Leaders of the Catholic Church have quickly dismissed calls from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse that the secrecy of the confessional should end1. The Royal Commission had an enormous number of recommendations, and clearly demonstrated the inadequacy of Canon Law, which contributed to the failure of the church to either protect children or punish the perpetrators within church institutions1. This is perhaps succinctly illustrated by a Q & A ‘joke’ which went around my hometown almost 50 years ago: Q: What punishment does a priest get if he is caught molesting children? A: Another parish. It would be funny if it was not for the decades of carnage behind it.
Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart stated that the seal of the confessional was “inviolable” and “can’t be broken” and that he would risk going to jail rather than report sexual abuse revealed to him in the confessional1. The reason he would go to jail is, if it could be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew and did not report it to the police, he would be regarded as an ‘accessory after the fact’.
The charge of being an accessory after the fact is brought against the accused (herein, the confessor) even though they were not involved in the crime committed by the child abuser. However, the confessor would be charged with assisting the child abuser after he committed the crime, and gave that assistance with the knowledge that the abuser had committed the crime2. This would be the case if the confessor gave absolution for the crimes perpetrated by the abuser. Absolution could be construed as assistance in that it makes the abuser feel better. This is perhaps exemplified, in the worst possible way, by the McArdle case, where 30 priests heard McArdle’s confession over 25 years and forgave him time and again, as he sexually assaulted up to 1500 children3.
Being an accessory after the fact is a separate and distinct offence from that committed by the abuser but it is dependent upon the fact that the abuser committed a specific crime2.
The fact that the Catholic Church could consider that Canon Law should override Australian civil law is unacceptable in an increasingly secular society. It is just as unacceptable as it would be for Sharia Law to override civil law. However, those whining about Sharia Law will never complain about Canon Law, because Canon Law is their idiocy, not someone else’s idiocy. Besides, they seem to believe that, alongside someone’s religious belief, the wellbeing of children is inconsequential.
Just found your blog today and wanted to say it’s good to read that somebody gets it – thank you
I wish I could say ‘my pleasure’, but in this case, I feel it is my duty.
As a child and juvenile I was brought up with the teaching that the Catholic Confessional is sacrosanct. The only reason I recall being offered is that it encouraged “sinners” to ask God’s forgiveness without fear of being exposed. “Sinners” who REALLY want God’s forgiveness don’t actually need the Confessional, they can do that in private without the need for a priest or bishop, but if they are really repentant then they should be prepared to face the consequences of their actions on this earth. Two things are abundantly clear from this enquiry: (1) the Catholic Church must reconsider compulsory celibacy and the so-called sanctity of the Confessional; and (2) the state must act to ensure secular law overrides religious law without fear or favour. The Confessional has for far too long been used by men of the cloth to conceal crime, often in their own ranks. The moral, ethical and legal arguments are ALL clearly contrary to this part of Canon Law. The fact that some church authorities defend it in the face of a mountain of evidence of continued abuse shows just how poor their moral compasses are.
Agreed. The confessional is all about the power of knowing people’s foibles. Knowledge is power.