Anthony McIntyre writes about the calls for the breach of the Confessional seal.
The Vatican is holding firm to its position on maintaining the confidentiality of the confessional seal, insisting that no matter what is revealed to a priest during the act of confession it must never be disclosed to any police force. This includes the sexual abuse of children which the Vatican has covered up in circumstances where the "guilty knowledge" was not secured in the confession box.
In defence of the confessional seal, Pope Francis has said that 'Our duty is to God, not a state' and that “no human power has jurisdiction” over it. Sounds crazy and equates to me thinking my duty is to Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and not the state or society; that information about any crime which Sheffield Wednesday thinks should be covered up, such as the role of some of its officials in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster back in 1989, resulting in the loss of the lives of 96 Liverpool FC fans, must not be made known by me to investigating authorities.
Back in 2002 the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell nailed this illogic and bluntly told the Catholic Church that its canon law had the same status as that of a golf club and did not have divinely ordained superior rights that would trump the civil law of the land. McDowell went on to say that:
As far as the criminal law of the state is concerned canon law per se has no particular status. We simply could not have a situation where a group of people in the interests of the church which they loyally served effectively undertook as of right activities which involved contact by their members with children. They can't simply set them aside or apply a different standard to them from that which is generally needed to protect children.
It is hard to see how McDowell is any less wrong today than he was then.
The Vatican is coming under increasing pressure not to withhold the type of information its priests perhaps routinely obtain in the confessional from the police. In Australia, where the foremost leader of the Church George Pell is in jail having been convicted of child abuse, moves are already in place making it an offence to withhold this type of information. Catholic gobbledegook doesn't much cut it
The Vatican thinks it is an unjustifiable demand that "the Church itself bring its juridical system into conformity with the laws of the states in which it finds itself living...". In other words it thinks it should be above the law, that one law for all is a concept not applicable to it and to which it should not defer, it being for mere mortals like ordinary citizens.
A document from the Vatican's Apostolic Penitentiary, which deals with issues of the sacrament of confession, said no government or law could force clergy to violate the seal:
because this duty comes directly from God … (The Church) does not receive its legitimacy from individual States, but from God; it (breaking the seal) would also constitute a violation of religious freedom...
Chief Constable Phil Gormley said:
I am delighted to make this announcement and welcome the support from both the Muslim community, and the wider community, as well as police officers and staff … Like many other employers, especially in the public sector, we are working towards ensuring our service is representative of the communities we serve.
What he does not say is that Celtic and Rangers communities will not have their culture exhibited in the uniform nor addresses the issue of wishes of what community is to prevail if a priest rapes a Muslim or Sikh kid, and is only prepared to disclose it in the confessional.
In Ireland both the Hijab and Turban may be worn but not Shamrock Rovers tops. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan outlined the reasoning:
I very much welcome the Commissioner’s decision to facilitate alterations to the Garda uniform on request to accommodate religious and ethnic diversity.
So, it would be foolish to expect the Catholic Church not to want to insist on its traditions being elevated over and above others. They can hardly be faulted for claiming the existence of a "worrying negative prejudice against the Catholic Church" when other religious traditions are privileged.
The best position for the Church to take if it wishes to protect the seal of the confessional is to compromise: it could state clearly than no confessor is to expose priests to risk by giving them information that once they are in possession of are in danger of breaking the law by not passing it on to the statutory authorities, that their will be no foregiveness in such circumstances making the confession null and void. Alternatively the Church could rule that it will hear confessions of child abuse only after the the confessor has submitted themselevs to the law of the land. It seems the only way for the Church to retain its traditions in societies no longer willing to accommodate rituals that might undermine the protection of children.