Civil vs. divine law

Civil Vs Divine Law

The Irish Prime Minister, Minister for Justice and Minister for Children are backing legislation to require priests to report confessions of child abuse to the authorities. Failure to report these confessions would land priests in prison for up to 5 years. Emboldened by this, an Australian senator is proposing much the same.

Such efforts have only one purpose and it is not the protection of children. It is quite simply an attack on the Church. These politicians grab headlines, get to appear tough on crime, get to appear protective of children, keep alive the sexual abuse scandal and put the Church into a losing position.

No faithful priest would ever break the seal of the confessional. Doing so would lead to sanctions and excommunication. Priests have been martyred again and again for refusing civil authorities in the past and, if worse comes to worse, will suffer again to protect this sacrament.

Were these politicians actually interested in protecting children, they might take an interest in all the other institutions and organizations which so far have not had anything like the attention directed at the Catholic Church. That is NOT in any way to excuse the actions of those in our numbers who committed such deplorable crimes. Yet, for all the focus and attention on the Catholic Church, studies show it involved in only a small part (less than 0.03% of the perpetrators in the US) of this tragedy. Where is the attention on the home, schools, youth sports and non-Catholic communities?

The liberal media can be counted on to assist such political efforts. They are never a fan of the Church, unless it fits their agenda – such as to support our social justice teaching (which they often distort) or position on capital punishment. Usually, we make headlines today for our failures decades ago, made to sound quite new while such crimes actually being committed right now elsewhere are ignored. I have never seen any coverage of the extensive steps we take today to protect children. In the US, those are quite effective (at a significant cost and sometimes draconian measures). Others could learn a lot from us.

Politicians capable of rational thought and who actually cared about children realize that the confessional seal is helpful. First, this is probably the only place the penitent will face his crimes and the terrible harm done. Second, the priest will probably be the only voice they hear telling them to make amends by turning themselves in. Third, were the Church to agree to cooperate with such laws (it never will), does anyone really think that child abusers would confess their crimes before they are caught? They are disordered but not stupid.

So far, such nonsense has not been proposed in the US. We have had cases of the authorities bugging the confessional but such evidence has been ultimately found to be non-admissible. Ultimately found to be non-admissible because it usually has to go through multiple appeals until that point is reached. In other words, lower courts alarmingly saw it as legal.

While this particular attack is aimed (1) only at the Catholic Church, (2) only at the confessional seal and (3) only for child abuse crimes – do not think for a moment that it would stop there. Were this highly flawed attack to actually work, in relatively little time other crimes would be added…   murder, rape, everything else. New attacks would spring from this success on all of Christianity.

Political attacks on the Church are not limited to the confessional. When the world ignored the need for organized adoptions, the Catholic Church stepped-in . Now, Catholic adoption agencies have had to close because we can not morally place children into unnatural and disordered environments. Likewise, Catholic hospitals are at risk because they can not kill innocent, unborn children.

Even our ability to conduct legal weddings is at risk. In states where the myth of “gay marriage” is legally recognized, (temporary, weak protections notwithstanding) we may eventually loose legal marriages for “discriminating” against those wishing to enter into these unnatural unions. This has happened before in communist Poland where people were routinely married for real in the Church and by civil authorities for legal reasons.

Eventually, the Church may be persecuted for “hate speech” and alleged “civil rights” violations for our “intolerance” of sinful homosexual acts, the “rights” of mothers to kill their unborn children or the “rights” of adult children to kill (euthanize) their parents.

This is not just a problem for the Catholic Church either. Other Christian communities and other religions will face similar pressure to conform – or else. Communist China is very aggressive in this way. The visible Catholic churches are under control of the Patriotic Catholic Association which is controlled by the government. They do not recognize the primacy of the Pope and use all means necessary to FORCE bishops to (illicitly) ordain others of the state’s choosing which do not result in valid holy orders. There is an underground Catholic Church which is estimated to be twice as large as the visible one in which the faithful must take serious risks. Hopefully it will not come to that in Ireland, Australia or here for “upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

UPDATE: Father Finigan also discusses this topic in a few posts:


  1. Actually, the decision of whether or not to do weddings will never be taken away from the churches because doing so would violate the separation of church and state. I say this having formerly been part of a Protestant denomination that voted to allow same-sex unions. :)

    As far as the seal of confession, the US honors it only in the Roman Catholic church. All other Christian clergy are mandated reporters.

    • I sure hope that you are right about legal (official) weddings, but “never” is a strong word! (I have a tendency to use absolutes too.)

      From what I read, the protection of the confessional seal is not Catholic specific and I really don’t see how it could be made such. Attacking this goes directly against the heart of religious freedom for everyone.

  2. Very sad to see this news from Ireland and Australia trying to criminalize a priest not breaking the seal of confession. I understand the anger part of this that would be behind this idea, but I agree legislating in this manner is against our 1st Amendment and should be prevented by other countries that claim to protect free exercise of religion. The ignorance of the chronic nature of this sin has permitted criminals to repeatedly victimize after a priest or bishop has knowledge.
    It does seem possible for a priest that wants to protect children to ensure that he could be a witness outside of the confessional if the safety of children, either current victims, or future probable victims were at stake. He could even make confessing to authorities part of the penance, if that was what the Holy Spirit willed him to do and he was receptive and acting on that.
    One of the questions I have is whether the reason this is a chronic sin for the abuser is because of demonic possession, or if it is the brain becoming addicted to images and fantasies.
    Just like penances for some sins entail praying for people with similar temptations, so penances for this type of sin might include steps to prevent further victimization, by ensuring the person is reported, either by confessing, or agreeing to tell the priest outside the confessional so the priest could report it.
    The question from this idea, is where does this stop? If a man commits adultery, does the priest want to take stronger action to ensure it ends and doesn’t reoccur than just assigning a number of prayers in the penance? I think he is supposed to withhold absolution if the resolution to not sin in this way again is not present, right?

    • It does (at first) appear frustrating that priests can not take action to protect victims, but the sacrament would be mortally compromised if they were able to. Criminals and non-criminals alike would simply not go if it were a possibility. That would do far more harm than good. The weight of such knowledge is a severe burden on our priests. Pray for them!

      I am certain that priests will counsel the penitent to make amends including turning themselves into authorities. They can not however, make absolution conditional on any penance. Absolution is granted in the confessional based on contrition of the penitent alone.

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