Regarding the recent stay of charges against Father Javier De Los Angeles Cortazar , the Mexican-born priest who just ‘walked’ after the complainant was questioned about hearing Cortazar’s confession.
As you know, Father Cortazar, a priest with the Diocese of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, wrangled a defence by putting his accuser/’victim’/complainant in a no win situation: Either the complainant would answer a question regarding hearing Father Cortazar’s confession, and thereby violate the Seal of Confession and be excommunicated, or he would refuse to answer, be cited for contempt of court and land in jail.
Here, in part, is what the Code of Canon Law has to say about confession:
Can. 977 The absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is invalid except in danger of death. (that refers to the 6th of the Ten Commandments “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The 6th commandment is understood to encompass other sins against chastity)
Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.
Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict. (latae sententiae is automatic)
Note #977: “The absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is invalid except in danger of death.”
In other words, there was nothing spiritual to be gained by Father Cortazar confessing anything to the complainant. Nothing. If such a confession transpired, it was invalid. I am hard-pressed to believe that Father Cortazar did not and does not know that. I can understand that his Roman Catholic lawyer, George Green, may not know; generally speaking it’s not the sort of thing most laity know or care about. But, do I believe that Father Cortazar knew and knows? I do. Why then would he go to his accuser to confess? What was the point?
And then note #983 §1: “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”
First, it is important to note that whether or not absolution is granted, everything which is disclosed in confession falls under the seal.
Next, a penitent can not waive a confessor of the seal. And so, for example this comment in The Canon Law Letter & Spirit: A Practical Guide to the Code of Canon Law (1995), “the priest is strictly forbidden to reveal by any means whatever anything the penitent may have disclosed to him . Even the penitent can not release him from the obligation.
The seal can not be waived. The seal can not be violated.
And, of course on to #1388 §1. “A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication ”
Father Cortazar , a priest with faculties to hear confessions, knows this. In order to hear confessions himself he took a solemn vow never to violate the Seal of Confession. He knows the consequences.
And there he was – Father Cortazar, the accused – in court, forcing his accuser to chose between excommunication and jail!
Can you see what happened here?
This was dirty. Really really dirty.
Obviously the Crown stepped in and brought this mess to what had to be a merciful end. Think about it. Had the Crown not asked for a stay the proceedings would have shifted from the sex assault trial of Father Cortazar to the complainant’s ‘contempt of court.’
So, a stay. A stay for the accused. He “walks.” At least for now. The Crown has the option of bringing it back to court.
Yes, I know that because of molesters and cover-ups many of you have problems with the Seal of Confession, but for just a moment try to set those aside and look at this from the perspective of a priest who firmly believes in the Seal of Confession and will not violate it, even if, as is possible, if not probable, violating the seal would further corroborate his allegations against the accused. And, just for a moment look at the reality of what happened in that courtroom, and think how , at least for now, Father Cortazar managed to elude justice.
This is such a terrible travesty. I’m thinking that from a spiritual perspective it borders on or is akin to sacrilege? Alas, it seems to me that the problem is compounded by the fact that Bishop Albert Thévenot apparently has no difficulty allowing Father Cortazar, a priest who has displayed a reprehensible lack of respect for the Sacrament of Confession and equally reprehensible conviction of its Seal , hear confessions and offer up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Am I explaining this clearly enough? I’m not sure that I am, and I truly fear that many will miss the gravity of what has transpired.
I will leave it for now. It’s late/early. But, in closing, perhaps one more thought.
Look at this. The Criminal Code of Canada regarding obstruction of justice
(b) where he is a surety, by accepting or agreeing to accept a fee or any form of indemnity whether in whole or in part from or in respect of a person who is released or is to be released from custody,
is guilty of
(2) Every one who wilfully attempts in any manner other than a manner described in subsection (1) to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
(3) Without restricting the generality of subsection (2), every one shall be deemed wilfully to attempt to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice who in a judicial proceeding, existing or proposed,
R.S., c. C-34, s. 127;
R.S., c. 2(2nd Supp.), s. 3;
1972, c. 13, s. 8.
Is it possible that Father Cortazar’s confession defence entailed obstruction of justice? I have no idea, but think it may. I do believe there really is something seriously amiss. Thoughts?
I also believe that Father Cortazar should have been suspended from the moment the bishop was first told that he, Father Cortazar, had sexually assaulted a fellow priest, and, in light of the outcome and the manner in which it was achieved, should be suspended now pending a canonical trial to determine the credibility of the sex assault allegations against him, and a canonical trial regarding his apparent disdain for the Seal of Confession .
Final note. This was a jury trial. I wonder what the jurors think of this mess. I would love to hear.
Enough for now,