an excellent film on at the Odeon, must the priest keep silent about that? Presumably not. So the obligation is not absolute. Well then, it follows that there must be criteria defining those matters which are covered by the silence obligation and those which are not. How come then that the good Brother never told us what those criteria are and I have never come across them in all the years since?

    This would have been just a smart-ass question back then but it seems relevant nowadays if people are using confession as general-purpose therapy.

  31. It’s pointless in any case. If this was enacted no one would confess to it in the confessional; as they’re currently not doing to the authorities. Which is, presumably, why they thought this was a good idea. They never do get the concept of unintended consequences. Or, they do, but it’s a good stick to beat the Catholic Church with.

  32. ‘Interested suddenly takes feminist Guardianistas at face value. Hilarious.

    If she was sexual ly abused she could always have gone to the Police; still can.’

    You’re a terrible liar, in both applicable senses of the word ‘terrible’.

    I didn’t say I took her at her word, I asked you what your evidence was that she should not be taken at her word.

    For your lies say three Hail Marys and a Glory Be, and flagellate yourself a little more this evening. Masturbate into a spiked sock, perhaps.

  33. The Inimitable Steve

    Yarp. I reckon this is just a spot of gratuitous Catholic bashing. How dare you take your holy sacrament seriously! It’s cathartic and risk-free, since Catholics rarely behead their critics and Bedfordshire Police aren’t interested in this sort of thing.

    When I was 16, I went to confession. I wish the priest had reported what I’d told him

    I wish she’d told the priest outside the confessional. Even immediately after her confession. Or immediately before. Imagine criticising a man for keeping his vow of silence after you told him something in the only context where he’s bound by oath to keep mum. This is bonkers.

    Like many Catholics, I spent my childhood in fortnightly confession and frankly I don’t understand confession either. I recall the queasy light and the slightly creepy whispering of the priest in that little tardis of shame that sat on one side of the church

    Sounds like she needed a shrink more than a shriver.

    And I mean that in all seriousness. This is a lady who used alleged child sexual abuse in order to appeal a tax matter. NB – it wasn’t those damn secretive priests who she says molested her, but her female teacher and his husband.

    She’s obviously a damaged person, and there’s something more than a little queasy and creepy about the Guardian using her in this way.

  34. The Inimitable Steve

    Matthew – The disconnect here seems to be that Catholics are encouraging people to use the confessional as a kind of therapy.

    You might be on to something there. I dunno how true or widespread it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in this secularised age where even the Vatican pays obeisance to the mean little gods of climate change, the sacrament of penance has effectively morphed in some folks’ minds into psychotherapy with candles.

    Similarly, I always thought it was odd how some people seem to think GP’s are some sort of marriage counselor, life coach and sexpert with a stethoscope.

    I like the idea of absolution for my many, many sins, but the therapeutic idea of blabbing all of your cares and troubles to a stranger strikes me as ostentatiously feminine and suspiciously un-British.

    Like when Princess Diana died and hordes of idiots affected grotesque displays of mawkish sentimentality, led by the grinning sociopath who was our Prime Minister at the time.

    Whatever happened to the stiff upper lip?

  35. Incidentally, I don’t take Tim W’s assertion of what Catholics believe as being relevent. Catholics believe what they’re told to believe. That’s what religions do. The priest in confessional is essentially a one man church court. Hearing evidence, deciding guilt, handing out punishment. The sanctity of the confessional is there to protect this from the legal authorities.

  36. @TiS

    “the sacrament of penance has effectively morphed in some folks’ minds into psychotherapy with candles”

    That’s brilliant. Write a book or something.

  37. Confession is anonymous, so all a priest could report was that someone had said they committed a crime.

    In the event the priest thought they recognised the penitent, it would be a case of his word against another’s who could deny it. Then would follow the lawsuits for defamation, slander.

    If it were not clearly understood that the confessional was secret and there was a high risk of being reported to the police, who would confess crimes anyway in confession?

    Similar rules of confidentiality apply between lawyers and clients and doctors and patients, so priests are not an exception.

  38. I remember asking a female friend if she thought her confessing all the details of a threesome she’d had with a married couple when she was 17 would make her feel less guilty.

    “I never did that ” she said.

    “Couldn’t you just pretend?” I asked.

  39. “Similar rules of confidentiality apply between lawyers and clients and doctors and patients, so priests are not an exception.”
    I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. Medical confidentially applies only to medical matters & certainly doesn’t cover notifiable diseases. Nor does it apply to crimes doctors may become aware of during a consultation. Or even suspect. Child abuse being an example.

  40. Bloke in Costa Rica

    This is another example of the aggressively secular refusing to believe that religious people actually take their religion seriously. They seem to think that the devout have their fingers crossed behind their backs when they avow some apparently batty article of their faith. It’s why the idiot Left excuses all the hair-raising insanity in that excremental rape manual the Mohammedans call their holy book. “But,” they say, “that stuff about exterminating the Jews and subjugating non-Mohammedans and taking their women as sex slaves, you have to take it in context, right? No-one really thinks like that any more.” Except about 40% of Mohammedans think it is the literal word of God, and are willing to kill or willing to enable killing in its name.

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