02 September, 2011

This attack on confession is a threat to all religions - Analysis, Opinion - Independent.ie

David Quinn: This attack on confession is a threat to all religions - Analysis, Opinion - Independent.ie


  1. Hi Tim,

    An interesting question – should the seal of confession be broken if the penitent confesses to the crime of child sexual abuse?

    You may be surprised by my answer, but on this one I am inclined to agree with the RCC. Some of your readers may be shocked – so I will explain myself - from a purely secular point of view of course.

    As heinous as we may find child sexual abuse, I am at a loss to point out how this crime is worse than some other types of heinous crimes (e.g. violent rape or torture of an adult woman, infanticide, murder, intent to commit a violent terrorist act etc…). Consequently, if the law is to be internally consistent, we must either insist that all heinous crimes warrant the breaking of the seal of confession, or no heinous crimes warrants the breaking of the seal of confession. Cherry picking this heinous crime over another heinous crime strikes me as special pleading. While your readers may not see this as strong support of the RCC’s position, it is only my starting point on this question.

    Needless to say, I believe there is no spiritual benefit or “grace” conferred upon the penitent by the “sacrament of penance”, however, I do believe that there is an enormous psychological benefit for one to admit their transgressions and to seek reparation. This is a human quality, and the mere act of admitting and recognizing wrongdoing can start one down the path of true psychological healing and towards reparation. No supernatural explanations are necessary. Having said all of this, if we impose mandatory reporting of all (or some) heinous crimes in the confessional, then we may actually discourage some criminals from entering the confessional, and ultimately away from proceeding towards psychological wholeness and reparation. The confessional should be a safe place to disclose. Forgiveness may not be dispensed, but at least the religious practitioner can guide the penitent to do the right thing (e.g. admit their crime to police, seek psychological help etc…).

    I see no social harm in permitting the RCC to retain the seal of confession. In fact, if exercised with integrity (and I have no reason to believe that this is not the norm) then it may actually be a social good.

    Just a couple of thoughts from the secular edge.


  2. Martin: I am not the least bit surprised by your position on this. You have always been a man of intelligence and openness... at least since the 27 years since I've know you. The fact that you have come to different convictions than you had then has done nothing to obscure your wisdom and kindness. I would be happy to stand in your shoes before God. I would have nothing to fear in that final judgment.

    I appreciate your wisdom in this and other subjects. Thank you for adding your thoughts from the 'secular age'.



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