Friday, July 15, 2011

Will it possible to be Irish and a Catholic?

The answer is: NO, if the Taoiseach's, the Minister for Justice's and the Minister for Children's proposed new law which will require priests to break the seal of confession if someone confesses to them the crime of paedophilia actually comes to fruitition. Ireland will be the only non-totalitarian state to attack the the Church in such a way.

The problem is of course that only the truly repentant are likely to confess directly to such a sin, the unrepentant stay away from the confessional, the partially repentant use that rather ubiquitous Irish coverall for sexual misconduct, "I have been indecent on several occasions". All the new law will do is stop the paedophile/paederast consider going to confession, maybe deluding him/herself that he is saving the priest from a prison sentence.

It seems too that perhaps the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Children are unfamiliar with confessional practice, which is an indication of the state of religious knowledge amongst Irish intelligentsia. Do they really expect the priest sitting in a dark Dublin confessional listening to an anonymous voice who hears such a confession to run round to the penitents side of the confessional and photograph the anonymous penitent on their 'iphone and text the photograph to the authorities or perhaps a missioning priest at the end of a week of confessions to drop into the local Garda station and say "I have heard three definite anonymous confessions to paedophile/paederast confessions and one hundred and fifty three possible ones".
It is significant that such a proposal has never been voiced regarding kidnappers, murderers, bombers or terrorists, such is the state of the revulsion of modern Ireland with Catholicism today.

Gone, will be the possibility of any priest demanding a firm purpose of amendment from a penitent and demanding he or she seeks help, or identifying themselves to the authorities before receiving absolution.
Now we can look forward to priest martyrs to the confessional.

How far is a priest supposed to enquire int people's sexual proclivities, will the State take control and issue guidelines?

St John of Nepomuk pray for them.

As a non-Irishman it strikes me that it was the Irish state which left the Church, underfunded and unsupervised, to deal with those who anywhere else in the world would have been cared for by the state, has, itself, now turned on its former partner in crime. The other factor which is perhaps important  is that elsewhere statistics seem to indicate child abuse is no higher within the Church than elsewhere in a given society, I just wonder if this is case in which one should look at those who attack the Church and the degree of child abuse generally in Irish society. It is true that the problem in Ireland is not just with abuse but with "cover-up" but again, the Irish state has at every turn has been complicit in the cover-up at every turn.

This could be seen as just another turn in the the rather sordid relationship between the Irish Church and the State. Whether it the British or Irish State the Irish Church has always been subservient, a marriage of unequal partners.


Unknown said...

Society used to grant the Catholic church a lot of leniency. Now we realize that it has been unforgivably abusive - raping children, coordinating cover ups, and lying about it. These are crimes.

The fact that the Catholic church treats the victims so badly just means that the church isn't Christian.

The leniency is now over, because the Catholic church is no longer revered as a religious institution. It is also a criminal organization of pedophiles and pedophile protectors, and although the remaining Catholics don't seem to care, society does.

Priests who hear about crimes, even in confession, should have to report them immediately or go to jail. No leniency, no special privileges.

Where did the Catholic church ever get the idea that they could forgive crimes that society would not forgive??

Fr Ray Blake said...

"Where did the Catholic church ever get the idea that they could forgive crimes that society would not forgive??"

From God, himself!!! On numerous occassions.

We are after all followers of a criminal, whose crimes were so detestable to the State that the State imposed the full rigour of the utmost penalty of crucifixion!

A reminder,

"Anonymous" comments are always rejected.

Joseph Shaw said...

The only times this law would be invoked would be when a paedophile who has been caught for other reasons tells the police that he confessed his crime to a named priest. That would be an excellent way of getting a priest - any priest who ever hears confession - into trouble. The priest wouldn't be able to deny it even if it were false.

As you say, if willing to break the seal no priest would be able to take useful advantage of confession. No one would confess it under those conditions. How is that supposed to help?

santoeusebio said...

The right to silence both when questioned by the police and at trial is generally regarded as fundamental in most legal systems. Thus in the case suggested by Joseph Shaw the confessor would have the right to remain silent when questioned and to explain why he did so. Thus you would have the situation when the only evidence against the confessor was the word of a criminal. It would presumably be up to the jury to decide whether the case was proved or not.

It would be possible to make statutory exceptions to the right to remain silent (such already exist to a limited extent in English law) but I suspect that that would bring the law into disrepute as undermining the whole concept of privileged communications.

I guess the politicians are just playing politics and this will not happen.

As Joseph Shaw suggests in reality such a law would be counterproductive. Such would discourage a sincere penitent from seeking an important source of grace and remedy for his sinful conduct. If you make sins unforgiveable then you merely harden the sinner in his conduct.

Still good could come of this if the Church were to suffer a bit of persecution which has always led to improvements!

Nicolas Bellord

shane said...

Father, the report deals with the period 1996 to February 1st, 2009, when any unduly intimate relationship between Church and State had long ended. The history of Church-State relations in Ireland are widely misunderstood and much misrepresented, but that's another topic. (Incidentally I have an initial post on the Report here, but will be posting more in the next few weeks.)

As for the international context, this UNICEF report indicates that Ireland has a comparatively low incidence of child abuse and maltreatment:

Michael Petek said...

No law requiring a priest to break the sacramental seal was ever enacted even by France during the worst days of the Revolution, and never even by the British in Ireland.

This looks to me like a cop-out by the Irish State, which has the primary responsibility for detecting, preventing and punishing crimes against the person.

Anonymous said...

"Whether it the British or Irish State the Irish Church has always been subservient, a marriage of unequal partners"
IrishChurch subservient? You cannot be serious!
How many times has the Church brought down a Government....just look at the Mother & Child proposed Bill which Church via Archbishop McQuiad opposed and the Government had to resign!

nickbris said...

I suppose the next step would be to install CCTV cameras and other devices.

Catholics were outlawed in Ireland for long enough and that didn't work.

Somebody is just having a laugh,nothing will come of it.

PatO & Co can take a running jump.

videomaker said...

This is a ridiculous and repugnant proposal, which should be condemned by the Church at an international level. Dr Shaw is right that the only situation in which one can imagine it becoming an issue would be if an arrested paedophile decided to tell the police that he had confessed to a priest - which would put the poor priest in a situation straight out of Hitchcock.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect is that Irish politicians now believe that there is political capital to be made out of attacks on the sacrament of confession. If that doesn't tell you something about the state of Church and society in Ireland...

Fr. Gabriel Burke C.C. said...

santoeusebio ,
In Irish law silence can be taken to mean guilt.

Cormac said...

Very interesting comments Father. I'm not a legal person so I will not presume to comment on these matters. I think, however, both Enda Kenny and Alan Shatter, the minister for justice, are extremely naive when it comes to this issue. I think this is yet another populist p.r. exercise by this government, which in reality will have little positive impact on the safety of children.

I think Father has made two very valid points also. Firstly, the appalling standard of religious knowledge of the Irish 'intelligensia' (although our Taoiseach could not be called such. He is a long term 'retired' primary school teacher). Secondly, and more importantly, Father is right when he suggests that the State used the Church as a dumping ground for society's most vulnerable. The State was very much a partner in crime, yet it has been content to portray itself as a heroin championing the cause of the downtrodden. The State effectively allowed the Church in Ireland to operate the way in which it did.

Dougal said...

I don't think any priest in confession can withhold absolution on condition that the penitent identify himself to the authorities.

Robert said...

PatO, you should go live in China. You would fit right into their parishes. The government tells them how to run their parishes and what to believe. and Rome has no say. I wonder what will happen when the Irish government tries to tell the Muslims what to believe and how the government will run their Mosques and interpret the Quran for them. I wonder if Irish police will have to be called out during an Exorcism.

Fr Ray Blake said...

"I don't think any priest in confession can withhold absolution on condition that the penitent identify himself to the authorities."

No, but he can strongly advise and in certain circumstances might insist on some sign of repenance.

George said...

I think Hitchcock dealt masterfully with the subject of the seal in, "I confess". Great movie.

nickbris said...

Another thing,the real VICTIMS are the millions of GOOD,HARD-WORKING Priests who continuously care for their flock.

Little White Squibba said...

"Where did the Catholic church ever get the idea that they could forgive crimes that society would not forgive?"
Where did PatO get the idea that the state has power to forgive?

Anonymous said...

We have been here in the US. No matter what the reasons, the fact is that State and Diocese are often in League. Let inevestigation concentrate at the Diocesan Level. That is where the papr trail is located and that is where things can cleaned up.

The fact is that a protected confessor has the st chance of getting a surrender. With permission of the penitenthe can help to find positive intervention , negotiate urrnde and b a supportive companion to a sinner. Force can create none of that. It is only the Irish saeculum , pardon my fingers, pissing on devout grandmothers.

I am an Anglican and had to fight for the seal in these matters. You would think it was the only sin which was also a crime,

The Rev. Michael P. Forbes, Rochester, Minnesota USA

diff said...

Interesting times indeed. Such a law would achieve nothing good! further undermine the trust in the church and threaten priests with prison for being priests.

I go to seminary in September and if such a law is enacted were I hope to serve, I will be choosing prison.

Éamonn said...

Fr Gabriel, silence cannot under any circumstances be taken to imply guilt in an Irish criminal trial. The old-fashioned "you do not have to say anything but anything you do say etc." caution is still issued in Ireland not the modified version in use in England & Wales. Moreover, when I served as a juror in the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, we were solemnly warned about the necessity for the DPP to prove every part of his case beyond reasonable doubt and the fact that the defendant had nothing to prove and no obligation to say anything at all.

The right to silence for criminal defendants in Ireland is constitutional in nature not statutory, and cannot be altered by the legislature alone.

Damask Rose said...

"...which would put the poor priest in a situation straight out of Hitchcock."

Watch this:

JARay said...

The first comment just shows how far Ireland has sunk!
The first commenter might opine that he is not all of Ireland.
The first commenter linked all pedophiles with all the Catholic Church. I have merely linked the first commenter with all of Ireland.
Same sort thing I should think!

MEXICO said...




Sharon said...

How dumb would a paedophile have to be to go to confession knowing that the priest had the obligation to turn them in. This presumes of course that the priest can identify the penitent and if he couldn't would the priest have to demand some form of identification from the penitent?

georgem said...

Without sounding too fanciful it seems almost a mirror image of what's happening in England - cowed MPs smelling the blood of a grievously-wounded institution they didn't have the guts to challenge when it was all-powerful and demonstrably morally corrupt.
The proposed legislation couldn't work for all sorts of practical reasons mentioned.
As others have also said, "I Confess" is one of the greatest of Hitchcock's films. I wonder how much of the dilemma would be understood today.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

I am inclined to think that this is a non-starter and that the comments of Mr Kenny and of Ms Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, are an expression of disgust, a disgust which many of us Irish feel. When the matter is debated in a calmer atmosphere I think that what is being proposed will be seen as a form of abuse parallel to the abuse it is trying to stamp out.

Today’s Irish Examiner carries this front-page story: ‘THE HSE [Health Service Executive] has ordered an investigation into how social services failed to intervene in what a judge described as the "torture" of eight children by their mother over seven years’.Read more:

So Irish government workers, and the wider community, failed to do anything about a horrific situation that was known to the authorities and to at least some in the wider community. There was a similar case last year where even the town couldn’t be named for legal reasons.

A Columban priest from New Zealand, Fr Francis Vernon Douglas, was tortured and killed by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1943 quite probably because he refused to break the seal of confession : .

Thomas said...

Rev. Blake, in your reply to the first comment, are you suggesting that The Lord God gave His Vicar the authority to grant immunity from prosecution to clergy who have raped or in other ways sexually defiled children?

Do you or any of your commentators, think that the Holy See is in anyway at fault in this disgraceful affair?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Thomas that was not the question posed but one about the Church's Divine mission to forgive.

I am not sure what is meant by the "Holy See". Is it the Nuncio, the Secretariate of State, or some other department?
I think it seems only the Pope at first was aware of the extent, or evil of abuse.
Problem with Nuncioes is they tend to go native, the Secretariate of State seems to have had a steep learning curve.

santoeusebio said...

Well I know little of Irish law but I suspect Eamonn is right about the right to silence being still upheld in Ireland. It is certainly ironic that enacting such a law supposedly requiring a priest to break the seal of confession would have the effect of giving him the right not to break the seal!

Anyway would it not be better if all priests went back to the custom of hearing confessions in those traditional boxes where the identity of the penitent and the confessor are hidden? Personally I find it a gross impertinence to be invited to sit in full view of the confessor and I would have thought it puts off anyone with any decent sins to confess from going to confession at all.

I do not know what the Irish Judiciary would make of such a law. One of the unfortunate effects of the 1922 split with Ireland was the loss of input from Irish judges into the UK legal system which previously counterbalanced the anti-Catholic stance of our lot in a number of cases. Would the current Irish judiciary oppose such a law?

Paddy said...

I don't see this happening. Article 44 of the Irish Constitution protects the practise of religion. The protection is not absolute, but given the the fact that the sacrament is an integral part of the Catholic faith I can't see how the courts, whether Irish or European, could fail to strike down any such law. The government could then go the amendment route, but given the rather disastrous history we have of trying to deal with complex matters by way of changes to the Constitution I doubt the government would have the stomach for it.

While we're waiting to see how this issue turns out, the best thing we can do is pray for healing for all those who have been wounded by these events.

Anne said...

The SUNDAY programme today (BBC Radio 4) is worth a replay on this subject (and the music from the Buxton church service which followed at 8am)

Fr. Gabriel Burke C.C. said...

Eamonn, You are not correct in your assessment. Check the Citizens information website You will find that it is not as clear cut. Mc Dowell was the first to tamper with the right to silence.However the rights of the seal has have always been upheld by the Irish Supreme course. In the murder case of a priest in the 90's The suprem Court say any confidential conversation between a priest and a parishioner was to be held sacrosanct.
I think that both the Irish Constitution and the European Court of Human rights would defend the seal.

Anonymous said...

There is no need for silence anyway! Just tell the Gardai everything. The bits you want them to hear, out loud and the other dodgy bits into yourself! It's called "mental reservations" and it's the greatest way of lying through your teeth, without actually being heard to lie! It works, ask Des Connell.

Richard Reeves said...

It just seems like a ploy by the Irish Government to deflect from their serious economic woes. They hope they can get a rabble assembled and go church bashing and thus avoid the real threats.

The fact that Moody's cut Ireland's credit rating to junk should have the politicians jumping up and down to seek a solution to their woes before they endure another famine. This would seem a priority rather than inter-meddling in the sacramental life of the church.

Gigi said...

Father, with respect, as someone who is very proud of her celtic heritage I do take some umbrage at your suggestion of a "ubiquitous Irish coverall" regarding sexual misconduct! That aside, I agree that historically the State in Ireland has used the Church as it's dumping ground; this could be a way of deflecting focus from the rather pitiful state of the State...
I also agree that this development will serve no purpose: those who are repentant will no longer be assured of compassion without shaming; and as surely as the unrepentant need the finest incentive to enter the confessional, this ain't it.
Again, no similar suggestion has been voiced for murderers, muggers, nor indeed for corrupt or negligent bankers or investors.
The State in Ireland has been obscenely complicit in covering up child abuse; we "expect" righteousness from our priests but surely also from the Department of Justice?

Anonymous said...

It just seems like a ploy by the Irish Government to deflect from their serious economic woes. They hope they can get a rabble assembled and go church bashing and thus avoid the real threats.

^^This. Bread, circuses, and "OMG those Armada ships are full of Jesuits and Francis Drake won't stop bowling!!!"

Anita Moore said...

Dr Shaw is right that the only situation in which one can imagine it becoming an issue would be if an arrested paedophile decided to tell the police that he had confessed to a priest - which would put the poor priest in a situation straight out of Hitchcock.

I can imagine more situations (which, really, I need not imagine, as these things have actually happened):

-- The authorities bug the confessional. This was actually done in the United States, in the state of Oregon, about 15 years ago, in a murder case. The Church fought a war to keep the recording out at trial, and to have it destroyed. It was ultimately ruled inadmissible, but I don't know whether it was actually destroyed.

-- Spies and informers working either for the government or for the press make false confessions and then inform on the priests. The Nazis did this. Just a couple of years or so ago, some journalists did it in Italy, alleging that priests were giving heretical advice in the confessional (which, even if true, does not justify the journalists in committing sacrilege to find it out).

As for priests themselves violating the seal, I personally do not believe it will ever happen, no matter what penalty priests are threatened with.

Sandy Grounder said...

Some years ago a priest said to me that no government likes the confessional. True, I think.

Bryan said...

Why not ask all priests who have abused children to confess their crimes directly to the Public Authorities?

I have now attended two criminal trials of monks of Ealing Abbey, two men whom I greatly respected when I was a pupil at St Benedict's. Both took vows of Obedience which enjoined on them Chastity as a monk.

There would never have been this child abuse scandal if monks, priests and religious had been faithful to their Vows. The Almighty will certainly be a Just Judge when they depart this life.

Bryan Dunne

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