Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Necessity of Confession and Its Seal

Any Catholic reading the report of Australia’s Royal Commission of Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse must be appalled by the multiple instances of child abuse in ecclesial institutions perpetrated by priests, religious, and laity, women as well as men. That similar abuses occurred in other churches and religions in no way excuses the Catholic Church from culpability for so long ignoring or even covering up such abuses. The offense is especially grave for those pledged by vows to testify to Christ’s transcendence of earthly fulfillment and to serve Him in the least of His brethren; for Catholics place a greater trust in them. One easily understands the cry for justice on behalf of the victims, most of whom were entrusted to the Church’s care precisely because their relations with their families were strained or non-existent. The most vulnerable were abused when most in need of help. The Royal Commission rightly insisted on institutional changes to prevent such abuse from continuing in the future. Most of its recommendations the Australian bishops accepted. Other recommendations they referred to Rome, but on one point unanimously they refused to change the Church’s practice: the seal of confession. Countless priests have announced that they will not obey any law requiring a breaking of the seal. To understand their adamant determination, some reflections on the role of confession and its seal can be helpful. For abolishing the seal would acerbate, rather than alleviate, the problem. continued