The Roman Catholic Church is again proving that their institution empowers the perpetrator rather than protecting the victim. The so called “sanctity” of the confessional is immoral and should be made criminal when it comes to concealing serious offences.
The Royal Commission has proven that the church cannot be trusted with the welfare of vulnerable children and therefore they should receive no dispensation. All of our States and Territories need to enact legislation that specifically targets those who conceal Child Sex Offences. Penalties for concealing such crimes need to be harsh so that they truly reflect the criminality of the action, the public’s expectation and also act as a deterrent for those who would be tempted to protect the perpetrators.
Clergy who betray children must be sent to prison, no exceptions.
Priests say they won’t break the seal of confession, but what does that mean?
Catholic priests say they will not abide new laws that mean clergy must report child abuse revealed to them in the confessional.
Both South Australia and the ACT will make the change to compel priests to give information from confession.
Here’s a look at how confession works now, and whether a law could change the way the Catholic Church runs it.
What is the seal of confession?
The world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are regulated by canon law, with the Pope is its supreme legislator.
The current code of canon law states: “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”
Any priest who breaks the seal of confession is subject to the church’s most severe penalty — automatic excommunication, revocable only by the Pope.
The idea is that people will feel free to confess sins without fear.
How much of an effect will the change have?
Confession — also known as reconciliation — is done in a confessional box, or simply a confessional, usually in a church.
The confessor can come face-to-face with the priest or remain anonymous behind a curtain.
Under the Catholic Church, to gain absolution — and therefore to then be able to take holy communion again and avoid eternal damnation — a person needs to be contrite about their sins and do penance.
Acting Archbishop of Adelaide Bishop Greg O’Kelly said there was a “misconception about how serious this will be”.
“Part of confession is a purpose of amendment, that the penitent actually is sincere about wanting forgiveness, is sincere about wanting reparation,” Bishop O’Kelly said.
Often, the priest would advise the person to tell the police about their crime or to tell the priest about it outside the confessional, which would then require the priest to report it.
“You can refuse to give the absolution if the person doesn’t show they’re genuine in wanting to reform,” Bishop O’Kelly said.
“It’s not like coming in and committing a sin and going out and getting forgiven and coming back and doing it again — there has to be a real purpose of resolve to reform your life.
“If you’re not doing this, a priest might say, ‘You don’t have the necessary qualities to get the absolution; come back when you are'”.
Bishop O’Kelly said child sex abuse was “not a common crime” and no one had ever confessed it to him in his 46 years as a priest.
Confession itself isn’t that common
Former Catholic priest and historian Dr Paul Collins says a young Catholic’s first confession, usually at the age of about seven, was often his or her last.
“What’s happened within Catholicism really over the last 40 years has been a complete collapse of people going anywhere near a confessional,” Dr Collins told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“Most Catholics including myself haven’t been near a confessional for 30 years or even longer.”
The modern Catholic Mass includes an absolution where parishioners admit they are sinners and the priest asks God to have mercy on them and forgive their sins.
Exposing a national shame
“The simple reality is nobody or very, very few go anyone near a confessional,” Dr Collins said.
“There’s a kind of a caricature of Catholics that we’re all running off to confession all the time.
“It simply doesn’t reflect the facts.”
Dr Collins said binding priests by law to mandatory reporting of any confession of sexual abuse of children “just isn’t that simple”.
“The reality is we’ve gone back in a way to a more anonymous confessional so the priest might have no idea who the person is,” he said.
“The second thing is no paedophile with any brains at all is going to go near a confessional if there’s mandatory reporting.
“They’re of their very nature highly secretive.
“It seems to me to be purely symbolic — it’s a way of the state asserting that the Catholic Church is subject to the law of the land.”
What if a child reports abuse to a priest?
Anything said inside the confessional box is subject to the seal of confession, but if a child mentioned he or she had been abused while there “it’s the sort of the thing where you’d invite them to speak to you outside of confession”, Bishop O’Kelly said.
If the abuse is then mentioned outside of the confessional, the priest would have to report it to the Child Abuse Report Line.
All Catholic priests are mandatory reporters and undergo mandatory reporting training.
“Any priest or teacher would be looking for signs,” Bishop O’Kelly said.
“In fact, you’ve got a serious obligation which the church would entirely endorse.”
In SA, the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL) is 131 478.
Eugene Boisvert was a student at St Ignatius’ College under Bishop O’Kelly.