The very sharp Waleed Aly has joined the debate over whether Catholic child abuse justifies a legal requirement for priests to break the confessional seal. Aly’s take: it’s an argument with almost no practical consequences, because most priests see excommunication as a far worse punishment than prison.
… Canon law prohibits a priest from revealing a confession even under the threat of his own death. Should we expect him to buckle under the threat of a prison sentence?
Here it’s essential to understand that any priest who violates the confessional seal faces excommunication.
That might mean nothing to you … But you are not the one hearing the confession. What matters is what this means to priests and, in Catholic terms, excommunication is as serious as it gets – far more serious than any prison sentence. This leaves us searching for a very strange creature indeed: someone devoted enough to enter the priesthood, but not devoted enough to care about eternal damnation. And we need lots of them. We’re betting on a team of rogue priests. That doesn’t sound like a plan to me.
You can’t legislate away people’s religious convictions, however much you might want to.
Aly notes that there’s little evidence of priests describing their crimes in confessional anyway. Does anyone know of evidence?
Aly also argues that the break-the-confessional-seal argument represents “irreligious people trying to address a religious problem with brute secular force”. Given that Catholics like Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and Barry O’Farrell are among the advocates of overriding the sanctity of the confessional, that characterisation seems wrong. But the non-religious (a category which includes me) might do well to think twice before piling on to this particular argument. It’s all fight and no pay-off.