Politicians and social commentators were up in arms this week over the Catholic sacrament of confession.

Nothing wrong with a quiet word. Photo: The Australian

In a furious media frenzy, MPs from the whole spectrum inveighed the confidentiality of this Catholic sacrament. The sacrament, it was argued, is helping to protect child sex offenders. The prevailing sentiment can be summarized by quoting Nicola Roxon, the head of the royal commission into the handling of child abuse – she sees the seal of confession as “really abhorrent”.

It seems to me that in the heat of the moment our politicians have overlooked a few crucial issues. Considering these issues might help us to make a more informed judgement on the matter.

We first of all should recall the pathology of child abusers. Paedophilia is not just defined by a physical attraction to minors; it also concerns a kind of moral sickness. They don’t think they have done anything wrong. They are unlikely to frequent a sacrament like confession, which has as its foundation a person’s sense of wrongdoing. The Catholic Bishop of Parramatta, Anthony Fisher, says as much. Perhaps some priests may go, but the majority will not. Last week Fr. Frank Brennan said that, in his 27 years as a priest, he has never once heard a confession about child abuse.

Law makers mustn’t forget that one of the reasons people go to confession is because it is confidential. If we take away the confidentiality of confession, people will stop going. Any law requiring priests to break the seal of confession will be largely self-defeating.

Whilst commentators have focused on the seal of confession, there is also another aspect to the sacrament that is relevant to the debate. Point 1450 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that to be a valid confession there has to be genuine sorrow and a firm purpose of changing one’s life. Confession is not a get-out-of-hell free pass that you go and collect from a priest. You actually need to be remorseful. Unrepentant child abusers – the kind described in the media recently – don’t go to confession, because its totally useless for them.

In any event, a skilled confessor will counsel the penitent and guide them to approach the police. Absolution may even be conditional on turning oneself in, according to one Catholic theologian.

There is also an argument that, whilst it may not sit well with secularists, is still relevant. We here need to consider the issue of religious freedom. Are we justified in making a judgement about which religious practices should be allowed? Catholics believe that this sacrament is sacred; its an opportunity for the penitent to reconcile themselves with God. Breaking the seal of confession is “tantamount to trampling on a host”, to quote one Catholic bishop. A priest who breaks the seal is automatically excommunicated (i.e. kicked out of the Catholic Church).

Some may say that this is medieval Catholic superstition. But, as professor Sarah Joseph of the Castran Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University says, the views of religious people cannot be glibly dismissed as irrational and out of date: “Notions of freedom of religion would have little meaning if they only apply to manifestations of rational beliefs shared by the majority: the very nature of religion is to buy into leaps of faith beyond the objectively provable.”

The question we are considering is this: ‘Do the benefits of breaking the seal of confession outweigh the drawbacks?’. It would seem that the impact of forcing the priests to break the seal of confession would be highly negligible. And even in the unlikely situation that investigations would be aided, a law is unlikely to have an effect on the resolve of Catholic priests to respect the seal of confession. Consider the situation in Ireland at the moment, where 800 Catholic priests have vowed to defy a new law obliging them to break the seal of confession. Some may think this is appalling. But if you consider that these priests have devoted their lives to their faith, it might not seem so terrible.

The philosophy behind any such law is questionable; And pragmatically it will probably achieve very little. Is it really worthwhile creating an almighty split between Church and state?

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

Most commented

80 comments

Show oldest | newest first

    • Brienne of Tarth says:

      04:48am | 20/11/12

      When you have senior priests covering up child abuse, confession is the least of your worries.

      Go in hard and root out those that did and those that knew and did nothing or worse.

    • acotrel says:

      05:08am | 20/11/12

      The catholic church has lost the plot.  A confessional without the thumbscrews has got no oomph !

    • Mik says:

      05:29am | 20/11/12

      The information about who the abusers are is more likely to come from a whole range of sources. Indeed is most likely an “open secret"that doesn’t need a confessional for an adult to have some suspicion something is wrong. Institutions/workplaces are like small towns, full of gossip, half truths and truths and yet, because it takes courage and personal involvement, it is the truths that are turned away from.
      The confessional is a red herring. Indeed if the priest hearing the confession is from the same community, he probably already has information that there is something wrong,

    • Mik says:

      06:06am | 20/11/12

      Rarely would it be just the priests involved in this conspiracy of silence.There are also regular workers (eg cooks, medical people, maintanence staff) and regular visitors (eg patrons, donors, VIPs and frequent visitors) who would have been deliberately blind, or even threatened if they were to speak out.There were also those who offended .More than likely, even the surrounding community would have at least heard something. The priests may warrant the biggest millstones but there may be others who deserve being thrown into the sea with them.
      The report of the Irish Inquiry is freely available on the internet http://www.childabusecommission.ie/  The Punch team may like to do an update on what effect it has had.

    • Tekweni says:

      06:12am | 20/11/12

      I am intrigued by this fixation on Confession. I am a lapsed Catholic from what was once a staunch Catholic family. My wife, likewise with the exception of one of her brothers, a Catholic priest.
      We are all getting closer to 60 and over 30 years have had the odd debate about Confession. I remember in about the early 1970’s that I decide never to go to Confession again. My wife too. My priest brother in law says it was like a tap turning off about that time. The queues on a Saturday outside the confessional disappeared and none but the really devout continued to attend. Granted this was in another country but it seemed universal.
      The press and so many have a fixation about Confession. How many have actually made a confession? I, like so many, found it a pointless exercise. As a kid we confessed nasty thoughts and made up sins. As a young adult at university I threw it in. I was not going to confess to anyone how much fun I was having in the liberated atmosphere of a university. Too busy breaking all those rules I had been brought up with and deciding they were pointless anyway. And so many of my generation felt the same.
      So how many actually take Confession today? Really if you have done something judged a sin in the eyes of the law, are you going to confess it? This feeding frenzy on Confession as if it is a hot bed of significant law breaking being shared with your priest is nonsense. And in discussing in general terms with my brother in law, the odd bit of adultery is about the worst he has ever heard.

    • iansand says:

      08:19am | 20/11/12

      If the priests aren’t confessing then something seriously screwy has happened.

    • dave says:

      06:28am | 20/11/12

      ‘Are we justified in making a judgement about which religious practices should be allowed?’

      Yes, if those practices are illegal or aid illegal activities. Not so long ago there was a piece on the punch about female circumcision (mutilation) in Muslim communities. Where do you stand on that religious practice?

    • Chris L says:

      08:26am | 20/11/12

      It’s not like there’s a call to ban confessions anyway. This article is hyperbolic. (did I pronounce that right?)

    • Alex says:

      01:37pm | 20/11/12

      The article wasn’t really about ‘banning confessions’. My guess is that the skewed headline was an editor’s choice, not the writer’s.

    • Peter Hinton says:

      06:28am | 20/11/12

      If pedophiles are “unlikely” to confess to their crimes in the confessional, where’s the harm in requiring priests to report them? Using your logic, it would be a moot requirement. It also sends an important message that there is nowhere for pedophiles to hide. But let me tell you this: if it helps one child, it’s worthwhile.

    • Kipling says:

      06:36am | 20/11/12

      I don’t really believe anyone called to ban confessional.

      You clearly are making some point about confessional being confindential. Well as someone who works with confidentiality an awful lot, it seems there are some fairly modern concepts about working with confidentiality that the Church could or maybe even should take on board.

      Instead of crying woe consider, there are some limits to confidentiality it is not nor should be all encompassing. For example, in the field of child protection (I know this concept may be foreign to many who highly represent the church) - when introducing the idea of confidentiality, particularly working with people who might not comprehend what the word means, it is not uncommon to use terms like what is said in the room stays in the room - this clarifies, then of course the point must be raised about when confidentiality is not applied - to my mind this should be self evident, however, I will explain further. If a child or young person (remember the focus here is on child protection) discloses information that indicates that they have been harmed, are at serious risk of harm or that someone else may be, then workers have a madatory obligation to report this. Consequently confidentiality is still applied, however, there is also the safety net. The person/people make a choice whether to disclose or not.

      As to confessional, it has been remarked that child abusers will not disclose of confessinoal is no longer confidential. To this I say, firstly, even disclosing matter relating to the care and protection of children (particularly) but others as well is not a breach of confidentiality, it is part of a social compact to care and protect each other, particularly the innocent (or at least seemingly innocent). Secondly I would point out that the present situation keeps the perpertrators safe. IF they choose not to confess because a priest will in fact report them, what exactly is lost? Presently one can confess anything to a priest with, in effect, a get out of Gaol free card. That is not good enough.

      With regard to abuse of children as well, I don’t particularly give a toss about the church or its representative counselling a perpertrator to go to the police. I don’t particularly trust the concept of deciding who is and isn’t truly penitent. I care about victims being treated with respect and courtesy and having some chance (all be it a slim one with our legal system) of gaining some justice. The present set up does none of this.

      The church effectively alienates many of the victims in order to keep an archain concept afloat in the 21st Century. You can still have confessional, you can still maintain confidentiality, you simply should not be protecting perpertrators and being outside the law (which is the state).

      So to you I would suggest, the Church is required to step up to the dias and join us in this century, otherwise it will be the bloody minded stubborness of the institution that drives any split between church and state.

      By the by, being non secular, I think the split already happened, so to a fairly big degree there is no terror in your threat….

    • Tim says:

      08:29am | 20/11/12

      “Secondly I would point out that the present situation keeps the perpertrators safe. IF they choose not to confess because a priest will in fact report them, what exactly is lost?”

      I would suggest that you lose the chance for the priest to get the abuser to take responsibilty for his crimes and admit them to police, which is what the priest should be telling them they must do if they want forgiveness from their god.
      If a child abuser believes in spiritual confession so much, then why not use their faith to get them to admit their crimes?

      My question is, if we ban the confidentiality of confession what exactly do we gain?
      I can’t see a benefit other than an ideological one.

    • Chris L says:

      10:01am | 20/11/12

      “I can’t see a benefit other than an ideological one.”

      Except that we already agree (or should do) that religion cannot make one excempt from the law of the land. As far as I’m aware failing to report a crime, such as child rape, makes one an accessory to that crime.

    • Kipling says:

      12:27pm | 20/11/12

      Firstly Tim, I have not and do not suggest banning confidentiality.
      Secondly, is there any stistical evidence to support your suggestion i.e. how many perpetrators have confessed to the Police?

      If what you suggest was in fact the practice the issue would not exist.

      I offer a genuine and workable solution that ooffers victims some degree of protaction, you offer a what if that either is not the practice, or demonsyrably fails in practice.

      Perhaps religous representatives also need to be mandatory reporters.

    • Richard says:

      01:27pm | 20/11/12

      “Except that we already agree (or should do) that religion cannot make one excempt from the law of the land. As far as I’m aware failing to report a crime, such as child rape, makes one an accessory to that crime.”

      Judeo-Christian ethics is what formulated the law of the land, and for 1500 years the Catholic Church has maintained the tradition of the seal of confessional being inviolable. Why do we think we’re so important now as to think its our right to FORCE the Catholic Church to abolish this ancient tradition? How vandalous, in my opinion.

    • Tim says:

      02:12pm | 20/11/12

      Kipling,
      “Secondly, is there any stistical evidence to support your suggestion i.e. how many perpetrators have confessed to the Police?”

      No I don’t have them, and I would think they don’t exist. If there was, the people pushing for it’s banning would have presented some evidence rather than just claiming that confession allows abusers to escape punishment.

      “If what you suggest was in fact the practice the issue would not exist.”

      How do you know? If a relative few abusers are confessing to priests then the issue would be unimportant and unnoticeable. If many abusers are confessing to priests then where is the evidence?

      “I offer a genuine and workable solution that ooffers victims some degree of protaction, you offer a what if that either is not the practice, or demonsyrably fails in practice.”

      What degree of protection does your solution offer? As I’ve said, If priests are forced to report, then no one will confess. There isn’t any protection there.

      My solution gives the chance for priests to push confessors to take responsibility for their actions as they should be doing. The priests won’t give absolution from sins if the sinner doesn’t show true remorse which should involve admitting your crimes. There’s no negative impact there and possibly a positive one. You don’t lose anything.

      I think you’re more likely to see people admitting their crimes from my method than yours although on the whole I think the actual difference in % terms wouldn’t be much. It probably won’t make much of a difference either way.

    • Chris L says:

      02:39pm | 20/11/12

      @Richard - The rule of law is older than Christianity. The earliest record we can find (as far as I know) is the code of Hammurabi, but it can be safely assumed that the idea of laws is far older.

      If you can consider it “vandalous” that we expect Catholics to obey the same laws as the rest of us, perhaps I can consider it equally vandalous for you to ascribe the creation of law to usurpers.

    • Al says:

      02:39pm | 20/11/12

      Richard - re “Why do we think we’re so important now as to think its our right to FORCE the Catholic Church to abolish this ancient tradition?”
      Because by continuing with the ‘ancient tradition’ we are actualy being discriminatory.
      We are saying that where a person who is not a member of the clergy is confessed too then they can be charged as an accomplice if they fail to report it to the authorities, whereas a catholic priest who is confessed too and fails to report it to the authorities is not charged solely on the basis of their religion.
      This actualy meets the definition of discrimination, treating one person differently to another solely on the basis of their religion.
      If you want confession to remain confidential and be non-discriminatory, you need to hold ALL confessions as confidential, which would include those made to police officers etc and is not realy a workable solution.
      All people to be subject to the same law, regardless of belief or membership in a particular group by choice, this is what I want.
      And you still have provided no reason as to why it does not make the priests accessory to that crime?

    • Kipling says:

      04:09pm | 20/11/12

      So Tim, you don’t have any evidence and this somehow constitutes evidence….because the other side of this debate cannot produce evidence. Curious. The fact of the matter is, there is susbstantial evidence that the Church has been proactive in covering up specific incidents of child abuse. Confessional is simply a potential part of this process. It was mentioned elsewhere that a victim may also confess and the response to this suggested that part of their pennance would be to seek further help. I would suggest that this statement alone highlights the big problem with the thinking regarding how important this confessional total confidentiality is. The child is the victim end of story, if they confess and are still required to be penitent then the priest who would do this, and the person suggesting a priest might do this, is not worthy to be part of our society full stop. A victim should not feel guilt, nor should that be compounded to reinforce their guilt… However, to the point. You cannot provide evidence purely and simply because convictions coming out of confessional are either non existent or thin on the ground - end of story no matter how you try to twist it.

      ““If what you suggest was in fact the practice the issue would not exist.”
      How do you know? If a relative few abusers are confessing to priests then the issue would be unimportant and unnoticeable. If many abusers are confessing to priests then where is the evidence?”

      It may have escaped your notice, but confessional is currently confidential, hence that is a ludicrous question as you know, there is no evidence…. Please learn to be logical before trying to apply logic, it just makes you look silly.

      My solution has a proven track record working in child protection. Further, my solution offers Church representatives an opportunity to afford protection to victims of abuse, comfort, support and a reporting process in line with social norms.

      I fail to see how your “solution” can offer more to victims when it has abjectly failed to do so in a couple of thousand years.

      You fail also to acknolwedge that I am not and have not asked for confessions to be banned. I don’t think that is the solution.

      Further, I don’t necessarily agree that ALL crime should be reported. However, when there is an issue raised that has caused or could cause direct and serious harm to any living creature then there is nothing to debate. Failure to make the person accountable in this life is a failure to support the victim in the here and now, what happens after is up for grabs….

      I reckon your solution has been tried and tested and has been seen (except by the most stubborn, ill informed and uncaring) to be wanting.

    • Tim says:

      06:33pm | 20/11/12

      Kipling,
      My point consistently is that there would be no benefit from the change and possibly harm could be caused.
      I’ve never claimed to have evidence other than what I see is a logical outcome.

      Other people have however been claiming that priests have been hearing confessions from abusers and somehow absolving them of their sins they think changing this requirement will somehow lead to increased arrests. Read some of the comments over the last few days and you’ll see what I’m talking about. For that claim there is no evidence and not even a logical conclusion.

    • Humpy says:

      06:41am | 20/11/12

      What the confession process does is provides a mechanism for a child rapist to ease their mind and cure their conscience.  It is offering an abuser an opportunity (should they choose to use it) to make themselves feel better, and ease their own mind.

      Confession provides (potentially) some benefit for the confessor.

      It does nothing to help the victim/s. imagine being the victim of abuse, and knowing that the person who raped you may have been able to solve their own mental anguish and feelings of wrong-doing by attending confidential confession.

      This is why the church argues so hard to keep confession of crimes confidential. because the church is only interested in protecting its own people and image. 

      It has never put the victims first, it’s not about to start now

    • Rose says:

      10:32am | 20/11/12

      If a penitent is a true Catholic their mind will not be eased by a false or insincere Confession, they know that that is not how it works. I’d say that any true believer who confesses to any serious crime in the Confessional is doing so as a way to reach out for help. It may not make sense to those who don’t fully understand the beliefs that underpin the Confessional, but that’s how I believe it would be for most. If they just wanted a sense of absolution without being truly repentant, they would probably only participate in the Third Rite of Reconciliation, no confession, just private, unspoken ‘prayer’.

    • Humpy says:

      11:33am | 20/11/12

      It still provides a mechanism for perpetrator of crime to deal with their own internal anguish, to ease their own thoughts…..

      There are still benefits here for the perpetrator of a crime.

      There are no benefits here for victims, that’s my point.

      The church once again vehemently protects something that has benefits for kiddy fiddlers….

      At the expense of victims.

      Way to go Catholic Church, once again demonstrating where your priorities truly lie.

    • Kipling says:

      12:34pm | 20/11/12

      I am curious, how would a devout Catholic make the decision to molest a child?

    • Rose says:

      12:49pm | 20/11/12

      That’s the whole point Humpy, it really doesn’t. If the penitent really believes in the Confessional, to confess to something such as that, with no intention of penance, would actually increase their mental anguish or burden, not decrease it.
      Now, I haven’t been to confession for over 25 years, but I remember all the teaching etc that goes with it, and the strength of the belief structure. It’s not cut and dried, people of strong faith hold these things as sacred and as such, wouldn’t abuse them. Yes, even those who abused children would more than likely still hold the sanctity of the sacraments as being above all else.

    • Humpty says:

      01:03pm | 20/11/12

      Kipling,  your question can of course go much further….

      What devout catholic would knowingly protect a kiddy fiddler?

      Or even:

      What devout catholic would put the wealth and ‘good name’ or their organisation ahead of those who are most in need of help.

      Or even:

      What devout catholic would want to be part of an organisation that has TENS OF BILLIONS in assets, buildings, art and gold trinkets, whilst millions starve….

      I’ve heard it said before that if Jesus where to come back today, he would be thoroughly ashamed of the institutions that are meant to act in his honour…how would he view bishops with private drivers, and lavish meals served on plush tables with designer crockery and millions of dollars of art hanging nearby….how would Jesus view what the church has become?!

      I reckon he’d be pretty pissed off….

    • Tim says:

      02:23pm | 20/11/12

      Kipling,
      “I am curious, how would a devout Catholic make the decision to molest a child? “

      Probably in exactly the same way as a non devout Catholic would.

    • Kipling says:

      04:17pm | 20/11/12

      @ Humpty, I fully realise the question could go further, however, it then would begin to dilute the actual issue at play here. To my mind, the main issue in all of this is protecting children end of story. I also realise fully that religious groups are not the only ones responsible for having perpertrators in their ranks. Another point at risk of being lost here.

      @ Tim

      “Kipling,
      “I am curious, how would a devout Catholic make the decision to molest a child? “

      Probably in exactly the same way as a non devout Catholic would”
      So, one must wonder if that would also be the same way as a non Catholic too….

      What you fail to see in your response here though is that the point was made about a “truly penitent Catholic….” My mistake obviously in my ignorance I took that to mean devout.

      I am wondering how the thought processes would work for a “truly penitent Catholic” who premeditated an act of child abuse (there is growing evidence that some planning goes into the grooming process, the “event” and the after math) and then seeks absolutlion. Would said person not at some point have already been taught that what they do is wrong?

      This would absolutely raise a concern for me about the process of confession, given that going to confession would presumably have been part of the planning process.

    • Tim says:

      06:47am | 20/11/12

      Good article.

      As I said last week, I just can’t see any positive outcomes from forcing priests to break confession and it may actually be counterproductive.

      Pass or support the removal of confidentiality if you want to but realise you’re doing so on purely ideological grounds.

    • Peter says:

      09:35am | 20/11/12

      @Tim, ok, but can I ask you this: if a muslim were to confess to being involved in terrorism to his Imam (under a similar confidential discussion akin to a confessional) would you feel the same way?  If not, why not?

    • Ando says:

      09:56am | 20/11/12

      The treatmeant under the law should be the same for anyone with knowledge of any crime. That is the only consideration. Either way I would prefer to imagine its not a commonly used service or is putting children in danger, so its not a big issue.

    • Chris L says:

      11:00am | 20/11/12

      Is it idealogical to consider adherence to the law more important than religious practice?

    • Tim says:

      11:37am | 20/11/12

      Peter,
      I’m not sure if Muslim’s have a similar thing to confession?
      If they do and the Iman tells the terrorist he must atone for his sins and should admit his crimes to police then I’ve got no problem with it.

      Chris L,
      I thought the confessional was exempt from mandatory reporting rules at present?
      If so, yes it’s ideological to want it to change. That ideology is that religion should not be exempt from these laws.

      I’ve got no problem if people want it to change, I just can’t see any tangible benefit from it. It would simply be pulling a religious organisation into line with other organisations.

    • Peter says:

      12:24pm | 20/11/12

      @Tim, I don’t know if they do, but what difference should it make?  If a Muslim tells his Imam about his involvement in terrorist activities on the basis that he wants to clear his conscience, why should that be any different than a “confessional” in terms of whether we treat it at Law as privileged or not?  On what logical basis could it possibly serve to have seperate Laws protecting Priests which don’t protect Imams, or Anglican Clergy, or Baptist Ministers etc?  Could it simply be, as you say, an ideological preference for Catholics over and above other religions in the eyes of the law?  No, couldn’t be… could it?

    • Kipling says:

      12:40pm | 20/11/12

      No Tim, changes to the structure and implementation of confidentiality would bring the Church up to date with child protrction legislation, principals and, more importantly, ethics.

    • Tim says:

      02:21pm | 20/11/12

      Peter,
      because if they don’t have the same practices then the point is moot.

    • Peter says:

      04:39pm | 20/11/12

      @Tim, how is it moot?  The point is, isn’t it, that where religious law and civil law conflict, civil should win out.  NO matter who’s religion it is.  Even Catholicism.

    • JT says:

      06:49am | 20/11/12

      If we require priests to reveal what is said in confession,do we then ask doctors and journalists to do the same?

    • Al says:

      08:36am | 20/11/12

      Confidentiality for doctors and journalists is already quite limited, including if they become aware of a person engaed in child abuse or even have a reasonable suspicion then they are not protected by claiming profesional privilege (i.e. Doctor patient confidentiality etc) and can be charged if they do not report it.

    • Joel says:

      10:11am | 20/11/12

      doctors are in fact mandatory reporters, ie if they believe that a child is at risk they are legally compelled to report this to the relevant authority. this supersedes any oath of confidentiality. i think you would be hard pressed to find a Doctor who disagrees with this requirement.
      The same is true of Social workers Police, Ambulance, and any number of other professions. The only profesionals who are exempt from this legal requirement are Catholic priests.
      Read up on Mandatory reporting and tell me Priests should be exempt.

    • Beth says:

      04:53pm | 20/11/12

      What about lawyers?  They are not allowed to reveal anything that they are told by a client, including confessions to crimes of any nature, as far as I’m aware

    • Mayday says:

      06:54am | 20/11/12

      ““Notions of freedom of religion would have little meaning if they only apply to manifestations of rational beliefs shared by the majority: the very nature of religion is to buy into leaps of faith beyond the objectively provable.”

      Another excuse to justify the unjustifiable.

      The Church today has a small following and within those numbers are people who go to confession.  Why should these people be protected?

      Any priest who puts the Church before their followers has lost the original intent to nurture and protect their “flock” from evil and sin.

      Sexually abusing children and young people should not be placed second to maintaining the Church. 
      Anyone who believes this has their priorities all wrong.

    • Colin says:

      07:36am | 20/11/12

      “Banning confession does nothing to protect kids”

      Exactly.

      Banning religion would be much more effective.

    • Tim says:

      08:32am | 20/11/12

      Actually, seeing as most abuse takes place in a child’s home from someone they know, then surely the most effective way of protecting kids is to take them all away from their parents and raise them in government institutions?

      Although I think it’s been tried before with mixed results.

    • Colin says:

      09:58am | 20/11/12

      @ Tim

      Except for the fact that it isn’t most of the parents doing the ‘Fiddling’...

    • Rose says:

      11:37am | 20/11/12

      Colin, it’s not most of the Priests either…..

    • Tim says:

      11:43am | 20/11/12

      Colin,
      I’m pretty sure Religion isn’t doing much fiddling either but you already knew that right?

      And are you’re saying instead that we should stop children from seeing adults other than their parents to stop the abuse?

      I like it, good plan, that’ll fix it.

    • Colin says:

      12:43pm | 20/11/12

      @  Tim s

      “...are you’re saying instead that we should stop children from seeing adults other than their parents to stop the abuse?...”

      No, I didn’t say that. I was simply replying in response to your post that said, “...surely the most effective way of protecting kids is to take them all away from their parents and raise them in government institutions?”

      Like I said, parents aren’t most of the ones responsible…It is unsupervised predatory adults with children that are the problem. It isn’t about stopping children from seeing other adults, it is about a duty of care, a watchful eye, knowing the warning signs and - above all - listening to your children when they say something isn’t right…

      @ Rose

      I didn’t say that it was.

    • Rose says:

      01:35pm | 20/11/12

      “It isn’t about stopping children from seeing other adults, it is about a duty of care, a watchful eye, knowing the warning signs and - above all - listening to your children when they say something isn’t right…”
      Something we agree on!!! The kids at risk are those who are vulnerable because for whatever reason mum and dad aren’t looking carefully enough, which may not be there fault, there may be illness, accident, severe disability or death in the family, maybe even parents not coping with separation or divorce, there may be a financial or other crisis that is consuming the parents, it may be that the parents have been groomed along with the kids, it may also be that parents are pre-occupied or neglectful…...whatever the reason, perpetrators know how to spot the weak link and they will exploit it (where others would actually provide help). We need to help our kids and families be stronger, let kids know that there is always someone who will listen, that we believe them.
      We need to teach parents and kids protective strategies and resilience, so that life’s bumps don’t leave them open to abuse. We also need to ensure that our courts are equipped to deal with the challenges child witnesses present and that the victim has half a chance. Sentencing then needs to be commensurate with the crime, with significant minimum sentences and no opportunity for suspended sentences.
      The Royal Commission is a start but we need to use it to change the way we all look at child abuse…..

    • Tim says:

      02:18pm | 20/11/12

      Colin,
      so your first post was simply facetious.

    • Colin says:

      03:32pm | 20/11/12

      @ Tim

      “...so your first post was simply facetious.(?)”

      Nothing simple about it. wink

    • Kipling says:

      04:32pm | 20/11/12

      I think the first post is a valid comment. Albeit I don’t agree that is the answer, but, it did glean some intersting and thoughtful response.

      Banning has never proved effective ever, at least not to my knowledge. As an example I would site, proabition.

      @ Tim, I don’t think you will find stats to back you claim. Child abuse (and rarely mentioned neglect) occur in such a diverse range of ways and places it may be difficult. That said, yep, abuse does happen in the home, although predominantly neglect appears the bigger issue in an intact family home (at least). MIxed families have other issues again.

      The point, it is an infinitely complex issue, made more so by how poorly we as a society have treated it. Or more pointedly failed to treat it for a few generations.

      Systemic abuse is also quite prominent and that is what occurs in “government institutions” and non government institutions and organisations alike.

      I think that this highlights why the Church could do better in accepting the invitation to be a key player and an equal part of our society in addressing the issues and affording better protection of our children.

      There are no one size fits all solution to this.

    • acotrel says:

      07:44am | 20/11/12

      I suggest an important factor in the child sexual abuse matter is the authoritarian nature of the catholic church.  As it is not an institution based on democracy, it is resistant to change from either within or without. The royal commission could provide a watershed.

    • P. Darvio says:

      09:01am | 20/11/12

      No other Commission of Inquiry etc anywhere else in the World (eg USA, Ireland) has changed anything in the Christian Church - the best outcome from this Royal Commission is to expose the actual level of Child Rape within the Christian Church and bring all those involved in the actual child rape and the cover up of the child rape to justice. As for it changing anything in the Christian Church - no chance.

    • Stephen T says:

      10:43am | 20/11/12

      @ P. Darvio:  The moral code associated with Christianity and the institution of religion has very little in common; sadly like most pieces of truth that men have taken to themselves it has been overtaken by dogma and superstition.  As you so correctly stated we can only hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice along with those who have shielded them and obstructed justice for such a long time.

    • Markus says:

      07:54am | 20/11/12

      The witch hunt begins. Ban the confessional, despite there being absolutely no evidence that a child abuser has ever confessed their sins in a confessional.

      @Humpy “imagine being the victim of abuse, and knowing that the person who raped you may have been able to solve their own mental anguish and feelings of wrong-doing by attending confidential confession”
      Imagine if they didn’t attend confession at all, because they felt absolutely no remorse, or even felt completely justified, for what they did. No amount of prison time will make them feel sorry for what they did, because they know in their heart that they were right and it is somehow everybody else’s fault.
      Such is the actual reality of most crimes.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      09:19am | 20/11/12

      @Markus, or perhaps the sanctity of confession can be modified to require priests to report criminal behaviour.

      Honestly I don’t understand why there is such a big deal over a modification like that to the sanctity of confession, is the perpetrator’s soul of more value than the victim’s soul that the perpetrator is allowed absolution while the Biblical rule of the victim being allowed to seek justice is denied?

    • iansand says:

      07:56am | 20/11/12

      If someone reveals to you that he has assaulted a child you tell the cops, and no superstitious mumbo jumbo will convince me otherwise.

    • Chris L says:

      08:18am | 20/11/12

      How about the church just comes up with a new rule. If someone mentions assault on a child during confession the priest can say “I’m sorry, but that is too great a crime for me to give absolution until to face your responsibility to society”.

      It might not make a difference, but I don’t see how it could do any harm.

    • Rose says:

      10:39am | 20/11/12

      I think that is how most priests would deal with such a confession. People assume that by rattling off a couple of sins in the confessional you’re suddenly absolved of them. Rubbish. There is no absolution without true remorse and penance, and the priest can with hold absolution until the confessor has taken steps to both accept responsibility for their sins and taken steps to ensure they do not commit those sins again.

    • acotrel says:

      08:25am | 20/11/12

      The child abuse issue is a reality check for all catholics, and other religous people. ‘Keeping up appearances’ has been too important for too long.

    • Bob of the freezing tropics says:

      09:35am | 20/11/12

      “Hey acotrel, why do you continually rant on about the catholics? I think you should do a little navel gazing and look inward, in particular do a little research an you can discover as I did, there have been many more members of the Labor party convicted of child abuse than catholic priests. For example Stephen de Rozairio, Bill D’Arcy, Terry Martin, Keith Wright and Milton Orkopoulos. That’s five Labor members (four of whom were Labor MPs) jailed for child abuse. And then there was former NT Chief Minister Bob Collins, was charged with child sexual assault but died (drove his landcruiser into a tree) the day before the trial concluded. They never seem to make the headlines for to long do they,  and then mabe we should have a peek into aunty ABC!
      Lets move on to confessionals! a priest does NOT have to grant absolution, in fact would council a person to report to an appropriate authority eg the police! Priests will start reporting crimes immediatley after criminal lawyers and reporters start telling all that their clients/scorces tell them!

    • Stephen T says:

      10:54am | 20/11/12

      @Bob: All good points, and it is a good point relating to Criminal Lawyers I often wonder how they can represent a client who they know is guilty, I couldn’t agree with Journalist’s though unless it was in relation to actual criminality, it is the same with Priests many confessions would be relating to issues of moral turpitude and cannon law I see no issue with priests dealing with these but any matters relating to criminality should be reported as these are covered by secular law.

    • Joel says:

      11:15am | 20/11/12

      Bob, you may be missing the point in your bid to score a cheap political point.
      All the people you mentioned with the exception of Bob Collins were, as you state Convicted. There was no institutional cover up, just idividuals who faced the courts and had their judgement.
      If you want to besmirch every organisation who has ever had a perpetrator of such crimes in it, then go right ahead.
      but be ballanced, and publish the complete list, not just the ones you dug up from the ABC and the ALP.
      i notice you missed the Union movement, (next time).

    • Peter says:

      05:00pm | 20/11/12

      @Bob - “Priests will start reporting crimes immediatley after criminal lawyers and reporters start telling all that their clients/scorces tell them!

      Hey Bob, did you know that Journalists actually report the crimes which are told to them?  Unlike Priests, it would appear.  And lawyers, well, we are all entitled to a lawyer, aren’t we?  Not just Catholics.  So don’t point your fingers at anyone, mate.  You sound desperate.

    • Amanda says:

      08:40am | 20/11/12

      Why do the comments about confession turn into ‘the perpetrators will never confess’? What about someone who knows of but didn’t commit the crime confessing or a child who feels that they have ‘sinned’ by being abused going to confession. Surely mandatory reporting of these sorts of situations would be useful?

    • Peter says:

      08:43am | 20/11/12

      I wonder if you would be so willing to defend “confidentiality” if a Muslim were to confess to his Imam that he was involved in terrorism.  Please explain to me the difference.

    • Peter says:

      09:38am | 20/11/12

      Has anyone considered the possibility that in fact that it may be the children themselves who will be confessing the sin of the abuse to their Priests?  What is the Priest’s obligation in those circumstances?

    • Rose says:

      11:50am | 20/11/12

      Exactly the same as if had been a perpetrator really, to recommend that the penitent get outside help. In the case of the perpetrator it would be in order to accept responsibility and to try and prevent them doing the same again, in terms of the victim though it would be to let them understand that it’s not their fault but also to recommend therapeutic help.
      It hasn’t always happened in the past granted,but there is now a society wide understanding of the impact of child abuse and the responsibility of the perpetrator. It’s not that far back that children were accused of tempting their adult attackers (not just by Catholics either). In fact, there are still a few dinosaurs that still believe that crap.
      The vast majority of priests and Catholics in general want the air cleared. They want to rid the church of those who commit such acts, they don’t want to be associated with those that committed the acts or the cover ups. I’m hoping this Royal Commission allows that to happen, that there is a clean sweep through the Church and other bodies that have these kinds of skeletons in their closets, if only to ensure that there are ways of preventing future systemic abuse. I say that because there is nothing that will ever make up for the pain experienced by past victims.

    • Kipling says:

      04:40pm | 20/11/12

      Indeed I have Peter.

      Rose, a victim should never be treated as having done wrong. That said, of the priests I have conversed with due to my work I don’t think they would have allowed a confession of a child alleging child abuse to continue because, quite rightly, there would be no sin committed by the child…

      Not sure what the priests obligation is under law, however, I think it is time that is clarified and that Priests (or any religious representative, this isn’t just about Catholics at the end of the day despite the very clear OP making it so) are made to be mandatory reporters. That would speak volumes to credibility.

      @ Rose, a proactive response from this point on to address serious concerns regarding child abuse, naming perpertrators and making them accountable (in this life) would go a long way to make previous victims (some at least) feel vindicated.

      I would put it to you that the current heals dug in position the church, it’s representatives and various supporters seem to be taking is completely unhelpful to former victims.

      Let me be perfectly clear, the Church (Catholic or otherwise) is not in fact the victim here despite protestations suggesting otherwise.

    • Stephen T says:

      09:56am | 20/11/12

      I’ve followed this argument with some interest and I don’t believe that anyone has in fact called for a ban on the Confessional; the argument has been more for the Roman Catholic Church to comply with Secular Law and report criminality where it is confessed.  What Cardinal Pell and other church dignitaries need to understand is that they are not in Rome and in democracies outside of Rome’s rather limited environs Secular Law has precedence over Cannon Law, as such it is a criminal and moral offence in itself to not report an offence or to encourage others not to report it.

    • Rebecca says:

      10:41am | 20/11/12

      “Confession is not a get-out-of-hell free pass that you go and collect from a priest. You actually need to be remorseful. Unrepentant child abusers – the kind described in the media recently – don’t go to confession, because its totally useless for them.”

      It doesn’t matter if the priest is repentant or not, they still need to be prosecuted. It’s a simple as that. No-one is saying all confessions of crime should be reported to the police. Just the instances where children have been hurt, whether past or present. These kids deserve closure and justice. The remorse factor has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    • fml says:

      10:48am | 20/11/12

      “They don’t think they have done anything wrong. They are unlikely to frequent a sacrament like confession, which has as its foundation a person’s sense of wrongdoing.”

      Of course, the ones committing the crimes are the ones doing the listening.

      “If we take away the confidentiality of confession, people will stop going. Any law requiring priests to break the seal of confession will be largely self-defeating. “

      Well, if the law comes in they have the choice. Either save your soul confess to your sins and crimes and pay penance by going to jail. Or don’t confess your crimes and be damned for all of eternity? Are you trying to tell me that your soul is only worth saving if there is no punishment?

      “Confession is not a get-out-of-hell free pass that you go and collect from a priest. You actually need to be remorseful”

      Fair enough, but what punishment can the catholic church give out if someone doesn’t confess their sins? Is reminiscent of a fire in the basement?

      “There is also an argument that, whilst it may not sit well with secularists, is still relevant. We here need to consider the issue of religious freedom. Are we justified in making a judgement about which religious practices should be allowed?” I think secularists would love this. On one condition. That secularists and the religious adhere to similar laws. You cannot have your religious freedom cake then abide by relaxed set of laws. It will only cause resentment.

      “The philosophy behind any such law is questionable; And pragmatically it will probably achieve very little. Is it really worthwhile creating an almighty split between Church and state?”

      That’s the point. Should the police ignore certain crimes because they occur infrequently? Or should they uphold every law? Who gets to choose which laws to adhere to and not? Should the catholic church have that power? If so how would you feel about the Jewish or Muslim churches having the same power? Should they, under the freedom of religion be able to abide to which laws they want? Why should you be able to not abide by laws and muslims not have sharia law?

      What we as a people want (secularists) is that EVERY single person in Australia follow the same law. NO exceptions. And if you want concessions then you must be fully aware that other religions must be give concessions as well. And well, that is a dangerous path to go down.

    • Al says:

      11:02am | 20/11/12

      As it doesn’t appear to have been published I will try again:
      Xavier, if a person goes to confession and confesses to a serious crime but refuses to undertake the requirements the priest sets out for absolution of their sin (such as turning themselves in to the authorities, showing remorse etc) does this remove the requirement for the priest to maintain the confidentiality of the confession?
      I strongly suspect that it doesn’t and as such I question the validity of the argument that priest don’t have a responsibility as citizens/residents of this country to comply with the secular laws over their religous doctorine regarding the reporting of such knowledge. I believe this would actualy make them accomplices after the fact, particularly if such behaviour continued by the perpertrator.
      Why should members of a particular religion be treated differently under law based solely on their religous beliefs? Isn’t this discrimination?

    • Richard says:

      01:31pm | 20/11/12

      No, it doesn’t make the priest an “accomplice after the fact”, and if you are going to ask a man who has sacrificed his entire life, who has sacrificed his desire for the love of a woman, who has sacrificed material prosperity and wealth, for the purpose of serving God and a higher spiritual person, if you are going to ask a man like that to choose between the law of the land and the law of the church (which he has sacrificed and devoted his whole life to), what do you think he must choose?

      I see no point in making a whole bunch of righteous, good, upstanding priests criminals just for following the rules of their church and God.

    • Peter says:

      03:53pm | 20/11/12

      @Richard, ok I take it, then, that you are ok with Imam’s preaching Jihad.  Because, after all, they are simply devoted religious figures who really, really believe in Allah and we wouldn’t want to make them choose between the law of the land and the law of the church, would we?  If you don’t agree with that, you are a hypocrite.

    • Venise Alstergren says:

      01:25pm | 20/11/12

      XAVIER SYMONS: Your Catholicism is showing. Your headline says “Banning confession does nothing to help the kids”. Allowing it appears to do even less for them.

      If the public could have faith in the priesthood to report a confession of guilt to the police. It would be safe to say no one would object.

    • Alex says:

      02:17pm | 20/11/12

      I agree the point is actually to emphasise the distinction between church and state. The state have nothing to say about religion, and it’s often politicians that are emphasising the distinction between church and state. Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

      In any case, the supreme law of Australia is the constitution, and s116 of the constitution provides for the free and unrestricted exercise of religion. That includes the time-old institution of confession. Good luck changing that - it would take a costly referendum.

    • vox says:

      02:24pm | 20/11/12

      Can someone do me a favor and point me to the legislation that permits paedophilia, confessed to by the paedophile to a catholic priest, bishop, et al, to be concealed from the authorities? Please.
      And to all and sundry, I would point out that this furphy being offered claiming that the “judeo/christian” principles form the basis of our justice system is, like the rest of their fantastic claims, just another lie. There were for many centuries prior to the awakening of the ‘great con trick’ similar systems to ours in use. Did the evil christian church teach our ancestors that stealing was wrong? Or murder? Or rape? Or did those ancient peoples simply ‘know’ that those things were wrong?
      The author’s final paragraph suggests that if we demand that the Holy Roman Catholic Church and all of its iniquitous behaviour, especially in this present matter, be subjected to the rule of law, then such may lead to an “almighty” split between church and State. There should already, according to the law, be a split between church and State. I’m in great favor of that “split” being an Almighty one.
      Of course, having said all of that, I must confess to being aware, as are many others, including the author of that particular post, of the fact that the judeo/christian faith embraced the sacrifice of children to their “god”.
      The more things change etc., ........

    • Al says:

      05:00pm | 20/11/12

      Vox, the only real piece of legislation that is applicable in Australia is, as pointed out above by Alex “s116 of the constitution provides for the free and unrestricted exercise of religion”.
      The only problem with this is that there are quite a number of other pieces of legislation made and implemented that actualy contradict this and which have been found to still be constitutional following challenges in courts.
      These include anti-terror laws/legislation, anti-discrimination laws/legislation (homesexuals, transexuals and even other religions where their beliefs are contrary to the law of the land) just to name a few.
      I don’t see the allowance of illegal mind altering substances to those who practice Voodoun, Santa Ria etc. being legal in Australia…and it isn’t despite being part of these religous belief systems

 

Facebook Recommendations

Read all about it

Punch live

Up to the minute Twitter chatter

Recent posts

The latest and greatest

The Punch is moving house

The Punch is moving house

Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

Will Pope Francis have the vision to tackle this?

I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

Advocating risk management is not “victim blaming”

In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…

Nosebleed Section

choice ringside rantings

From: Hasbro, go straight to gaol, do not pass go

Tim says:

They should update other things in the game too. Instead of a get out of jail free card, they should have a Dodgy Lawyer card that not only gets you out of jail straight away but also gives you a fat payout in compensation for daring to arrest you in the first place. Instead of getting a hotel when you… [read more]

From: A guide to summer festivals especially if you wouldn’t go

Kel says:

If you want a festival for older people or for families alike, get amongst the respectable punters at Bluesfest. A truly amazing festival experience to be had of ALL AGES. And all the young "festivalgoers" usually write themselves off on the first night, only to never hear from them again the rest of… [read more]

Gentle jabs to the ribs

Superman needs saving

Superman needs saving

Can somebody please save Superman? He seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. Eighteen months ago,… Read more

28 comments

Newsletter

Read all about it

Sign up to the free News.com.au newsletter