Should Confessionals Be Confidential?

PETER MARQUARDT is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Is This Allowing Crimes To Go Unpunished?

The Catholic Church provides that it is the unconditional obligation of priests to keep whatever information is shared in a confessional totally confidential.

Sacramental Seal

Any information that is shared to a priest under these confines cannot be disclosed thanks to the Seal of Confession. Roman Catholic canon law states that this seal cannot be violated.

In church practice, it is therefore forbidden for a priest to betray a person who confessed in whatever way or for whichever reason.

With cases like those of sexual crimes committed to children on the rise, however, there has been a clamor for these rules to change. In August, a commission that was set up to investigate child abuse cases in Australia came to the conclusion that criminal charges should be leveled against anyone who discovered such crimes but failed to report them to the authorities.

Writing in their report, the commission said that they believed that Catholic children have in confession disclosed information on sexual abuse inflicted upon them. They also stated that it confession was also a platform that has been used by clergy to purge their own guilt as a result of abusive behavior.

“Higher Order”

Denis Hart, the archbishop of Melbourne was however uncompromising in his response, saying that he would rather go to jail than report any information that is divulged during confession. He insisted that confession is a higher order of communication with God that is naturally respected by priests.

Such cases have already been the subject of legal proceedings, with an American woman having sued the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge in 2009 because nothing was done about her confession detailing incidents of abuse by a parishioner. The State of Louisiana Supreme Court ruled against Rebecca Mayeux, the victim, and essentially upheld the confidentiality of confession.

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter