The confessional and the commission

Since the announcement of the Royal Commission into sexual abuse, the confession booth has been a topic of considerable discussion.

Without reshashing the entire debate, I’ll note that as a result of Ireland’s lengthy commission of inquiry into the issue, there is currently legislation before the Irish parliament that “would compel priests to break the confessional seal to report child abuse”.

An interesting contribution to the discussion comes from

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6 Responses to The confessional and the commission

  1. Moz in Oz says:

    I regard is more as tidying up the obvious loose ends. Right now priests are claiming that canon law overrules civil law (in blatant defiance of scripture), and this makes it explicit that if they want that they need to live in Rome. It’s a nice easy angle for the media to focus on, because a lot of the story is too complex for even competent journalists to present in short snippets.

    The Lord McAlpine case in England is currently showing just how hard it is for the media to report on this, if you want a suitably distant example. The police stuffed up, innocent people have been maligned, and no-one in the media seems to know quite where to point their anger. Constructing a neat narrative out of that case is difficult, because you have a vulnerable person who’s struggling to be “the perfect sexual abuse victim” and failing, a hard-to-sympathise-with figure dragged in as the alleged abuser, an at best incompetent police force trying to protect their own, a rapist who still denies guilt and the BBC getting it all wrong.

  2. So Robert, do you actually think this kind of action would make any difference? It just seems to me to be a rather churlish outlet of anti-Catholic anger. Is anyone even pretending that such a law would actually do anything?

    • I don’t actually think this is likely to be a big issue in the Royal Commission, in practice. So I don’t see any point in making an unnecessarily big deal out of it unless and until there is something to suggest that priests and others were regularly discussing these issues in the confession booth.

      Furthermore, I don’t have a problem in principle with the idea that there are certain situations where information revealed to somebody shouldn’t be revealed to a court. There are situations where it is appropriate for such information to remain confidential. I am not sure that the confession booth is a situation which justifies such confidentiality, but I don’t have a fully settled position on that.

      What I do object to is Aly’s specific argument that because priests have a (supposedly) deeply held religious conviction of the sanctity of the confession booth, the secular world is bound to respect that.

      • ok. I’m not sure I would agree with your read of Aly’s argument.

        He lists a series of arguments as to why he thinks breaking the seal would be impractical and wouldn’t work in reality.

        “When people confess, they do so with a guarantee of confidentiality. Do we really think people will continue to confess if we take that guarantee away? And if the confessions stop, does that really help at all?”

        This is the crux of the argument. He’s not saying we should avoid making this law out of respect for Catholic priests, he’s saying we should not make this law because if you understand how Catholicism works, it won’t make a difference and could actually exacerbate the problem. I don’t detect even a hint of the argument you are ascribing to him. 🙂

  3. Oh god I hate that emoticon

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