Breaking The Irish Seal

Catholics bloggers around the world are in full fussbudget mode about proposed Irish legislation to compel confessors to report sexual predators.

I have my doubts on several fronts. Were this legislation to pass, predators might just seek out a sympathetic confessor–more grooming of allies just feeds into their addiction.  For serial predators, the sacrament of Penance serves mainly to allow the guilt-ridden to compartmentalize their lives, and remain in denial about their crimes. I’d rather take a look at the matter from the point of view of what society is telling the Church by this initiative, a point most bloggers seem to be missing.

First, it’s a shot across the bow. That some people are even considering dismantling an ancient tradition of confidentiality should tell the bishops that people are angry and they want results. The bishops would do well to listen to this anger, as much as they would prefer to avoid it. Many bishops have said publicly they would go to jail or be martyred for the faith. But the real question: would they consent to serving jail time as guilty and sinful criminals?

Second, it pokes at the institution that has largely seen sex abuse as a matter of immorality. Abuse is immoral, but it is more. Clearly, the Church’s remedy for it appears to be ineffective for both ministers of the sacrament and the bishops. Time for the bishops to move on and concede this is a grievous administrative fault that not only must be confessed, but rectified. Amends must be made, and in the most ancient tradition of the sacrament, bishops must make these amends publicly, contritely, and sincerely.

Third, the people do not trust the bishops or the clergy to handle these matters. Putting lay people into roles overseeing the investigation of predator priests and suspending offending clergy from active ministry would be a start. Lay people must be involved in a significant way. Naturally, the bishop remains the responsible administrator, and should take counsel on these matters. A bishop remains free to disregard advice, but he does so at the risk of losing all credibility.

Fourth, lets admit the sacrament has been abused by predators. They have committed sacrilege by approaching Christ to forgive grave sins for which they lacked contrition or intent to amend.

And finally, bishops and confessors are going to have to develop a wise and considered process for dealing with a penitent who approaches to be forgiven of a serious sin committed in a series of acts. Lacking this, people will lose faith in the effectiveness of the sacrament. Why? If lay people are grilled on sex topics, mainly abortion, and clergy offenders appear to run free with cheap grace, then the sacrament of Penance will develop a stain. The bishops have already allowed the sacramental system to be tarnished by their inaction, not to mention the complicity of some of their number.

The biggest danger to the sacrament comes not from legislation that will bring little power to bear. After all, the only likely outing of a confessor will come from a predator who might want to bring down priests or possibly a bishop. How else will a judicial process get any legal traction?

Hopefully, this remains at the level of threat. Enough has been revealed about the inability of the clergy to police their own. Time for serious amendment from them, especially the bishops. We Catholics can stand to address this threat and turn it into a challenge for our greater virtue and especially that of our clergy. So if such discussions make us stronger, let them be.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Breaking The Irish Seal

  1. Liam says:

    Despite the enormous symbolic value of the proposal, I doubt it will do anything other than discourage people from confession.

    The reason is that, IIRC, canon law gives both the penitent and the priest a fundamental option for anonymity – neither can force face-to-face on the other, but each can force anonymity on the other. I suspect all confessions in Ireland will now perforce be conducted under anonymity to the extent feasible.

  2. Brilliant. Kudos, Ireland.

    There is no question that the Catholic church has been raping children for decades, covering it up, lying about it, and ignoring the victims.

    They can’t be trusted to protect society from their own pedophiles, and for a long time, the laws of the land allowed the church to get away with that. The church shamelessly, recklessly, sinfully abused that power – not as individuals, but as a coordinated, organized whole.

    That makes them an organized crime empire as much as a religious institution.

    They should start losing benefits, like “the loophole of confession” and tax exempt status, since they have long lost respect and trust.

    Pedophile priests proved that confession gave them the capability to rape children as long as they ran to confession afterwards. Some in the US in Philadelphia had sex with children in confessional. That’s convenient. If you close that loophole, and the priest knows that he has to confess or go to hell after he rapes a child, he has a big dilemma.

    Brilliant solution, Ireland.

    Pedophiles – want forgiveness from God? Go to prison on earth. You don’t get the benefit of God’s forgiveness for free. Priests – want to hide your pedophile priest friend? You go to jail.

    Enact the law. Let’s hope the US follows suit. The Catholic church concealed child rape for at least 60 years. Let’s let the government shut down the pedophile protection practices. Next up – taxing the church.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    If the church is truly serious about dealing with sexual predators, anyone coming to confess this sin needs a thorough grilling on frequency, activities, etc. If there is any suspicion that the one attempting the confession is a serial predator, forgiveness should be withheld until and unless the person can prove that (s)he has dealt with the law on this. Harsh? You bet. But what do you think sexual abuse is?

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