Skip to comments.TESTING THE FAITH 'Confession' of child abuse no longer secret?
Posted on 01/27/2006 8:26:48 AM PST by NYer
A bill under consideration by New Hampshire legislators would require Catholic priests and other religious figures to divulge any information they hear regarding child abuse, even if told to them by parishioners in the private act of "confession."
According to the Concord Monitor newspaper, the Granite State currently has a statute requiring anyone in the state who suspects child abuse to report it to authorities. The Child Protection Act, enacted in 1979, also places a mandatory reporting requirement on clergy.
However, the paper said, a separate statute exempts clergymen and women from having to provide court testimony regarding anything told to them in confidence during an act of confession.
The current legislation under consideration would amend state law and require religious figures to provide unqualified reporting of any abuse divulged to them, under any circumstances. It is the second time since 2004 New Hampshire lawmakers have attempted to pass such a measure.
Confession is a sacrament most commonly associated with Catholics, in which the faithful are required to periodically confess sins generally violations of the Ten Commandments to priests, who then absolve them of those sins before God. For it to be valid, it must be held in the strictest of confidence, Catholic officials told the paper.
Church hierarchy in New Hampshire, though mindful of the seriousness of child abuse, nevertheless criticized any effort to force clergy to reveal information passed along during confession.
Diane Quinlan, chancellor of the Diocese of Manchester, said that while "there's no question that child abuse is a terrible crime," allowing a "limited exception" for confession was necessary for the uninhibited practice of Catholicism.
"That's how serious this is in our belief," she told the Monitor.
Local police officials some who are practicing Catholics as well as leaders in the church still argued for passage of the law.
"We feel it's important that there be no exemptions from the mandatory reporting statute," Northfield Police Chief Scott Hilliard, representing the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said.
Some lawmakers said Catholic priests had told them they would go to prison before divulging any information told them in confession.
Such defiance could make the law moot, some argued.
Others said they were worried about whether such an ordinance would pass constitutional muster. But both sides pro and con presented Supreme Court opinions supporting their positions.
For Roman Catholic priests, the confidentiality of anything that they learn from penitents during the course of confession is absolute. This strict confidentiality is known as the Seal of the Confessional.
According to Roman Catholic Canon Law 983 §1:
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.
Priests may not reveal what they had learned during confession to anyone, even under the threat of their own death or that of others. (This is unique to the Seal of the Confessional. Many other forms of confidentiality, including in most states attorney-client privilege, allow ethical breaches of the confidence to save the life of another.) For a priest to break confidentiality would lead to an latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication reserved to the Holy See (Code of Canon Law, 1388 §1).
In a criminal matter, a priest may encourage or require the penitent to surrender to authorities and may withhold absolution if the penitent refuses to do so. However, this is the extent of the leverage they wield;they may not directly or indirectly disclose the matter to civil authorities themselves.
There are limited cases where portions of a confession may be revealed to others, but always with the penitent's permission and always without actually revealing the penitent's identity. This is the case, for example, with more serious offenses, as some excommunicable offenses are reserved to the bishop or even to the Holy See, and their permission to grant absolution must be obtained.
Civil authorities in the United States are usually respectful of this confidentiality. However, several years ago an ambitious attorney in Oregon secretly recorded a confession without the knowledge of the priest or the penitent involved. This lead to official protests by the local Archbishop and the Vatican. The tape has since been sealed, and the Federal Court has since ruled that the taping was in violation of the 4th Amendment, and ordered an injunction against any further tapings.
In other words, the Church will submit itself to the state, not God.
A good priest would reveal a criminal, especially one harming a child.
A bad judge will only give him 60 days.
Welcome to New England, 2006.
The "confessional" part of it will go over like a lead balloon at the Supreme Court.
What took this so long?
Why is this already not a law in all 50 states?
In TX they are required to do this with exception of confession. Certain people , teachers, coaches, doctors, clergy are required by law to report any and all suspected child abuse. Case in point if they do not they can be held criminally liable.
No can do. Any Catholic priest who goes along with this ain't a Catholic priest. He's something else.
A good Catholic priest would urge the penitent to surrender himself - but cannot and must not go to the cops himself.
They can certainly pass the law. But no proper Catholic priest will obey it.
You're correct. I had to go re-read the seal to be clear.
We have the confessional privilege for a reason. Circumventing it is a bad idea.
Because it's absolutely unenforceable. A priest must follow man's law, but only when it does not interfere with God's law.
So where in God's law does it say that he has to protect Child Molestors?
"So where in God's law does it say that he has to protect Child Molestors? "
Nowhere. There is no Biblical support for the seal of the confessional. Indeed, there's no Biblical support for the Sacrament of Confession.
What there is, however, is the First Amendment of the Constitution, which affirms the right of freedom of worship. The Roman Catholic Church has a doctrine about a priest's responsibility to keep confessional admissions secret.
So, circumventing that is going to be a knotty legal problem, and will be unlikely to succeed.
Still, there is no Biblical support for the seal of the confessional.
Wouldn't be the first time.
The State is NOT God. Deal with it.
He's a Catholic Priest who has committed a sacrilege.
The priest can insist, using the strongest terms, that the person in the confessional should tell the authorities himself; but the priest cannot do so.
Our priests and bishops are sure to give your personal interpretation of Scripture all the consideration it is due. Thank you for weighing in on this matter.
It wil be interesting to see what is left of New Hampshire once this chases the adherent Catholics out. Do these nit wits think the Church would stand for this? Who would go to confession with "yeah but" strings on them?
There is no Biblical support for the seal of the confessional. It is simply a doctrine of the RCC.
A poor case can be made for the Sacrament of Confession, but such a thing is not laid out specifically anywhere in the New Testament. The only passage that even comes close is one in John.
But, the seal of the confessional is purely a doctrinal issue, a tradition of the Catholic Church.
It is very, very unlikely that any law forcing priests to break the seal will be passed, nor would such a law be upheld by the justice system. That's just not going to happen.
Still, there is precedent for our government to override religious beliefs and practices. The case of polygyny in the early LDS church is a good example. A religious group could also not practice human sacrifice, even if it was part of their doctrine.
However, we have a long judicial history of allowing religious organizations to do things that would otherwise be prohibited. Animal sacrifices is one, and refusal to take oaths is another.
I do not see any circumstances where the seal of the confessional will be legislated out of existence.
Per above I stand corrected. What I was trying to express in fewer words was a man of faith would try to bring the criminal to light and protect the child to the best of his ability, however, all that effort might be in vain because of the liberal courts in place.
You know, abuse of Freedom to Worship is the wind beneath ACLU's wings.
Big enough tragedy would give them enough support to assault fifth Ammendment.
You may do as you wish. You'll note that I'm not in favor of laws breaking the seal of confession. Not at all. However, there is no Biblical support for it. If you can find some, I'd be interested in knowing.
"Big enough tragedy would give them enough support to assault fifth Ammendment"
It's not really the Fifth Amendment that's in question here. It's the First. I can't see any circumstances where the seal of the confessional will be broken through legislation. It's just too old a privilege.
Did I defend Islam and attack Catholicsm?
I think its time for you to change your prescription.
What if its not official 'confession'. But something that came up in private conversation?
"What if its not official 'confession'. But something that came up in private conversation?"
Confession in the Catholic Church is a specific thing...a sacrament. Private conversations not in a formal confession are not protected, as far as I know.
However, the seal of the confessional is also available to non-Catholics, if the pastor involved agrees with the principle.
There's lots of case law on this subject.
It's not a "Catholic thing"; the law generally does not compel clergymen and certain other professionals to tell things given them in confidence. Every hear of "attorney-client privilege"? How about not forcing a wife to testify against her husband? Same idea.
I was a child victim of sexual abuse. Children are smarter and better at sorting out their own survival than we ever give them credit for.
If a child goes to a priest they've gone under the umbrage of the sanctity of the confessional. If they wanted criminal justice they would seek out a cop.
Say someone is guilty of a heinous crime and is on the edge about it. Confession to a priest can bring about a resolution of those feelings. A priest can withold forgiveness if repentence is not shown, and can make confession to civil authorities a condition of absolution. A priest can counsel a person and make him see the necessity of turning himself in. This may not happen immediately, but if a person knows he can in confidence discuss such things, this may be the end result.
On the other hand, a person feeling pangs of guilt and wanting to talk to a priest but who knows that the priest is a de jure arm of the law will liekly avoid seeking out the priest's counsel to begin with.
Bottom line: there are confidences protected in law (husband/wife, attorney/client, penitent/confessor) that have a long legal history. Fracturing them is an unwise thing.
Huh? I think you have things confused. This isn't about a child telling a priest about abuse. It's about the abuser confessing his sin.
So, given that, what does the nincompoop legislator think is going to happen? A priest is required by law to call up the police and say "Someone confessed abusing a child. I don't know who the person is, but if I heard his voice again, I might recognize it. Or maybe not." And the police are supposed to do what with that information, exactly? (The priest, meanwhile, if the Church law is enforced, has ended his active ministry.)
What's "strange" about anything I posted?
For most (but not all) people on this thread, this really isn't a discussion about a bad law anymore - most (but not all) people tend to view this as running afoul of the Consititution. It has really become more of a stone-throwing session about the seal of the confessional.