There is a very confused article in today’s Herald Sun (not a rag I read regularly–thank you Cathnews for alerting me) regarding whether the responsibility for reporting crimes such as child abuse extends to the priest who hears confession of such a crime in the confessional.
For a start it is entirely inappropriate for the journalist responsible to describe either the minister in question or the context for the “confession” in terms of Catholic priesthood and the Catholic sacrament of penance, since no minister of what the article describes as “a small evangelistic Christian church in the eastern suburbs” could be regarded as a priest “in the true sense” (as Rome would put it!) nor could any practice of “confession” in that church be regarded as the sacrament of penance (which sacrament and which power to forgive such “evangelical” churches strenuously deny).
The Catholic Church forbids (Canon 983.1) her priests to disclose any information received in the confessional or in any way to make use of the information received there. The Catechism states (p. 2490) that “It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason”.
The reason for this should be patently obvious. No-one would ever make auricular confession to a priest if he thought that in any way what was confessed would go anywhere beyond that forum. Removing the seal of the confessional for any reason would utterly destroy any confidence the faithful have in their priests or in this sacrament overnight.
For eg. Last Saturday night I went to mass in the Cathedral. I wanted to make my confession, and sat in the line for twenty minutes, only to be told (when I was two away from entering the box) that no more confessions would be heard since Father had to prepare to say mass in ten minutes time. I went to communion anyway after making an act of contrition, but also recognised that this obligated me to make my confession at the earliest possible opportunity. That opportunity came after mass in the sacristry where I confessed to the priest face to face. I know this priest and he knows me and we work together regularly. I have confessed to him through the grill before, but never face to face. If I thought that there was any way in which what I had to confess would leave that face to face encounter and affect either my work or my personal relationship with this priest I never would have had the confidence to do this. As it was, I know that he will not even allow what he heard in that confession to affect our personal relationship, let alone any relationships beyond this. I confessed to him as to the Lord, and as with the Lord, he doesn’t go babbling about it to anyone.
Now ask yourself if I would have had the confidence to do that without the guarentee of the seal of the confessional. I can tell you now that I would not have.
Making exceptions for the seal of the confessional will not lead to the uncovering of these crimes and to justice. It will lead to people never confessing mortal sins to their priest and never receiving forgiveness for it. At least in the current situation, the priest is able to use what influence he has in that personal pastoral relationship to see that repentance is sincere, justice is done and future harm averted.