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Where to draw the line between cover-up and Confession

As Australia's bishops launch a major retrospective inquiry into how the Church handled abuse cases, Father Michael Kelly draws the distinction between respecting the Confessional and convicting a criminal.

  • Father Michael Kelly SJ
  • Australia
  • July 19, 2012
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Thank God church authorities have commissioned an inquiry to be chaired by Antony Whitlam QC into the handling of “the Fr F case” by Catholic authorities in Armidale and Parramatta in the 1980s and the early 1990s.

However, it has nothing to do with the seal of secrecy priests commit to keeping about information divulged in Confession.

The Seal of Confession is a commitment made to every penitent by every priest under sanction of his being decommissioned if he breaks it. It is an even more forceful and binding law on priests than that which psychologists and other professionals make to protect client and patient data and the commitment which has had journalists go to jail rather than reveal their sources.

Why? Because, for believers, the matter is tied up with a relationship with God.

Christians really don’t get too excited when buildings and “holy places get desecrated. Why? Because Christians prize relationships more than things like buildings. And the primary relationship that must not be violated by any other Christian – priest or not – is the relationship someone has with God.

 A priest telling the details revealed in confession amounts to such a violation.

But there are manifold ways in which a priest is informed and can divulge the information received in other contexts. And that accounting is now a matter of law. Failure to account to appropriate authorities (the police for example) is a crime.

The Catholic Church was bedeviled in Australia and victims left out to dry until the mid 1990s by its manner of handling of sex-abuse allegations. The “secrecy of the Confessional” was extended way beyond any allowable limits set by a proper respect for the Seal.

What resulted were secretive and unjust ways of handling criminal acts.

In many parts of the world it remains so. Only last year did the Vatican insist that every national bishops’ conference develop a code of conduct and legal procedures for handling such matters. They were to be delivered by the end of last month. About half of the bishops’ conferences of the world met the deadline. Australia has had effective processes operating since the mid 1990s.

However, the international result is a subset of a more pervasive cultural issue in the Church which impairs transparency and harms the delivery of any effective accountability in many areas.

What is referred to as “clericalism” – the club mentality that hides from public scrutiny any information on its members and stands by the membership come what may – is as corrosive in religion as it is in any sector of society.

Full Story: THE SANCTITY OF CONFESSION

Source: The Hoopla

For more background on this story, click here.
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