Down to the Wire: Just $4,822 left to match to win our Challenge Grant. Your gift will still be doubled!
Click here to advertise on

story time

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 26, 2005

A diplomatic pouch is an officially "immune" container that is free from normal search and seizure by police, customs officials, or immigration authorities. Its purpose is to allow diplomats and their sponsoring governments to convey documents to one another with the security necessary to conduct diplomacy. Now say an ambassador uses the diplomatic pouch to transport cocaine safely across borders and sell it for his personal profit. He treats the diplomatic pouch as a "black box," figuring that whatever he chooses to put inside is off limits. By thus exploiting diplomatic immunity he has abused the trust conventionally accorded his office. Were he exposed and denounced by a foreign power, his home country would distinguish sharply between the authentic purpose of immunity and the betrayal of that purpose by the criminal diplomat in question.

Now imagine -- as a purely hypothetical supposition -- that a Catholic bishop had papers in his files that impeached him of criminal wrongdoing. So he thinks, "What kind of 'diplomatic pouch' do I have at my disposal in which I can stash the hot docs?" The seal of the confessional has great immunity, of course, but it's tough to apply it to documents, because if the sins are written down and filed, ipso facto they're not secret in an absolute sense. Nevertheless, the bishop figures that the aura of confessional secrecy has enough residual power in the public imagination that few public officials will be willing to take on the Church in a frontal assault against the Sacred Seal, because it would look as if they were invading the most private of all privacies -- and a constitutionally protected one at that. The bishop knows the DA might decide an aggressive prosecution just isn't worth it in career terms, given that he'd face opposition both from civil rights activists and from Catholics alarmed by government intrusion into sacramental space.

So the bishop invents a kind of black box -- a category of confidentiality that applies to memos and third-party conversations -- and pronounces in his gravest baritone that confessional secrecy applies to its contents. He then declares that the incriminating papers have always been in the black box. Finally he defies the DA to come after them. His gamble, like that of the crooked diplomat who stuffs his pouch with cocaine, is that the honorable conduct of his predecessors with regard to sacred things will inhibit the kind of investigation that would expose his own dishonorable conduct.

Couldn't really happen, of course. We all know a bishop would sooner go to prison than risk damage to the Church he was anointed to defend. Still, it's an interesting fiction.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach seven million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Our Fall Campaign
Progress toward our year-end goal ($52,302 to go):
$150,000.00 $97,698.13
35% 65%
Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Jul. 26, 2005 8:53 PM ET USA

    Well....... I really only have one correction. Cardinal Mahony is a tenor not a baritone

  • Posted by: - Jul. 26, 2005 4:08 PM ET USA

    Interesting story for a Bishop. What about a Cardinal who is expected (and who wears red specifically to signify) that he is willing to give his life, to shed his own blood, to protect the Church?

Fall 2014 Campaign
Subscribe for free
Shop Amazon
Click here to advertise on

Recent Catholic Commentary

The gift of orthodoxy: A mercy and a challenge to mercy November 26
Getting Marriage Right November 25
O Earthly Lord, vouchsafe to us high speed Internet. November 25
No 'Francis effect' in Strasbourg November 25
What Pope Francis told European Parliament, and what Pope John Paul II said November 25

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Pope Francis: Europe seems 'elderly and haggard' CWN - November 25