Ireland: priests will refuse to break seal of confession if proposal becomes law

In Ireland

From CNA comes:

Irish priests will refuse to break seal of confession if proposal becomes law  [Really?]
By Katherine Veik

Dublin, Ireland, Jul 18, 2011 / 08:03 pm (CNA).- Catholic priests in Ireland are prepared to “strongly” resist a proposed law that would require them to disclose information learned in confession. [Strongly to resist = refuse to obey an unjust law.]

More than any other issue, it is probably the one that will unite both the liberal and conservative wings of the Church,” said Father Tony Flannery, a priest with the Association of Catholic Priests, in a July 18 e-mail to CNA.  [If only that were true, then the persecution would be worth it.  It has been in the past.  Or am I wrong?]

If even one exception was made to the seal of Confession, then the whole Sacrament would collapse,” he stated. “The truth of faith that this Sacrament is meant to convey is central to Christian teaching.”

The legislation, proposed by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, [I wonder if Enda is pro-abortion.] would put priests in jail for up to five years if they failed to tell authorities about sexual abuse crimes disclosed during confession.  [I am exercising heroic self-editing.]

Fr. Flannery said that the Association of Catholic Priests has not taken the proposed law very seriously, because it is simply not “workable.” [I hope his analysis is better than that which they have given to the new translation.]

“When a person confesses in the confessional box, the priest would not normally know who they are, or indeed be able to see them,” he explained. “So how is he to report them?”  [Two words: FIXED GRATE.]

It is also “unlikely” that a person involved in abuse would go to confession, Fr. Flannery pointed out. [I wonder….  but that is not the point.]

“In my forty years of priesthood, I don’t ever remember someone confessing that they were currently abusing someone,” he said.  [So. What? ]

He noted that the prime minister’s bill also fails to address implications for other professions, and things that are said in other privileged situations of confidentiality.

It also opens the door for other crimes becoming exceptions, requiring further breaches of the confessional seal.

“Why make this one the only crime to be reported?” Fr. Flannery wondered.

The priest contends the proposed law is a “total over-reaction” to the recently released Cloyne Report, a study that found the Diocese of Cloyne failed to report nine cases of sexual abuse between the years 1996 and 2005.  [Nooo.. the Cloyne Report was just the occasion.  The true intention is to intimidate the Church into silence on moral issues, such as abortion.]

Fr. Flannery predicted lawmakers would be “more calm and reasoned about all this” after a few months have passed.

But he made clear that “if this does come to law – which I do not expect – priests will resist it strongly.”

Too much Flannery, not enough reporting.

How about more reporting on this.

In the meantime, remember that this is not at this moment about sexual abuse of children.  Sexual abuse of children is merely the excuse.  The real agenda is to silence the Church’s moral teaching.

Good luck Ireland.

Unless you do what the Holy Father proposed in his letter, you are done for.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. markomalley says:

    As I facetiously alluded to on your prior thread, any law attempting to break the seal can only be enforced through entrapment…”To Catch a Predator” mode.

    Is the priest going to surrender himself to the Garda? Please.

    Are they going to start asking pedophiles if they confessed this sin while being interrogated?

    The only way the government will ever be able to get an arrest is if they send in a ringer to check if the priest does his duty…or if they cooperate with a private agency that wishes to do so for their own agenda (e.g., RTÉ, SNAP, the Irish Times, or the like).

    Literally the only other alternative is even worse: surveillance microphones inside the confessional. Not that this hasn’t been done…but, in Ireland?

  2. It was done in Ireland – by the British.

    I have written to the Taoiseach ( who is actually supposed to be Pro-Life) and he has forwarded my email to the Ministers for Children and for Justice. We’ll see what happens.

    This is one of the few times I agree with Fr. Flannery and with the ACP this law is unworkable and unjust. I don’t think they’ll go as far as they’re threatening. While some of the Government are following an ideological agenda (Quinn for instance) I think the real driver here is anger that again the Church is not doing its duty. It’s important not to lose sight of that. Bishop Magee and Mgr. O’Callaghan allowed the wolves the freedom to attack the lambs after the rest of the Church agreed the guidelines on handling cases of abuse. There was no excuse for this. Some other dioceses seem to be in the same position. They ought to come clean. This drip by drip revelation plays into the hands of the Church’s enemies.

    Another factor is that the Government needs money and some see the Church as an untapped resource. Putting the pressure on the bishops and the religious is one way to force co-operation. It’s not unlike the situation of Henry VIII again. At least the Government is constrained by law and the Constitution. In the meantime the proto-Protestants in the Church are already talking of breaking with Rome. This will not happen but the social damage is in the further erosion of trust. How much more the faithful can take I do not know. The bishops and religious superiors who cannot keep the Church safe and faithful should step down.

  3. anilwang says:


    I wouldn’t press the unworkability of knowing who confesses, since unworkability isn’t a concern of politicians. Common carrier (i.e. phones and internet providers) are asked by many countries to do things that are unworkable and violate the reason for their existence (e.g. phone/internet providers have special status precisely because they are equal access and are not subject to censorship). It doesn’t matter, the laws get passed and bureaucrats force in the changes.

    In the case of the confessional, I’d guess they’d say something like this, “No problem. You have a choice: (1) Forbid confession box confessions are force confessions to be face to face as is the common practice in th Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Church, (2) Keep the confessional, but have priests write down the time and day any confession of abuse is made. Install a video camera recording who goes in and out of the confessional, and have the available to police. Priests must report when the confession of abuse is made and police will take care of the rest. If police suspect someone, they may look at the camera and ask the priest if a confession of abuse is made at that time.”.

    It’s much better to stick to the facts. I’m personally, surprised, given the history that the “persecution card” isn’t being played. The simple message “You’ve persecuted our ancestors, do you want to persecute us as well?” repeated again and again as the answer to every question would cause more than a few politicians to have second thoughts (do they really want to open those cans of worms over this issue?).

  4. markomalley says:


    I agree that “workability” (viability) of a law is often of secondary concern regarding a law. Often it is more important for them to “do something” to sate the public’s collective lust.

    As far as persecution, they could bring up Cromwell, et al, but why bother? Not like it’s a secret or anything.

  5. Jeremiah says:


    Just Because something is not a secret doesn’t mean people aren’t willfully repressing the memory as a matter of course. Take the civil rights movement in the U.S. And the holocaust. There are people alive today who remember going through those, or at the least are the children and grandchildren of these people, and yet how many people have managed to “forget” that these things happened?

    It seems that politicians are especially blind to history. It never hurts to remind them.

  6. Seamus says:

    Somehow, I doubt Irish lawmakers are planning to require *lawyers* to disclose information about child abuse learned in the course of the attorney-client relationship. (Because as we all know, the attorney-client privilege is sacrosanct. Lawyers can’t reveal their clients’ confidences, even to prevent the execution of an innocent man. They may only reveal those confidences for really important things, such collecting their fees.)

  7. Quite honestly, I do not believe any priest would ever violate the sacramental seal, no matter what they were threatened with. There are priests who have committed horrible crimes, even involving the sacrament of confession; but I can’t recall ever having heard that any priest, even the worst of them, ever divulged the secrets of the confessional.

  8. TNCath says:

    In addition to its financial crisis, Ireland also suffers from a spiritual crisis, which can now be termed a government persecution. Unfortunately, the Church in Ireland has brought this latest persecution on itself. Haphazard, unfaithful, temporizing, and permissive bishops and priests and an materialistic laity that craved an Americanized, upwardly-mobile, secular lifestyle that forgot the struggles of their ancestors are to blame.

    In the words of the old hymn, “Hail, Glorious Saint Patrick”:

    In the war against sin, in the fight for the Faith,
    Dear saint, may thy children resist to the death;
    Their strength be in meekness, in penance, and prayer;
    Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.

  9. Katharine B. says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble Miss Anita Moore, but I have personally been victim to a priest who divulged a specific confession I made just 2 years ago. And it was an Irish priest!
    It made me lose trust in novus ordo formed priests completely, I can only confess to hardline traditional priests now. I’m lucky I didn’t lose my faith.
    Which makes me shrug my shoulders at this whole law proposal, how many people and priests take confession seriously in Ireland anyway? Having seen Michael Voris’ report, and reading about the decay in the parishes there, I doubt it’s very many. I think those who do will not follow the stupid law, even if it means taking the Church underground, which it nearly already is.

  10. PostCatholic says:

    Rev Flannery notation “that the prime minister’s bill also fails to address implications for other professions, and things that are said in other privileged situations of confidentiality,” is to me the crux. If the bill before the Dáil would not apply to other minister-penitent situations both within and without the Catholic church, and if there aren’t statutory duties to report that supersede similar forms of protected speech (attorney-client privilege, for instance) then yes, this is an incidence of persecution of a single religion.

  11. I always said that if the Irish didn’t have the English to fight, they’d have each other. My money’s on the priests of Eireann standing up to an unjust law, if only for that reason. Call me cynical, but hey, whatever works!

  12. albizzi says:

    So, if I understand well, an Irish priest would be in obligation to disclose the confession secret ONLY in the case of a sexual abuse?
    Very odd indeed. Though the sexual abuses in my opinion are disgusting and vile crimes, there are other kinds of crimes that everybody will deem more horrible thans these ones.
    For example, if a penitent confesses he killed and cremated Jews during WWII, no obligation is imposed on the priest?
    Neither it is if a terrorist confesses that he placed a bomb in an aircraft?
    Neither acts of torture and barbarity?

    This law aims at puzzling the hierarchy and undermining the Church’s authority

  13. BLB Oregon says:

    Isn’t it true that the widespread use of private confession to a priest (rather than public confession) came largely due to efforts by missionaries coming out of Ireland after the collapse of the Roman Empire? It is tragic that it is politicians from Ireland who would attack the sanctity of private confession.

    Are they going to force the psychiatrists and psychotherapists report the crimes of their patients, too? Or is this just an attack on the healing arts of religion in particular, and not the secular versions?

    How about the defense lawyers? Will they be required to disclose confessions to the police, as well, or will the attorney-client privelege be preferred over that between confessor and penitent? Does this politician not realize that a confessor is a defense advocate as well, an advocate of mercy for the Highest Court, according to the power of the Ultimate Advocate, the Paraclete?

    (Aside: As for abortion, Enda Kelly was called upon at a pro-life rally on July 7 “to keep the pro-life promise he made during the Election, when he said that Fine Gael in government would be ‘opposed to the legalisation of abortion’.” The Labour Party is advocating for abortion. Enda Kelly is a leader in the Fine Gael Party, which has never been in power except when in coalition with Labour. What Enda Kelly is willing to do to defend life is a “remains to be seen” proposition.)

  14. MichaelJ says:

    Are they going to start asking pedophiles if they confessed this sin while being interrogated?

    This would not surprise me in the least. I can easily imagine a district attorney (or whatever the equivalent is in Ireland) offering a deal to some pervert if he testifies against a Priest who is, after all, the real target od this legislation. Sad thing is, if I undersand the Seal of the Confessional, the Priest would not even be able to defend himself.

    St. John Nepomucene, Ora pro nobis.

  15. jacobi says:

    Of course our priests will refuse to break the seal of Confession, and if necessary do their 5 years.

    But what an opportunity for sorely needed evangelising within the prison communities. This could be a blessing in disguise!

  16. Colm says:

    Abortion has nothing to do with this, it’s not really an issue in Ireland as abortion is illegal. The Taoiseach Edna Kenny is from Fine Gael, the right conservative party in Ireland and their views are pro-life. This is more about how hurt and angry Ireland and her people are at the Church for what was done for so many years. More needs to be done from the Vatican on this, and heads need to role before there can ever be hope of restoring the Church in Ireland. There also needs to be a cleaning house of “liberals” from places of power, especially from Maynooth.

  17. AnAmericanMother says:

    It was done in Ireland – by the British.
    I would think that right there would be an unanswerable argument.
    Surely no Irish politician wants that thrown at him!

  18. Daniel A. says:

    Would any of the readers who are actually in Ireland be able to shed some light on this topic? Is this actual, proposed legislation, or just political posturing? If it is actual proposed legislation, does anyone have the text of the bill?
    I don’t think a person has to be even a particularly serious Catholic in order to see how damaging it could be if priests are forced to reveal secrets from the Confessional. So, if there are any readers here from Ireland, could you clear up what the actual legal status of this “law” is at present?

  19. jaykay says:

    Daniel A:

    In a press release on 13th July the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald announced:

    “The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence is today publishing the Heads of the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Intellectually Disabled Persons) Bill. This will make it an offence to withhold information relating to the commission of a serious offence against a person who is under the age of 18 or an intellectually disabled person.”

    I found the following link:

    Of interest is the following in Head 3(1)(b):

    “… and fails without reasonable excuse to disclose that information as soon as it is practicable”

    Could “reasonable excuse” be held to include the seal of confession”?

  20. stuartbreaux says:

    Statistics show that almost all of the abuse is from decades ago, and that the Church is now safer for children than almost any other institution. Moreover, the number of people who actually go to confession is very low. So the government can really only hope to catch people who actually go to confession and actually confess to abuse. How many people do they hope to catch with this law?

    So, why would requiring priests to break the seal of confession be helpful? This seems entirely punitive, not that I’m particularly surprised..

  21. Daniel A. says:

    Would this law trump pre-existing protections of the Seal? From reading it, it seems that it would essentially make everyone in the country a “mandated reporter” of sexual abuse. Thus, if a priest found out about it, he would have to report it. However, since the Seal of the Confessional is already protected by prior Irish legal precedent, I believe this law would only apply to abuse discovered OUTSIDE the confessional, which I think we can agree should be reported.

    If this law is an attack on a perceived history of bishops and priests covering up abuse, it makes more sense to target what is discovered outside of the confessional. What is discovered inside the confessional would: 1. predominately be about lay people, 2. quite possibly be anonymous through a screen, or at least require significant “guess work”, 3. often be very vague (as in, a penitent saying “I have sinned against chastity with another person” or something of the sort).

    The Irish bishops need to come up with a good, strong way of expressing the purpose of the Seal and explaining why “evidence” of abuse obtained in the Confessional would be useless. They should also express sympathy with the intention of the law, and explain how allegations of abuse that are taken to priests and bishops outside the Confessional will be handled.

    In fact, the Seal of the Confessional is a non-issue in the abuse scandal. If the concern is that priests and bishops have worked together to hide abuse committed by priests, then either that information was obtained outside of confession or a priest broke the Seal. I mean, a bishop can’t cover up what he doesn’t know about, and the only way any bishops ever covered up sex abuse was when someone told them about it, and if a priest who had heard it in the Confessional told his bishop, that is in itself a violation of the Seal.

    I think that this law might be a combination of a good (or at least reasonably just) law with a stirring-up of anti-Catholic sentiment. I don’t mind if priests are mandated reporters and disclose what they learn outside the Confessional (I believe priests are mandated reporters in most countries, certainly in the U.S.) but if the law IS targeted at information learned in Confession, that is an entirely different matter.

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