Irish Legislative Proposal: 5-Year Prison for Not Breaken the Confessional Seal
Category: Government Restrictions
Attack against: Faith
Nature of attack: Governmental
Tags: Freedom of Religion
Alan Shatter’s mandatory reporting bill, introduced Wednesday, will make it a criminal offense to fail to disclose information to police which would “assist in prosecuting a person who commits a serious offense against a child or vulnerable adult.” The bill confirms fears that the government of Ireland will attempt to force priests to break the seal of the confessional, an idea that had already caused an uproar last summer (read here).
A statement from the Vatican last August made it clear that under no circumstances whatever may a priest reveal what he learns in confession, even if a penitent confesses to criminal activity. The seal of confession is the oldest and most sacrosanct of the disciplines of the Catholic priesthood.
“Ireland can pass whatever laws it wants,” said Archbishop Girotti, regent of the apostolic penitentiary, to Il Foglio, “but it must know that the Church will never submit to forcing confessors to inform civil officials.”
“The inviolability of the seal of confession is so fundamental to the very nature of the Sacrament that any proposal that undermines that inviolability is a challenge to the right of every Catholic to freedom of religion and conscience,” Cardinal Brady said to a group of pilgrims at the Shrine of Knock.
The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald confirmed that the law would apply without exceptions, saying, “We haven’t made any exclusions or any exemptions; everybody is under an obligation to report.”
When the government first made the threat last July, David Quinn, a writer on religion and director of Iona Institute think-tank said : “No child abuser will go to a priest in confession knowing the priest is required to inform the police. But cutting off the avenue of confession to a child abuser makes it less likely that he will talk to someone who can persuade him to take the next step”.
The Code of Canon Law, (983 §1) says, “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.” A priest who is found to have broken the seal faces excommunication “latae sententiae,” which means automatically, a penalty that cannot be lifted except by the Pope himself. It is understood that in such a circumstance, a priest who has once broken the “inviolable” seal, will never be allowed to hear confessions again.