We must not criminalise what is said in the confessional

What’s said in the confessional stays in the confessional.

It’s been a precept of the church for centuries.

Penitents enter the booth to confess their sins and transgressions to a priest to receive spiritual comfort, advice and absolution.

A forgiving of the sin in the eyes of God’s representative on Earth.

But not in Victoria Australia where legislation has been introduced to the state parliament which would effectively force priests to report suspected child abuse revealed to them in the confessional.

There are people in New Zealand who want to do this too.

Priests are obviously aghast at the idea.

Because under their laws any priest that does break the seal stands to be excommunicated. Thrown out of the church.

That’s pretty heavy and so no wonder the Archbishop of Victoria has said that he would rather go to jail than break the confessional seal.

Under the legislation penalties of up to three years behind bars could apply for priests who are found to have knowingly concealed child abuse information.

Now I can see why someone in the legislature might see this as a good idea.

After all the safety of children in particular should be paramount and the Catholic Church has not covered itself with glory in field of sexual abuse, particularly of minors.

So if they’re hearing about crimes then why shouldn’t they be compelled to report that to the authorities.

If you, as a civilian, heard about a crime are you compelled to report it.

But step back a second and think of the consequences.

Firstly if you, as a civilian, heard about a crime are you compelled to report it?

Of course not.

It’s your personal decision to inform the authorities. But you don’t face sentences if you choose to keep your silence. It’s the flipside of freedom of speech which is the right to silence.

To confirm his testimony a priest would be required to appear in court to convey what he has heard in the confessional, which at it’s basis is hearsay.

While a pedo or sexual offender may admit guilt to a priest, to get a conviction is going to take a lot more than that.

Evidence for a start.

The co-operation and bravery and testimony of the victim is needed.  So confessional testimony will not be a silver bullet.

Meanwhile to confirm his testimony a priest would be required to appear in court to convey what he has heard in the confessional, which at it’s basis is hearsay, a very weak form of evidence.

The priest is not an eyewitness nor has he heard an objective account of the alleged crimes. So it’s not a strong addition towards the fight against abuse.

There’s also the legal privilege that has traditionally been afforded to the confessional.

Similar to the privilege afforded to parliament.

In New Zealand the confessional privilege is enshrined in the Evidence Act. Continue reading

  • Andrew Dickens is a broadcaster at NewstalkZB. He has worked around the world across multiple radio genres.
  • Image: Stuff.co.nz

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