Bishops make clear the Church’s teaching on the ‘inviolability of the seal of confession’
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida, June 19, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference approved revisions to its Charter for Protection of Children and Young People last week, including reinforcing the primacy of the confessional seal.
The bishops voted in favor of the revision 185-5, with one abstention, at their Spring General Assembly.
In Article 4 of the Charter, the clause “With due regard for the seal of confession” was added in regard to the reporting of an allegation to public authorities “due to recent change and challenges to the inviolability of the seal of Confession.”
“The statement makes clear the teaching of the Church on this matter,” said Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, the USCCB chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.
There were a number of revisions, but none necessitating changes to the Essential Norms.
Among the other revisions were expanding the scope of mandatory reporters and those of whom it would be required to have a background check before working with children.
Language in Article 6 involving codes of conduct was changed to emphasize that all those who have contact with minors abide by the standards of behavior and appropriate boundaries, where formerly these articles were limited to those people in positions of trust who had regular contact with children and young people. Language in Article 12 was updated as well for consistency.
A change in Article 13 ensures that all those who come in contact with minors have background checks rather than limiting it to ongoing unsupervised contact with minors.
The phrase “other media” was added to Article 2 to expand on possible ways to promote the procedures to make an allegation of abuse. This change was to highlight the importance of using digital media to promote the reporting of allegations.
The charter was last revised in 2011. The revision process for the update began in 2013, and the next time for review will be in seven years instead of two years to better allow for legal and canonical review.
The inviolability of confession has been increasingly in the crosshairs, with governments and litigation here and abroad attempting to compel Catholic priests to reveal what they’ve heard in the confessional for the purpose of reporting abuse.
The Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) passed a law June 7 requiring Catholic priests to break the seal of confession to report child-sex abusers. It extends mandatory reporting of child abuse to cover churches and church activities, including the Catholic confessional. Priests could be jailed if they do not comply.
But priests cannot violate the seal of the confessional, meaning he cannot repeat what he is told by a penitent while confessing his or her sins, including discussing it with the penitent outside of confession,
Canon law states that “the sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”
Priests who violate this seal of confession are automatically excommunicated.
Confession is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. The Church teaches that Christ is present to the penitent, and the priest hearing the confession simply functions as Christ’s conduit of forgiveness.
Priests have been martyred for refusing to break the seal.
There have also been attacks on the sacred nature or the confessional seal in the U.S.
ARTICLE 4. Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities. Dioceses/eparchies are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.
Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor.
In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right.
Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, 2006