Vatican Reaffirms Confessional Secrecy As Sexual Abuse Crisis Stings

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Despite the recent pedophile clergy scandals, The Vatican has officially declared "unacceptable" any attempts by politicians and lawmakers to force priests to violate their obligation to keep secret what faithful shared with them in confession.

The Pope ordered the publication of a six-page document written by The Holy See's Apostolic Penitentiary, a tribunal dealing with absolution and confessional matters.  

Tribunal head Cardinal Mauro Piacenza cautioned that The Vatican would defend the secrecy of confession at all costs, referring indirectly to the mounting political and social pressure for priests to reveal details of sexual abuse of minors gained during confessions to the police.

Cardinal Piacenza also reminded that the Catholic Church is independent and such interference in its internal matters would constitute nothing but a violation of the religious freedoms. He also pointed out that the Catholic Church received its legitimacy from God and not from the government of any country.

In Cardinal Piacenza's words, the confession secrecy cannot be referred to as" a professional secrecy" enjoyed by lawyers and doctors. Therefore, concluded he, the confessional secrecy should not be subject to the legal exceptions for lifting professional confidentiality.

Most judicial systems worldwide respect the religious right of a Catholic priest to keep the secrecy of confession. However, the sexual abuse crisis the Catholic Church has experienced recently forced many countries to amend their legislation in the field.

For instance, an inquiry into child abuse in Australia suggested that the country passes a law forcing priests to report child abuse, even if they were told of it during confession.

In California, a bill makes its way through the state legislature to require clergy members to reveal confessions of sexual abuse to the authorities. In May 2019, California law makers in Sacramento passed a bill to require priests to report allegations of child abuse even if they have to break the secrecy of confession. 

According to Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the proposed bill was highly controversial as it would make the clergy choose between imprisonment from the government or excommunication from the Catholic Church.

Seven other U.S. states have similar laws on their books. The same goes for Ireland and two of Australia's eight states. Lawmakers in Chile are also considering such an act.

What do you think? Do you support or oppose the decision of The Catholic Church to reaffirm the confessional secrecy even in cases of sexual abuse?