Well, what a storm swept through here on Sunday! In a jiffy five power lines were down: no electricity, no water, no phone. And hot, hot, hot and muggy 🙁
Thankfully all is now in order. Another day and I think the contents of fridge and deep freezer would have been lost.
And a bit of storm raging here on the site on the Seal of Confession! I was reading and rounding up some information when my power went down. I will get back at.
Before everyone gets too excited and rushes to tar and feather me let try to explain that what I personally am trying to do is (1) try to understand what can or can not be done with information re child sex abuse which is heard in confession, and (2) understand more fully the actual Seal.
Contrary to opinion, I am not trying to defend cover-ups. I am trying to determine the logical applicability of such legislation. Would it or could it in fact enable the identification and hence prosecution of a clerical child molester? If the proposed legislation makes that possible, my question then is: is there some mechanism whereby information from the confessional can or could be disclosed without violating the seal? I don’t want clerical child molesters out and about any more than all of you.
So, that is all I am trying to do. I am trying to think this through beyond the superficial knee-jerk reaction. Is there truly merit to such legislation?
At this point, I am not sure that there is.
One of my initial stated concerns was re those victims ‘confessing’ or referencing clerical sex abuse in confession who do not want anyone to know. The question I was mulling there was can the State, under such circumstances, try to force a priest to disclose that particular information? If the victim doesn’t want anyone to know, can the priest-confessor be legally bound to disclose that information?
That was my first thought, and that specifically because I know of any number of molesters who are out and about because the victim is not ready to come forward. When the victim confides in someone but does not want to come forward or go to police, those who have been made privy to that information have their hands tied.
So, that was my first thought.
The initial word from Ireland was that there would be no exceptions. Because I am familiar with the situation of victims who disclose to someone but do not want to come forward, that was my very first through.
In short order word came out in the Irish press that there would probably be an exception to the rule, i.e., if the victim does not want to come forward, there would be no legal obligation on the priest-confessor to disclose.
But, that still leaves the scenario of the victim who confesses, and does not want to come forward at that time, but 20 or 3o years later summons the courage to speak out. He/she goes to police. The police ask who has been told. The answer is: “I told Father X during confession 20 years ago.”
Where can that go?
Let’s say that Father X is prepared to violate the seal. How many confessions has he heard in the interim? What does he recall of that particular confession? There are no notes or computer files from the confessional. There is nothing to jog the memory of Father X as to who said what and when.
My guess is that if Father X heard something in confession there is a good chance he heard something about this particular clerical molester outside confession, and he will probalby have better recall of what he heard outside the confessional, and, perhaps of more import, from whom.
But, my minds drifts to Cornwall, Ontario. We saw what happened in Cornwall. At the Cornwall Public Inquiry we heard abundant testimony from those who heard ‘stories’ about former Crown attorney Malcolm MacDonald, and/or ex-seminarian turned probation officer Ken Seguin, and/or Father Ken Martin. I could go on and on and on.
It was all chalked up to “rumour and innuendo.” Even when police officers heard such ‘stories’ about a high profile former Crown (Malcolm) , nothing was done and no one got his/her knuckles rapped for not doing anything.
And look what happened with David Silmser’s allegations against Father Charles MacDonald. Dave went to police. When, for a variety of reasons, the whole police “investigation” came to a grinding halt and police claimed Silmser no longer wished to pursue criminal charges, the Crown said nothing could be done without a willing witness/victim (Dave). (Dave had in fact been illegally gagged by a diocesan pay-off.)
In this instance there was the claim by Crown which was allegeldy accepted at face value by the police, ergo, if Dave was not willing to pursue criminal charges the investigation of his sex abuse allegations against Father Charles MacDonald was off. (i.e., “not in the public interest.”)
That’s where one Constable Perry Dunlop stepped in.
Perry fulfilled his legal obligation to report to Children’s Aid. He read and believed that Dave Silmser’s allegations against “Charlie” were credible. Perry was the only one in his police department who felt the allegations should be pursued and who fulfilled his duty to report to CAS.
About 15 years later Perry Dunlop was in jail!
Father Charles MacDonald never set foot inside a jail. He was charged. He “walked.” He walked because his lawyers claimed his Charter rights to a speedy trial had been violated, and, in essence, that they had been violated because Perry Dunlop was a rogue cop who scampered about the city falsely accusing certain pillars of the community of being child molesters.
Yes, what happened in Conrwall has influenced my thinking. I take it into account now when I try to sift through this proposed legislation in Ireland. I take it into account when I ponder the duty to report to CAS here in Ontario.
Where does that leave me?
By the sound of things, Ireland will provide an exception in those cases where a victim does not want to come forward. That I view as common sense. Unless the State is prepared to charge victims who do not wish to come forward, that is common sense.
But what of the rest of it? That’s what I’m trying to struggle through.
Do I believe in the Seal of Confession? Yes.
Do I think a clerical predator should be left out and about? No.
Could a priest-confessor attain information in the confessional which could see a clerical molester charged? If the victim does not want to come forward, no. If the victim is willing to come forward, then that takes the situation out of the confessional: the penitent in that situation would be willing to speak of the abuse outside the confessional. True, that is reliant on the priest-confessor asking the penitent if he/she will discuss the matter outside the confessional, and/or encouraging a reluctant victim to do so.
And what of the clerical molester who goes to confession?
Most clerical molesters think they are doing no wrong. They have no conscience. Why then would they go to confession?
For those who do go to confession, I highly doubt that they would confess to a non-molesting priest whom they know and who might in turn be able to identify them. I believe they would seek out a priest who would not be able to identify them, ….and they would certainly not give their name.
For one molester who confesses to another molester, well, nothing is going to come of that ever. They will not squeal on each other. Not in that situation.
As for the Seal of Confession itself, well, I have discovered that in Canon Law as in any civil law there are interpretations of the law. I will gather and post that information after I get this posted and respond to a few blogs.
I don’t know if I have adequately explained where I am at. I tend to try to think through every possible scenario before drawing a conclusion. I am looking for help on this, and still pondering.
Enough for now,
does not wants to confess but does not want to tell a single soul. Twenty or thirty years later the victim goes to police