a cloud no bigger than a man's hand...

By Diogenes (articles ) | Sep 17, 2003

This from Australia:

South Australian priests may be legally compelled to tell police of child abuse that they learn about in the confessional under laws being introduced to State Parliament today. Priests and church workers are currently exempt from mandatory reporting laws relating to child sexual abuse, and Independent MP Nick Xenophon says it is time for that to change. Mr Xenophon says the confessional should not provide a refuge for paedophiles. ... "And I believe that Parliament should consider whether the confessional should be overridden. I believe it should be because the interests of children should be paramount in any consideration," Mr Xenophon said.

No law can change a priest's absolute obligation to guard the seal of confession, and as a sacramental matter Xenophon's proposal is moot. I don't understand how confession could provide a refuge for pedophiles, except in the bizarre circumstance in which a pedophile priest "tactically" confesses to his own bishop or superior in order to prevent a preemptive strike (and even then knowledge gained outside of the confessional would permit the confessor to act). Are we to imagine that a pious pedophile will feel scrupulous about his Easter duty, confess his pederasty, be ratted out by his confessor to the local constabulary, and thus the world be made safer for children? Can't see it.

The most probable explanation is that the proposal is an instance of ordinary parliamentary grandstanding on a no-lose issue -- everyone understands that it's an empty gesture, but opponents (perhaps especially Catholic MPs) can be painted as enemies of children, etc. On the other hand, non-Catholics sometimes view the confessional as an arena in which all moral rules are "off" (e.g., Elizabethan priests were imagined to hand over seditious secrets in the confessional), and Xenophon's legislation may be an attempt to shut down the place where he believes the names of potential victims are traded between cynical priest perpetrators, who therein bind themselves to secrecy. Regrettably, this notion has been given currency by some bishops' deceitful claims that their files on abuser priests contained confessional matter.

Even if passed, the Xenophon Act won't and can't change confessional practice. But there are other reasons to feel uneasy. Much of the supra-national law pushed through the EU parliament or enforced by the World Court is narrowly anti-Catholic in thrust, making it illegal, e.g., to discriminate against women or gays even in hiring clergy. The local and piecemeal exercises in outlawing Catholic practices might be part of a softening-up measure -- vacuous for the moment, but laying the ground for a time in which legal measures against the Church have real teeth.

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  • Posted by: - Sep. 18, 2003 6:01 PM ET USA

    There can be no 'legal' compulsion on priests to reveal anything confessed to them in confession. Priests understand that the Seal is inviolate and threats - legal or otherwise - will be of no avail. Actually, I think these threats to Catholicism are salutary. Faith is purified in adversity and if we have to suffer some adversity for it - well we have a 2000 year history of doing that. We should not be too comfortable in this world - it won't last and it is not our ultimate goal. Bring it on!

  • Posted by: - Sep. 17, 2003 10:43 PM ET USA

    Listen, folks, we deserve all this crap coming down on us! Whoever voted Democratic during the last twenty years or so better shut up...even in local elections. We deserve a kick in the pants. Maybe we can wake up and make common cause with the Evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, and sane Moslems...not to even mention the Dalai Lama who is not pro-homosexual. Get the vote out now!

  • Posted by: - Sep. 17, 2003 10:19 AM ET USA

    The Abolition of Catholic Man (tm)

  • Posted by: - Sep. 17, 2003 10:08 AM ET USA

    Is this for real? Xenophon? From Ancient Greece? Diogenes should be able to make some Leo Strauss inspired witticism about this one.