The Latest Attack on Christianity from the Statist Left
As a Roman Catholic I am fully aware that one of the things that non-Catholics find the most peculiar about my faith is the practice of going to confession. Yet it seems that in Europe and beyond, this sacred tradition is under attack from those who worship not God, nor mammon, but the state.
For one of the most important aspects of confession is what is known as the seal of confession. The seal means that the priest who hears confessions is bound by church law on pain of both mortal sin and latae sententiae excommunication (a type of excommunication that can be removed only by the Holy See) not to reveal by word or action any of your confession. This basically means that any priest revealing any part of any confession is essentially committing spiritual hara-kari.
One can see how this would trouble those who believe in an all-expansive state; for it means that no judge, no police officer, no community diversity engagement officer, no politician, no one can demand that a priest reveal what has been heard in confession. It separates the state from the Church and says to power hungry politicians, "There are some things you have no power over." Needless to say, such politicians are not pleased.
The seal of confession is something that has been attacked in many ways for centuries, from monarchs claiming it to be a cover for treason to communists claiming it can be a cover for spies to the modern-day trend of trying to blame it for the spread of child abuse within the Church. In Australia, parts of mainland Europe and most recently in Ireland, there have been strong moves to pass laws that would force priests to reveal confessions they may have heard from accused sex abusers.
On the face of it this looks like a sensible, if controversial, suggestion. "Surely," the reasoning goes, "if a priest hears a confession relating to abuse, he has a duty to report it to the police, and should he fail to, he is morally negligent." But a deeper look at this issue shows this logic to be errant.
The reason the seal of confession is so important, and why the Church takes it so seriously, is because the seal guarantees privacy and confidentiality for the penitent, and therefore allows and encourages them to be fully honest with their confession. With the seal in place, someone who is guilty of abuse can go to confession and confess in the knowledge that he won't be betrayed by the priest at the other side of the grille.
Not only does this allow the penitent to properly open up, but it also allows the priest to talk to the abuser, and encourage him or her to go the authorities him- or herself, even going so far as to make it part of the penance to do so. This latter statement might not sound like much to a non-Catholic, but a refusal to perform the assigned penance makes the confession invalid, and it can be presumed that someone who goes to confession will be one who believes in the validity of confession and the consequences of dying in a state of mortal sin -- i.e. hell.
If a priest were forced to reveal anything like this by the state, then such people would almost certainly be scared away from going to confession at all and would not receive the counseling and the prompting to turn himself over. It would not increase the sum of people being investigated, but it would in fact decrease the number of people who might turn themselves in and seek help.
However, I don't accept that these drastic laws being proposed have anything to do with concern for sexual abuse victims. Even if one bought into the flimsy logic upon which these proposed laws are based, most people who engage in sex abuse aren't the confessing type. George Weigel's excellent study[i] of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church showed that priests and religious who were abusing children had almost always ceased entirely the practicing of their faith, and usually had for many years before engaging in such horrific crimes. Additionally, most abusers believe that they are doing nothing wrong, and would therefore not see it as something that needed confessing.
Yet this isn't about preventing abuse; it is merely another way for those with a political agenda to attack the independence of the Church, and to increase the powers of the state. Statists have always had extreme disregard for all religions, except for those that allow them to expand the role of the state under the veil of promoting enormous "diversity" and "tolerance" schemes -- tolerance that appears to be lacking when it comes to the Catholic Church. These proposed laws should be seen for what they are: an attack on the independence of the Catholic Church, and an attempt to make it subservient to the state.
Once the seal of confession is violated, even just for rare cases, it breaks down the implicit trust in the confessional, for it opens it up to future breaks of the seal, should the state deem it necessary. For where do we stop once we have the state telling us what must be revealed? It would open up a path for judges and politicians to be able to interrogate the priest of any suspect of any crime as to what was contained in that confession if they deemed it to be in the public interest.
There are none of us who want to be defending the rights of child molesters, but it is the rights of good, religious people to seek salvation in their own way without excessive interference from the state that we must stand up for.
Don't be fooled by the claims of the statists that this is to protect children; this is their way of scratching the itch that they feel whenever someone talks about the seal of confession, and the knowledge that it is immune from interference from the state. If the left had their way, Jesus' mandate would have been "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's...once it has been checked over by a government official."
Further interference into the lives of the individual by the state must be opposed, and this is precisely what these proposed laws are all about.
[i] G Weigel, The Courage to be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church, (Basic Books, 2004)