Catholic officials in Ireland object to child abuse disclosure law

Officials of the Catholic church in Ireland object to a new law that mandates the reporting of child abuse. From the BBC:

The Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that priests who are given admissions of child abuse during the sacrament of confession will not be exempt from new rules on mandatory reporting. During his homily to worshippers at Knock shrine in County Mayo, on Sunday, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland said: "Freedom to participate in worship and to enjoy the long-established rites of the church is so fundamental that any intrusion upon it is a challenge to the very basis of a free society."

The discussion seems to center on future abuses revealed during confession, but I wonder if it's really about the ongoing use of the sacrament to hide internal discussions of undisclosed abuses from the possibility of legal scrutiny.

Child protection measures apply regardless of religious rules [BBC]


  1. I believe Ireland ensures freedom of religion, but not freedom to engage in child abuse. Seems like a pretty reasonable distinction.

    Also: “Knock Shrine”? Who is there?

  2. While, as a reformed Catholic, I understand the sanctity of Confession, but I also understand that as a disciple of Christ, I must allow no harm to come to others. Any priest who would not voluntarily report such abuse, has their soul stained with complicity in the harm of a child.

  3. Yeah… Hey, Archbishop, remember when Prime Minister Kenny had this huge speech in the Irish parliament about how the Catholic Church not only covered up sexual abuse of minors but was interfering in the attempts of a sovereign state to protect it’s children?  THIS IS WHAT HE WAS FUCKING TALKING ABOUT!!!

  4. Hrm, there are several well defined relationships like this. Doctor patient, Attorney client, and confessional. If you are going to mandate this one be broken then I think you would have to say all of them should be – and I dont think most people would say the other two should be. I’m rambling.   Outside of confessional, if there is any sort of internal memos or transfers going around or such, then absolutely it should be reported

    1. Not having been Catholic, I suddenly wonder: are other crimes protected by the confessional as well?  If you confessed to, say, murder (to use the obvious example), was the priest ever obligated to turn you in?

      1. To answer your question: the seal of confession is basically without exceptions regarding the sin being confessed. There *are* procedures that priests are supposed to use in the specific case of sexual abuse of minors, as well as for sins that priests need permission from higher up to absolve (some of the stuff that gets you excommunicated, which does *not* include murder).

        1. “There *are* procedures that priests are supposed to use in the specific case of sexual abuse of minors”
          Writing their name down on the confessional wall so all the other priests know who to go for?

          Yes I’m trolling, but when the people committing the crimes are the people your supposed to feel safe reporting to… there is a problem.
          When the figures who are supposed to protect you and make you feel better, scream and whine that they have to do anything other than “pray” for you…

        2. > some of the stuff that gets you excommunicated
          Like telling the authorities and your community that the local priest is a diddler?

      2. What I was told when growing up in the catholic church is that Priests were not allowed to tell anyone what was confessed in the confessional, however if the confession was of a crime then part of your penance would be to turn yourself in.

      3. Anything that is said in the confessional is a protected by the seal of the confessional, so it is not a matter of just this particular category of crime but relates to any crime. For a Catholic priest to break the seal of the confessional  is a grave sin and this law places them in an untenable position.

        1. Being obligated by “the seal of the confessional” to conceal an ongoing pattern of serious crime should have been pretty untenable even without the new law.

          Edit: I actually consider my original statement too mild. we’re not just talking “crime” – we’re quite specifically discussing concealing child abuse. How can any law possibly make that position in any way less tenable than it already is?

        2. Fifteen hundred years of making stuff up as you go along have put a Catholic priest in an untenable position. As a Catholic, you’re burdened with “The Original Sin”, so you’re fucked anyway.
          All you can do is snap out of it. You’re not going to Hell unless you realy want to. “Sin” is a mental construct that is only valid within Granddad’s Palace of Lies. There’s a greater world out there.

        3. “Render unto Caesar…”

          Who are you going to believe, the (alleged) word of the guy you believe is part of the Godhead, or the men who came after him?

      4. In all major historically Christian countries, no.  You could confess to genocide with VX gas and the priest would be exempt from any legal obligation to testify.  Even further, a priest who directly or indirectly violates the so-called “Seal of Confession” (such as by reporting a confessed crime to an authority) is subject to excommunication by the church.  Presumably, the Irish priests in question are still bound by this point of canon law, which puts them in the unfortunate position of now having to choose between committing a secular crime and committing a very grave sin.   Catholic priests almost necessarily believe that the moral authority of the church ultimately transcends that of the state, and most of them, I expect, would rather be convicted of a crime and go to jail than violate the sanctity of the confessional, which is literally a thousand-year-old tradition.

        1. “Presumably, the Irish priests in question are still bound by this point of canon law, which puts them in the unfortunate position of now having to choose between committing a secular crime and committing a very grave sin.”

          Luckily, states do have an obligation to protect their people from violence and don’t have an obligation to respect canon law so there should be no difficulty with putting them in that position… If the clergy want to continue their abuse and coverup, it isn’t clear that we can dissuade them; but that needn’t stop us from treating them like the criminals they are.

          1. No?  No difficulty whatsoever?  I think I agree with your general sentiment–I am in favor of the law as it stands–but you are painting with a very broad brush.  “All clergy are abusive criminals” is a pretty clear inference from your last statement. 

      5. I am not sure about priests, but if they are the same as doctors then they have to report if they believe some will commit a crime, whether admitted or inferred, but not if they report a past crime.

    2. Does doctor/patient confidentiality work like that?  I always thought it involved medical issues.  Like you got an STD from cheating on your wife or something, not you murdered your wife and now have a pulled back from digging a grave in your back yard.

      1. Yes, that is more how it works.  And doctors are legally required to report any evidence of child abuse.

    3. The doctrine of priest–penitent privilege does not appear to apply in English law. The orthodox view is that under the law of England and Wales privileged communication exists only in the context of legal advice obtained from a professional adviser. A statement of the law on priest–penitent privilege is contained in the nineteenth century case of Wheeler v. Le Marchant: In the first place, the principle protecting confidential communications is of a very limited character. … There are many communications, which, though absolutely necessary because without them the ordinary business of life cannot be carried on, still are not privileged. … Communications made to a priest in the confessional on matters perhaps considered by the penitent to be more important than his life or his fortune, are not protected.

      In the United States, the Federal Rules of Evidence do not recognize doctor-patient privilege.

      At the state level, the extent of the privilege varies depending on the law of the applicable jurisdiction. For example, in Texas there is only a limited physician-patient privilege in criminal proceedings, and the privilege is limited in civil cases as well. See generally Texas Occupations Code section 159.003 and Texas Rules of Evidence, Rule 509(b).

      Clearly far from universal doctrine.

    4. There are strong reasons for both the Doctor-Patient relationship (public and personal health) and Attorney-Client (to allow the law to be freely and fairly applied by allowing your defender the whole facts). Both of these have a cost that does not outweigh the benefit that society, as a whole receives. And also, under certain limited circumstances, these can be waved.
      The Confessional? Nope – making someone feel better by giving them chance to confess without risk has too many costs and not enough benefits to society to be worth keeping. Especially when it is a confession to an organisation that, at least in part, has actively engaged in covering up the sins of it’s member before. 

    5. If a doctor suspects child abuse they are legally obligated to report it, in the US at least.  Lawyers, if they believe there is potential for continuing child abuse may report it without ethical violations, but are not required to report.  

      Freedom to practice religion does not give you the freedom to rape children.

    6. I agree that the step away from the established privileged relationship between penitent and confessor is a big one.  But I’m not sure it’s a bad idea.  I’m also not persuaded that eroding the privileges afforded to one of those relationships necessarily implies that the other privileged relationships, such as doctor-patient and attorney-client as you mention, also must be diminished.  

    7. This depends on where you live — Most states are mandatory reporting when anyone hears of child abuse. Including doctors (or maybe especially doctors?).  I have no knowledge of an attorney discovering child abuse if the case of her client is unrelated.  Anyone?

    8. Doctors are already legally required to report evidence of child abuse regardless of doctor/patient confidentiality.

      The rights of the child to not be abused should always trump the parent’s right of confidentiality. 

    9. They do. If a doctor is told of abuse, if a woman seems abused, or a child – he MUST report it to the authorities.
      If someone confesses guilt to their own lawyer, they CANNOT lie about it and must reveal it. That is why they don’t ask – Did you do it?

  5. “The discussion seems to center on future abuses revealed during
    confession, but I wonder if it’s really about the ongoing use of the
    sacrament to hide internal discussions of undisclosed abuses from the
    possibility of legal scrutiny.”

    This exactly. The Catholic church would like to say this is a law against the sanctity of confession, but can anyone seriously imagine a priest being convicted of that crime when the only witness to it would be the person [claiming to have been] confessing to child sexual abuse? It’s a law aimed at driving home the point that there can be no excuse for not reporting abuse to the proper authorities, ever. The Church hierarchy’s resistance is pretty much the autonomic reaction of a body that considers itself above civil law.

    I dealt with this in some detail on my blog last month: I.Doubt.It – It’s Not About Seals.

    (Incidentally, the title and lede should really refer to the Irish Catholic hierarchy, rather than Catholics in general. Ordinary church members are overwhelmingly with their government on this one.)

  6. The process of Confession has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, and is a purely Catholic concoction.  Confession is at the root of the problems the Catholic Church has had with child abuse by it’s clergy, which are harmed by hearing confessions.  It happens that where the clergy are subjected to a continual barrage of confessions, they are warped in light of the truth to become like the guilty majority.  Where the majority in one’s community all confess to child abuse, the clergy member may join the crowd, wanting to fit in with all the other sinners, and the result is that Catholic clergymen in general suffer a plague of child abuse scandals which leaders of other churches who do not practice the dark art of confession do not suffer.

    The resolution of the issue in the case mentioned in this article is for the Catholic Church to cease and decist the strange anti-Christian practice of soliciting confessions to gather intelligence, and return to teaching whatever it was that Jesus warned was going to happen in the future, and what all the survivors were doing which reportedly resulted in their survival.

    1. > where the clergy are subjected to a continual barrage of confessions,
      they are warped in light of the truth to become like the guilty
      majority.  Where the majority in one’s community all confess to child
      abuse, the clergy member may join the crowd, wanting to fit in with all
      the other sinners,


      If I listen to thousands of child abusers all day long I would not “join the crowd to fit in”.
      People who look at a child and think ‘I’d tap that sexy ass’ are wired differently than the rest of us. I highly doubt peer-pressure would cause that.

    2. >Where the majority in one’s community all confess to child abuse, the clergy member may join the crowd, wanting to fit in with all the other sinners, and the result is that Catholic clergymen in general suffer a plague of child abuse scandals which leaders of other churches who do not practice the dark art of confession do not suffer.
         Ummm… this makes no sense whatsoever. You are saying that many priests have become diddlers because they’ve somehow been influenced by the sins of others that they have heard in confession? Realllly…. I don’t think it works that way. 
      A much simpler explanation would be that a religion that requires it’s priests to remain celibate attracts people who’d rather not marry ladies and who would benefit in a selfish and perverse way by being ‘trusted’ figures with access to the flesh of youngins.

  7. As sergeirichard said, while the Catholic officials in this story deserve all the criticism they’re getting, the headline to this story is thoughtlessly offensive to the thousands and millions of lay Catholics–in Ireland and elsewhere–who know the score perfectly well.  And who, in Ireland as elsewhere, side with secular authority on this.

    Really, all you need to do is add the word “officials”. Anybody listening?

    1. Honestly, I can’t feel too bad for offended lay Catholics until I see some serious actions FROM them on this issue. Where the hell is the backlash against the Church from the lay Catholics? Why aren’t they storming the Vatican demanding pedophile priests be turned over to government (non-Vatican government, that is) authorities? Why aren’t churches sites of protests until this is done? Why aren’t Church offices stormed for the records of the guilty who have been transferred around to evade responsibility? They are participating in, and financially donating TO, an worldwide pedophile organization masquerading as a religious organization.

      1. Because the “Church” told them there are no pedophiles, that it is evil evil gays secretly getting into the priesthood to destroy the Church.
        Then we had the undercover video by a journalist showing some highly placed officials picking up male prostitutes at clubs and drugs and other things.

        It is so much easier when you can shift the blame to a boogeyman.
        There is no reason to suspect there is any corruption in the Church, your own eyes lie to you.

      2. “And where is the outcry that the “peaceful” Muslims should make against the terrorists?” Isn’t that ignorant and bigoted? You sound just like that — but you apparently listen to anti-Catholic talk radio. What station is that on?

        1. They’re probably right alongside the scientists who avoid the politics of education, and the quiet Christians who are against this here child abuse… working their jobs, living their lives. 

          It’s not a crime not to dedicate your life to resistance of a cause.

  8. I know from experience that the not-always-but-sometimes-doctor-and-mental-health-patient relationship is usually that if the doctor/mental health professional has reason to believe the patient wants to hurt his or herself or others, the doctor is required to act. I have no idea if that’s the case in any other area, though I imagine it would pop up in other areas of medical science. Morally I would hope the church would/could act in the same way, especially when it comes to something like child abuse.

  9. And then there’s New York, where the Catholic Conference of New York recently hired three lobbying firms who spent most of their time opposing legislation that would give child sex crime victims more time to bring lawsuits or criminal charges.  All child sex crime victims, mind you, not just those abused by priests.  The priorities of the Catholic Church are vile.

    1. Wow, You’d have to be a real mercenary POS to work for one of those lobbying groups. I really can’t comprehend how anyone working for such a group could justify their part in the pursuit of such a goal.

  10. Some guy in a robe might say that Jesus forgives you, but that doesn’t square you with the rest of society and the laws that govern it.

  11. “Irish Catholics object to child abuse disclosure law”

    Is it because English is not my mother tongue, but I always seem to have a hard time parsing these subjects:

    “Irish Catholics” okay so far

    “Irish Catholics object” wait what? I knew about women objects but I’ve never heard of Irish Catholics objects!

    “Irish Catholics object to child abuse” What? They made an “Irish Catholics object” especially to abuse children?? Where is the world going??

    “Irish Catholics object to child abuse disclosure law” Okay at least they’re making a disclosure law about these objects designed to abuse children! A bit like a gun registry but for Irish Catholics objects.

    Makes sense now!

  12. Notice: It is my personal religious conviction that anything said to me is sacrosanct if I decide it is. Therefor all reporting requirements in law do not apply to me.

    If you accept Catholicism’s position, you have no standing to object to mine.

  13. How is this supposed to work….

    Bless me Father for I have sinned, it happened again Father.
    He cornered me in the the shed and made me do vile things.
    He told me I would go to hell if I told anyone.
    I feel so dirty Father.

    Say 3 Hail Marys and 2 Our Fathers and them meet me out in the shed again Bobby.

    Given the monstrous behavior of the “Church” in these matters are we surprised that they will do anything to try and protect themselves of having to answer for the crimes they allow to be committed?

  14. Missing from this argument is the overwhelming likelihood that the Church officials who support this stance would not extend it to confession within other religions, seeing as how those other religions are false. Look at it that way and you see exactly how self-serving is their desire for special privilege. As if you had to look any further than their desire to diddle little boys and not be held accountable.

  15. If the church hierarchy had the courage of its convictions, this one would be pretty simple. No one is allowed communion until they have made a full and true confession, followed by true repentance and absolution. So anyone who confesses to molesting kids gets turned back from the communion rail until they perform the repentance of going to the police. Anyone named in another’s confession ditto. And a kid who reports being molested, well that isn’t a sin, so the seal of confession isn’t an issue there.

    Oh, wait.

    1. No they only turn politicians who aren’t die hard anti-abortion away from communion.

      *insert snarky comment about them wanting to make sure they have better pickings here*

  16. It’s time for the church to finally admit the truth about just what alter-boys have been for the church for a millennium:
    Priest Pay

  17. I think it’s time to discuss some clear limits to the concept “religious freedom.”

    The Founding Fathers had no idea religious institutions would use that freedom to institutionalize child molestation.

  18. Not having been Catholic, I suddenly wonder: are other crimes protected
    by the confessional as well?

    If I remember my Sunday school lessons right a Priest is supposed to protect the sanctity of the confessional even upon pain of death. I admit that as a recovering Catholic I’m a little conflicted on this one since the law would require priests to take actions that they honestly believe would endanger their immortal souls. I’m not a believer anymore but I still remember what it was like to fear hell.

  19. The obvious solution is for anyone known to have Catholic sympathies to be kept on record and searched for child pornography at all transit points. The fact that there’s any discussion whatsoever about it being appropriate for Catholic operatives to shield child rapists is ample evidence that the religion itself is a breeding ground for dangerous lunatics. If there are so-called sane Catholics, let them come forward to condemn the extremism of their pedophile brothers.

    I, for one, will be writing a strongly worded letter to the TSA about this important security issue.

  20. Any talk about the priest’s moral quandary with Confession, seems to me, akin to entertaining a scorpion’s conflicted feelings about it’s stinger. Its a good idea not to spend private time with scorpions in closed spaces.

  21. Despite being the completely godless heathen that I am, I actually disagree with forcing priest to disclose what happens in a confessional.  I personally think that you should never have a law that you can’t or wouldn’t want to enforce.  

    Would you rather it be that a criminal can confess to someone in confidence who might than work to convince them to turn themselves in, or have it so that criminals don’t confess and talk to someone who might be morally inclined to get them to turn themselves in?  The reason why criminals confess to priests is because of the confidentiality.  Take that away, and they will just stop confessing to priests.  While I hardly see the church as a worthy moral authority, I feel like on the basic secular laws that people actually care about (rape, murder, theft, etc) they more or less feel as most humans do, for the most part.  Sure, there are child rapist priests, but I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that they are a minority.

    OMFGFORTHECHILDREN is never a good reason to do anything.  The only thing a law like this would do is just shut down one potential avenue to get criminals to turn themselves in. Beyond that, it is more or less impossible to enforce.  Are you REALLY going to waste the time of the police trying to prove that a conversation that is by definition without witnesses took place?  Please.  This is a great way for politicians to jerk off to OMFGTHECHILDREN.  There is almost nothing that gets politicians off more than rubbing one out to OMFGTHECHILDREN, but beyond a good jerk off, this utterly unenforceable law isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

    Tossing priest that cover up other priest raping children in jail for a good long time?  Awesome.  Trying to force priest to disclose what happens in a confessional?  Nothing but a stupid unenforceable law so that politicians can circle jerk to OMFGTHECHILDREN.

    1. Except that OMFGTHECHILDREN, while often misused to achieve any of a number goals which are at best tangential to the wellbeing of children, is actually not entirely inappropriate in the context of a church which has systematically defended and enabled child abusers within their clergy.

      1. Except that OMFGTHECHILDREN, while often misused to achieve any of a number goals which are at best tangent to the wellbeing of children, is actually not entirely inappropriate in the context of a church which has systematically defended and enabled child abusers within their clergy.

        Everyone agrees that priests who cover up for other rapist priest should be tossed in jail for a good long time and rcv sm gd ht lvng frm thr fllw nmts.  The issue is over what happens if someone goes to confessional and asks for moral guidance.  Again, I think that Christians are pretty low on the spectrum of moral authorities, but I think they can manage  “don’t rape children” in confessional.  

        It is a pretty binary option.  
        A) Either people believe that confessional is a place they go for moral guidance that is confidential, or B) they don’t believe it is confidential and don’t go there for moral guidance.  

        If they don’t believe it is confidential, they won’t confess.  At worst, a rapist confesses and the priest is like, “that is cool bro, I like raping little boys too”.  More likely, the priest goes, “OMFG, go turn yourself in because you are horrible”.  The chance that a criminal will confess and a priest will convince them to turn themselves in is better than the criminal keeping it to themselves.  If a criminal is turning to a freaking priest, it means they are having doubts.  Someone who they can speak to in confidence might be able to push them over the edge.

        Finally, it is stupid to try and even prosecute this.  By freaking definition a confessional has no witnesses.  Why have a law on the books you can’t enforce?  Don’t we have enough stupid and utterly unenforceable laws on the books?  Saying that you are going toss priests in jail who take confessions but don’t report them to the police is just jerking off to the alter of OMFGTHECHILDREN.  Like most OMFGTHECHILDREN policies, it isn’t going to lead to less child fucking.  It might give some politician warm fuzzy feelings because it is an easy position to defend, rather than having to do something hard like balance a budget, but like most forms of masturbation it isn’t going to accomplish anything.  No OMFGTHECHILDREN are going to be saved by this stupid policy.  On the contrary, you are far more likely to hurt them because you have just eliminated one more person who might have been able to talk a criminal into turning themselves in.

        I am sure that there are exception, but for the most part any time someone says OMFGTHECHILDREN, you can almost safely dismiss them out of hand. Any law or policy that has do be defending on the grounds OMFGTHECHILDREN is pretty much always crap that is going to screw the children and likely everyone else too. Rational laws that are enforceable and that you would actually want to be fully enforced don’t need to resort to the unthinking idiots defense of OMFGTHECHILDREN.

        1. I dunno man.  I feel like you’re trying to balance an awful lot of hypothetical good against the rather significant, demonstrable, documented harm that’s directly attributable to this confession-flavored Omertà.

          1. The only time you would ever actually be able to even attempt to enforce this stupid policy is when a rapist confesses to a priest, is caught, claims that the priest knew, and then you convince a jury to take the word of a rapist over a priest.  There are no third party witnesses in a confessional, so it is the word of a convicted rapist against a priest that the rapist said something to the priest at confessional and the priest did not report it.  Do I REALLY need to point out how absurdly stupid it is to think that this will ever happen?  

            Laws that you can’t enforce are universally stupid.  OMFGTHECHILDREN laws that you can’t enforce are stupider still.  

            Like I said, the best you can hope for is that criminals stop confessing to priest, which will score you exactly nothing.  At least if they are confessing there is a chance that the priest can talk them into giving up.  

            OMFGTHECHILDREN laws are only good for politicians to quick jerk off to.  Otherwise, they are at their absolute best stupid and unenforceable words shoveled on top of an almost literally endless mount of laws we merrily ignore and don’t enforce.  At their worst, they are actively destructive (as this law is) to their ends of OMFGTHECHILDREN saving.  Seriously, any law that needs OMFGTHECHILDREN arguments to defend it is pretty much always stupid, generally destructive to the rest of the population, and nearly always ends up screwing the OMFGTHECHILDREN.  A law that can’t be argued on its merits and needs imagery of the big round pleading eyes of children is universally crap.

          2. Hey, juries have awarded damages to criminals who injure themselves when they break into someone’s house.  Juries are stupid.

            Remember the person who won money because they spilled hot coffee on themselves?

            Jury decisions have little to do with rationality or a sense of fairness.  They are largely based on emotion.

          3. Has it occurred to you that it could be another priest confessing the abuse, and the Church hierarchy could hide behind confession to conceal it? Here in Los Angeles, the right honorable Archbishop Roger Mahoney fought tooth and nail against turning over records of the despicable shell game he played with pedo-priests, moving them around to molest again, instead of reporting them to authorities. Years after the fact he oversaw a record-setting $500 million payout to victims, at which point God repossessed his prostate.

          4. > at which point God repossessed his prostate.
            Proof that the creator has both a sense of humor and justice!

          5. Has it occurred to you that it could be another priest confessing the abuse, and the Church hierarchy could hide behind confession to conceal it?

            So the conspiracy theory you fear is a priest rapes some children, confesses it in confessional, and no one does anything?  OMFGTHECHILDREN, lets turn our brains off.

            You miss the point.  Even if it is a priest doing the confessing, all of the arguments as to why this is a stupid and utterly unenforceable policy stand.  Trying to cover up a crime everyone already agrees either is or should be a crime.  The issue is around a confessional.  Would you rather the priest keep it to himself, or confess to another priest?

            Like I said a dozen or so times, you only have two options.  Either confessional is confidential and a place you can spill this kind of crap and where a priest might actually be able to talk you into doing something right, or it isn’t a place of confidentiality and the likelihood that someone is going to confess  a crime there is about as high that they are going to confess to a bartender.  Further, it is actually a moot point because you can’t prosecute someone in any good faith on the word of a convicted rapist that something happened in a place that by definition had no freaking witnesses.  

            Pass the law or not, this is pure masturbation on the alter of OMFGTHECHILDREN!!11!!  No priest are going to report anything they were not already going to report, and you won’t nail a single person for violating this law at confession unless you do something amazingly wasteful of police resources like launch a sting operation to prove priests are not reporting crimes.  

            Jerk off at the alter of OMFGTHECHILDREN if you want, but don’t delude yourself into thinking a single child is going to be saved by this.  On the contrary, you are far more likely to hurt your OMFGTHECHILDREN as fewer criminals confess to people are still not going to follow your goofy ass completely unenforceable law.

        2. It’s not an issue of a priest “covering up” though, it’s a matter of them knowing information and not sharing it.  If you find a dead body, you are under no legal obligation to report it (in the US at least).  You may not attempt to cover up the evidence of the presumed crime, but you’re not, as a private citizen, legally compelled to reveal information that was forced upon you like this.

        3. No, I don’t agree that “priests who cover up for other rapist priest should […] receive some good hot loving from their fellow
          inmates”, and neither should rapists themselves. Prisoners should not have to fear abuse or violence from the guards or other prisoners.Imprisonment in and of itself is the punishment, not rape or gladiatorial combat or anything else.

          If you want a snappy slogan, how about “Prison rape is a crime, not a sentence”?

        4. Everyone agrees that priests who cover up for other rapist priest should
          be tossed in jail for a good long time and receive some good hot loving
          from their fellow inmates.

          Yes to the first.  No to the second.  Rape (and torture) is *never* okay.  Not for the innocent and not for the guilty.

          (Indeed, I imagine this was not meant seriously, but the ease of which the American public provides public support for rape as an instrument of judicial punishment is frightening.  Someone being guilty of a heinous crime should not make us enthusiastic torturers.)

  22. Eh, I am not into this.  I don’t like laws which require people to involve the law.  In the US for example, its not illegal to find a dead body and not report it to the police.  Meaning: It’s not illegal to not report evidence of a crime.  It is not legal though to knowingly conceal evidence you may find (even if you have no specific knowledge of the crime).  

    I am less against mandatory reporting for say, healthcare professionals or teachers, who are gov’t employees or receive some kind of societal assistance or have specific societal roles.  However, if a priest, who is a private citizen, is legally required to report crimes others tell him about, its a small step to say that another private citizen is compelled to report crimes.  What about a bartender who is told by a patron they killed someone?  Or maybe, that the patron stole something, drove over the speed limit, missed their child support, or once beat their wife?

    What if you saw someone streaking?  Do you have to call the cops? (It is after all a sex crime in many jurisdictions.) 

    All it serves is to “protect the children” (a concept which invokes notoriously irrational cost/benefit analysis) and to widen the net of criminality.  It makes potential criminals of people who were not involved in crimes.  And the person this is told to has no ability to stop their involvement.  You can’t unhear it when someone tells you about these things, and for many reasons you may not want to be involved.  In the US for instance, there is that 5th Amendment.  What if the confessor told the priest about a child abuse crime that the confessor and priest committed together?  Is the priest then required to submit evidence which would incriminate himself?  Is he offered qualified immunity in this case?  This law allows one person to force the actions of another person without that person’s control.  

    This law makes it illegal to KNOW things privately.  It’s pure thought-crime.

    I should say though, I am all about laws which protect people from revealing otherwise legally protected information if it in turn protects people.  Lawyers for example can break privilege if their clients disclose that they have plans to kill someone. Counselors and psychiatrists have similar protections in their fields.  

    1. “I am less against mandatory reporting for say, healthcare professionals or teachers, who are gov’t employees or receive some kind of societal assistance or have specific societal roles. However, if a priest, who is a private citizen, is legally required to report crimes others tell him about, its a small step to say that another private citizen is compelled to report crimes.”

      Priests DO have specific societal roles, though. They serve their congregations & communities as leaders, rather than passively participating in them as private individuals. Their employer, the church, does receive some kinds of societal assistance (i.e. tax exemptions, charitable donations, etc.) Those healthcare workers & teachers, like priests, are also private citizens individually, but that fact alone doesn’t abrogate their responsibility to protect the communities they serve in a professional capacity.

    2. Agreed.  While on the surface this seems hard to object to, I think it’s a strech to legally compel people to divulge information they learn in a private conversation.  The only reason this is even an issue is because it combines the hot topics of “Catholics” and “child abuse”.  Swap out either of the two (“Rabbis/child abuse” or “Catholics/arson”) and no one would be talking about this.

    3. However, if a priest, who is a private citizen, is legally required to report crimes others tell him about, its a small step to say that another private citizen is compelled to report crimes.  What about a bartender who is told by a patron they killed someone?

      Well, indeed it is a crime for a private citizen not to report a murder or other felony if you have knowledge of it. So while you might not agree with it, your basic premise doesn’t hold up.

      Misprision of felony: Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

      … at least in the US. In the UK, it seems as if it’s only a crime if you’re in certain positions of authority, like a police officer. I’m not sure if a teacher or priest counts.

      Personally, I think that if someone is told “I’m going to rape and murder that child” and they do nothing about it, they are guilty of a crime. By their omission, a crime happened. After the fact? Well, for me that’s grayer, and probably depends on whether they think it’s likely that the criminal will do it again.

      1. Personally, I think that if someone is told “I’m going to rape and murder that child” and they do nothing about it, they are guilty of a crime. By their omission, a crime happened. After the fact? Well, for me that’s grayer, and probably depends on whether they think it’s likely that the criminal will do it again.

        The president did cocaine and pot!  Also, the el presidante before him did it as well.  Shit, so did the guy before that one.  Quick, someone call the cops!  Oh no, I need to inform on a pile of people that I know who have committed felonies in college.  I think I even know a few people who when they turned 21 started buying alcohol for their 20 year old friends.  I know people who have committed copyright infringement on such scales that they must have committed some felony!  Oh dear god!  So many people I need to inform on in order to be right with the law!

        When this world has a couple orders of magnitude fewer laws, and they are all laws that you would want enforced 100% of the time, maybe you could make an argument for tossing people in jail who don’t snitch on their fellows.  We are so far from that day it isn’t even funny.

  23. The Catholic Priest raping ten of thousands of children in the West is nothing compared to what they have done in third world countries.  And funny they tell they are our moral guardians. 

  24. I find it hilarious that the same church that fought way back when to outlaw the religions of many other people is now all upset that the law is impinging on their desire to kiddie-diddle with impunity

  25. While the immediate emotional response is one of disgust at the moral hypocrisy of (at least the upper administrative levels of) the Catholic Church, two questions need to be considered if we are to minimise child abuse (and here, I would argue, the end is so important as to justify quite a lot of means).

    1. How much would forced disclosure ‘scare off’ from confession those who would have otherwise confessed? Are child abusers more calculated (more likely to stop confessing) or more impulsive (less likely to stop confessing)?

    2. How effective are priests (and similar non punishing counsellor-type figures) in persuading those who confess into actually changing their behaviour?

    If the answer to 1. is “a lot”, and to 2. is “significantly”, then maybe the current law does require some slight modification. If not, then no.

    Of course, this is the argument the Irish Catholic hierarchy should be making, not “we have traditionally protected child abusers for centuries, so please let us continue these traditions”… because that’s exactly what the archbishop of Armagh’s defence translates to – just because a rite is long-established, does not make it a good one.

  26. Let’s take a moment to consider how messed up court cases can get. Even if abuse is reported it’s not always an easy ride to full conviction of the offender. There are abuse victims report that they regret bringing the lawsuit in the first place.
    So in theory I support the idea that the church could step in with some sort of family councelling or mediation type resolution involving all concerned parties. This could be less harrowing for the victim and potentially increase the chances that the he or she could move on.

    However, in practise I have zero trust in religion and the Catholic Church so until they have cleared their name I guess I am siding on the side of ‘report everything you hear’.

  27. An angle that a lot of commenters are missing is that this is the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Government and the Church shared, until ’73, a constitutionally-enshrined “special relationship”. Blasphemy is still against the law here. Until this epic abuse scandal came to light no politician would openly speak out against the Church and expect to get re-elected.

    And now, with another generation of Irish moving abroad to find work the church may just wait out the scandal and get back to preaching to the old folks who feel the church can do no wrong. 

  28. Antinous was right at 8:38:
    The Catholic Church should change its name to “International Organisation for Child Abuse”. They wouldn´t even be able to launch a defamation suit against people suggesting it, as it is not an accusation, but merely a factual statement.

  29. Information wants to be free. The Catholic church repeatedly buries information that it regards as detrimental to its continued spread. Some examples, “heretical” versions of the bible, the Copernican solar system, Priests abusing children. I don’t think we can trust the Catholic church to behave in a moral fashion with respect to any threat to it and they need to be brought into line by our non secular laws. They need to get with it before we get fed up with their stale lies and turn upon them and kick them off the merry go round.

  30.  Outside of confessional, if there is any sort of internal memos or transfers going around or such, then absolutely it should be reported.

  31. The priest/church element of this is distracting from the main issue: should Ireland introduce mandatory reporting legislation for incidents of child abuse?  On first glance it may seem surprising that there is even a debate about this, and that common sense dictates that there should be legislation.  However research is by no means so clear cut.

    Before saying anything else, it should be noted that neglect represents the largest proportion of abuse cases, and produces the most profound and damaging effects on victims.  Much of the social work thinking focuses on the notion of “good enough” parenting.  Sexual abuse cases have a much higher profile because of media attention and the revulsion it incites in people.  But in cases of neglect some jurisdictions use a dual-track approach using early interventions and cooperative parental support, backed up by court actions if things aren’t working out.  I cant really do the debate justice, but if anyone is interested the following report nicely sums up the debate and proposes a workable alternative to mandatory reporting legislation.

  32. Old system.. person confesses child abuse  … preist says you are forgiven if you truly repent and have no intenetion of doing it again and hand yourself in and pay the consequences. Priest cannot break sanctity of confession.

    New system… person confesses child abuse 

    a) Priest reports person (providing they can be identified and not behind a screen and known to the preist) –  priest no longer priest as he has broke sanctity of confession.

    b) Priest refuses to tell authorities but has told confessor to hand themselves in.  Priest put in jail. (don’t know how anyone would know though)

    What people seem to be missing is their is no option for breaking the sanctity of confession and never will be.

    People need to think this through properly.
    If you are interested in learning the truth about the catholic faith watch/listen to ‘open line’ or ‘journey home’ on EWTN online or on Sky.

    Only the truth will set you free

  33. Can someone who knows better answer one question – if you give warning of a future crime, then how is it confession?  Unless it’s the booth that gives special power, isn’t an admission of intent merely unprotected conversation and not protected confession, regardless of where or how it takes place?

  34. 1. Why Child Abuse is different than other crimes and warrants disclosure laws:
    I couldn’t find the wording of this particular law online, but mandatory reporting laws usually apply when someone has evidence that child abuse happened.  Most of the time with doctors and teachers that means that they observe the signs of abuse in children rather than in the abuser.  The idea is that children are not in a position to report the situation themselves, so they have to have someone speak up on their behalf.  It’s easy to think that reporting child abuse is no different than reporting other crimes when you think of the situation that the perpetrator confesses to you; but the reason people target child abuse with laws like this is because the victim of the crime may be hesitant (or unable) to disclose it.

    2. The unenforceability of the law:
    It is true that likely no one will ever be charged under this law (except for, maybe, people they were already going to charge with a lot of other crimes like child pornographers).  But I don’t buy the argument that you shouldn’t introduce a law that you will never enforce.  Laws make statements about what we think is right as a society.  Somewhere out there there are teachers and doctors who aren’t sure they should involve themselves because they are in denial about the evidence they have seen.  A law like this says to them that society thinks they should.

    3. Criticism of the Church for their stance:
    People can disagree on what is good policy but the Catholic priesthood should probably keep their collective mouths shut when it comes to something like this unless they want to be targeted for intense criticism.  It’s an organization that seems incapable of discontinuing their support for sexually abusing children.  It’s very hard to have sympathy for them for the criticism that they receive in the headlines and comment sections.  Their “infallible” leader actively covered up child abuse for years and has been shielded from law suits and prosecution by diplomatic immunity.

    And finally:

    4. I’m far from convinced this is a good law, and I’m worried that is contributes to general hysteria surrounding the issue of child abuse.  Hysteria is not conducive to getting at truth or justice, and I’d like to see everyone tone it down.  Child abuse would be much less of a problem if we lived in a society where unfounded accusations of abuse didn’t ruin people’s lives.  Knowing that the consequences of being wrong were not so dire would be more effective at getting teachers and doctors to report abuse than any law.

  35. Two things:

    First, I don’t know what the law is in the UK, but as far as I know in the US, a privileged party (doctor, lawyer, etc.) is not required to break confidentiality regarding a prior crime.  They ARE required to report future crimes.  That is, if someone tells their psychiatrist that they killed someone last year, the doctor is bound by confidentiality.  If they tell them that they’re thinking about killing their next door neighbor when they get home that day, the psychiatrist is obligated to report it, if they think they’ll actually attempt a homicide.  I THINK, that in cases of domestic or child abuse, it’s generally accepted to be part of a pattern, rather than a single incident- hence the obligation to report.

    Second, and I realize this is inflammatory: How is it that people still defend the Catholic church?  Yes, they have orphanages and hospitals and food pantries, but they also have 1500 years of oppression, torture, wars, and child rape.  Nobody ever says “The guy down the street?  Nice fella. Great golfer. Raped and murdered a couple kids a few years back, but he does a lot of volunteer work these days.”  I really don’t care how many good works you do- You willfully help pedophiles evade justice, you lose all right to any kind of moral argument.  You launch crusades, inquisitions, throw your support behind the Nazis, exploit third world countries, you don’t get to claim to be a force for good in the world.

  36. First of all, please separate the child abuse scandals of the Catholic Church from the scope of this law. The law refers to child abuse that is revealed to the church by way of Confession.

    I’m not ready to legislate against the confidentiality of Communion for one specific type of crime. I see the positive, but I have to wonder: What about spousal abuse? Murder? Shoplifting? A line has to be drawn, but I’m sure no-one can say where.

    However, I would like to see a law that would compel the Church to report indications or evidence of child abuse obtained or perceived OUTSIDE the confessional. How about getting that one done first?

  37. There exist problems justifying Catholic confession.  First of all, given the gift of prayer, a direct and open means of communication to god, it’s totally unnecessary for people to report (especially weekly) about their sins.  Second, Catholics are so used to doing this that they think they can continue doing the same bad things over and over each week and just shrug them off with a couple of ‘hail Marys’ and ‘hello Dollys’.  I can sort of understand the defense from a religious standpoint (as we are first to be subjects of god, then the law of the land), but Catholicism is so far off of guidelines outlined in the scriptures that they shouldn’t even be taking themselves seriously.  Of course, some will argue the same about Christians in general, but the only defense in that case is the idea of faith.  I’m curious about how the JWs and other religions will respond to this…

  38. It’s a stupid law. This law would neither help children nor lead to more prosecutions of pedophiles. Criminals won’t confess if it passes.  Police (particularly in a catholic country) won’t have the balls to call a priest as a witness either.

    You can’t ignore the facts that confessional is treated as sacred by catholics, and most judges, prosecutors and cops in Ireland are catholic (at least in the births/marriages/deaths sense).  In catholic doctrine, breaking confession is ranked up there with murdering the pope as one of the worst sins possible for a priest.The consequences of this are that either a priest goes to jail for contempt of court/perjury/obstructing the course of justice (depending on what they actually do to avoid giving evidence) or else they get excommunicated (a fate worse than death for serious priests).Note that while a confession to a priest is not enough for a conviction, it is most certainly relevant.  Confessions to inmates or friends are regularly used as supporting evidence in a case, so confessions to a priest would also be used.

    The actual law is pretty much irrelevant, since in many countries confession is NOT protected du jure, (America can’t protect religion due to church/state issues, the UK is a protestant country and tends to have anti-catholic laws rather than pro-catholic ones!) but has a de facto protection since everyone knows that a priest won’t break confession.

    BTW, I’m an atheist so this isn’t defending my religion.  It’s just that hard cases make bad laws, and the pragmatic realpolitik needs to be considered. Instead people are just jumping on the ‘think of the children’ and ‘get the paedophiles’ bandwagons.  This law would neither help children nor lead to more prosecutions of pedophiles.

    Maybe this law should be used as a bargaining tool. “We won’t subpoena a preist, if the priests tell offenders to give themselves up and accept their punishment in order to be forgiven their sins”.

  39. For all those whose comments included “not sure what the law is in the UK” or similar, neither am I – because I am in the Republic of Ireland, which is also the jurisdiction the post is about. 

  40. The sanctity of the confessional has been part of Catholic doctrine since 1215 and is binding on the whole church.  It was not just established to cover up child abuses.  Confession is associated with one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic church and is an essential part of the Catholic faith. 

    Any priest who reveals what they have learned during confession to anyone, even under
    the threat of their own death or that of others. For a priest to break
    confidentiality would lead to a latae sententiae or automatic excommunication. 

    In criminal matters, a priest may encourage the penitent to surrender to authorities. However, this is the extent of the leverage they wield.  To pass a law requiring priest to report individuals is to put them in direct conflict with their faith. 

    Although I am in sympathy with those who have been hurt by criminal activities, I would find it distasteful to force anyone to act against their faith.

  41. As a chaplain I keep everything private that I discuss with patients. I work in a mental health hospital so that’s a lot of conversation. But before we begin I tell people that I will report threats to self or others or child abuse. Since 80% of mental patients are sexual abuse survivors they have no trouble wanting to keep secrets.  The hardest part about being Christian: other Christians. You can see in the book of 1st Corinthians that the early church was already straying from the commandments, love God, love neighbor. A lot of the time religion is a magnifying glass that enlarges human evil. Even our local Quakers, liberal in most things, are fighting about whether gay people are acceptable or not. What utter nonsense! Who’s your neighbor? Everyone according to Jesus.

  42. Unless they are doing mass confessions, or they want to call God to the stand, its just he says she says anyway.

    That said “freedoms” are always are odds with “public good” and this is no different. Just like some purists of freedom of speech would say say yelling “Fire Fire Fire!” in a theater is OK, while proponents of the public good will say that would be too far. Just like Hate Speech laws in Canada for example. Freedom of religion is all well and good, but that isn’t to say that just because some crazy ass religion says its OK to burn infidels, doesn’t make it their god given right to do so (or maybe it is, just not under the common laws we all live by within a sovereign nation). So I don’t think it is all that big of a stretch to say, that sorry folks, the free ride on the peodtrain is over. If you hear of abuse during confessional, you are obligated by law to report it to authorities.

    However, just like the whole he says, she says thing above, such a law would be intrinsically hard to enforce, as likely the person admitting child abuse doesn’t want to tell the cops, and if the Priest doesn’t want to, who is to know if they don’t? Only God I suppose, maybe he will call the cops…

  43. I note that several people in this discussion have equated “internal discussion” with “confession.” For the record, the massive coverups in recent sex abuse scandals (such as Mahoney’s diocese in Los Angeles) weren’t a matter of priests refusing to divulge the content of private confessions. If they had been, there wouldn’t have been a paper trail at all, much less one that went so far up the church hierarchy. A lot of people knew a lot of stuff that should have been disclosed to the authorities, but most of it was discussed outside of the confessional.

    Anyway, I can’t see how this law could be enforced effectively. If a priest is called to the stand and refuses to answer questions about what another person confessed to, do the authorities throw him in jail for contempt? In a country where most people are Catholic?

    1. I think that “most people are Catholic” only goes so far.  I know Catholics, and I don’t think any of them would say that the confidentiality of confession is more important than stopping / catching child molesters.  I know that officially the Catholic faith says that it is – but Catholics I’ve met in my life also have pre-marital sex, use condoms, use birth control, think homosexuality is just as valid as heterosexuality, get divorced and remarried, don’t agree with the prohibition against women priests, and generally don’t do what the out-of-touch heads of the religion in Vatican City say they should do.

      A lot of Catholics, like a lot of people of other religions, think that their relationship with God (or with their spirituality in general) is very important, but that the things that humans say and do in the name of God are often wrong, even those humans who are supposedly divinely infallible (after all, it is humans that say the pope is infallible).  After all, in the articles I’ve read about this, people talk a lot about the Catholic church being against the law, but not a lot about popular opinion being against the law.

      1. I know Catholics, and I don’t think any of them would say that the confidentiality of confession is more important than stopping / catching child molesters

        But do you know many who would support jailing priests who refuse to violate that confidentiality? Unless the public is willing to do so the law is simply unenforceable.

      2. Yes there are a lot of twice a year Catholics who may agree with you, but there are many others who view their faith more seriously.  And yes, many do believe that the the confidentiality of the confessional.  If a person isn’t going to follow the law and the moral codes that most of us follow, what makes you believe that not confessing to a crime in the confessional is beyond their ability. 

        What incentive does someone have to confess to a crime in the confessional once this law is passed?  So they say nothing about it. In the long run, I believe that the priests’ encouraging the penitent to change is behavior and turn themselves in will have a more positive benefit.

      3. I know Catholics, and I don’t think any of them would say that the confidentiality of confession is more important than stopping / catching child molesters.

        I’ve seen plenty of Catholics telling people to leave poor Monsignor alone. But if you consider that a child’s family are the most likely molesters, that may be a matter of professional courtesy.

  44. You could not confess a future crime (sin) as it has not been committed  and if you did not show remorse for previous sins you would not be given forgiveness for those. There is huge difference between a conversation inside and outside of confession. Anything discussed in confession cannot and will never be allowed to be discussed outside confession – regardless of the law.

    More here…

  45. (after all, it is humans that say the pope is infallible)

    Matthew 16:17-19

    In Matthew 16:17-19, the office is solemnly promised to the Apostle. In response to his profession of faith in the Divine Nature of his Master, Christ thus addresses him:

    Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

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