Card. Castrillon praised that French bishop. Why? Something missing from the reporting?

Something has been bothering me in the now viral news story about the letter His Eminence Dario Card. Castrillon Hoyos wrote to the French Bishop Pierre Pican.

You know the facts of the situation.

A French priest Fr. Rene Bissey was a child abuser.  The Bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux learned about this in 1996.  The Vicar General apparently knew about this from a victim’s mother.  At first they had the priest in some neutral assignment and then later gave him a parish.  Fr. Bissey was arrested in 1999, convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.  Bishop Pican was also put on trial for seemingly covering up the crimes.  This is also important because this is the first time since the Revolution that a French bishop has been before a civil tribunal.  Bp. Pican was sentenced to three months in prison.

On March 30 the French website Golias published a 2001 letter from Card. Castrillon, then Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, to Bishop Pican in which the Cardinal wrote:

I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.

The Holy See pretty much threw Card. Castrillon under the bus for that.  Then last week during a conference in Murcia, Spain, Card. Castrillon said that his 2001 letter to Bp. Pican was authorized by late Pope John Paul II and the Cardinal praised Bishop Pican as a model for all bishops because he would not denounce the priest.

This certainly looks very bad.  The mainstream press and even the Holy See seems to be piling on.

But I kept scratching my head over the case, because something just didn’t seem right.

First, Card. Castrillon was the Prefect for Clergy not for Bishops.  I couldn’t get my head around how someone like Card. Castrillon would go so far as to write to that bishop and praise that bishop – who preferred to go to jail rather than denounce a priest who had really committed such terrible crimes.  Was the Cardinal merely being a zealous advocate in favor of priests because he was Prefect for Clergy?   

I had the nagging sense that some element missing. 

Now I read in Columbia Passport:

According to La Verdad, a regional Spaniard journal, the French bishop did not denounce the priest because he knew it by the first instance under the Sacrament of Confession. According to the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, a priest cannot denounce the matter that is given to him under the gravity of Confession. It includes crimes.

If the bishop was held to silence under the Seal, that could explain how he didn’t think he was able to denounce Fr. Bessey to civil authorities and later gave him an assignment. 

When a priest or bishop is bound by the Seal he cannot reveal the contents of the confession to anyone by either word or action. He cannot act on the content of the confession.  If there was nothing else apparent and known openly in Fr. Bessey’s record that would argue against his receiving an assignment, to refuse to give him an assignment would have raised questions about why, whether there was something wrong with him that people didn’t know about.  It could have been perceived as a moral dilemma for the bishop.

It strikes me that this could in some way explain why Card. Castrillon would have penned such a letter.  Furthermore, knowing that the issue was complex, he sought the advice of the Pope before sending it.  At issue was a defense of the Seal of confession.  The French bishop was not being praised for protecting a priest, a criminal priest, but rather for upholding the Seal of confession.

I muse about this because hitherto I had not seen in news stories on this issue any mention that the French bishop had first learned of the priest’s criminal behavior under the Seal of confession.

Questions remain.

If the Vicar General knew, and told the bishop, then the bishop had an independent source of information.  Even in the case it is under normal circumstances still better for priests not to act on the content of a confession, but this was not a normal circumstance.

Why did the bishop consent to hear the confession of one of his priests?  This is a perfect example of why a superior should not receive the confessions of those immediately under his authority: the superior runs the risk of having his hands bound and not being able to act.

The bishop also could have found some other assignment than a parish for the priest, but that would not have solved the problem of having in the ranks of the presbyterate a criminal child molester.

In any event, perhaps I had merely missed the mention of the Seal in earlier reporting – in fact I haven’t followed this too closely because of other work.  Maybe some of you saw it earlier.

But I think it is an important dimension to this story which needs to be clarified.

Discussion of the "boundaries" of the Seal comes into play.

UPDATE 1607 GMT:

I found a Washington Post story here which mentions the issue of confession.

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46 Responses to Card. Castrillon praised that French bishop. Why? Something missing from the reporting?

  1. Oneros says:

    Apparently the MOTHER of the victim also went to the bishop. There were sources of information a-plenty. And, obviously, the civil authorities found out somehow, which would not be the case in a private confession.

    The “seal of confession” story sounds like a botched attempt at yet another cover-up, sorry to say. He threw that out there, like a drowning man grasping for anything, and it just doesn’t hold up to all sorts of scrutiny, and so you don’t hear it repeated. Surely the Vatican would have used it too if it were the case, but they didn’t even bother to get their stories straight.

  2. Oneros: You invariably show a penchant for finding fault.

  3. ies0716 says:

    The topic of “boundaries of the Seal” seems to be a great candidate for its own dedicated post. Even among practicing Catholics, there is some confusion as to where those are. For example, if someone confesses a mortal sin that is also a serious civil crime (murder, rape, child abuse, etc) to a priest, can the priest withhold absolution unless the person turns themselves in to civil authorities? This topic came up on the American Papist blog last year and there was an extensive discussion that never came to resolution. Relating to the story above, is it true that the bishop can allow none of his actions to be influenced by his knowledge? If he took care to keep the priest from assignments where he would have contact with children as a precautionary measure, but told no one why he was doing that, would it still be considered violating the Seal?

  4. JonM says:

    Ultimately this all leads to a neglected aspect of application of the law.

    Even in the early United States, there was the understanding that members of the military should enjoy their own courts to judge those accused of crimes truly by their peers.

    This is probably the worst time to bring this up, but I think we should reacquaint ourselves with the historical privilege enjoyed by the clergy to their own courts.

    Of course this only would happen in a Confessional state, or at least one that grants special status to the Catholic faith. It would also require a, hmm, ‘elevation in thinking’ amongst those who subscribed to the belief that child molestation (esp. homosexual activities) could be easily cured.

    In the case above, it would seem to me that the Seal was the central matter. That’s how I read it. It would be very unfortunate if the Vatican is throwing a Cardinal under the bus for such a stand.

  5. That’s what I was trying to figure out…if the seal of Confession was involved…now that we know it was…Apologies are in order.

  6. Dubya Ay-See says:

    It is possible that Pican had learned of the crime or some facts of the crime in confession, matters which, originally ocult, were later ascertained independently by the civil authority.

    Without all of the facts, we are left to speculate. But I think there are three possible conclusions:

    1. Pican knew that in proffering evidence he might be asked to violate the seal, and didn’t, so Hoyos congratulated him on preserving the integrity of the seal.
    2. Hoyos was wrong, or is wrong, about the matter, mistaking it as a defense of the internal forum rather than a cover up.
    3. Hoyos, with full realization of all of the facts, wrote an official letter to Pican congratulating him on a successful cover-up. This seems the less likely because it seems the least sane.

  7. avecrux says:

    I also read that the seal is not respected in France when the crime at issue has been committed against a minor.
    Is that true? If so, it adds another layer to all of this – and why an act of civil disobedience in this case could actually be quite important.

  8. Joshua08 says:

    Oneros, please do not join in calumny

    It toom me 2.3 seconds to find the facts. All I did was put in “Bishop Pican Seal of confession” in Google, and found articles from 2001….when the case happened

    http://www.zenit.org/article-2841?l=english Where Cardinal Bille defends Bsp. Pican

    “LOURDES, France, NOV. 6, 2001 (Zenit.org).- France´s judiciary is threatening the secrecy of the confessional and the Church´s professional secrecy, warns Cardinal Louis-Marie Billé of Lyon.

    “When an ecclesiastical judge knows that his notes and conclusions could be shown with impunity before a penal jurisdiction, he will lose the necessary freedom of action. He will meet with an obstacle, and it is precisely the freedom of worship that is at stake,” Cardinal Billé told the plenary assembly of the French bishops´ conference under way here.

    Cardinal Billé, 63, who a few days ago announced he was resigning from the presidency of the episcopate because he has cancer, mentioned two cases which indicate trouble for clerical secrecy.

    The first case involved Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux. He was sentenced to a suspended jail term for not publicly denouncing a priest who admitted to the bishop his tendency toward pedophilia.”

    http://archives.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/france/02/23/religion.france.paedophilia/
    “February 23, 2001
    Web posted at: 11:30 AM EST (1630 GMT)

    PARIS, France — A Roman Catholic bishop has been charged with failing to turn in a priest who, in a confessional booth, admitted to sexually abusing children.

    Magistrates on Friday said that Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux heard Father Rene Bissey’s confession and did not report the incident to the police but instead relieved the priest of his duties. ”

    How did the civil authorities find out?

    “The priest stood trial after one of the main victims, now in his 20s, filed a formal complaint with police. ”

    So Oneros, before you rashly commit sacrilege, which is what this is tantamount to in calumniating bishops, make sure your statements stand up to scrutiny

    This is the media REGURGITATING a story they had already known about. They know the details, they lie maliciously by omitting them, passing judgment and banking on foggy memories. Fr. Lombardi makes many gaffs as a pr person, but he did say that he did not know the details…he just thought it opportune in his baffling way to again praise the current pope, which the media twisted, as would have been predicted by an expert pr person, as condemning Castrillion Hoyos…

  9. Lori Pieper says:

    The whole affair is very mysterious. I should point out that Cdl. Castrillon Hoyos’ famous letter to the bishop actually makes no reference at all to the seal of confession. It takes an entirely different tack, arguing that a bishop’s relationship to a priest is like that of a father and son, and that civil laws don’t force anyone to denounce a close relative. If confession were really the issue, why didn’t the letter just say so?

    I’ve provided a complete translation from the French here:

    http://subcreators.com/blog/2010/04/18/another-smoking-gun

  10. boko fittleworth says:

    The text of the block quote suggests a perverted understanding of the bishop/father – priest/son relationship. Not congratulations for defending the Confessional Seal. Read the quote.

  11. Mrs. O says:

    If we are speaking about something that happened during a confession, WHY WAS A LETTER WRITTEN? Is this normal correspondence regarding the seal?
    If this what the Cardinal is congratulating him for, why not state it?
    The Cardinal is also known to not support the zero tolerance policy adopted by the US Bishops. And there was thinking at that time Canonical trials were enough.

    You are right, it isn’t complete.
    I had also heard that if a case is going forward, or a priest is accused he could NOT confess to his Bishop or VG or whoever was in charge. No if/ands or buts.

  12. We’ve also talked before about how private conversations can shade into Confession, and how priests are usually taught to be careful to interpret these things generously, for fear of breaking the Seal.

    We also don’t know what considerations the abuser was judging by, and whether or not he was one of those charming folks who, when they get into trouble, want to bring down somebody with them. I mean, if you’ll sneak around abusing children, one suspects you might not be all that concerned about truthfulness, either.

  13. Joshua08 says:

    Oh and mind again, that it was Fr. Bissey, trying to drag down others, who brought up confessional details.

    It amazes me how even Catholic sources, like Catholic World News, are violating morality, by hurling accusations without even checking previous news reports

    As the person who without bothering to do real research said in CWN

    “Moreover, if the bishop felt that he was bound by the confessional seal, he could not mention the priest’s misconduct to anyone, including Cardinal Castrillon.”

    But a 2001 news source said

    “Monsignor Pican denied knowledge of the priest’s actions when called to testify at Bissey’s trial last October, refusing to say more on the grounds that to do so would compromise his own case.

    But at his trial Bissey said he had given detailed accounts to his confessors in the church. ”

    If one actually bothers to look at more official records of the trial, you will see that the situation is a bit nuanced. The bishop claimed that as far as knowledge outside of confession goes, he did not have knowledge of the gravity and details. IOW he admitted he knew something outside of Confession, and he did in fact share that at the trial of Fr. Bissey. The prosecution urged that he knew even more. Now French law respects the seal itself, supposedly, but the court ruled first on a very narrow scope of the seal (which is questionable…as brought up earlier, if spiritual direction leads to confession, is it under the seal? I say yes, if not canonically, morally still) and second that professional secracy does not cover spiritual direction in cases of pedophilia. So we have a nuanced defense of the bishop, which is where the conflicting accounts are coming from

    Someone on the Catholic World News blog called Cardinal Castrillion a liar and an idiot. This is a man who has shown himself to have conviction and integrity

    Cardinal Castrillion-Hoyos is very saintly. He is no coward who would lie rather than face accusations. This is a man who disguised himself as a milk man, confronted Pablo Escobar and got him to confess his sins. I shutter to call such a man a liar

  14. Joshua08 says:

    Mrs. O, Suburbanbanshee, did you bother to read what the media was saying just 9 years ago?

    They thought then that this had to do with Confession. So it is false, a lie, and a rash suspicion to question Cardinal Castrillion Hoyos’ assertion that this was tied with the seal of confession. Rash suspicion of a person is sinful, and there is not one basis for calling his word into question

  15. Geoffrey says:

    I will admit when I first heard of this letter, I was very worried. But when news of it being related to the confessional came out, then it all made sense. It won’t make sense to the secular world, but it makes sense to us Catholics. Deo gratias.

    I pose a question: Bishops are being blamed left and right for not reporting to the authorities, etc. Why didn’t the victims go to the civil authorities? Such as in this case, where the mother of the victim went to the Vicar General of the Diocese. Why not go to the civil authorities? I don’t get it…

  16. I cannot believe Card. Castrillon would in any way be in favor of a priest abusing a minor.
    No way.
    The “internal forum” issue is the case here; civil law does not acknowledge it; a bishop cannot/should not throw his priests to the “wolves” on mere accusation. There must be proof. Certifiable. I don’t know enough of this case to speak with any kind of intelligence. I cannot imagine someone of the Cardinal’s knowledge and experience to just superficially give this bishop an “oky-doky”. But I’m not the main stream media (MSM)…I’m just a stupid monastic priest with a modicum of knowledge of canonical procedures.
    And if I might say, being in the midst of several very difficult situations both past and present, when the bishop does NOT act as a spiritual father, but as a corporate executive, it is very scandalous to priests and to the faithful. You can’t just throw out a “naughty priest” where accusations have not, in fact, been proven, nor even, if they have, without some justice and compassion.
    He is a priest, after all. But, I guess, that’s more of a conviction than a definition these days.

  17. Mrs. O says:

    I have no idea what you are talking about, Joshua.
    I am not rashly judging anyone but what is being reported.
    The Cardinal has been in favor of repentance and help of priests/and against the zero policy.
    We now know that most can not be rehabilitated but the Cardinal is right – the priests that abuse NEED spiritual care – they also can/some should go to prison. So his letter, along with what Fr. Lombardi wrote, seem consistent – WRONG but consistent.
    That was great what you wrote but the fact remains is that the Bishop knew something and attitudes in the Church needed to change. Especially reporting offenders to the police.

  18. Lori Pieper says:

    Hmm, well, now that I read the Columbia story (I didn’t at first), it seems maybe the cardinal took the tack that he did because this was the defense Bishop Pican himself made on the stand.

    “When he was asked by the lawyer of one of the victim’s families if he would do so now if he knew of a similar case, Pican answered that not, but he would try that the priest denounces himself.”

    Something very similar is found in the text of the letter. And since the bishop’s knowledge came from several sources, perhaps the seal of confession defense wouldn’t have worked. And the French government evidently doesn’t recognize the sacrosanct nature of the confessional seal anyway, so the bishop wouldn’t have had any luck using it as a defense.

  19. I’m sorry, I meant to say that I cannot believe the Card. Castrillon would defend a bishop who covered up the abuse of a minor, outside of the “seal of confession”. My fault.

  20. Mrs. O says:

    Just curious, why isn’t the Cardinal talking and explaining?
    I just hear bits and pieces like “John Paul II knew about it (letter)” but nothing from him.

    Why is it hard to believe that someone can be good and holy but make an error in judgment?

  21. Ralph says:

    Question for you Priests and/ or cannon experts:

    As I understand it, anything confessed in the seal can not be acted on. It’s as if the priest has never herd it.

    What happens when “rumer” is shown to him that the sin has occured? Normally one does not respond to rumer, but in this case, knowing that the rumer is actually true, is the priest free to act? Or would acting on a rumer be tantamount to violating the seal?

    I guess what I am asking is could the French Bishop reasonably suspended this child molester at the first hint of scandle since he knew it was true, or would doing so actually violate the seal?

    It’s confusing to me, a lay man.

  22. kradcliffe says:

    I honestly can’t tell if this is about the Seal or if it’s about “keeping it in the family.” I don’t think that many of these cases really have anything to do with the Seal of Confession, but it was common to attempt to sweep them under the rug. I think that this is a very natural reaction – even families try to hide such things from public scrutiny.

  23. Joshua08 says:

    So his letter, along with what Fr. Lombardi wrote, seem consistent – WRONG but consistent.
    That was great what you wrote but the fact remains is that the Bishop knew something and attitudes in the Church needed to change. Especially reporting offenders to the police.-Mrs. O

    What is wrong about it? Again, I ask, do you know what rash suspicion is? That is what you were casting in your first post. Of course now you have moved to rash judgment, which is different.

    What exactly did the bishop know, what exactly was the nature of that knowledge, and what exactly could he have done? Do you know? Well no you don’t. So you presume to merely assert that His Eminence was wrong or that the bishop was wrong.

    http://www.cef.fr/catho/espacepresse/communiques/2001/commu20010907pican.php

    If I were a priest and a man confessed to molesting 30 children and even told me that he planned that night to molest more…what could I do? I could exhort him not to, I could refuse absolution, I could pray for him, but unless he should tell me outside of confession, I could merely kneel and pray that something prevents him…I could never speak a word. Now let’s say that I heard such a confession, and later some accusation was made against the man. The accusation is lacking in detail. Now how do I act? Well I have to struggle to act as if I would if I had never heard a single word in confession or in spiritual direction. That might mean that I do not do enough to prevent the crimes, because I can only act just as I would without knowledge from confession.

    Now place yourself as in charge of this confessor…and now he has to testify in court about what he knew. There is a mixture of sources- confession, spiritual direction, 3rd hand from his vicar. He stands on the inviolability of the internal forum. That very inviolability is attacked by the court, which does not recognize confidentiality in spiritual direction. You write to this bishop? Do you blame him? You would be wrong to do so, unless you knew he was lying…but you have absolutely no reason to think that, and to pose the question even without reasonable cause is rash suspicion, a mortal sin. No you accept what he claims and further what the media claims and is attacking…after all the story of Bishop Pican was used by the media to attack the seal, those 9 years ago

    Now, in defense of the internal forum, do you attack God Himself and His Church by betraying its secrecy, or do you risk loss of reputation in order to strengthen a brother priest/bishop who defends the internal forum? I would hope to God that, in Cardinal Castrillion Hoyos’s place, I would do very little different, because he was not “wrong” as you so quickly assert

  24. According to La Verdad, a regional Spaniard journal, the French bishop did not denounce the priest because he knew it by the first instance under the Sacrament of Confession.

    Who told La Verdad that the bishop learned about this under the sacramental seal? How can anybody know this? I must be missing something.

  25. RichardR says:

    I was brought up to understand that the seal of the confessional is absolute.

    Would it be unreasonable if a person, priest or lay, confessed abusing a child for the priest hearing the confession to give, as a penance, that the person confessing this grave sin and crime must go to the authorities and turn himself/herself in?

    While it could be argued that such a penance wound discourage people who have committed such grave sins and crimes from confessing them, it seems reasonable that someone who is truly repentant would be willing to face the earthly consequences of his/her acts.

  26. boko fittleworth says:

    What Does The Letter Really Say? No mention of the Seal or internal forum. Emphasis on the bishop/priest relationship. If this was really about the Seal, and maybe it was, then the letter was poorly drafted and ill-advised.

  27. Mrs. O says:

    What was wrong?
    The attitude and belief that a canonical trial was all that was sufficient without turning someone over to the authorities especially if one has the duty to do so.
    I do not feel comfortable taking his letter to mean that the Bishop wasn’t breaking the seal or confidentiality of spiritual direction without further explanation from the Cardinal. It isn’t in the letter.
    This idea was held, may still be, by some in the Church.

  28. Mrs. O says:

    And I am not rashly judging the Bishop because he has held these ideas, as well as others, and beliefs that take care of it in the Church, take care of the priest, and get on with it.
    The Cardinal has focused on repentance of the person (as you well demonstrated in the example above) BUT this doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t or couldn’t report someone to the authorities.

  29. Mrs. O says:

    I think I see the confusion.
    This is what I am referring to regarding consistent. This is what is reported as the Cardinal believed and he wasn’t alone in these thoughts either. So with the following, what the letter said was consistent.
    “During his tenure as Prefect, he expressed his disapproval of the zero-tolerance policy of the American bishops towards paedophile priests, saying that the bishops ignored such “fundamental principles of the Church” as forgiveness and conversion”

  30. Mrs. O says:

    Also,
    Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi did not dispute the letter’s authenticity, but said it confirmed “how opportune it was to centralize treatment of catholic sex abuse cases by clerics under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” Castrillon Hoyos justified his actions, saying the late pope John Paul II authorised him to send the letter. “After consulting the pope, I wrote a letter to the bishop, congratulating him as a model of a father who does not turn in his children,” he said.

  31. Joe Magarac says:

    Some things I don’t understand:

    1. The Castrillon Hoyos letter makes no mention of confession. The letter says that bishops should protect their priests as fathers protect their sons. So why are we assuming that the letter had anything to do with confession?

    2. If bishops are to protect their priests as fathers protect their sons, then what is the deal with this supposed European practice of having the Vicar General decide a priest’s assignment without any input or knowledge from the bishop? If the Vicar General knew enough to think that Fr. Bissey might be a child abuser (which apparently is why the VG moved Bissey to a non-parish setting for a time), then shouldn’t the priest’s spiritual father – his bishop – have been informed?

    If bishops are fathers to their priests, then they need to know them well and correct them when needed. But this French bishop either never got to know his priests (instead having the VG do all that) or else never corrected them when needed.

  32. msgrbarr says:

    !WOW! This little internet conversation is a good example of what a feeding frenzy looks like. Fr. Z was correct in pointing out the problems inherent in the original report. Others have been helpful in shedding light on what is obviously a complicated case. What is amazing is that some insist on going back to the Cardinal’s original letter and using it as the starting point of an accusation that he favored a cover-up. As with all events, the truth is a bit more nuanced. We do not have enough information to judge the Cardinal guilty of anything. We do, on the other hand, have enough info to step back from rash judgement and presume the good intentions of men who in other circumstances have behaved in an exemplary manner. These piranha attacts need to stop.

  33. Stephen Hand says:

    Is anyone besides me shocked at how Cardinal Castrillon is given the benefit of the doubt on this site and no one is calling for his head on platter. Compare this to the recent discussions of Pfleger and Cardinal George? Talk about a double standard. At least Pfleger doesn’t hide behind excuses even when his views conflict with the church, and he’s actual helped bring down violence in his neighborhood, not praised those in authority for enabling it further like his eminence.

  34. boko fittleworth says:

    I agree with msgrbarr. In this discussion about the cardinal’s letter, the real villains are those who suggest a close reading of the actual letter as a starting point. For shame!

  35. Jordanes says:

    Stephen Hand said: Is anyone besides me shocked at how Cardinal Castrillon is given the benefit of the doubt on this site and no one is calling for his head on platter.

    Sadly, there are probably other people besides you who are shocked that people obey Christ’s commandment to give people like Cardinal Castrillon the benefit of the doubt.

  36. terryprest says:

    The case of Monsignor Pican deserves serious examination and consideration.It was the first case since the French Revolution that a French Bishop had been subject to a criminal trial and had been found guilty and punished.

    There seems to be a good summary of the case in French at http://www.denistouret.net/constit/Pican_Caen.html

    There is a discussion of the case and the facts (in French) at
    http://www.rfi.fr/actufr/articles/018/article_8631.asp

    The letter of the Cardinal in French is at
    http://www.golias-editions.fr/spip.php?article3794

    What seems to have been relevant was:

    1. There was specific crime created by the French Penal Code which placed an obligation on everyone to make a report to the competent authorities about a pedophile act (which they knew about) on which had been committed on a child of 15 years or less.

    2. French law also provided (since a case of 1891, i.e. before the “Separation of 1905″)) that what was said in the sacrament of confession or in confidence was privileged and could not be impugned or challenged in a French Court.

    3. The Court seemed to get round the conflict between the two conflicting principles in its reasons. The Court said that what the Bishop learned about the priest was not derived from the confessional or from the confidential relationship between the Bishop and the priest. In effect, the Court recognised the two principles asserted by the Bishop.

    4. However, as the defence lawyer said, the case did in effect seem to establish a reduction in the scope of the confidential professional relationship which was privileged between Bishop and the priest

    5. What seems to have counted against the Bishop is the length of time between the first knowledge and the length of time that the priest carried on with the abuse which appears to have been horrific and involved children as young as six. The bishop appears to have been impassive and not active in trying to resolve the situation. His attitude was characterised by the Court as simply “wait and see”. He seems to have been oblivious to the harm occasioned to the victims or potential victims.

    It was not a pastoral situation involving the Bishop and priest only. The Vicar General Michel Morcel was fully involved. The knowledge acquired does not seem to have been derived from what the Bishop learned from the priest in the confessional.

    The Bishop would also appear to have deliberately made the decision early on not to involve the civil authorities.

    6. It would also appear that the Bishop recognised that he had made a serious error of judgment in dealing with the priest and would with the benefit of hindsight have dealt with the situation differently.

    7. The case was fought on the question as to the extent of the defences available to a Bishop as (a) falling within the “confessional” and (b) being privileged as part of the professional and confidential relationship between bishop and priest.

    8. The Bishop did not appeal (no doubt after consulting his colleagues on the Bench and also the Vatican).

    9. Could it be that what Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos may have been trying to do was to make it clear to Bishops that the principles of a Bishop being able to act according to his informed conscience, the secrecy required within the confessional, and the obligations of professional confidence in the Bishop-priest relationship were not to be given up lightly and on the request or demand by the State and had to be asserted before the organs of the State whether they be Courts, or other bodies ?

    10. The Bishop asserted these rights and privileges before the Court. The Court in effect recognised that in principle what was said in the confessional and that there were discussions between a priest and his bishop was “professionally confidential” and could not be impugned. The Court said that there was knowledge of the Bishop about the crimes which did not fall within either of those two important exceptions. Further, the Court did not impose anything like the penalty requested by the Prosecutor.

    11.It is noteworthy that the Bishop did not deny or refute the jurisdiction of the Court. He could have been sentenced to a substantial period of imprisonment rather than receiving a suspended sentence. The Bishop accepted the jurisdiction of the Court to determine the matter and abided by the decision of the Court without appealing it further.

    11. Could it be that the Cardinal and Pope John Paul II recognised was that if these principles asserted by the Bishop in his defence were not jealously and energetically asserted against an all powerful State then these important principles would be easily undermined in all fields of activity and not just those involving acts of child abuse ? The case was not about whether the Church should hide and harbour a pedophile priest. There were much more important principles at stake.

  37. jamie r says:

    Doesn’t defending himself by claiming that he knew it under the seal of confession also break the seal of confession?

    I think the moral of story here is that superiors should refuse to hear confession from subordinates. The priest put Pican in the situation of either letting him molest again, or breaking the seal. This is not a situation Pican should’ve let himself get into.

  38. dcs says:

    Doesn’t defending himself by claiming that he knew it under the seal of confession also break the seal of confession?

    If he claims to know of certain acts, then yes. If he says that he cannot say whether the penitent did X (“I do not know”), then no. I believe he is permitted to say that he heard a particular penitent’s confession. That is not matter for the seal.

  39. terryprest says:

    It would also appear that the defence of the Bishop in the case was suppported by the Conference of French bishops. It would appear that they were very concerned about the ramifications of the case as there had been searches carried out on the offices of some French Bishops and papers which had nothing to do with pedophile priests were also seized.

    Presumably the French Bishops also took the same view of the wider ramifications of the case as the Cardinal and Pope John Paul II

  40. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t know why the bishop could not have used the part he found out outside of confession to do his civic duty, while not mentioning the part he found out inside the confessional.
    Unless perhaps he thought the guilty man would accuse him?

    This may boil down to one of those “I have something on you” situations in that case. For this reason bishops should never hear the confessions of the priests who they have to administer. The priests can confess each other, leaving the bishop free to act as necessary.

  41. TNCath says:

    While I’d really like to defend Cardinal Castrillon, according to reports I’ve read, Bishop Pican told French prosecutors that the abusing priest, Father Bissey, told Bishop Pican about the abuse within the context of a private conversation, not through the Sacrament of Penance. Certainly even Father Bissey would have known whether or not he was going to confession. And if the bishop really believed that he was bound by the seal, how would Cardinal Castrillon known what Bishop Pican know about Father Bissey? Bishop Pican wouldn’t have been able to reveal anything to anybody. By saying, “I cannot say” is, in effect, saying, “I know, but I just can’t tell you.”

    As for Cardinal Castrillon, why would he bother writing such a letter to Bishop Pican? Why would he make this his business?

    The whole thing is just very weird and very, very unfortunate. It makes the hierarchy look like Keystone Cops where one bishop doesn’t know what the other is doing or saying.

  42. TNCath says:

    Correction: “…how would Cardinal Castrillon have known what Bishop Pican knew about Father Bissey?”

  43. jm says:

    Crazy, crazy conversation. Even the best explanation of the letter is not good.

    “Why is it hard to believe that someone can be good and holy but make an error in judgment?”

    Amen. Clearly the same sort of case as Cardinal Law. We simply are living in a different world regarding perceptions of child abuse than we did thirty years ago. In some ways it is similar to race. It is easy to judge, but we are all children of our own time.

  44. mpolo says:

    ies0716: We were told (by the then-proto-Penitentiary-Major Mons. Luigi de Magistris) that it is illicit to withhold absolution on the condition of the penitent turning himself in to the civil authorities (even in cases of child abuse, murder, and the like). The priest can strongly recommend this, but the penance/absolution cannot be tied to this as a condition. The example that Mons. De Magistris used was if he were to hear the confession of a man on the eve of his ordination, who confessed having active homosexual relations, he would urge the young man to go to his rector and withdraw himself as a candidate for the priesthood and apply some other penance. If on the next day, that young man were ordained, Mons. De Magistris would go before him and kneel to request his priestly blessing as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

  45. I think this information certainly sheds light on the bishop’s reasons for not going to the authorities, and as you say, if anything it demonstrates why the confession to his bishop should never have been made. At the same time, the bishop still reassigned him to another parish, which is a little more difficult to swallow.

    But the point here is not the action of the bishop, which at best we can say is complicated, but the deal with Hoyos. For one, Hoyos in his letter doesn’t mention the seal of confessions. He just congratulates him for defending a priest. This is a priest who should not be defended, even if his confessor can’t publicly denounce him, either. So at least Hoyos is guilty of really poor wording. And to bring JPII into this when there simply is no way to verify that was a really slimy move by Hoyos, true or not.

    Regardless, the people in D.C. were right to disinvite him from presiding, because it would have surely detracted the attention from the happy news that the E.F Mass is being celebrated at the Basilica for the first time in 45 years.

  46. Geremia says:

    Oh come on! It’s because he was in charge of Ecclesia Dei that the media is attacking him so. No? Soon something will come up about Levada… right…